Pelham Grenville Wodehouse
Part 4 out of 6
Mr. Pett was vaguely ruffled. He suspected insult, but could not
pin it down. He abandoned his cheeriness, however, and became the
man of business.
"I hope you intend to settle down, now that you are here, and
work hard," he said in the voice which he vainly tried to use on
Ogden at home.
"Work!" said Jimmy blankly.
"I shall be able to make a place for you in my office. That was
my promise to your step-mother, and I shall fulfil it."
"But wait a minute! I don't get this! Do you mean to put me to
"Of course. I take it that that was why you came over here,
because you realised how you were wasting your life and wanted a
chance of making good in my office."
A hot denial trembled on Jimmy's tongue. Never had he been so
misjudged. And then the thought of Ann checked him. He must do
nothing that would interfere with Ann's plans. Whatever the cost,
he must conciliate this little man. For a moment he mused
sentimentally on Ann. He hoped she would understand what he was
going through for her sake. To a man with his ingrained distaste
for work in any shape the sight of those wage-slaves outside
there in the outer office had, as he had told Mr. Pett, been
stimulating: but only because it filled him with a sort of
spiritual uplift to think that he had not got to do that sort of
thing. Consider them in the light of fellow-workers, and the
spectacle ceased to stimulate and became nauseating. And for her
sake he was about to become one of them! Had any knight of old
ever done anything as big as that for his lady? He very much
"All right," he said. "Count me in. I take it that I shall have a
job like one of those out there?"
"Not presuming to dictate, I suggest that you give me something
that will take some of the work off that fellow who's swimming in
paper. Only the tip of his nose was above the surface as I passed
through. I never saw so many fellows working so hard at the same
time in my life. All trying to catch the boss's eye, too, I
suppose? It must make you feel like a snipe."
Mr. Pett replied stiffly. He disliked this levity on the sacred
subject of office work. He considered that Jimmy was not
approaching his new life in the proper spirit. Many young men had
discussed with him in that room the subject of working in his
employment, but none in quite the same manner.
"You are at a serious point in your career," he said. "You will
have every opportunity of rising."
"Yes. At seven in the morning, I suppose?"
"A spirit of levity--" began Mr. Pett.
"I laugh that I may not weep," explained Jimmy. "Try to think
what this means to a bright young man who loathes work. Be kind
to me. Instruct your floor-walkers to speak gently to me at
first. It may be a far, far better thing that I do than I have
ever done, but don't ask me to enjoy it! It's all right for you.
You're the boss. Any time you want to call it a day and go off
and watch a ball-game, all you have to do is to leave word that
you have an urgent date to see Mr. Rockerfeller. Whereas I shall
have to submerge myself in paper and only come up for air when
the danger of suffocation becomes too great."
It may have been the mention of his favourite game that softened
Mr. Pett. The frostiness which had crept into his manner thawed.
"It beats me," he said, "why you ever came over at all, if you
feel like that."
"Duty!" said Jimmy. "Duty! There comes a time in the life of
every man when he must choose between what is pleasant and what
"And that last fool-game of yours, that Lord Percy Whipple
business, must have made London pretty hot for you?" suggested
"Your explanation is less romantic than mine, but there is
something in what you say."
"Had it occurred to you, young man, that I am taking a chance
putting a fellow like you to work in my office?"
"Have no fear. The little bit of work I shall do won't make any
"I've half a mind to send you straight back to London."
"Couldn't we compromise?"
"Well, haven't you some snug secretarial job you could put me
into? I have an idea that I should make an ideal secretary."
"My secretaries work."
"I get you. Cancel the suggestion."
Mr. Pett rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"You puzzle me. And that's the truth."
"Always speak the truth," said Jimmy approvingly.
"I'm darned if I know what to do with you. Well, you'd better
come home with me now, anyway, and meet your aunt, and then we
can talk things over. After all, the main thing is to keep you
out of mischief."
"You put things crudely, but no doubt you are right."
"You'll live with us, of course."
"Thank you very much. This is the right spirit."
"I'll have to talk to Nesta about you. There may be something you
"I shouldn't mind being a partner," suggested Jimmy helpfully.
"Why don't you get work on a paper again? You used to do that
"I don't think my old paper would welcome me now. They regard me
rather as an entertaining news-item than a worker."
"That's true. Say, why on earth did you make such a fool of
yourself over on the other side? That breach-of-promise case with
the barmaid!" said Mr. Pett reproachfully.
"Let bygones be bygones," said Jimmy. "I was more sinned against
than sinning. You know how it is, uncle Pete!" Mr. Pett started
violently, but said nothing. "You try out of pure goodness of
heart to scatter light and sweetness and protect the poor
working-girl--like Heaven--and brighten up her lot and so on, and
she turns right around and soaks it to you good! And anyway she
wasn't a barmaid. She worked in a florist's shop."
"I don't see that that makes any difference."
"All the difference in the world, all the difference between the
sordid and the poetical. I don't know if you have ever
experienced the hypnotic intoxication of a florist's shop? Take
it from me, uncle Pete, any girl can look an angel as long as she
is surrounded by choice blooms. I couldn't help myself. I wasn't
responsible. I only woke up when I met her outside. But all that
sort of thing is different now. I am another man. Sober, steady,
Mr. Pett had taken the receiver from the telephone and was
talking to some one. The buzzing of a feminine voice came to
Jimmy's ears. Mr. Pett hung up the receiver.
"Your aunt says we are to come up at once."
"I'm ready. And it will be a good excuse for you to knock off
work. I bet you're glad I came! Does the carriage await or shall
we take the subway?"
"I guess it will be quicker to take the subway. Your aunt's very
surprised that you are here, and very pleased."
"I'm making everybody happy to-day."
Mr. Pett was looking at him in a meditative way. Jimmy caught his
"You're registering something, uncle Pete, and I don't know what
it is. Why the glance?"
"I was just thinking of something."
"Jimmy," prompted his nephew.
"Add the word Jimmy to your remarks. It will help me to feel at
home and enable me to overcome my shyness."
Mr. Pett chuckled.
"Shyness! If I had your nerve--!" He broke off with a sigh and
looked at Jimmy affectionately. "What I was thinking was that
you're a good boy. At least, you're not, but you're different
from that gang of--of--that crowd up-town."
"Your aunt is literary, you know. She's filled the house with
poets and that sort of thing. It will be a treat having you
around. You're human! I don't see that we're going to make much
of you now that you're here, but I'm darned glad you've come,
"Put it there, uncle Pete!" said Jimmy. "You're all right.
You're the finest Captain of Industry I ever met!"
They left the subway at Ninety-sixth Street and walked up the
Drive. Jimmy, like every one else who saw it for the first time,
experienced a slight shock at the sight of the Pett mansion, but,
rallying, followed his uncle up the flagged path to the front
"Your aunt will be in the drawing-room, I guess," said Mr. Pett,
opening the door with his key.
Jimmy was looking round him appreciatively. Mr. Pett's house
might be an eyesore from without, but inside it had had the
benefit of the skill of the best interior decorator in New York.
"A man could be very happy in a house like this, if he didn't
have to poison his days with work," said Jimmy.
Mr. Pett looked alarmed.
"Don't go saying anything like that to your aunt!" he urged. "She
thinks you have come to settle down."
"So I have. I'm going to settle down like a limpet. I hope I
shall be living in luxury on you twenty years from now. Is this
Mr. Pett opened the drawing-room door. A small hairy object
sprang from a basket and stood yapping in the middle of the room.
This was Aida, Mrs. Pett's Pomeranian. Mr. Pett, avoiding the
animal coldly, for he disliked it, ushered Jimmy into the room.
"Here's Jimmy Crocker, Nesta."
Jimmy was aware of a handsome woman of middle age, so like his
step-mother that for an instant his self-possession left him and
"How--how do you do?"
His demeanour made a favourable impression on Mrs. Pett. She took
it for the decent confusion of remorse.
"I was very surprised when your uncle telephoned me," she said.
"I had not the slightest idea that you were coming over. I am
very glad to see you."
"This is your cousin, Ogden."
Jimmy perceived a fat boy lying on a settee. He had not risen on
Jimmy's entrance, and he did not rise now. He did not even lower
the book he was reading.
"Hello," he said.
Jimmy crossed over to the settee, and looked down on him. He had
got over his momentary embarrassment, and, as usual with him, the
reaction led to a fatal breeziness. He prodded Ogden in his
well-covered ribs, producing a yelp of protest from that
"So this is Ogden! Well, well, well! You don't grow up, Ogden,
but you do grow out. What are you--a perfect sixty-six?"
The favourable impression which Mrs. Pett had formed of her
nephew waned. She was shocked by this disrespectful attitude
towards the child she worshipped.
"Please do not disturb Ogden, James," she said stiffly. "He is
not feeling very well to-day. His stomach is weak."
"Been eating too much?" said Jimmy cheerfully.
"I was just the same at his age. What he wants is half rations
and plenty of exercise."
"Say!" protested Ogden.
"Just look at this," proceeded Jimmy, grasping a handful of
superfluous tissue around the boy's ribs. "All that ought to come
off. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll buy a pair of flannel
trousers and a sweater and some sneakers, and I'll take him for a
run up Riverside Drive this evening. Do him no end of good. And a
good skipping-rope, too. Nothing like it. In a couple of weeks
I'll have him as fit as a--"
"Ogden's case," said Mrs. Pett coldly, "which is very
complicated, is in the hands of Doctor Briginshaw, in whom we
have every confidence."
There was a silence, the paralysing effects of which Mr. Pett
vainly tried to mitigate by shuffling his feet and coughing.
Mrs. Pett spoke.
"I hope that, now that you are here, James, you intend to settle
down and work hard."
"Indubitably. Like a beaver," said Jimmy, mindful of Mr. Pett's
recent warning. "The only trouble is that there seems to be a
little uncertainty as to what I am best fitted for. We talked it
over in uncle Pete's office and arrived at no conclusion."
"Can't you think of anything?" said Mr. Pett.
"I looked right through the telephone classified directory the
"The other day? But you only landed this morning."
"I mean this morning. When I was looking up your address so that
I could go and see you," said Jimmy glibly. "It seems a long time
ago. I think the sight of all those fellows in your office has
aged me. I think the best plan would be for me to settle down
here and learn how to be an electrical engineer or something by
mail. I was reading an advertisement in a magazine as we came up
on the subway. I see they guarantee to teach you anything from
sheet metal working to poultry raising. The thing began 'You are
standing still because you lack training.' It seemed to me to
apply to my case exactly. I had better drop them a line to-night
asking for a few simple facts about chickens."
Whatever comment Mrs. Pett might have made on this suggestion was
checked by the entrance of Ann. From the window of her room Ann
had observed the arrival of Jimmy and her uncle, and now, having
allowed sufficient time to elapse for the former to make Mrs.
Pett's acquaintance, she came down to see how things were going.
She was well satisfied with what she saw. A slight strain which
she perceived in the atmosphere she attributed to embarrassment
natural to the situation.
She looked at Jimmy enquiringly. Mrs. Pett had not informed her
of Mr. Pett's telephone call, so Jimmy, she realised, had to be
explained to her. She waited for some one to say something.
Mr. Pett undertook the introduction.
"Jimmy, this is my niece, Ann Chester. This is Jimmy Crocker,
Jimmy could not admire sufficiently the start of surprise which
she gave. It was artistic and convincing.
Mr. Pett was on the point of mentioning that this was not the
first time Ann had met Jimmy, but refrained. After all, that
interview had happened five years ago. Jimmy had almost certainly
forgotten all about it. There was no use in making him feel
unnecessarily awkward. It was up to Ann. If she wanted to
disinter the ancient grievance, let her. It was no business of
"I thought you weren't coming over!" said Ann.
"I changed my mind."
Mr. Pett, who had been gazing attentively at them, uttered an
"I've got it! I've been trying all this while to think where it
was that I saw you before. It was on the _Atlantic_!"
Ann caught Jimmy's eye. She was relieved to see that he was not
disturbed by this sudden development.
"Did you come over on the _Atlantic_, Mr. Crocker?" she said.
"Surely not? We crossed on her ourselves. We should have met."
"Don't call me Mr. Crocker," said Jimmy. "Call me Jimmy. Your
mother's brother's wife's sister's second husband is my father.
Blood is thicker than water. No, I came over on the _Caronia_. We
docked this morning."
"Well, there was a fellow just like you on the _Atlantic_,"
persisted Mr. Pett.
Mrs. Pett said nothing. She was watching Jimmy with a keen and
"I suppose I'm a common type," said Jimmy.
"You remember the man I mean," said Mr. Pett, innocently
unconscious of the unfriendly thoughts he was encouraging in two
of his hearers. "He sat two tables away from us at meals. You
remember him, Nesta?"
"As I was too unwell to come to meals, I do not."
"Why, I thought I saw you once talking to him on deck, Ann."
"Really?" said Ann. "I don't remember any one who looked at all
"Well," said Mr. Pett, puzzled. "It's very strange. I guess I'm
wrong." He looked at his watch. "Well, I'll have to be getting
back to the office."
"I'll come with you part of the way, uncle Pete," said Jimmy. "I
have to go and arrange for my things to be expressed here."
"Why not phone to the hotel?" said Mr. Pett. It seemed to Jimmy
and Ann that he was doing this sort of thing on purpose. "Which
hotel did you leave them at?"
"No, I shall have to go there. I have some packing to do."
"You will be back to lunch?" said Ann.
"Thanks. I shan't be gone more than half an hour."
For a moment after they had gone, Ann relaxed, happy and
relieved. Everything had gone splendidly. Then a shock ran
through her whole system as Mrs. Pett spoke. She spoke excitedly,
in a lowered voice, leaning over to Ann.
"Ann! Did you notice anything? Did you suspect anything?"
Ann mastered her emotion with an effort.
"Whatever do you mean, aunt Nesta?"
"About that young man, who calls himself Jimmy Crocker."
Ann clutched the side of the chair.
"Who calls himself Jimmy Crocker? I don't understand."
Ann tried to laugh. It seemed to her an age before she produced
any sound at all, and when it came it was quite unlike a laugh.
"What put that idea into your head? Surely, if he says he is
Jimmy Crocker, it's rather absurd to doubt him, isn't it? How
could anybody except Jimmy Crocker know that you were anxious to
get Jimmy Crocker over here? You didn't tell any one, did you?"
This reasoning shook Mrs. Pett a little, but she did not intend
to abandon a perfectly good suspicion merely because it began to
"They have their spies everywhere," she said doggedly.
"The Secret Service people from other countries. Lord Wisbeach
was telling me about it yesterday. He said that I ought to
suspect everybody. He said that an attempt might be made on
Willie's invention at any moment now."
"He was joking."
"He was not. I have never seen any one so serious. He said that I
ought to regard every fresh person who came into the house as a
"Well, that guy's fresh enough," muttered Ogden from the settee.
Mrs. Pett started.
"Ogden! I had forgotten that you were there." She uttered a cry
of horror, as the fact of his presence started a new train of
thought. "Why, this man may have come to kidnap you! I never
thought of that."
Ann felt it time to intervene. Mrs. Pett was hovering much too
near the truth for comfort. "You mustn't imagine things, aunt
Nesta. I believe it comes from writing the sort of stories you
do. Surely, it is impossible for this man to be an impostor. How
would he dare take such a risk? He must know that you could
detect him at any moment by cabling over to Mrs. Crocker to ask
if her step-son was really in America."
It was a bold stroke, for it suggested a plan of action which, if
followed, would mean ruin for her schemes, but Ann could not
refrain from chancing it. She wanted to know whether her aunt had
any intention of asking Mrs. Crocker for information, or whether
the feud was too bitter for her pride to allow her to communicate
with her sister in any way. She breathed again as Mrs. Pett
stiffened grimly in her chair.
"I should not dream of cabling to Eugenia."
"I quite understand that," said Ann. "But an impostor would not
know that you felt like that, would he?"
"I see what you mean."
Ann relaxed again. The relief was, however, only momentary.
"I cannot understand, though," said Mrs. Pett, "why your uncle
should have been so positive that he saw this young man on the
"Just a chance resemblance, I suppose. Why, uncle Peter said he
saw the man whom he imagined was like Jimmy Crocker talking to
me. If there had been any real resemblance, shouldn't I have seen
it before uncle Peter?"
Assistance came from an unexpected quarter.
"I know the chap uncle Peter meant," said Ogden. "He wasn't like
this guy at all."
Ann was too grateful for the help to feel astonished at it. Her
mind, dwelling for a mere instant on the matter, decided that
Ogden must have seen her on deck with somebody else than Jimmy.
She had certainly not lacked during the voyage for those who
sought her society.
Mrs. Pett seemed to be impressed.
"I may be letting my imagination run away with me," she said.
"Of course you are, aunt Nesta," said Ann thankfully. "You don't
realise what a vivid imagination you have got. When I was typing
that last story of yours, I was simply astounded at the ideas you
had thought of. I remember saying so to uncle Peter. You can't
expect to have a wonderful imagination like yours and not imagine
things, can you?"
Mrs. Pett smiled demurely. She looked hopefully at her niece,
waiting for more, but Ann had said her say.
"You are perfectly right, my dear child," she said when she was
quite sure the eulogy was not to be resumed. "No doubt I have
been foolish to suspect this young man. But Lord Wisbeach's words
naturally acted more strongly on a mind like mine than they would
have done in the case of another woman."
"Of course," said Ann.
She was feeling quite happy now. It had been tense while it had
lasted, but everything was all right now.
"And, fortunately," said Mrs. Pett, "there is a way by which we
can find out for certain if the young man is really James
Ann became rigid again.
"A way? What way?"
"Why, don't you remember, my dear, that Skinner has known James
Crocker for years."
The name sounded familiar, but in the stress of the moment Ann
could not identify it.
"My new butler. He came to me straight from Eugenia. It was he
who let us in when we called at her house. Nobody could know
better than he whether this person is really James Crocker or
Ann felt as if she had struggled to the limit of her endurance.
She was not prepared to cope with this unexpected blow. She had
not the strength to rally under it. Dully she perceived that her
schemes must be dismissed as a failure before they had had a
chance of success. Her accomplice must not return to the house to
be exposed. She saw that clearly enough. If he came back, he
would walk straight into a trap. She rose quickly. She must warn
him. She must intercept him before he arrived--and he might
arrive at any moment now.
"Of course," she said, steadying herself with an effort, "I never
thought of that. That makes it all simple. . . . I hope lunch
won't be late. I'm hungry."
She sauntered to the door, but, directly she had closed it behind
her, ran to her room, snatched up a hat, and rushed downstairs
and out into Riverside Drive. Just as she reached the street,
Jimmy turned the corner. She ran towards him, holding up her
Jimmy halted in his tracks. The apparition had startled him. He
had been thinking of Ann, but he had not expected her to bound
out at him, waving her arms.
"What's the matter?" he enquired.
Ann pulled him towards a side-street.
"You mustn't go to the house. Everything has gone wrong."
"Everything gone wrong? I thought I had made a hit. I have with
your uncle, anyway. We parted on the friendliest terms. We have
arranged to go to the ball-game together to-morrow. He is going
to tell them at the office that Carnegie wants to see him."
"It isn't uncle Peter. It's aunt Nesta."
"Ah, there you touch my conscience. I was a little tactless, I'm
afraid, with Ogden. It happened before you came into the room. I
suppose that is the trouble?"
"It has nothing do with that," said Ann impatiently. "It's much
worse. Aunt Nesta is suspicious. She has guessed that you aren't
really Jimmy Crocker."
"Great Scott! How?"
"I tried to calm her down, but she still suspects. So now she has
decided to wait and see if Skinner, the butler, knows you. If he
doesn't, she will know that she was right."
Jimmy was frankly puzzled.
"I don't quite follow the reasoning. Surely it's a peculiar kind
of test. Why should she think a man cannot be honest and true
unless her butler knows him? There must be hundreds of worthy
citizens whom he does not know."
"Skinner arrived from England a few days ago. Until then he was
employed by Mrs. Crocker. Now do you understand?"
Jimmy stopped. She had spoken slowly and distinctly, and there
could be no possibility that he had misunderstood her, yet he
scarcely believed that he had heard her aright. How could a man
named Skinner have been his step-mother's butler? Bayliss had
been with the family ever since they had arrived in London.
"Are you sure?"
"Of course, of course I'm sure. Aunt Nesta told me herself. There
can't possibly be a mistake, because it was Skinner who let her
in when she called on Mrs. Crocker. Uncle Peter told me about it.
He had a talk with the man in the hall and found that he was a
A wild, impossible idea flashed upon Jimmy. It was so absurd that
he felt ashamed of entertaining it even for a moment. But strange
things were happening these times, and it might be . . .
"What sort of looking man is Skinner?"
"Oh, stout, clean-shaven. I like him. He's much more human than I
thought butlers ever were. Why?"
"Of course, you can't go back to the house. You see that? He
would say that you aren't Jimmy Crocker and then you would be
"I don't see that. If I am sufficiently like Crocker for his
friends to mistake me for him in restaurants, why shouldn't this
butler mistake me, too?"
"And, consider. In any case, there's no harm done. If he fails to
recognise me when he opens the door to us, we shall know that the
game is up: and I shall have plenty of time to disappear. If the
likeness deceives him, all will be well. I propose that we go to
the house, ring the bell, and when he appears, I will say 'Ah,
Skinner! Honest fellow!' or words to that effect. He will either
stare blankly at me or fawn on me like a faithful watchdog. We
will base our further actions on which way the butler jumps."
The sound of the bell died away. Footsteps were heard. Ann
reached for Jimmy's arm and--clutched it.
"Now!" she whispered.
The door opened. Next moment Jimmy's suspicion was confirmed.
Gaping at them from the open doorway, wonderfully respectable and
butlerlike in swallow-tails, stood his father. How he came to be
there, and why he was there, Jimmy did not know. But there he
Jimmy had little faith in his father's talents as a man of
discretion. The elder Crocker was one of those simple, straight
forward people who, when surprised, do not conceal their
surprise, and who, not understanding any situation in which they
find themselves, demand explanation on the spot. Swift and
immediate action was indicated on his part before his amazed
parent, finding him on the steps of the one house in New York
where he was least likely to be, should utter words that would
undo everything. He could see the name Jimmy trembling on Mr.
He waved his hand cheerily.
"Ah, Skinner, there you are!" he said breezily. "Miss Chester was
telling me that you had left my step-mother. I suppose you sailed
on the boat before mine. I came over on the _Caronia_. I suppose
you didn't expect to see me again so soon, eh?"
A spasm seemed to pass over Mr. Crocker's face, leaving it calm
and serene. He had been thrown his cue, and like the old actor he
was he took it easily and without confusion. He smiled a
"No, indeed, sir."
He stepped aside to allow them to enter. Jimmy caught Ann's eye
as she passed him. It shone with relief and admiration, and it
exhilarated Jimmy like wine. As she moved towards the stairs, he
gave expression to his satisfaction by slapping his father on the
back with a report that rang out like a pistol shot.
"What was that?" said Ann, turning.
"Something out on the Drive, I think," said Jimmy. "A car
back-firing, I fancy, Skinner."
"Very probably, sir."
He followed Ann to the stairs. As he started to mount them, a
faint whisper reached his ears.
It was Mr. Crocker's way of bestowing a father's blessing.
Ann walked into the drawing-room, her head high, triumph in the
glance which she cast upon her unconscious aunt.
"Quite an interesting little scene downstairs, aunt Nesta," she
said. "The meeting of the faithful old retainer and the young
master. Skinner was almost overcome with surprise and joy when he
Mrs. Pett could not check an incautious exclamation.
"Did Skinner recognise--?" she began; then stopped herself
"Did he recognise Jimmy? Of course! He was hardly likely to have
forgotten him, surely? It isn't much more than a week since he
was waiting on him in London."
"It was a very impressive meeting," said Jimmy. "Rather like the
reunion of Ulysses and the hound Argos, of which this bright-eyed
child here--" he patted Ogden on the head, a proceeding violently
resented by that youth--"has no doubt read in the course of his
researches into the Classics. I was Ulysses, Skinner enacted the
role of the exuberant dog."
Mrs. Pett was not sure whether she was relieved or disappointed
at this evidence that her suspicions had been without foundation.
On the whole, relief may be said to have preponderated.
"I have no doubt he was pleased to see you again. He must have
been very much astonished."
"You will be meeting another old friend in a minute or two," said
Jimmy had been sinking into a chair. This remark stopped him in
Mrs. Pett glanced at the clock.
"Lord Wisbeach is coming to lunch."
"Lord Wisbeach!" cried Ann. "He doesn't know Jimmy."
"Eugenia informed me in London that he was one of your best
Ann looked helplessly at Jimmy. She was conscious again of that
feeling of not being able to cope with Fate's blows, of not
having the strength to go on climbing over the barriers which
Fate placed in her path.
Jimmy, for his part, was cursing the ill fortune that had brought
Lord Wisbeach across his path. He saw clearly that it only needed
recognition by one or two more intimates of Jimmy Crocker to make
Ann suspect his real identity. The fact that she had seen him
with Bayliss in Paddington Station and had fallen into the error
of supposing Bayliss to be his father had kept her from
suspecting until now; but this could not last forever. He
remembered Lord Wisbeach well, as a garrulous, irrepressible
chatterer who would probably talk about old times to such an
extent as to cause Ann to realise the truth in the first five
The door opened.
"Lord Wisbeach," announced Mr. Crocker.
"I'm afraid I'm late, Mrs. Pett," said his lordship.
"No. You're quite punctual. Lord Wisbeach, here is an old friend
of yours, James Crocker."
There was an almost imperceptible pause. Then Jimmy stepped
forward and held out his hand.
"Hello, Wizzy, old man!"
Their eyes met. In his lordship's there was an expression of
unmistakable relief, mingled with astonishment. His face, which
had turned a sickly white, flushed as the blood poured back into
it. He had the appearance of a man who had had a bad shock and is
just getting over it. Jimmy, eyeing him curiously, was not
surprised at his emotion. What the man's game might be, he could
not say; but of one thing he was sure, which was that this was
not Lord Wisbeach, but--on the contrary--some one he had never
seen before in his life.
"Luncheon is served, madam!" said Mr. Crocker sonorously from the
A LITTLE BUSINESS CHAT
It was not often that Ann found occasion to rejoice at the
presence in her uncle's house of the six geniuses whom Mrs. Pett
had installed therein. As a rule, she disliked them individually
and collectively. But to-day their company was extraordinarily
welcome to her. They might have their faults, but at least their
presence tended to keep the conversation general and prevent it
becoming a duologue between Lord Wisbeach and Jimmy on the
subject of old times. She was still feeling weak from the
reaction consequent upon the slackening of the tension of her
emotions on seeing Lord Wisbeach greet Jimmy as an old
acquaintance. She had never hoped that that barrier would be
surmounted. She had pictured Lord Wisbeach drawing back with a
puzzled frown on his face and an astonished "But this is not
Jimmy Crocker." The strain had left her relieved, but in no mood
for conversation, and she replied absently to the remarks of
Howard Bemis, the poet, who sat on her left. She looked round the
table. Willie Partridge was talking to Mrs. Pett about the
difference between picric acid and trinitrotoluene, than which a
pleasanter topic for the luncheon table could hardly be selected,
and the voice of Clarence Renshaw rose above all other competing
noises, as he spoke of the functions of the trochaic spondee.
There was nothing outwardly to distinguish this meal from any
other which she had shared of late in that house.
The only thing that prevented her relief being unmixed was the
fact that she could see Lord Wisbeach casting furtive glances at
Jimmy, who was eating with the quiet concentration of one who,
after days of boarding-house fare, finds himself in the presence
of the masterpieces of a chef. In the past few days Jimmy had
consumed too much hash to worry now about anything like a furtive
glance. He had perceived Lord Wisbeach's roving eye, and had no
doubt that at the conclusion of the meal he would find occasion
for a little chat. Meanwhile, however, his duty was towards his
tissues and their restoration. He helped himself liberally from a
dish which his father offered him.
He became aware that Mrs. Pett was addressing him.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Quite like old times," said Mrs. Pett genially. Her suspicions
had vanished completely since Lord Wisbeach's recognition of the
visitor, and remorse that she should have suspected him made her
unwontedly amiable. "Being with Skinner again," she explained.
"It must remind you of London."
Jimmy caught his father's expressionless eye.
"Skinner's," he said handsomely, "is a character one cannot help
but respect. His nature expands before one like some beautiful
The dish rocked in Mr. Crocker's hand, but his face remained
"There is no vice in Skinner," proceeded Jimmy. "His heart is the
heart of a little child."
Mrs. Pett looked at this paragon of the virtues in rather a
startled way. She had an uncomfortable feeling that she was being
laughed at. She began to dislike Jimmy again.
"For many years Skinner has been a father to me," said Jimmy.
"Who ran to help me when I fell, And would some pretty story
tell, Or kiss the place to make it well? Skinner."
For all her suspense, Ann could not help warming towards an
accomplice who carried off an unnerving situation with such a
flourish. She had always regarded herself with a fair degree of
complacency as possessed of no mean stock of courage and
resource, but she could not have spoken then without betraying
her anxiety. She thought highly of Jimmy, but all the same she
could not help wishing that he would not make himself quite so
conspicuous. Perhaps--the thought chilled her--perhaps he was
creating quite a new Jimmy Crocker, a character which would cause
Skinner and Lord Wisbeach to doubt the evidence of their eyes and
begin to suspect the truth. She wished she could warn him to
simmer down, but the table was a large one and he and she were at
opposite ends of it.
Jimmy, meanwhile, was thoroughly enjoying himself. He felt that
he was being the little ray of sunshine about the home and making
a good impression. He was completely happy. He liked the food, he
liked seeing his father buttle, and he liked these amazing freaks
who were, it appeared, fellow-inmates with him of this highly
desirable residence. He wished that old Mr. Pett could have been
present. He had conceived a great affection for Mr. Pett, and
registered a mental resolve to lose no time in weaning him from
his distressing habit of allowing the office to interfere with
his pleasures. He was planning a little trip to the Polo Grounds,
in which Mr. Pett, his father, and a number of pop bottles were
to be his companions, when his reverie was interrupted by a
sudden cessation of the buzz of talk. He looked up from his
plate, to find the entire company regarding Willie Partridge
open-mouthed. Willie, with gleaming eyes, was gazing at a small
test-tube which he had produced from his pocket and placed beside
"I have enough in this test-tube," said Willie airily, "to blow
half New York to bits."
The silence was broken by a crash in the background. Mr. Crocker
had dropped a chafing-dish.
"If I were to drop this little tube like that," said Willie,
using the occurrence as a topical illustration, "we shouldn't be
"Don't drop it," advised Jimmy. "What is it?"
Mrs. Pett had risen from the table, with blanched face.
"Willie, how can you bring that stuff here? What are you thinking
Willie smiles a patronising smile.
"There is not the slightest danger, aunt Nesta. It cannot explode
without concussion. I have been carrying it about with me all the
He bestowed on the test-tube the look a fond parent might give
his favourite child. Mrs. Pett was not reassured.
"Go and put it in your uncle's safe at once. Put it away."
"I haven't the combination."
"Call your uncle up at once at the office and ask him."
"Very well. If you wish it, aunt Nesta. But there is no danger."
"Don't take that thing with you," screamed Mrs. Pett, as he rose.
"You might drop it. Come back for it."
Conversation flagged after Willie's departure. The presence of
the test-tube seemed to act on the spirits of the company after
the fashion of the corpse at the Egyptian banquet. Howard Bemis,
who was sitting next to it, edged away imperceptibly till he
nearly crowded Ann off her chair. Presently Willie returned. He
picked up the test-tube, put it in his pocket with a certain
jauntiness, and left the room again.
"Now, if you hear a sudden bang and find yourself disappearing
through the roof," said Jimmy, "that will be it."
Willie returned and took his place at the table again. But the
spirit had gone out of the gathering. The voice of Clarence
Renshaw was hushed, and Howard Bemis spoke no more of the
influence of Edgar Lee Masters on modern literature. Mrs. Pett
left the room, followed by Ann. The geniuses drifted away one by
one. Jimmy, having lighted a cigarette and finished his coffee,
perceived that he was alone with his old friend, Lord Wisbeach,
and that his old friend Lord Wisbeach was about to become
The fair-haired young man opened the proceedings by going to the
door and looking out. This done, he returned to his seat and
gazed fixedly at Jimmy.
"What's your game?" he asked.
Jimmy returned his gaze blandly.
"My game?" he said. "What do you mean?"
"Can the coy stuff," urged his lordship brusquely. "Talk sense
and talk it quick. We may be interrupted at any moment. What's
your game? What are you here for?"
Jimmy raised his eyebrows.
"I am a prodigal nephew returned to the fold."
"Oh, quit your kidding. Are you one of Potter's lot?"
"Who is Potter?"
"You know who Potter is."
"On the contrary. My life has never been brightened by so much as
a sight of Potter."
"Is that true?"
"Are you working on your own, then?"
"I am not working at all at present. There is some talk of my
learning to be an Asparagus Adjuster by mail later on."
"You make me sick," said Lord Wisbeach. "Where's the sense of
trying to pull this line of talk. Why not put your cards on the
table? We've both got in here on the same lay, and there's no use
fighting and balling the thing up."
"Do you wish me to understand," said Jimmy, "that you are not my
old friend, Lord Wisbeach?"
"No. And you're not my old friend, Jimmy Crocker."
"What makes you think that?"
"If you had been, would you have pretended to recognise me
upstairs just now? I tell you, pal, I was all in for a second,
till you gave me the high sign."
"It would have been awkward for you if I really had been Jimmy
Crocker, wouldn't it?"
"And it would have been awkward for you if I had really been Lord
"Who are you, by the way?"
"The boys call me Gentleman Jack."
"Why?" asked Jimmy, surprised.
Lord Wisbeach ignored the question.
"I'm working with Burke's lot just now. Say, let's be sensible
about this. I'll be straight with you, straight as a string."
"Did you say string or spring?"
"And I'll expect you to be straight with me."
"Are we to breathe confidences into each other's ears?"
Lord Wisbeach went to the door again and submitted the passage to
a second examination.
"You seem nervous," said Jimmy.
"I don't like that butler. He's up to something."
"Do you think he's one of Potter's lot?"
"Shouldn't wonder. He isn't on the level, anyway, or why did he
pretend to recognise you as Jimmy Crocker?"
"Recognition of me as Jimmy Crocker seems to be the acid test of
"He was in a tight place, same as I was," said Lord Wisbeach. "He
couldn't know that you weren't really Jimmy Crocker until you put
him wise--same as you did me--by pretending to know him." He
looked at Jimmy with grudging admiration. "You'd got your nerve
with you, pal, coming in here like this. You were taking big
chances. You couldn't have known you wouldn't run up against some
one who really knew Jimmy Crocker. What would you have done if
this butler guy had really been on the level?"
"The risks of the profession!"
"When I think of the work I had to put in," said Lord Wisbeach,
"it makes me tired to think of some one else just walking in here
as you did."
"What made you choose Lord Wisbeach as your alias?"
"I knew that I could get away with it. I came over on the boat
with him, and I knew he was travelling round the world and wasn't
going to stay more than a day in New York. Even then I had to go
some to get into this place. Burke told me to get hold of old
Chester and get a letter of introduction from him. And here you
come along and just stroll in and tell them you have come to
stay!" He brooded for a moment on the injustice of things.
"Well, what are you going to do about it, Pal?"
"About us both being here? Are you going to be sensible and work
in with me and divvy up later on, or are you going to risk
spoiling everything by trying to hog the whole thing? I'll be
square with you. It isn't as if there was any use in trying to
bluff each other. We're both here for the same thing. You want to
get hold of that powder stuff, that Partridgite, and so do I."
"You believe in Partridgite, then?"
"Oh, can it," said Lord Wisbeach disgustedly. "What's the use?
Of course I believe in it. Burke's had his eye on the thing for a
year. You've heard of Dwight Partridge, haven't you? Well, this
guy's his son. Every one knows that Dwight Partridge was working
on an explosive when he died, and here's his son comes along with
a test-tube full of stuff which he says could blow this city to
bits. What's the answer? The boy's been working on the old man's
dope. From what I've seen of him, I guess there wasn't much more
to be done on it, or he wouldn't have done it. He's pretty well
dead from the neck up, as far as I can see. But that doesn't
alter the fact that he's got the stuff and that you and I have
got to get together and make a deal. If we don't, I'm not saying
you mightn't gum my game, just as I might gum yours; but where's
the sense in that? It only means taking extra chances. Whereas if
we sit in together, there's enough in it for both of us. You know
as well as I do that there's a dozen markets which'll bid against
each other for stuff like that Partridgite. If you're worrying
about Burke giving you a square deal, forget it. I'll fix Burke.
He'll treat you nice, all right."
Jimmy ground the butt of his cigarette against his plate.
"I'm no orator, as Brutus is; but, as you know me all, a plain,
blunt man. And, speaking in the capacity of a plain, blunt man, I
rise to reply--Nothing doing."
"What? You won't come in?"
Jimmy shook his head.
"I'm sorry to disappoint you, Wizzy, if I may still call you
that, but your offer fails to attract. I will not get together or
sit in or anything else. On the contrary, I am about to go to
Mrs. Pett and inform her that there is a snake in her Eden."
"You're not going to squeal on me?"
"At the top of my voice."
Lord Wisbeach laughed unpleasantly.
"Yes, you will," he said. "How are you going to explain why you
recognised me as an old pal before lunch if I'm a crook after
lunch. You can't give me away without giving yourself away. If
I'm not Lord Wisbeach, then you're not Jimmy Crocker."
Jimmy sighed. "I get you. Life is very complex, isn't it?"
Lord Wisbeach rose.
"You'd better think it over, son," he said. "You aren't going to
get anywhere by acting like a fool. You can't stop me going after
this stuff, and if you won't come in and go fifty-fifty, you'll
find yourself left. I'll beat you to it."
He left the room, and Jimmy, lighting a fresh cigarette,
addressed himself to the contemplation of this new complication
in his affairs. It was quite true what Gentleman Jack or Joe or
whatever the "boys" called him had said. To denounce him meant
denouncing himself. Jimmy smoked thoughtfully. Not for the first
time he wished that his record during the past few years had been
of a snowier character. He began to appreciate what must have
been the feelings of Dr. Jekyll under the handicap of his
disreputable second self, Mr. Hyde.
MRS. PETT TAKES PRECAUTIONS
Mrs. Pett, on leaving the luncheon-table, had returned to the
drawing-room to sit beside the sick-settee of her stricken child.
She was troubled about Ogden. The poor lamb was not at all
himself to-day. A bowl of clear soup, the midday meal prescribed
by Doctor Briginshaw, lay untasted at his side.
She crossed the room softly, and placed a cool hand on her son's
"Oh, Gee," said Ogden wearily.
"Are you feeling a little better, Oggie darling?"
"No," said Ogden firmly. "I'm feeling a lot worse."
"You haven't drunk your nice soup."
"Feed it to the cat."
"Could you eat a nice bowl of bread-and-milk, precious?"
"Have a heart," replied the sufferer.
Mrs. Pett returned to her seat, sorrowfully. It struck her as an
odd coincidence that the poor child was nearly always like this
on the morning after she had been entertaining guests; she put it
down to the reaction from the excitement working on a
highly-strung temperament. To his present collapse the brutal
behaviour of Jerry Mitchell had, of course, contributed. Every
drop of her maternal blood boiled with rage and horror whenever
she permitted herself to contemplate the excesses of the late
Jerry. She had always mistrusted the man. She had never liked his
face--not merely on aesthetic grounds but because she had seemed
to detect in it a lurking savagery. How right events had proved
this instinctive feeling. Mrs. Pett was not vulgar enough to
describe the feeling, even to herself, as a hunch, but a hunch it
had been; and, like every one whose hunches have proved correct,
she was conscious in the midst of her grief of a certain
complacency. It seemed to her that hers must be an intelligence
and insight above the ordinary.
The peace of the early afternoon settled upon the drawing-room.
Mrs. Pett had taken up a book; Ogden, on the settee, breathed
stentorously. Faint snores proceeded from the basket in the
corner where Aida, the Pomeranian, lay curled in refreshing
sleep. Through the open window floated sounds of warmth and
Yielding to the drowsy calm, Mrs. Pett was just nodding into a
pleasant nap, when the door opened and Lord Wisbeach came in.
Lord Wisbeach had been doing some rapid thinking. Rapid thought
is one of the essentials in the composition of men who are known
as Gentleman Jack to the boys and whose livelihood is won only by
a series of arduous struggles against the forces of Society and
the machinations of Potter and his gang. Condensed into capsule
form, his lordship's meditations during the minutes after he had
left Jimmy in the dining-room amounted to the realisation that
the best mode of defence is attack. It is your man who knows how
to play the bold game on occasion who wins. A duller schemer than
Lord Wisbeach might have been content to be inactive after such a
conversation as had just taken place between himself and Jimmy.
His lordship, giving the matter the concentrated attention of his
trained mind, had hit on a better plan, and he had come to the
drawing-room now to put it into effect.
His entrance shattered the peaceful atmosphere. Aida, who had
been gurgling apoplectically, sprang snarling from the basket,
and made for the intruder open-mouthed. Her shrill barking rang
through the room.
Lord Wisbeach hated little dogs. He hated and feared them. Many
men of action have these idiosyncrasies. He got behind a chair
and said "There, there." Aida, whose outburst was mere sound and
fury and who had no intention whatever of coming to blows,
continued the demonstration from a safe distance, till Mrs. Pett,
swooping down, picked her up and held her in her lap, where she
consented to remain, growling subdued defiance. Lord Wisbeach
came out from behind his chair and sat down warily.
"Can I have a word with you, Mrs. Pett?"
"Certainly, Lord Wisbeach."
His lordship looked meaningly at Ogden.
"In private, you know."
He then looked meaningly at Mrs. Pett.
"Ogden darling," said Mrs. Pett, "I think you had better go to
your room and undress and get into bed. A little nice sleep might
do you all the good in the world."
With surprising docility, the boy rose.
"All right," he said.
"Poor Oggie is not at all well to-day," said Mrs. Pett, when he
was gone. "He is very subject to these attacks. What do you want
to tell me, Lord Wisbeach?"
His lordship drew his chair a little closer.
"Mrs. Pett, you remember what I told you yesterday?"
"Might I ask what you know of this man who has come here calling
himself Jimmy Crocker?"
Mrs. Pett started. She remembered that she had used almost that
very expression to Ann. Her suspicions, which had been lulled by
the prompt recognition of the visitor by Skinner and Lord
Wisbeach, returned. It is one of the effects of a successful
hunch that it breeds other hunches. She had been right about
Jerry Mitchell; was she to be proved right about the self-styled
"You have seen your nephew, I believe?"
"That man," said Lord Wisbeach impassively, "is not your nephew."
Mrs. Pett thrilled all down her spine. She had been right.
"But I pretended to recognise him? Just so. For a purpose. I
wanted to make him think that I suspected nothing."
"Then you think--?"
"Remember what I said to you yesterday."
"But Skinner--the butler--recognised him?"
"Exactly. It goes to prove that what I said about Skinner was
correct. They are working together. The thing is self-evident.
Look at it from your point of view. How simple it is. This man
pretends to an intimate acquaintance with Skinner. You take that
as evidence of Skinner's honesty. Skinner recognises this man.
You take that as proof that this man is really your nephew. The
fact that Skinner recognised as Jimmy Crocker a man who is not
Jimmy Crocker condemns him."
"But why did you--?"
"I told you that I pretended to accept this man as the real Jimmy
Crocker for a purpose. At present there is nothing that you can
do. Mere impersonation is not a crime. If I had exposed him when
we met, you would have gained nothing beyond driving him from the
house. Whereas, if we wait, if we pretend to suspect nothing, we
shall undoubtedly catch him red-handed in an attempt on your
"You are sure that that is why he has come?"
"What other reason could he have?"
"I thought he might be trying to kidnap Ogden."
Lord Wisbeach frowned thoughtfully. He had not taken this
consideration into account.
"It is possible," he said. "There have been several attempts
made, have there not, to kidnap your son?"
"At one time," said Mrs. Pett proudly, "there was not a child in
America who had to be more closely guarded. Why, the kidnappers
had a special nick-name for Oggie. They called him the Little
"Of course, then, it is quite possible that that may be the man's
object. In any case, our course must be the same. We must watch
every move he makes." He paused. "I could help--pardon my
suggesting it--I could help a great deal more if you were to
invite me to live in the house. You were kind enough to ask me to
visit you in the country, but it will be two weeks before you go
to the Country, and in those two weeks--"
"You must come here at once, Lord Wisbeach. To-night. To-day."
"I think that would be the best plan."
"I cannot tell you how grateful I am for all you are doing."
"You have been so kind to me, Mrs. Pett," said Lord Wisbeach with
feeling, "that it is surely only right that I should try to make
some return. Let us leave it at this then. I will come here
to-night and will make it my business to watch these two men. I
will go and pack my things and have them sent here."
"It is wonderful of you, Lord Wisbeach."
"Not at all," replied his lordship. "It will be a pleasure."
He held out his hand, drawing it back rapidly as the dog Aida
made a snap at it. Substituting a long-range leave-taking for the
more intimate farewell, he left the room.
When he had gone, Mrs. Pett remained for some minutes, thinking.
She was aflame with excitement. She had a sensational mind, and
it had absorbed Lord Wisbeach's revelations eagerly. Her
admiration for his lordship was intense, and she trusted him
utterly. The only doubt that occurred to her was whether, with
the best intentions in the world, he would be able unassisted to
foil a pair of schemers so distant from each other geographically
as the man who called himself Jimmy Crocker and the man who had
called himself Skinner. That was a point on which they had not
touched, the fact that one impostor was above stairs, the other
below. It seemed to Mrs. Pett impossible that Lord Wisbeach, for
all his zeal, could watch Skinner without neglecting Jimmy or
foil Jimmy without taking his attention off Skinner. It was
manifestly a situation that called for allies. She felt that she
must have further assistance.
To Mrs. Pett, doubtless owing to her hobby of writing sensational
fiction, there was a magic in the word detective which was shared
by no other word in the language. She loved detectives--their
keen eyes, their quiet smiles, their Derby hats. When they came
on the stage, she leaned forward in her orchestra chair; when
they entered her own stories, she always wrote with a greater
zest. It is not too much to say that she had an almost spiritual
attachment for detectives, and the idea of neglecting to employ
one in real life, now that circumstances had combined to render
his advent so necessary, struck her as both rash and inartistic.
In the old days, when Ogden had been kidnapped, the only thing
which had brought her balm had been the daily interviews with the
detectives. She ached to telephone for one now.
The only consideration that kept her back was a regard for Lord
Wisbeach's feelings. He had been so kind and so shrewd that to
suggest reinforcing him with outside assistance must infallibly
wound him deeply. And yet the situation demanded the services of
a trained specialist. Lord Wisbeach had borne himself during
their recent conversation in such a manner as to leave no doubt
that he considered himself adequate to deal with the matter
single-handed: but admirable though he was he was not a
professional exponent of the art of espionage. He needed to be
helped in spite of himself.
A happy solution struck Mrs. Pett. There was no need to tell him.
She could combine the installation of a detective with the nicest
respect for her ally's feelings by the simple process of engaging
one without telling Lord Wisbeach anything about it.
The telephone stood at her elbow, concealed--at the express
request of the interior decorator who had designed the room--in
the interior of what looked to the casual eye like a stuffed owl.
On a table near at hand, handsomely bound in morocco to resemble
a complete works of Shakespeare, was the telephone book. Mrs.
Pett hesitated no longer. She had forgotten the address of the
detective agency which she had employed on the occasion of the
kidnapping of Ogden, but she remembered the name, and also the
name of the delightfully sympathetic manager or proprietor or
whatever he was who had listened to her troubles then.
She unhooked the receiver, and gave a number.
"I want to speak to Mr. Sturgis," she said.
"Oh, Mr. Sturgis," said Mrs. Pett. "I wonder if you could
possibly run up here--yes, now. This is Mrs. Peter Pett speaking.
You remember we met some years ago when I was Mrs. Ford. Yes, the
mother of Ogden Ford. I want to consult--You will come up at
once? Thank you so much. Good-bye."
Mrs. Pett hung up the receiver.
MISS TRIMBLE, DETECTIVE
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
"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
"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
"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 Aida 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 Aida 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" (Mobbs and
Stifien, $1.35 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 behaviour 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 a 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 jewellery and what not.
"Aunt Nesta," said Jimmy, "I wonder if I might ask you a personal
Mrs. Pett shuddered at the glibness with which he brought out the
familiar name. This was superTuke. Marsden himself, scoundrel as
he was, could not have called her "Aunt Nesta" as smoothly as
"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 which 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. He begged 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 up from the floor, you
"I strongly object to prize-fighters," said Mrs. Pett, "and I was
opposed to Mitchell coming into the house from the first."
"You wouldn't let him come back, I suppose?" queried Jimmy
"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 as 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, scepticism,
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 towards Lord Wisbeach at this point in the proceedings
almost became 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 coming to
her in spite of his step-mother'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
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
Jimmy had paused, mid-way 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 favourite 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. "Won't
you sit down?"
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.
"Who was that young man who just went out?"
"It is about him that I wished to consult you, Mr. Sturgis."
Mr. Sturgis leaned back, and placed the tips of his fingers
"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 from his office, to say 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 which 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
"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-traveller of ours on the _Atlantic_, on our return voyage,
while he claimed to have landed that morning on the _Caronia_."
"You are certain of that, Mrs. Pett? He stated positively 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 he first came into the
house, he was with my husband, who opened the door with his key,
so that they did not meet then."
"I understand," said Mr. Sturgis, glancing keenly at the dog
Aida, who had risen and was sniffing at his ankles. "You thought
that if Skinner recognised this young man, it would be proof of
"Did he recognise him?"
"Yes. But wait. I have not finished. He recognised 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 lunch to-day and met this impostor. He pretended to
recognise him, in order to put him off his guard, but after lunch
he came to me here and told me that in reality he had never seen
him 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 _Caronia_? Well, I saw him
myself more than a week ago in a Broadway _cafe_."
"Talking to--Jerry Mitchell. I know Mitchell well by sight."
Mrs. Pett uttered an exclamation.
"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 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, which had been
sent to them from London. Whether some private client in London
or from Scotland Yard I do not know. Nor do I know why the
original of the photograph 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 pockets. "Do you recognise it?"
Mrs. Pett stared at the photograph. It was the presentment of a
stout, good-humoured man of middle-age, whose solemn gaze dwelt
on the middle distance in that fixed way which a man achieves
only in photographs.
"Exactly," said Mr. Sturgis, taking the photograph from her and
putting it back in his pocket. "I recognised 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
"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 any one 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 which 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 he 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, but I
cannot help feeling that this 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, of
course, to allow Mitchell to come back to the house?"
"Yes. You think that was wise?"
"Undoubtedly. If his absence did not handicap them, they would
not be so anxious to have him on the spot."
"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
"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
"A woman?" said Mrs. Pett doubtfully.
"A woman in a thousand," said Mr. Sturgis. "A woman in a
"But physically would a woman be--?"
"Miss Trimble knows more about jiu-jitsu 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 parlour-maid?"
"I could make one."
"Do so at once. Miss Trimble is at her best as a parlour-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
"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.
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