The Saturday Evening Post – October 28, 1916
DOWNSTAIRS, in the dining room, Jimmy was smoking cigarettes and reviewing in his mind the peculiarities of the situation, when Ann came in. “Oh, there you are,” said Ann. “I thought you must have gone upstairs.”
“I have been having a delightful and entertaining conversation with my old chum, Lord Wisbeach.”
“Good gracious! What about?”
“Oh, this and that.”
“Not about old times?”
“No, we did not touch upon old times.”
“Does he still believe that you are Jimmy Crocker? I’m so nervous,” said Ann, “that I can hardly speak.”
“I shouldn’t be nervous,” said Jimmy encouragingly. “I don’t see how things could be going better.”
“That’s what makes me nervous. Our luck is too good to last. We are taking such risks. It would have been bad enough without Skinner and Lord Wisbeach. At any moment you may make some fatal slip. Thank goodness, Aunt Nesta’s suspicions have been squashed for the time being, now that Skinner and Lord Wisbeach have accepted you as genuine. But then you have only seen them for a few minutes. When they have been with you a little longer they may get suspicious themselves. I can’t imagine how you managed to keep it up with Lord Wisbeach. I should have thought he would be certain to say something about the time when you were supposed to be friends in London. We simply mustn’t strain our luck. I want you to go straight to Aunt Nesta now and ask her to let Jerry come back.”
“You still refuse to let me take Jerry’s place?”
“Of course I do. You’ll find Aunt Nesta upstairs.”
“Very well. But suppose I can’t persuade her to forgive Jerry?”
“I think she is certain to do anything you ask. You saw how friendly she was to you at lunch. I don’t see how anything can have happened since lunch to change her.”
“Very well. I’ll go to her now.”
“And when you have seen her, go to the library and wait for me. It’s the second room along the passage outside here. I have promised to drive Lord Wisbeach down to his hotel in my car. I met him outside just now and he tells me Aunt Nesta has invited him to stay here, so he wants to go and get his things ready. I shan’t be twenty minutes! I shall come straight back!”
Jimmy found himself vaguely disquieted by this piece of information.
“Lord Wisbeach is coming to stay here?”
“Oh, nothing. Well, I’ll go and see Mrs. Pett.”
No traces of the disturbance which had temporarily ruffled the peace of the drawing-room were to be observed when Jimmy reached it. The receiver of the telephone was back on its hook, Mrs. Pett back in her chair, the dog Aïda back in her basket. Mrs. Pett, her mind at ease now that she had taken the step of summoning Mr. Sturgis, was reading a book, one of her own, and was absorbed in it. The dog Aïda slumbered noisily.
The sight of Jimmy, however, roused Mrs. Pett from her literary calm. To her eye, after what Lord Wisbeach had revealed, there was something sinister in the very way in which he walked into the room. He made her flesh creep. In A Society Thug—one dollar and thirty-five cents net, all rights of translation reserved, including the Scandinavian—she had portrayed just such a man—smooth, specious and formidable. Instinctively, as she watched Jimmy, her mind went back to the perfectly rotten behavior of her own Marsden Tuke—it was only in the last chapter but one that they managed to foil his outrageous machinations—and it seemed to her that here was Tuke in the flesh. She had pictured him, she remembered, as a man of agreeable exterior, the better calculated to deceive and undo the virtuous; and the fact that Jimmy was a presentable-looking young man only made him appear viler in her eyes. In a word, she could hardly have been in less suitable frame of mind to receive graciously any kind of request from him. She would have suspected ulterior motives if he had asked her the time.
Jimmy did not know this. He thought that she eyed him a trifle frostily, but he did not attribute this to any suspicion of him. He tried to ingratiate himself by smiling pleasantly. He could not have made a worse move. Marsden Tuke’s pleasant smile had been his deadliest weapon. Under its influence deluded people had trusted him alone with their jewelry, and what not.
“Aunt Nesta,” said Jimmy, “I wonder if I might ask you a personal favor.”
Mrs. Pett shuddered at the glibness with which he brought out the familiar name. This was super-Tuke. Marsden himself, scoundrel as he was, could not have called her Aunt Nesta as smoothly as that.
“Yes?” she said at last. She found it difficult to speak.
“I happened to meet an old friend of mine this morning. He was very sorry for himself. It appears that—for excellent reasons, of course—you had dismissed him. I mean Jerry Mitchell.”
Mrs. Pett was now absolutely appalled. The conspiracy seemed to grow more complicated every moment. Already its ramifications embraced this man before her, a trusted butler, and her husband’s late physical instructor. Who could say where it would end? She had never liked Jerry Mitchell, but she had never suspected him of being a conspirator. Yet, if this man who called himself Jimmy Crocker was an old friend of his, how could he be anything else?
“Mitchell,” Jimmy went on, unconscious of the emotions that his every word was arousing in his hearer’s bosom, “told me about what happened yesterday. He is very depressed. He said he could not think how he happened to behave in such an abominable way. He entreated me to put in a word for him with you. Hebegged me to tell you how he regretted the brutal assault, and asked me to mention the fact that his record had hitherto been blameless.” Jimmy paused. He was getting no encouragement and seemed to be making no impression whatever. Mrs. Pett was sitting bolt upright in her chair in a stiffly defensive sort of way. She had the appearance of being absolutely untouched by his eloquence. “In fact,” he concluded lamely, “he is very sorry.”
There was silence for a moment.
“How do you come to know Mitchell?” asked Mrs. Pett.
“We knew each other when I was over here working on the Chronicle. I saw him fight once or twice. He is an excellent fellow and used to have a right swing that was a pippin—I should say extremely excellent. Brought it right up from the floor, you know.”
“I strongly object to prize fighters,” said Mrs. Pett, “and I was opposed to Mitchell’s coming into the house from the first.”
“You wouldn’t let him come back, I suppose?” queried Jimmy tentatively.
“I would not. I would not dream of such a thing.”
“He’s full of remorse, you know.”
“If he has a spark of humanity I have no doubt of it.”
Jimmy paused. This thing was not coming out so well as it might have done. He feared that, for once in her life, Ann was about to be denied something on which she had set her heart. The reflection that this would be extremely good for her competed for precedence in his mind with the reflection that she would probably blame him for the failure, which would be unpleasant.
“He is very fond of Ogden really.”
“H’m,” said Mrs. Pett.
“I think the heat must have made him irritable. In his normal state he would not strike a lamb. I’ve known him to do it.”
“Not strike lambs.”
“Isch,” said Mrs. Pett—the first time Jimmy had ever heard that remarkable monosyllable proceed from human lips. He took it—rightly—to be intended to convey disapproval, skepticism and annoyance. He was convinced that this mission was going to be one of his failures.
“Then I may tell him,” he said, “that it’s all right?”
“That what is all right?”
“That he may come back here?”
Mrs. Pett was not a timid woman, but she could not restrain a shudder as she watched the plot unfold before her eyes. Her gratitude toward Lord Wisbeach, at this point in the proceedings, became almost hero worship. If it had not been for him and his revelations concerning this man before her, she would certainly have yielded to the request that Jerry Mitchell be allowed to return to the house. Much as she disliked Jerry, she had been feeling so triumphant at the thought of Jimmy Crocker’s coming to her in spite of his stepmother’s wishes, and so pleased at having unexpectedly got her own way, that she could have denied him nothing that he might have cared to ask. But now it was as if, herself unseen, she were looking on at a gang of conspirators hatching some plot. She was in the strong strategic position of the person who is apparently deceived, but who in reality knows all.
For a moment she considered the question of admitting Jerry to the house. Evidently his presence was necessary to the consummation of the plot, whatever it might be; and it occurred to her that it might be as well, on the principle of giving the schemers enough rope to hang themselves with, to let him come back and play his part. Then she reflected that, with the self-styled Jimmy Crocker as well as the fraudulent Skinner in the house, Lord Wisbeach and the detective would have their hands quite full enough. It would be foolish to complicate matters. She glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. Mr. Sturgis would be arriving soon if he had really started at once from his office as he had promised. She drew comfort from the imminence of his coming. It would be pleasant to put herself in the hands of an expert.
Jimmy had paused, midway to the door, and was standing there as if reluctant to accept her answer to his plea.
“It would never occur again. What happened yesterday, I mean. You need not be afraid of that.”
“I am not afraid of that,” responded Mrs. Pett tartly.
“If you had seen him when I did ——”
“When did you? You landed from the boat this morning, you went to Mr. Pett’s office, and then came straight up here with him. I am interested to know when you did see Mitchell?”
She regretted this thrust a little, for she felt it might put the man on his guard by showing that she suspected something, but she could not resist it, and it pleased her to see that her companion was momentarily confused.
“I met him when I was going for my luggage,” said Jimmy.
It was just the way Marsden Tuke would have got out of it. Tuke was always wriggling out of corners like that. Mrs. Pett’s horror of Jimmy grew.
“I told him, of course,” said Jimmy, “that you had very kindly invited me to stay with you, and he told me all about his trouble and implored me to plead for him. If you had seen him when I did, all gloom and repentance, you would have been sorry for him. Your woman’s heart ——”
Whatever Jimmy was about to say regarding Mrs. Pett’s woman’s heart was interrupted by the opening of the door and the deep respectful voice of Mr. Crocker.
The detective entered briskly, as if time were money with him—as indeed it was, for the International Detective Agency, of which he was the proprietor, did a thriving business. He was a gaunt, hungry-looking man of about fifty, with sunken eyes and thin lips. It was his habit to dress in the height of fashion, for one of his favorite axioms was that a man might be a detective and still look a gentleman, and his appearance was that of the individual usually described as a popular clubman. That is to say, he looked like a floorwalker taking a Sunday stroll. His prosperous exterior deceived Jimmy satisfactorily, and the latter left the room little thinking that the visitor was anything but an ordinary caller.
The detective glanced keenly at him as he passed. He made a practice of glancing keenly at nearly everything. It cost nothing and impressed clients.
“I am so glad you have come, Mr. Sturgis,” said Mrs. Pett.
Mr. Sturgis sat down, pulled up the knees of his trousers—that half inch which keeps them from bagging and so preserves the gentlemanliness of the appearance—and glanced keenly at Mrs. Pett.
“Who was that young man who just went out?”
“It is about him that I wish to consult you, Mr. Sturgis.”
Mr. Sturgis leaned back and placed the tips of his fingers together.
“Tell me how he comes to be here.”
“He pretends that he is my nephew, James Crocker.”
“Your nephew? Have you never seen your nephew?”
“Never. I ought to tell you that a few years ago my sister married for the second time. I disapproved of the marriage and refused to see her husband or his son—he was a widower. A few weeks ago, for private reasons, I went over to England, where they are living, and asked my sister to let the boy come here to work in my husband’s office. She refused, and my husband and I returned to New York. This morning I was astonished to get a telephone call from Mr. Pett at his office, saying that James Crocker had unexpectedly arrived after all and was then at the office. They came up here, and the young man seemed quite genuine. Indeed, he had an offensive jocularity that would be quite in keeping with the character of the real James Crocker, from what I have heard of him.”
Mr. Sturgis nodded.
“Know what you mean. Saw that thing in the paper,” he said briefly. “Yes?”
“Now it is very curious, but almost from the start I was uneasy. When I say that the young man seemed genuine I mean that he completely deceived my husband and my niece, who lives with us. But I had reasons, which I need not go into now, for being on my guard, and I was suspicious. What aroused my suspicion was the fact that my husband thought that he remembered this young man as a fellow traveler of ours on the Atlantic, on our return voyage, while he claimed to have landed this morning on the Caronia.”
“You are certain of that, Mrs. Pett? He stated that he had landed this morning?”
“Yes. Quite positively. Unfortunately I myself had no chance of judging the truth of what he said, as I am such a bad sailor that I was seldom out of my stateroom from beginning to end of the voyage. However, as I say, I was suspicious.
“I did not see how I could confirm my suspicions, until I remembered that my new butler, Skinner, had come straight from my sister’s house.”
“That is the man who just admitted me?”
“Exactly. He entered my employment only a few days ago, having come direct from London. I decided to wait until Skinner should meet this young man. Of course when this impostor first came into the house he was with my husband, who opened the door with his key, so that he did not meet Skinner then.”
“I understand,” said Mr. Sturgis, glancing keenly at the dog Aïda, who had risen and was sniffing at his ankles. “You thought that if Skinner recognized this young man it would be proof of his identity?”
“Did he recognize him?”
“Yes, but wait. I have not finished. He recognized him and for the moment I was satisfied, but I had had my suspicions of Skinner too. I ought to tell you that I had been warned against him by a great friend of mine, Lord Wisbeach, an English peer whom we have known intimately for a very long time. He is one of the Shropshire Wisbeaches, you know.”
“No doubt,” said Mr. Sturgis.
“Lord Wisbeach used to be intimate with the real Jimmy Crocker. He came to luncheon to-day and met this impostor. Lord Wisbeach pretended to recognize him, in order to put him off his guard, but after luncheon he came to me here and told me that in reality he had never seen the man before in his life, and that, whoever else he might be, he was certainly not James Crocker, my nephew.”
She broke off and looked at Mr. Sturgis expectantly. The detective smiled a quiet smile.
“And even that is not all. There is another thing. Mr. Pett used to employ as a physical instructor a man named Jerry Mitchell. Yesterday I dismissed him for reasons it is not necessary to go into. To-day—just as you arrived, in fact—the man who calls himself Jimmy Crocker was begging me to allow Mitchell to return to the house and resume his work here. Does that not strike you as suspicious, Mr. Sturgis?”
The detective closed his eyes and smiled his quiet smile again. He opened his eyes and fixed them on Mrs. Pett.
“As pretty a case as I have come across in years,” he said. “Mrs. Pett, let me tell you something. It is one of my peculiarities that I never forget a face. You say that this young man pretends to have landed this morning from the steamer? Well, I saw him myself more than a week ago in a Broadway café.”
“Talking to—Jerry Mitchell. I know Mitchell well by sight.
“And this butler of yours—Skinner. Shall I tell you something about him? You perhaps know that when the big detective agencies, Anderson’s and the others, are approached in the matter of tracing a man who is wanted for anything, they sometimes ask the smaller agencies like my own to work in with them. It saves time and widens the field of operations. We are very glad to do Anderson’s a service, and Anderson’s are big enough to be able to afford to let us do it. Now, a few days ago, a friend of mine in Anderson’s came to me with a sheaf of photographs that had been sent to them from London. Whether from some private client in London or from Scotland Yard I do not know. Nor do I know why the original of the photographs was wanted. But Anderson’s had been asked to trace him and make a report. My peculiar gift for remembering faces has enabled me to oblige the Anderson people once or twice before in this way. I studied the photographs very carefully and kept two of them for reference. I have one with me now.” He felt in his pocket. “Do you recognize it?”
Mrs. Pett stared at the photograph. It was the presentment of a stout, good-humored man of middle age, whose solemn gaze dwelt on the middle distance, in the fixed way that a man achieves only in photographs.
“Exactly,” said Mr. Sturgis, taking the photograph from her and putting it back in his pocket. “I recognized him directly he opened the door to me.”
“But—but I am almost certain that Skinner is the man who let me in when I called on my sister in London.”
“Almost,” repeated the detective. “Did you observe him very closely?”
“No, I suppose I did not.”
“The type is a very common one. It would be very easy, indeed, for a clever crook to make himself up as your sister’s butler, closely enough to deceive anyone who had only seen the original once and for a short time then. What their game is I could not say at present, but, taking everything into consideration, there can be no doubt whatever that the man who calls himself your nephew and the man who calls himself your sister’s butler are working together, and that Jerry Mitchell is working in with them. As I say, I cannot tell you what they are after at present, but there is no doubt that your unexpected dismissal of Mitchell must have upset their plans. That would account for the eagerness to get him back into the house again.”
“Lord Wisbeach thought that they were trying to steal my nephew’s explosive. Perhaps you have read in the papers that my nephew, Willie Partridge, has completed an explosive that is more powerful than any at present known. His father—you have heard of him, of course—Dwight Partridge.”
Mr. Sturgis nodded.
“His father was working on it at the time of his death, and Willie has gone on with his experiments where his father left off. To-day at lunch he showed us a test tube full of the explosive. He put it in my husband’s safe in the library. Lord Wisbeach is convinced that these scoundrels are trying to steal this sample, but I cannot help feeling that it is another of those attempts to kidnap my son Ogden. What do you think?”
“It is impossible to say at this stage of the proceedings. All we can tell is that there is some plot going on. You refused to allow Mitchell to come back to the house?”
“Yes. You think that was wise?”
“What shall we do?”
“You wish me to undertake the case?”
Mr. Sturgis frowned thoughtfully.
“It would be useless for me to come here myself. By bad luck the man who pretends to be your nephew has seen me. If I were to come to stay here he would suspect something. He would be on his guard.” He pondered with closed eyes. “Miss Trimble,” he exclaimed.
“I beg your pardon.”
“You want Miss Trimble. She is the smartest worker in my office. This is precisely the type of case she could handle to perfection.”
“A woman?” said Mrs. Pett doubtfully.
“A woman in a thousand,” said Mr. Sturgis; “a woman in a million.”
“But physically would a woman be ——”
“Miss Trimble knows more about jiujitsu than the Japanese professor who taught her. At one time she was a strong woman in small-time vaudeville. She is an expert revolver shot. I am not worrying about Miss Trimble’s capacity to do the work. I am only wondering in what capacity it would be best for her to enter the house. Have you a vacancy for a parlor maid?”
“I could make one.”
“Do so at once! Miss Trimble is at her best as a parlor maid. She handled the Marling divorce case in that capacity. Have you a telephone in the room?”
Mrs. Pett opened the stuffed owl. The detective got in touch with his office.
“Mr. Sturgis speaking. Tell Miss Trimble to come to the phone. . . . Miss Trimble? I am speaking from Mrs. Pett’s on Riverside Drive. You know the house? I want you to come up at once. Take a taxi! Go to the back door and ask to see Mrs. Pett! Say you have come about getting a place here as a maid! Understand? Right. Say, listen, Miss Trimble! Hello? Yes, don’t hang up for a moment! Do you remember those photographs I showed you yesterday? Yes, the photographs from Anderson’s. I’ve found the man. He’s the butler here. Take a look at him when you get to the house! Now go and get a taxi! Mrs. Pett will explain everything when you arrive.” He hung up the receiver. “I think I had better go now, Mrs. Pett. It would not do for me to be here while these fellows are on their guard. I can safely leave the matter to Miss Trimble. I wish you good afternoon.”
After he had gone Mrs. Pett vainly endeavored to interest herself again in her book, but, in competition with the sensations of life, fiction—even though she had written it herself—had lost its power and grip. It seemed to her that Miss Trimble must be walking to the house instead of journeying thither in a taxicab. But a glance at the clock assured her that only five minutes had elapsed since the detective’s departure. She went to the window and looked out. She was hopelessly restless.
At last a taxicab stopped at the corner and a young woman got out and walked toward the house. If this were Miss Trimble she certainly looked capable. She was a stumpy, square-shouldered person, and even at that distance it was possible to perceive that she had a face of no common shrewdness and determination. The next moment she had turned down the side street in the direction of the back premises of Mrs. Pett’s house; and a few minutes later Mr. Crocker presented himself.
“A young person wishes to see you, madam, a young person of the name of Trimble.” A pang passed through Mrs. Pett as she listened to his measured tones. It was tragic that so perfect a butler should be a scoundrel. “She says that you desired her to call in connection with a situation.”
“Show her up here, Skinner! She is the new parlor maid. I will send her down to you when I have finished speaking to her.”
“Very good, madam.”
There seemed to Mrs. Pett to be a faint touch of defiance in Miss Trimble’s manner as she entered the room. The fact was that Miss Trimble held strong views on the equal distribution of property, and rich people’s houses always affected her adversely. Mr. Crocker retired, closing the door gently behind him.
A meaning sniff proceeded from Mrs. Pett’s visitor as she looked at the achievements of the interior decorator, who had lavished his art unsparingly on this particular room. At this close range she more than fulfilled the promise of that distant view that Mrs. Pett had had of her from the window. Her face was not only shrewd and determined, it was menacing. She had thick eyebrows, from beneath which small glittering eyes looked out like dangerous beasts in undergrowth. And the impressive effect of these was accentuated by the fact that while the left eye looked straight out at its object the right eye had a sort of roving commission and was now, while its colleague fixed Mrs. Pett with a gimlet stare, examining the ceiling.
As to the rest of the appearance of this remarkable woman, her nose was stubby and aggressive, and her mouth had the coldly forbidding look of the closed door of a subway express when you have just missed the train. It bade you keep your distance on pain of injury. Mrs. Pett, though herself a strong woman, was conscious of a curious weakness, as she looked at a female of the species so much deadlier than any male whom she had ever encountered. She came near feeling a half pity for the unhappy wretches on whom this dynamic maiden was to be unleashed. She hardly knew how to open the conversation.
Miss Trimble, however, was equal to the occasion. She always preferred to open conversations herself. Her lips parted, and words flew out as if shot from a machine gun. As far as Mrs. Pett could observe, Miss Trimble considered it unnecessary to part her teeth, preferring to speak with them clenched. This gave an additional touch of menace to her speech.
“Dafternoon,” said Miss Trimble, and Mrs. Pett backed convulsively into the padded recesses of her chair, feeling as if somebody had thrown a brick at her.
“Gladda meecher, siz Pett. Mr. Sturge semme up. Said y’ad job f’r me. Came here squick scould.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Squick scould. Got slow taxi.”
Miss Trimble’s right eye flashed about the room like a searchlight, but she kept the other hypnotically on her companion’s face.
“Whass trouble?” The right eye rested for a moment on a magnificent Corot over the mantelpiece, and she sniffed again. “Not s’prised y’have trouble. All rich people ’ve trouble. Noth’ t’do with their time ’c’pt get ’nto trouble.”
She frowned disapprovingly at a Canaletto.
“You—ah—appear to dislike the rich,” said Mrs, Pett, as nearly in her grand manner as she could contrive.
Miss Trimble bowled over the grand manner as if it had been a small fowl and she an automobile. She rolled over it and squashed it flat.
“Hate ’em! Sogelist!”
“I beg your pardon?” said Mrs. Pett humbly. This woman was beginning to oppress her to an almost unbelievable extent.
“Sogelist! No use f’r idle rich! Ev’ read B’nard Shaw? Huh? Or Upton Sinclair? Uh? Read’m! Make y’think a bit. Well, y’haven’t told me whasser trouble.”
Mrs. Pett was, by this time, heartily regretting the impulse that had caused her to telephone to Mr. Sturgis. In a career that had had more than its share of detectives, both real and fictitious, she had never been confronted with a detective like this. The galling thing was that she was helpless. After all, one engaged a detective for his or her shrewdness and efficiency, not for suavity and polish. A detective who hurls speech at you through clenched teeth and yet detects is better value for the money than one who—though an ideal companion for the drawing-room—is incompetent; and Mrs. Pett, like most other people, subconsciously held the view that the ruder a person is the more efficient he must be. It is but rarely that anyone is found who is not dazzled by the glamour of incivility.
Mrs. Pett crushed down her resentment at her visitor’s tone, and tried to concentrate her mind on the fact that this was a business matter and that what she wanted was results rather than fair words. She found it easier to do this when looking at the other’s face. It was a capable face. Not beautiful, perhaps, but full of promise of action. Miss Trimble having ceased temporarily to speak, her mouth was in repose, and when her mouth was in repose it looked more efficient than anything else of its size in existence.
“I want you,” said Mrs. Pett, “to come here and watch some men ——”
“Men! Thought so! Wh’ there’s trouble, always men’t bottom’f it!”
“You do not like men?”
“Hate ’em! Suff-gist!” She looked penetratingly at Mrs. Pett. Her left eye seemed to pounce out from under its tangled brow. “You s’porter of th’ cause?”
Mrs. Pett was an antisuffragist, but, though she held strong opinions, nothing would have induced her to air them at that moment. Her whole being quailed at the prospect of arguing with this woman. She returned hurriedly to the main theme.
“A young man arrived here this morning, pretending to be my nephew, James Crocker. He is an impostor. I want you to watch him very carefully.”
“I do not know. Personally I think he is here to kidnap my son Ogden; but I am not certain.”
“I’ll fix ’m,” said the fair Trimble confidently. “Say, that butler ’f yours. He’s a crook!”
Mrs. Pett opened her eyes. This woman was manifestly competent at her work.
“Have you found that out already?”
“D’rectly saw him.” Miss Trimble opened her purse. “Go’ one ’f his phot’graphs here. Brought it from office. He’s th’ man that’s wanted ’ll right.”
“Mr. Sturgis and I both think he is working with the other man, the one who pretends to be my nephew.”
“Sure. I’ll fix ’m.”
Miss Trimble returned the photograph to her purse and snapped the catch with vicious emphasis.
“There is another possibility,” said Mrs. Pett. “My nephew, Mr. William Partridge, has invented a wonderful explosive, and it is quite likely that these men are here to try to steal it.”
“Sure. Men’ll do anything. If y’ put all the men in th’ world in th’ cooler, wouldn’t be ’ny more crime.”
She glowered at the dog Aïda, which had risen from the basket and was removing the last remains of sleep from her system by a series of calisthenics of her own invention, as if suspecting her of masculinity. Mrs. Pett could not help wondering what tragedy in the dim past had caused this hatred of males on the part of her visitor. Miss Trimble had not the appearance of one who would lightly be deceived by man; still less the appearance of one whom man, unless shortsighted and extraordinarily susceptible, would go out of his way to deceive. She was still turning this mystery over in her mind when her visitor spoke.
“Well, gimme th’ rest of th’ dope,” said Miss Trimble.
“I beg your pardon?”
“More facts. Spill ’m!”
“Oh, I understand,” said Mrs. Pett hastily, and embarked on a brief narrative of the suspicious circumstances which had caused her to desire skilled assistance.
“Lor’ W’sbeach?” said Miss Trimble, breaking the story. “Who’s he?”
“A very great friend of ours.”
“You vouch f’r him pers’n’lly? He’s all right, huh? Not a crook, huh?”
“Of course he is not!” said Mrs. Pett indignantly. “He’s a great friend of mine.”
“S’ll right. Well, I guess thass ’bout all, huh? I’ll be going downstairs an’ starting in.”
“You can come here immediately?”
“Sure. Got parlor-maid rig round at m’ boarding house round corner. Come back with it ‘n ten minutes. Same dress I used when I w’s working on th’ Marling d’vorce case.
“D’jer know th’ Marlings? Idle rich! Bound t’ get ’nto trouble. I fixed ’m. Well, g’-by. Mus’ be going. No time t’ waste.”
Mrs. Pett leaned back faintly in her chair. She felt overcome.
Downstairs, on her way out, Miss Trimble had paused in the hall to inspect a fine statue that stood at the foot of the stairs. It was a noble work of art, but it seemed to displease her. She snorted.
“Idle rich!” she muttered scornfully. “B-r-rh!”
The portly form of Mr. Crocker loomed up from the direction of the back stairs. She fixed her left eye on him piercingly. Mr. Crocker met it and quailed. He had that consciousness of guilt that philosophers tell us is the worst drawback to crime. Why this woman’s gaze should disturb him so thoroughly he could not have said. She was a perfect stranger to him. She could know nothing about him. Yet he quailed.
“Say,” said Miss Trimble, “I’m c’ming here’s parlor maid.”
“Oh, ah?” said Mr. Crocker feebly.
“G-r-r-rh!” observed Miss Trimble, and departed.
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 that ran parallel to the south side of the house. It had French windows opening on a strip of lawn that 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 center 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 that Willie had carried from the luncheon table lay hid; then transferred his attention to the shelves. A cursory inspection of these revealed nothing that gave promise of whiling away entertainingly the moments that 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 discovery.
He had been perfectly right. There it was—in gold letters:
The Lonely Heart
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 to assume that someone 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 that long-haired blighters read aloud to other long-haired blighters in English suburban drawing-rooms. It was the sort of stuff that—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,
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 wabbled. 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 ago.
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 everyone 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 utter 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 that 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 that 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 humor in those days, the sense of humor that 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 invigorated 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 kidnaping 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 neutralizing that prejudice of the distant past.
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 offense?”
“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 my 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 that stood on a lectern by the window.
“Catalogue,” she said briefly, turning the pages. “Uncle Peter has heaps of law books. I’ll look up kidnaping. Here we are: ‘Law encyclopedia—shelf X.’ Oh, that’s upstairs. I shan’t be a minute.”
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. Kidnaping penalties ——”
“Hush,” called Jimmy. “There’s someone 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 Jimmy.
Ogden eyed him with disfavor.
“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 intently.
“What makes you think that?”
Ogden lowered himself into the depth of his favorite 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 you?”
“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 door.”
“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 recognized 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 counterstroke 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 that compelled respect.
“Well, now, see here,” said Ogden, “you and I have got to get together on this proposition. I’ve been kidnaped twice before, and the only guys that made anything out of it were the kidnapers. 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 kidnaped 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 kidnaped 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 kidnaped me the first time. He’s a roughneck. 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 kidnaped 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 Kidnapers 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.”
“Honor 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.”
“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 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 débutante 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 realized that there was some quality in Jimmy that 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 that 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 recognize it when she found it—and she recognized it now in Jimmy. It was a recklessness, an irresponsibility, a cheerful dare-deviltry, 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!”
“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 do not——”
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!”
“You must break your promise!”
“I can’t do that.”
“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 toward 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.
She moved away. The door closed softly behind her. Jimmy scarcely knew that she had gone. He sat down in that deep chair that was Mr. Pett’s favorite 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 Jimmy’s voice, and Lord Wisbeach 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 oily yegg?” inquired Jimmy.
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 hear?”
Jimmy drew a deep breath.
“I shall have to get farther 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?”
“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 recognize me for reasons of your own?”
“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 Crocker.”
“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 round 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 again:
“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 kidnaper! 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 that was Mr. Pett’s favorite, 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 that appeared absolutely clear to him, in a welter of confusing occurrences, was the fact that he had lost the chance of kidnaping 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 loath to accept this fact. Surely, even now, there was a way —— Quite suddenly an admirable plan occurred to him. It involved the coöperation of his father. And at that thought he realized, 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.
Jimmy 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 parlor 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 projectile.
“Oh, ah, yes.”
“J’ want anything, s’?”
With an effort, Jimmy induced his mind to resume its interrupted equilibrium.
“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 charges. 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 that her gaze might have created in the breasts of the sex she despised, had it been double instead of single barreled. 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.