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´╗┐Title: Piccadilly Jim
Author: Wodehouse, P. G. (Pelham Grenville), 1881-1975
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Piccadilly Jim" ***

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Piccadilly Jim


by

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse



CHAPTER I

A RED-HAIRED GIRL

The residence of Mr. Peter Pett, the well-known financier, on
Riverside Drive is one of the leading eyesores of that breezy and
expensive boulevard. As you pass by in your limousine, or while
enjoying ten cents worth of fresh air on top of a green omnibus,
it jumps out and bites at you. Architects, confronted with it,
reel and throw up their hands defensively, and even the lay
observer has a sense of shock. The place resembles in almost
equal proportions a cathedral, a suburban villa, a hotel and a
Chinese pagoda. Many of its windows are of stained glass, and
above the porch stand two terra-cotta lions, considerably more
repulsive even than the complacent animals which guard New York's
Public Library. It is a house which is impossible to overlook:
and it was probably for this reason that Mrs. Pett insisted on
her husband buying it, for she was a woman who liked to be
noticed.

Through the rich interior of this mansion Mr. Pett, its nominal
proprietor, was wandering like a lost spirit. The hour was about
ten of a fine Sunday morning, but the Sabbath calm which was upon
the house had not communicated itself to him. There was a look of
exasperation on his usually patient face, and a muttered oath,
picked up no doubt on the godless Stock Exchange, escaped his
lips.

"Darn it!"

He was afflicted by a sense of the pathos of his position. It was
not as if he demanded much from life. He asked but little here
below. At that moment all that he wanted was a quiet spot where
he might read his Sunday paper in solitary peace, and he could
not find one. Intruders lurked behind every door. The place was
congested.

This sort of thing had been growing worse and worse ever since
his marriage two years previously. There was a strong literary
virus in Mrs. Pett's system. She not only wrote voluminously
herself--the name Nesta Ford Pett is familiar to all lovers of
sensational fiction--but aimed at maintaining a salon. Starting,
in pursuance of this aim, with a single specimen,--her nephew,
Willie Partridge, who was working on a new explosive which would
eventually revolutionise war--she had gradually added to her
collections, until now she gave shelter beneath her terra-cotta
roof to no fewer than six young and unrecognised geniuses. Six
brilliant youths, mostly novelists who had not yet started and
poets who were about to begin, cluttered up Mr. Pett's rooms on
this fair June morning, while he, clutching his Sunday paper,
wandered about, finding, like the dove in Genesis, no rest. It
was at such times that he was almost inclined to envy his wife's
first husband, a business friend of his named Elmer Ford, who had
perished suddenly of an apoplectic seizure: and the pity which he
generally felt for the deceased tended to shift its focus.

Marriage had certainly complicated life for Mr. Pett, as it
frequently does for the man who waits fifty years before trying
it. In addition to the geniuses, Mrs. Pett had brought with her
to her new home her only son, Ogden, a fourteen-year-old boy of a
singularly unloveable type. Years of grown-up society and the
absence of anything approaching discipline had given him a
precocity on which the earnest efforts of a series of private
tutors had expended themselves in vain. They came, full of
optimism and self-confidence, to retire after a brief interval,
shattered by the boy's stodgy resistance to education in any form
or shape. To Mr. Pett, never at his ease with boys, Ogden Ford
was a constant irritant. He disliked his stepson's personality,
and he more than suspected him of stealing his cigarettes. It
was an additional annoyance that he was fully aware of the
impossibility of ever catching him at it.

Mr. Pett resumed his journey. He had interrupted it for a moment
to listen at the door of the morning-room, but, a remark in a
high tenor voice about the essential Christianity of the poet
Shelley filtering through the oak, he had moved on.

Silence from behind another door farther down the passage
encouraged him to place his fingers on the handle, but a crashing
chord from an unseen piano made him remove them swiftly. He
roamed on, and a few minutes later the process of elimination had
brought him to what was technically his own private library--a
large, soothing room full of old books, of which his father had
been a great collector. Mr. Pett did not read old books himself,
but he liked to be among them, and it is proof of his pessimism
that he had not tried the library first. To his depressed mind it
had seemed hardly possible that there could be nobody there.

He stood outside the door, listening tensely. He could hear
nothing. He went in, and for an instant experienced that ecstatic
thrill which only comes to elderly gentlemen of solitary habit
who in a house full of their juniors find themselves alone at
last. Then a voice spoke, shattering his dream of solitude.

"Hello, pop!"

Ogden Ford was sprawling in a deep chair in the shadows.

"Come in, pop, come in. Lots of room."

Mr. Pett stood in the doorway, regarding his step-son with a
sombre eye. He resented the boy's tone of easy patronage, all the
harder to endure with philosophic calm at the present moment from
the fact that the latter was lounging in his favourite chair.
Even from an aesthetic point of view the sight of the bulging
child offended him. Ogden Ford was round and blobby and looked
overfed. He had the plethoric habit of one to whom wholesome
exercise is a stranger and the sallow complexion of the confirmed
candy-fiend. Even now, a bare half hour after breakfast, his jaws
were moving with a rhythmical, champing motion.

"What are you eating, boy?" demanded Mr. Pett, his disappointment
turning to irritability.

"Candy."

"I wish you would not eat candy all day."

"Mother gave it to me," said Ogden simply. As he had anticipated,
the shot silenced the enemy's battery. Mr. Pett grunted, but made
no verbal comment. Ogden celebrated his victory by putting
another piece of candy in his mouth.

"Got a grouch this morning, haven't you, pop?"

"I will not be spoken to like that!"

"I thought you had," said his step-son complacently. "I can
always tell. I don't see why you want to come picking on me,
though. I've done nothing."

Mr. Pett was sniffing suspiciously.

"You've been smoking."

"Me!!"

"Smoking cigarettes."

"No, sir!"

"There are two butts in the ash-tray."

"I didn't put them there."

"One of them is warm."

"It's a warm day."

"You dropped it there when you heard me come in."

"No, sir! I've only been here a few minutes. I guess one of the
fellows was in here before me. They're always swiping your
coffin-nails. You ought to do something about it, pop. You ought
to assert yourself."

A sense of helplessness came upon Mr. Pett. For the thousandth
time he felt himself baffled by this calm, goggle-eyed boy who
treated him with such supercilious coolness.

"You ought to be out in the open air this lovely morning," he
said feebly.

"All right. Let's go for a walk. I will if you will."

"I--I have other things to do," said Mr. Pett, recoiling from the
prospect.

"Well, this fresh-air stuff is overrated anyway. Where's the
sense of having a home if you don't stop in it?"

"When I was your age, I would have been out on a morning like
this--er--bowling my hoop."

"And look at you now!"

"What do you mean?"

"Martyr to lumbago."

"I am not a martyr to lumbago," said Mr. Pett, who was touchy on
the subject.

"Have it your own way. All I know is--"

"Never mind!"

"I'm only saying what mother . . ."

"Be quiet!"

Ogden made further researches in the candy box.

"Have some, pop?"

"No."

"Quite right. Got to be careful at your age."

"What do you mean?"

"Getting on, you know. Not so young as you used to be. Come in,
pop, if you're coming in. There's a draft from that door."

Mr. Pett retired, fermenting. He wondered how another man would
have handled this situation. The ridiculous inconsistency of the
human character infuriated him. Why should he be a totally
different man on Riverside Drive from the person he was in Pine
Street? Why should he be able to hold his own in Pine Street with
grown men--whiskered, square-jawed financiers--and yet be unable
on Riverside Drive to eject a fourteen-year-old boy from an easy
chair? It seemed to him sometimes that a curious paralysis of the
will came over him out of business hours.

Meanwhile, he had still to find a place where he could read his
Sunday paper.

He stood for a while in thought. Then his brow cleared, and he
began to mount the stairs. Reaching the top floor, he walked
along the passage and knocked on a door at the end of it. From
behind this door, as from behind those below, sounds proceeded,
but this time they did not seem to discourage Mr. Pett. It was
the tapping of a typewriter that he heard, and he listened to it
with an air of benevolent approval. He loved to hear the sound of
a typewriter: it made home so like the office.

"Come in," called a girl's voice.

The room in which Mr. Pett found himself was small but cosy, and
its cosiness--oddly, considering the sex of its owner--had that
peculiar quality which belongs as a rule to the dens of men. A
large bookcase almost covered one side of it, its reds and blues
and browns smiling cheerfully at whoever entered. The walls were
hung with prints, judiciously chosen and arranged. Through a
window to the left, healthfully open at the bottom, the sun
streamed in, bringing with it the pleasantly subdued whirring of
automobiles out on the Drive. At a desk at right angles to this
window, her vivid red-gold hair rippling in the breeze from the
river, sat the girl who had been working at the typewriter. She
turned as Mr. Pett entered, and smiled over her shoulder.

Ann Chester, Mr. Pett's niece, looked her best when she smiled.
Although her hair was the most obviously striking feature of her
appearance, her mouth was really the most individual thing about
her. It was a mouth that suggested adventurous possibilities. In
repose, it had a look of having just finished saying something
humorous, a kind of demure appreciation of itself. When it
smiled, a row of white teeth flashed out: or, if the lips did not
part, a dimple appeared on the right cheek, giving the whole face
an air of mischievous geniality. It was an enterprising,
swashbuckling sort of mouth, the mouth of one who would lead
forlorn hopes with a jest or plot whimsically lawless
conspiracies against convention. In its corners and in the firm
line of the chin beneath it there lurked, too, more than a hint
of imperiousness. A physiognomist would have gathered, correctly,
that Ann Chester liked having her own way and was accustomed to
get it.

"Hello, uncle Peter," she said. "What's the trouble?"

"Am I interrupting you, Ann?"

"Not a bit. I'm only copying out a story for aunt Nesta. I
promised her I would. Would you like to hear some of it?"

Mr. Pett said he would not.

"You're missing a good thing," said Ann, turning the pages. "I'm
all worked up over it. It's called 'At Dead of Night,' and it's
full of crime and everything. You would never think aunt Nesta
had such a feverish imagination. There are detectives and
kidnappers in it and all sorts of luxuries. I suppose it's the
effect of reading it, but you look to me as if you were trailing
something. You've got a sort of purposeful air."

Mr. Pett's amiable face writhed into what was intended to be a
bitter smile.

"I'm only trailing a quiet place to read in. I never saw such a
place as this house. It looks big enough outside for a regiment.
Yet, when you're inside, there's a poet or something in every
room."

"What about the library? Isn't that sacred to you?"

"The boy Ogden's there."

"What a shame!"

"Wallowing in my best chair," said Mr. Pett morosely. "Smoking
cigarettes."

"Smoking? I thought he had promised aunt Nesta he wouldn't smoke."

"Well, he said he wasn't, of course, but I know he had been. I
don't know what to do with that boy. It's no good my talking to
him. He--he patronises me!" concluded Mr. Pett indignantly.
"Sits there on his shoulder blades with his feet on the table
and talks to me with his mouth full of candy as if I were his
grandson."

"Little brute."

Ann was sorry for Mr. Pett. For many years now, ever since the
death of her mother, they had been inseparable. Her father, who
was a traveller, explorer, big-game hunter, and general sojourner
in the lonelier and wilder spots of the world and paid only
infrequent visits to New York, had left her almost entirely in
Mr. Pett's care, and all her pleasantest memories were associated
with him. Mr. Chester's was in many ways an admirable character,
but not a domestic one; and his relations with his daughter were
confined for the most part to letters and presents. In the past
few years she had come almost to regard Mr. Pett in the light of
a father. Hers was a nature swiftly responsive to kindness; and
because Mr. Pett besides being kind was also pathetic she pitied
as well as loved him. There was a lingering boyishness in the
financier, the boyishness of the boy who muddles along in an
unsympathetic world and can never do anything right: and this
quality called aloud to the youth in her. She was at the valiant
age when we burn to right wrongs and succour the oppressed, and
wild rebel schemes for the reformation of her small world came
readily to her. From the first she had been a smouldering
spectator of the trials of her uncle's married life, and if Mr.
Pett had ever asked her advice and bound himself to act on it he
would have solved his domestic troubles in explosive fashion. For
Ann in her moments of maiden meditation had frequently devised
schemes to that end which would have made his grey hair stand
erect with horror.

"I've seen a good many boys," she said, "but Ogden is in a class
by himself. He ought to be sent to a strict boarding-school, of
course."

"He ought to be sent to Sing-Sing," amended Mr. Pett.

"Why don't you send him to school?"

"Your aunt wouldn't hear of it. She's afraid of his being
kidnapped. It happened last time he went to school. You can't
blame her for wanting to keep her eye on him after that."

Ann ran her fingers meditatively over the keys.

"I've sometimes thought . . ."

"Yes?"

"Oh, nothing. I must get on with this thing for aunt Nesta."

Mr. Pett placed the bulk of the Sunday paper on the floor beside
him, and began to run an appreciative eye over the comic
supplement. That lingering boyishness in him which endeared him
to Ann always led him to open his Sabbath reading in this
fashion. Grey-headed though he was, he still retained both in art
and in real life a taste for the slapstick. No one had ever known
the pure pleasure it had given him when Raymond Green, his wife's
novelist protege, had tripped over a loose stair-rod one morning
and fallen an entire flight.

From some point farther down the corridor came a muffled
thudding. Ann stopped her work to listen.

"There's Jerry Mitchell punching the bag."

"Eh?" said Mr. Pett.

"I only said I could hear Jerry Mitchell in the gymnasium."

"Yes, he's there."

Ann looked out of the window thoughtfully for a moment. Then she
swung round in her swivel-chair.

"Uncle Peter."

Mr. Pett emerged slowly from the comic supplement.

"Eh?"

"Did Jerry Mitchell ever tell you about that friend of his who
keeps a dogs' hospital down on Long Island somewhere? I forget
his name. Smithers or Smethurst or something. People--old ladies,
you know, and people--bring him their dogs to be cured when they
get sick. He has an infallible remedy, Jerry tells me. He makes a
lot of money at it."

"Money?" Pett, the student, became Pett, the financier, at the
magic word. "There might be something in that if one got behind
it. Dogs are fashionable. There would be a market for a really
good medicine."

"I'm afraid you couldn't put Mr. Smethurst's remedy on the
market. It only works when the dog has been overeating himself
and not taking any exercise."

"Well, that's all these fancy dogs ever have the matter with
them. It looks to me as if I might do business with this man.
I'll get his address from Mitchell."

"It's no use thinking of it, uncle Peter. You couldn't do
business with him--in that way. All Mr. Smethurst does when any
one brings him a fat, unhealthy dog is to feed it next to
nothing--just the simplest kind of food, you know--and make it
run about a lot. And in about a week the dog's as well and happy
and nice as he can possibly be."

"Oh," said Mr. Pett, disappointed.

Ann touched the keys of her machine softly.

"Why I mentioned Mr. Smethurst," she said, "it was because we had
been talking of Ogden. Don't you think his treatment would be
just what Ogden needs?"

Mr. Pett's eyes gleamed.

"It's a shame he can't have a week or two of it!"

Ann played a little tune with her finger-tips on the desk.

"It would do him good, wouldn't it?"

Silence fell upon the room, broken only by the tapping of the
typewriter. Mr. Pett, having finished the comic supplement,
turned to the sporting section, for he was a baseball fan of no
lukewarm order. The claims of business did not permit him to see
as many games as he could wish, but he followed the national
pastime closely on the printed page and had an admiration for the
Napoleonic gifts of Mr. McGraw which would have gratified that
gentleman had he known of it.

"Uncle Peter," said Ann, turning round again.

"Eh?"

"It's funny you should have been talking about Ogden getting
kidnapped. This story of aunt Nesta's is all about an
angel-child--I suppose it's meant to be Ogden--being stolen and
hidden and all that. It's odd that she should write stories like
this. You wouldn't expect it of her."

"Your aunt," said Mr. Pett, "lets her mind run on that sort of
thing a good deal. She tells me there was a time, not so long
ago, when half the kidnappers in America were after him. She sent
him to school in England--or, rather, her husband did. They were
separated then--and, as far as I can follow the story, they all
took the next boat and besieged the place."

"It's a pity somebody doesn't smuggle him away now and keep him
till he's a better boy."

"Ah!" said Mr. Pett wistfully.

Ann looked at him fixedly, but his eyes were once more on his
paper. She gave a little sigh, and turned to her work again.

"It's quite demoralising, typing aunt Nesta's stories," she said.
"They put ideas into one's head."

Mr. Pett said nothing. He was reading an article of medical
interest in the magazine section, for he was a man who ploughed
steadily through his Sunday paper, omitting nothing. The
typewriter began tapping again.

"Great Godfrey!"

Ann swung round, and gazed at her uncle in concern. He was
staring blankly at the paper.

"What's the matter?"

The page on which Mr. Pett's attention was concentrated was
decorated with a fanciful picture in bold lines of a young man in
evening dress pursuing a young woman similarly clad along what
appeared to be a restaurant supper-table. An enjoyable time was
apparently being had by both. Across the page this legend ran:

            PICCADILLY JIM ONCE MORE

            The Recent Adventures of Young Mr. Crocker

            of New York and London

It was not upon the title, however, nor upon the illustration
that Mr. Pett's fascinated eye rested. What he was looking at was
a small reproduction of a photograph which had been inserted in
the body of the article. It was the photograph of a woman in the
early forties, rather formidably handsome, beneath which were
printed the words:

            Mrs. Nesta Ford Pett

            Well-Known Society Leader and Authoress

Ann had risen and was peering over his shoulder. She frowned as
she caught sight of the heading of the page. Then her eye fell
upon the photograph.

"Good gracious! Why have they got aunt Nesta's picture there?"

Mr. Pett breathed a deep and gloomy breath.

"They've found out she's his aunt. I was afraid they would. I
don't know what she will say when she sees this."

"Don't let her see it."

"She has the paper downstairs. She's probably reading it now."

Ann was glancing through the article.

"It seems to be much the same sort of thing that they have
published before. I can't understand why the _Chronicle_ takes such
an interest in Jimmy Crocker."

"Well, you see he used to be a newspaper man, and the _Chronicle_
was the paper he worked for."

Ann flushed.

"I know," she said shortly.

Something in her tone arrested Mr. Pett's attention.

"Yes, yes, of course," he said hastily. "I was forgetting."

There was an awkward silence. Mr. Pett coughed. The matter of
young Mr. Crocker's erstwhile connection with the New York
_Chronicle_ was one which they had tacitly decided to refrain from
mentioning.

"I didn't know he was your nephew, uncle Peter."

"Nephew by marriage," corrected Mr. Pett a little hurriedly.
"Nesta's sister Eugenia married his father."

"I suppose that makes me a sort of cousin."

"A distant cousin."

"It can't be too distant for me."

There was a sound of hurried footsteps outside the door. Mrs.
Pett entered, holding a paper in her hand. She waved it before
Mr. Pett's sympathetic face.

"I know, my dear," he said backing. "Ann and I were just talking
about it."

The little photograph had not done Mrs. Pett justice. Seen
life-size, she was both handsomer and more formidable than she
appeared in reproduction. She was a large woman, with a fine
figure and bold and compelling eyes, and her personality crashed
disturbingly into the quiet atmosphere of the room. She was the
type of woman whom small, diffident men seem to marry
instinctively, as unable to help themselves as cockleshell boats
sucked into a maelstrom.

"What are you going to do about it?" she demanded, sinking
heavily into the chair which her husband had vacated.

This was an aspect of the matter which had not occurred to Mr.
Pett. He had not contemplated the possibility of actually doing
anything. Nature had made him out of office hours essentially a
passive organism, and it was his tendency, when he found himself
in a sea of troubles, to float plaintively, not to take arms
against it. To pick up the slings and arrows of outrageous
fortune and fling them back was not a habit of his. He scratched
his chin and said nothing. He went on saying nothing.

"If Eugenia had had any sense, she would have foreseen what would
happen if she took the boy away from New York where he was
working too hard to get into mischief and let him run loose in
London with too much money and nothing to do. But, if she had had
any sense, she would never have married that impossible Crocker
man. As I told her."

Mrs. Pett paused, and her eyes glowed with reminiscent fire. She
was recalling the scene which had taken place three years ago
between her sister and herself, when Eugenia had told her of her
intention to marry an obscure and middle-aged actor named Bingley
Crocker. Mrs. Pett had never seen Bingley Crocker, but she had
condemned the proposed match in terms which had ended definitely
and forever her relations with her sister. Eugenia was not a
woman who welcomed criticism of her actions. She was cast in the
same formidable mould as Mrs. Pett and resembled her strikingly
both in appearance and character.

Mrs. Pett returned to the present. The past could look after
itself. The present demanded surgery.

"One would have thought it would have been obvious even to
Eugenia that a boy of twenty-one needed regular work."

Mr. Pett was glad to come out of his shell here. He was the
Apostle of Work, and this sentiment pleased him.

"That's right," he said. "Every boy ought to have work."

"Look at this young Crocker's record since he went to live in
London. He is always doing something to make himself notorious.
There was that breach-of-promise case, and that fight at the
political meeting, and his escapades at Monte Carlo, and--and
everything. And he must be drinking himself to death. I think
Eugenia's insane. She seems to have no influence over him at
all."

Mr. Pett moaned sympathetically.

"And now the papers have found out that I am his aunt, and I
suppose they will print my photograph whenever they publish an
article about him."

She ceased and sat rigid with just wrath. Mr. Pett, who always
felt his responsibilities as chorus keenly during these wifely
monologues, surmised that a remark from him was indicated.

"It's tough," he said.

Mrs. Pett turned on him like a wounded tigress.

"What is the use of saying that? It's no use saying anything."

"No, no," said Mr. Pett, prudently refraining from pointing out
that she had already said a good deal.

"You must do something."

Ann entered the conversation for the first time. She was not very
fond of her aunt, and liked her least when she was bullying Mr.
Pett. There was something in Mrs. Pett's character with which the
imperiousness which lay beneath Ann's cheerful attitude towards
the world was ever at war.

"What can uncle Peter possibly do?" she inquired.

"Why, get the boy back to America and make him work. It's the
only possible thing."

"But is it possible?"

"Of course it is."

"Assuming that Jimmy Crocker would accept an invitation to come
over to America, what sort of work could he do here? He couldn't
get his place on the _Chronicle_ back again after dropping out for
all these years and making a public pest of himself all that
while. And outside of newspaper work what is he fit for?"

"My dear child, don't make difficulties."

"I'm not. These are ready-made."

Mr. Pett interposed. He was always nervously apprehensive of a
clash between these two. Ann had red hair and the nature which
generally goes with red hair. She was impulsive and quick of
tongue, and--as he remembered her father had always been--a
little too ready for combat. She was usually as quickly
remorseful as she was quickly pugnacious, like most persons of
her colour. Her offer to type the story which now lay on her desk
had been the amende honourable following on just such a scene
with her aunt as this promised to be. Mr. Pett had no wish to see
the truce thus consummated broken almost before it had had time
to operate.

"I could give the boy a job in my office," he suggested.

Giving young men jobs in his office was what Mr. Pett liked doing
best. There were six brilliant youths living in his house and
bursting with his food at that very moment whom he would have
been delighted to start addressing envelopes down-town.

Notably his wife's nephew, Willie Partridge, whom he looked on as
a specious loafer. He had a stubborn disbelief in the explosive
that was to revolutionise war. He knew, as all the world did,
that Willie's late father had been a great inventor, but he did
not accept the fact that Willie had inherited the dead man's
genius. He regarded the experiments on Partridgite, as it was to
be called, with the profoundest scepticism, and considered that
the only thing Willie had ever invented or was likely to invent
was a series of ingenious schemes for living in fatted idleness
on other people's money.

"Exactly," said Mrs. Pett, delighted at the suggestion. "The very
thing."

"Will you write and suggest it?" said Mr. Pett, basking in the
sunshine of unwonted commendation.

"What would be the use of writing? Eugenia would pay no
attention. Besides, I could not say all I wished to in a letter.
No, the only thing is to go over to England and see her. I shall
speak very plainly to her. I shall point out what an advantage it
will be to the boy to be in your office and to live here. . . ."

Ann started.

"You don't mean live here--in this house?"

"Of course. There would be no sense in bringing the boy all the
way over from England if he was to be allowed to run loose when
he got here."

Mr. Pett coughed deprecatingly.

"I don't think that would be very pleasant for Ann, dear."

"Why in the name of goodness should Ann object?"

Ann moved towards the door.

"Thank you for thinking of it, uncle Peter. You're always a dear.
But don't worry about me. Do just as you want to. In any case I'm
quite certain that you won't be able to get him to come over
here. You can see by the paper he's having far too good a time in
London. You can call Jimmy Crockers from the vasty deep, but will
they come when you call for them?"

Mrs. Pett looked at the door as it closed behind her, then at her
husband.

"What do you mean, Peter, about Ann? Why wouldn't it be pleasant
for her if this Crocker boy came to live with us?"

Mr. Pett hesitated.

"Well, it's like this, Nesta. I hope you won't tell her I told
you. She's sensitive about it, poor girl. It all happened before
you and I were married. Ann was much younger then. You know what
schoolgirls are, kind of foolish and sentimental. It was my fault
really, I ought to have . . ."

"Good Heavens, Peter! What are you trying to tell me?"

"She was only a child."

Mrs. Pett rose in slow horror.

"Peter! Tell me! Don't try to break it gently."

"Ann wrote a book of poetry and I had it published for her."

Mrs. Pett sank back in her chair.

"Oh!" she said--it would have been hard to say whether with
relief or disappointment. "Whatever did you make such a fuss for?
Why did you want to be so mysterious?"

"It was all my fault, really," proceeded Mr. Pett. "I ought to
have known better. All I thought of at the time was that it would
please the child to see the poems in print and be able to give
the book to her friends. She did give it to her friends," he went
on ruefully, "and ever since she's been trying to live it down.
I've seen her bite a young fellow's head off when he tried to
make a grand-stand play with her by quoting her poems which he'd
found in his sister's book-shelf."

"But, in the name of goodness, what has all this to do with young
Crocker?"

"Why, it was this way. Most of the papers just gave Ann's book a
mention among 'Volumes Received,' or a couple of lines that
didn't amount to anything, but the _Chronicle_ saw a Sunday feature
in it, as Ann was going about a lot then and was a well-known
society girl. They sent this Crocker boy to get an interview from
her, all about her methods of work and inspirations and what not.
We never suspected it wasn't the straight goods. Why, that very
evening I mailed an order for a hundred copies to be sent to me
when the thing appeared. And--" pinkness came upon Mr. Pett at
the recollection "it was just a josh from start to finish. The
young hound made a joke of the poems and what Ann had told him
about her inspirations and quoted bits of the poems just to kid
the life out of them. . . . I thought Ann would never get over
it. Well, it doesn't worry her any more--she's grown out of the
school-girl stage--but you can bet she isn't going to get up and
give three cheers and a tiger if you bring young Crocker to live
in the same house."

"Utterly ridiculous!" said Mrs. Pett. "I certainly do not intend
to alter my plans because of a trivial incident that happened
years ago. We will sail on Wednesday."

"Very well, my dear," said Mr. Pett resignedly.

"Just as you say. Er--just you and I?"

"And Ogden, of course."

Mr. Pett controlled a facial spasm with a powerful effort of the
will. He had feared this.

"I wouldn't dream of leaving him here while I went away, after
what happened when poor dear Elmer sent him to school in England
that time." The late Mr. Ford had spent most of his married life
either quarrelling with or separated from his wife, but since
death he had been canonised as 'poor dear Elmer.' "Besides, the
sea voyage will do the poor darling good. He has not been looking
at all well lately."

"If Ogden's coming, I'd like to take Ann."

"Why?"

"She can--" he sought for a euphemism.

"Keep in order" was the expression he wished to avoid. To his
mind Ann was the only known antidote for Ogden, but he felt it
would be impolitic to say so."--look after him on the boat," he
concluded. "You know you are a bad sailor."

"Very well. Bring Ann--Oh, Peter, that reminds me of what I
wanted to say to you, which this dreadful thing in the paper
drove completely out of my mind. Lord Wisbeach has asked Ann to
marry him!"

Mr. Pett looked a little hurt. "She didn't tell me." Ann usually
confided in him.

"She didn't tell me, either. Lord Wisbeach told me. He said Ann
had promised to think it over, and give him his answer later.
Meanwhile, he had come to me to assure himself that I approved. I
thought that so charming of him."

Mr. Pett was frowning.

"She hasn't accepted him?"

"Not definitely."

"I hope she doesn't."

"Don't be foolish, Peter. It would be an excellent match."

Mr. Pett shuffled his feet.

"I don't like him. There's something too darned smooth about that
fellow."

"If you mean that his manners are perfect, I agree with you. I
shall do all in my power to induce Ann to accept him."

"I shouldn't," said Mr. Pett, with more decision than was his
wont. "You know what Ann is if you try to force her to do
anything. She gets her ears back and won't budge. Her father is
just the same. When we were boys together, sometimes--"

"Don't be absurd, Peter. As if I should dream of trying to force
Ann to do anything."

"We don't know anything of this fellow. Two weeks ago we didn't
know he was on the earth."

"What do we need to know beyond his name?"

Mr. Pett said nothing, but he was not convinced. The Lord
Wisbeach under discussion was a pleasant-spoken and presentable
young man who had called at Mr. Pett's office a short while
before to consult him about investing some money. He had brought
a letter of introduction from Hammond Chester, Ann's father, whom
he had met in Canada, where the latter was at present engaged in
the comparatively mild occupation of bass-fishing. With their
business talk the acquaintance would have begun and finished, if
Mr. Pett had been able to please himself, for he had not taken a
fancy to Lord Wisbeach. But he was an American, with an
American's sense of hospitality, and, the young man being a
friend of Hammond Chester, he had felt bound to invite him to
Riverside Drive--with misgivings which were now, he felt,
completely justified.

"Ann ought to marry," said Mrs. Pett. "She gets her own way too
much now. However, it is entirely her own affair, and there is
nothing that we can do." She rose. "I only hope she will be
sensible."

She went out, leaving Mr. Pett gloomier than she had found him.
He hated the idea of Ann marrying Lord Wisbeach, who, even if he
had had no faults at all, would be objectionable in that he would
probably take her to live three thousand miles away in his own
country. The thought of losing Ann oppressed Mr. Pett sorely.

Ann, meanwhile, had made her way down the passage to the gymnasium
which Mr. Pett, in the interests of his health, had caused to be
constructed in a large room at the end of the house--a room designed
by the original owner, who had had artistic leanings, for a studio.
The _tap-tap-tap_ of the leather bag had ceased, but voices from
within told her that Jerry Mitchell, Mr. Pett's private physical
instructor, was still there. She wondered who was his companion, and
found on opening the door that it was Ogden. The boy was leaning
against the wall and regarding Jerry with a dull and supercilious
gaze which the latter was plainly finding it hard to bear.

"Yes, sir!" Ogden was saying, as Ann entered. "I heard Biggs
asking her to come for a joyride."

"I bet she turned him down," said Jerry Mitchell sullenly.

"I bet she didn't. Why should she? Biggs is an awful good-looking
fellow."

"What are you talking about, Ogden?" said Ann.

"I was telling him that Biggs asked Celestine to go for a ride in
the car with him."

"I'll knock his block off," muttered the incensed Jerry.

Ogden laughed derisively.

"Yes, you will! Mother would fire you if you touched him. She
wouldn't stand for having her chauffeur beaten up."

Jerry Mitchell turned an appealing face to Ann. Ogden's
revelations and especially his eulogy of Biggs' personal
appearance had tormented him. He knew that, in his wooing of Mrs.
Pett's maid, Celestine, he was handicapped by his looks,
concerning which he had no illusions. No Adonis to begin with, he
had been so edited and re-edited during a long and prosperous
ring career by the gloved fists of a hundred foes that in affairs
of the heart he was obliged to rely exclusively on moral worth
and charm of manner. He belonged to the old school of fighters
who looked the part, and in these days of pugilists who resemble
matinee idols he had the appearance of an anachronism. He was a
stocky man with a round, solid head, small eyes, an undershot
jaw, and a nose which ill-treatment had reduced to a mere
scenario. A narrow strip of forehead acted as a kind of
buffer-state, separating his front hair from his eyebrows, and he
bore beyond hope of concealment the badge of his late employment,
the cauliflower ear. Yet was he a man of worth and a good
citizen, and Ann had liked him from their first meeting. As for
Jerry, he worshipped Ann and would have done anything she asked
him. Ever since he had discovered that Ann was willing to listen
to and sympathise with his outpourings on the subject of his
troubled wooing, he had been her slave.

Ann came to the rescue in characteristically direct fashion.

"Get out, Ogden," she said.

Ogden tried to meet her eye mutinously, but failed. Why he should
be afraid of Ann he had never been able to understand, but it was
a fact that she was the only person of his acquaintance whom he
respected. She had a bright eye and a calm, imperious stare which
never failed to tame him.

"Why?" he muttered. "You're not my boss."

"Be quick, Ogden."

"What's the big idea--ordering a fellow--"

"And close the door gently behind you," said Ann. She turned to
Jerry, as the order was obeyed.

"Has he been bothering you, Jerry?"

Jerry Mitchell wiped his forehead.

"Say, if that kid don't quit butting in when I'm working in the
gym--You heard what he was saying about Maggie, Miss Ann?"

Celestine had been born Maggie O'Toole, a name which Mrs. Pett
stoutly refused to countenance in any maid of hers.

"Why on earth do you pay any attention to him, Jerry? You must
have seen that he was making it all up. He spends his whole time
wandering about till he finds some one he can torment, and then
he enjoys himself. Maggie would never dream of going out in the
car with Biggs."

Jerry Mitchell sighed a sigh of relief.

"It's great for a fellow to have you in his corner, Miss Ann."

Ann went to the door and opened it. She looked down the passage,
then, satisfied as to its emptiness, returned to her seat.

"Jerry, I want to talk to you. I have an idea. Something I want
you to do for me."

"Yes, Miss Ann?"

"We've got to do something about that child, Ogden. He's been
worrying uncle Peter again, and I'm not going to have it. I
warned him once that, if he did it again, awful things would
happen to him, but he didn't believe me. I suppose, Jerry--what
sort of a man is your friend, Mr. Smethurst?"

"Do you mean Smithers, Miss Ann?"

"I knew it was either Smithers or Smethurst. The dog man, I mean.
Is he a man you can trust?"

"With my last buck. I've known him since we were kids."

"I don't mean as regards money. I am going to send Ogden to him
for treatment, and I want to know if I can rely on him to help
me."

"For the love of Mike."

Jerry Mitchell, after an instant of stunned bewilderment, was
looking at her with worshipping admiration. He had always known
that Miss Ann possessed a mind of no common order, but this, he
felt, was genius. For a moment the magnificence of the idea took
his breath away.

"Do you mean that you're going to kidnap him, Miss Ann?"

"Yes. That is to say, _you_ are--if I can persuade you to do
it for me."

"Sneak him away and send him to Bud Smithers' dog-hospital?"

"For treatment. I like Mr. Smithers' methods. I think they would
do Ogden all the good in the world."

Jerry was enthusiastic.

"Why, Bud would make him part-human. But, say, isn't it taking
big chances? Kidnapping's a penitentiary offence."

"This isn't that sort of kidnapping."

"Well, it's mighty like it."

"I don't think you need be afraid of the penitentiary. I can't
see aunt Nesta prosecuting, when it would mean that she would
have to charge us with having sent Ogden to a dogs' hospital. She
likes publicity, but it has to be the right kind of publicity.
No, we do run a risk, but it isn't that one. You run the risk of
losing your job here, and I should certainly be sent to my
grandmother for an indefinite sentence. You've never seen my
grandmother, have you, Jerry? She's the only person in the world
I'm afraid of! She lives miles from anywhere and has family
prayers at seven-thirty sharp every morning. Well, I'm ready to
risk her, if you're ready to risk your job, in such a good cause.
You know you're just as fond of uncle Peter as I am, and Ogden is
worrying him into a breakdown. Surely you won't refuse to help
me, Jerry?"

Jerry rose and extended a calloused hand.

"When do we start?"

Ann shook the hand warmly.

"Thank you, Jerry. You're a jewel. I envy Maggie. Well, I don't
think we can do anything till they come back from England, as
aunt Nesta is sure to take Ogden with her."

"Who's going to England?"

"Uncle Peter and aunt Nesta were talking just now of sailing to
try and persuade a young man named Crocker to come back here."

"Crocker? Jimmy Crocker? Piccadilly Jim?"

"Yes. Why, do you know him?"

"I used to meet him sometimes when he was working on the
_Chronicle_ here. Looks as if he was cutting a wide swathe in dear
old London. Did you see the paper to-day?"

"Yes, that's what made aunt Nesta want to bring him over. Of
course, there isn't the remotest chance that she will be able to
make him come. Why should he come?"

"Last time I saw Jimmy Crocker," said Jerry, "it was a couple of
years ago, when I went over to train Eddie Flynn for his go with
Porky Jones at the National. I bumped into him at the N. S. C. He
was a good deal tanked."

"He's always drinking, I believe."

"He took me to supper at some swell joint where they all had the
soup-and-fish on but me. I felt like a dirty deuce in a clean
deck. He used to be a regular fellow, Jimmy Crocker, but from
what you read in the papers it begins to look as if he was
hitting it up too swift. It's always the way with those boys when
you take them off a steady job and let them run around loose with
their jeans full of mazuma."

"That's exactly why I want to do something about Ogden. If he's
allowed to go on as he is at present, he will grow up exactly
like Jimmy Crocker."

"Aw, Jimmy Crocker ain't in Ogden's class," protested Jerry.

"Yes, he is. There's absolutely no difference between them."

"Say! You've got it in for Jim, haven't you, Miss Ann?" Jerry
looked at her wonderingly. "What's your kick against him?"

Ann bit her lip. "I object to him on principle," she said. "I
don't like his type. . . . Well, I'm glad we've settled this
about Ogden, Jerry. I knew I could rely on you. But I won't let
you do it for nothing. Uncle Peter shall give you something for
it--enough to start that health-farm you talk about so much.
Then you can marry Maggie and live happily ever afterwards."

"Gee! Is the boss in on this, too?"

"Not yet. I'm going to tell him now. Hush! There's some one
coming."

Mr. Pett wandered in. He was still looking troubled.

"Oh, Ann--good morning, Mitchell--your aunt has decided to go to
England. I want you to come, too."

"You want me? To help interview Jimmy Crocker?"

"No, no. Just to come along and be company on the voyage. You'll
be such a help with Ogden, Ann. You can keep him in order. How
you do it, I don't know. You seem to make another boy of him."

Ann stole a glance at Jerry, who answered with an encouraging
grin. Ann was constrained to make her meaning plainer than by the
language of the eye.

"Would you mind just running away for half a moment, Jerry?" she
said winningly. "I want to say something to uncle Peter."

"Sure. Sure."

Ann turned to Mr. Pett as the door closed.

"You'd like somebody to make Ogden a different boy, wouldn't you,
uncle Peter?"

"I wish it was possible."

"He's been worrying you a lot lately, hasn't he?" asked Ann
sympathetically.

"Yes," sighed Mr. Pett.

"Then that's all right," said Ann briskly. "I was afraid that you
might not approve. But, if you do, I'll go right ahead."

Mr. Pett started violently. There was something in Ann's voice
and, as he looked at her, something in her face which made him
fear the worst. Her eyes were flashing with an inspired light of
a highly belligerent nature, and the sun turned the red hair to
which she owed her deplorable want of balance to a mass of flame.
There was something in the air. Mr. Pett sensed it with every
nerve of his apprehensive person. He gazed at Ann, and as he did
so the years seemed to slip from him and he was a boy again,
about to be urged to lawless courses by the superior will of his
boyhood's hero, Hammond Chester. In the boyhood of nearly every
man there is a single outstanding figure, some one youthful
hypnotic Napoleon whose will was law and at whose bidding his
better judgment curled up and died. In Mr. Pett's life Ann's
father had filled this role. He had dominated Mr. Pett at an age
when the mind is most malleable. And now--so true is it that
though Time may blunt our boyish memories the traditions of
boyhood live on in us and an emotional crisis will bring them to
the surface as an explosion brings up the fish that lurk in the
nethermost mud--it was as if he were facing the youthful Hammond
Chester again and being irresistibly impelled to some course of
which he entirely disapproved but which he knew that he was
destined to undertake. He watched Ann as a trapped man might
watch a ticking bomb, bracing himself for the explosion and
knowing that he is helpless. She was Hammond Chester's daughter,
and she spoke to him with the voice of Hammond Chester. She was
her father's child and she was going to start something.

"I've arranged it all with Jerry," said Ann. "He's going to help
me smuggle Ogden away to that friend of his I told you about who
keeps the dog-hospital: and the friend is going to keep him until
he reforms. Isn't it a perfectly splendid idea?"

Mr. Pett blanched. The frightfulness of reality had exceeded
anticipation.

"But, Ann!"

The words came from him in a strangled bleat. His whole being was
paralysed by a clammy horror. This was beyond the uttermost limit
of his fears. And, to complete the terror of the moment, he knew,
even while he rebelled against the insane lawlessness of her
scheme, that he was going to agree to it, and--worst of all--that
deep, deep down in him there was a feeling toward it which did
not dare to come to the surface but which he knew to be approval.

"Of course Jerry would do it for nothing," said Ann, "but I
promised him that you would give him something for his trouble.
You can arrange all that yourselves later."

"But, Ann! . . . But, Ann! . . . Suppose your aunt finds out who
did it!"

"Well, there will be a tremendous row!" said Ann composedly.
"And you will have to assert yourself. It will be a splendid
thing for you. You know you are much too kind to every one, uncle
Peter. I don't think there's any one who would put up with what
you do. Father told me in one of his letters that he used to call
you Patient Pete as a boy."

Mr. Pett started. Not for many a day had a nickname which he
considered the most distasteful of all possible nicknames risen
up from its grave to haunt him. Patient Pete! He had thought the
repulsive title buried forever in the same tomb as his dead
youth. Patient Pete! The first faint glimmer of the flame of
rebellion began to burn in his bosom.

"Patient Pete!"

"Patient Pete!" said Ann inexorably.

"But, Ann,"--there was pathos in Mr. Pett's voice--"I like a
peaceful life."

"You'll never have one if you don't stand up for yourself. You
know quite well that father is right. You do let every one
trample on you. Do you think father would let Ogden worry him and
have his house filled with affected imitation geniuses so that he
couldn't find a room to be alone in?"

"But, Ann, your father is different. He likes fusses. I've known
your father contradict a man weighing two hundred pounds out of
sheer exuberance. There's a lot of your father in you, Ann. I've
often noticed it."

"There is! That's why I'm going to make you put your foot down
sooner or later. You're going to turn all these loafers out of
the house. And first of all you're going to help us send Ogden
away to Mr. Smithers."

There was a long silence.

"It's your red hair!" said Mr. Pett at length, with the air of a
man who has been solving a problem. "It's your red hair that
makes you like this, Ann. Your father has red hair, too."

Ann laughed.

"It's not my fault that I have red hair, uncle Peter. It's my
misfortune."

Mr. Pett shook his head.

"Other people's misfortune, too!" he said.



CHAPTER II

THE EXILED FAN

London brooded under a grey sky. There had been rain in the
night, and the trees were still dripping. Presently, however,
there appeared in the laden haze a watery patch of blue: and
through this crevice in the clouds the sun, diffidently at first
but with gradually increasing confidence, peeped down on the
fashionable and exclusive turf of Grosvenor Square. Stealing
across the square, its rays reached the massive stone walls of
Drexdale House, until recently the London residence of the earl
of that name; then, passing through the window of the
breakfast-room, played lightly on the partially bald head of Mr.
Bingley Crocker, late of New York in the United States of
America, as he bent over his morning paper. Mrs. Bingley Crocker,
busy across the table reading her mail, the rays did not touch.
Had they done so, she would have rung for Bayliss, the butler, to
come and lower the shade, for she endured liberties neither from
Man nor from Nature.

Mr. Crocker was about fifty years of age, clean-shaven and of a
comfortable stoutness. He was frowning as he read. His smooth,
good-humoured face wore an expression which might have been
disgust, perplexity, or a blend of both. His wife, on the other
hand, was looking happy. She extracted the substance from her
correspondence with swift glances of her compelling eyes, just as
she would have extracted guilty secrets from Bingley, if he had
had any. This was a woman who, like her sister Nesta, had been
able all her life to accomplish more with a glance than other
women with recrimination and threat. It had been a popular belief
among his friends that her late husband, the well-known Pittsburg
millionaire G. G. van Brunt, had been in the habit of
automatically confessing all if he merely caught the eye of her
photograph on his dressing table.

From the growing pile of opened envelopes Mrs. Crocker looked up,
a smile softening the firm line of her lips.

"A card from Lady Corstorphine, Bingley, for her at-home on the
twenty-ninth."

Mr. Crocker, still absorbed, snorted absently.

"One of the most exclusive hostesses in England. . . . She has
influence with the right sort of people. Her brother, the Duke of
Devizes, is the Premier's oldest friend."

"Uh?"

"The Duchess of Axminster has written to ask me to look after a
stall at her bazaar for the Indigent Daughters of the Clergy."

"Huh?"

"Bingley! You aren't listening. What is that you are reading?"

Mr. Crocker tore himself from the paper.

"This? Oh, I was looking at a report of that cricket game you
made me go and see yesterday."

"Oh? I am glad you have begun to take an interest in cricket. It
is simply a social necessity in England. Why you ever made such a
fuss about taking it up, I can't think. You used to be so fond of
watching baseball and cricket is just the same thing."

A close observer would have marked a deepening of the look of
pain on Mr. Crocker's face. Women say this sort of thing
carelessly, with no wish to wound: but that makes it none the
less hard to bear.

From the hall outside came faintly the sound of the telephone,
then the measured tones of Bayliss answering it. Mr. Crocker
returned to his paper.

Bayliss entered.

"Lady Corstorphine desires to speak to you on the telephone,
madam."

Half-way to the door Mrs. Crocker paused, as if recalling
something that had slipped her memory.

"Is Mr. James getting up, Bayliss?"

"I believe not, madam. I am informed by one of the house-maids
who passed his door a short time back that there were no sounds."

Mrs. Crocker left the room. Bayliss, preparing to follow her
example, was arrested by an exclamation from the table.

"Say!"

His master's voice.

"Say, Bayliss, come here a minute. Want to ask you something."

The butler approached the table. It seemed to him that his
employer was not looking quite himself this morning. There was
something a trifle wild, a little haggard, about his expression.
He had remarked on it earlier in the morning in the Servants'
Hall.

As a matter of fact, Mr. Crocker's ailment was a perfectly simple
one. He was suffering from one of those acute spasms of
home-sickness, which invariably racked him in the earlier Summer
months. Ever since his marriage five years previously and his
simultaneous removal from his native land he had been a chronic
victim to the complaint. The symptoms grew less acute in Winter
and Spring, but from May onward he suffered severely.

Poets have dealt feelingly with the emotions of practically every
variety except one. They have sung of Ruth, of Israel in bondage,
of slaves pining for their native Africa, and of the miner's
dream of home. But the sorrows of the baseball bug, compelled by
fate to live three thousand miles away from the Polo Grounds,
have been neglected in song. Bingley Crocker was such a one, and
in Summer his agonies were awful. He pined away in a country
where they said "Well played, sir!" when they meant "'at-a-boy!"

"Bayliss, do you play cricket?"

"I am a little past the age, sir. In my younger days . . ."

"Do you understand it?"

"Yes, sir. I frequently spend an afternoon at Lord's or the Oval
when there is a good match."

Many who enjoyed a merely casual acquaintance with the butler
would have looked on this as an astonishingly unexpected
revelation of humanity in Bayliss, but Mr. Crocker was not
surprised. To him, from the very beginning, Bayliss had been a
man and a brother who was always willing to suspend his duties in
order to answer questions dealing with the thousand and one
problems which the social life of England presented. Mr.
Crocker's mind had adjusted itself with difficulty to the
niceties of class distinction: and, while he had cured himself of
his early tendency to address the butler as "Bill," he never
failed to consult him as man to man in his moments of perplexity.
Bayliss was always eager to be of assistance. He liked Mr.
Crocker. True, his manner might have struck a more sensitive man
than his employer as a shade too closely resembling that of an
indulgent father towards a son who was not quite right in the
head: but it had genuine affection in it.

Mr. Crocker picked up his paper and folded it back at the
sporting page, pointing with a stubby forefinger.

"Well, what does all this mean? I've kept out of watching cricket
since I landed in England, but yesterday they got the poison
needle to work and took me off to see Surrey play Kent at that
place Lord's where you say you go sometimes."

"I was there yesterday, sir. A very exciting game."

"Exciting? How do you make that out? I sat in the bleachers all
afternoon, waiting for something to break loose. Doesn't anything
ever happen at cricket?"

The butler winced a little, but managed to smile a tolerant
smile. This man, he reflected, was but an American and as such
more to be pitied than censured. He endeavoured to explain.

"It was a sticky wicket yesterday, sir, owing to the rain."

"Eh?"

"The wicket was sticky, sir."

"Come again."

"I mean that the reason why the game yesterday struck you as slow
was that the wicket--I should say the turf--was sticky--that is
to say wet. Sticky is the technical term, sir. When the wicket is
sticky, the batsmen are obliged to exercise a great deal of
caution, as the stickiness of the wicket enables the bowlers to
make the ball turn more sharply in either direction as it strikes
the turf than when the wicket is not sticky."

"That's it, is it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Thanks for telling me."

"Not at all, sir."

Mr. Crocker pointed to the paper.

"Well, now, this seems to be the box-score of the game we saw
yesterday. If you can make sense out of that, go to it."

The passage on which his finger rested was headed "Final Score,"
and ran as follows:

                SURREY

             First Innings

    Hayward, c Wooley, b Carr ....... 67
    Hobbs, run out ................... 0
    Hayes, st Huish, b Fielder ...... 12
    Ducat, b Fielder ................ 33
    Harrison, not out ............... 11
    Sandham, not out ................. 6
    Extras .......................... 10

    Total (for four wickets) ....... 139

Bayliss inspected the cipher gravely.

"What is it you wish me to explain, sir?"

"Why, the whole thing. What's it all about?"

"It's perfectly simple, sir. Surrey won the toss, and took first
knock. Hayward and Hobbs were the opening pair. Hayward called
Hobbs for a short run, but the latter was unable to get across
and was thrown out by mid-on. Hayes was the next man in. He went
out of his ground and was stumped. Ducat and Hayward made a
capital stand considering the stickiness of the wicket, until
Ducat was bowled by a good length off-break and Hayward caught at
second slip off a googly. Then Harrison and Sandham played out
time."

Mr. Crocker breathed heavily through his nose.

"Yes!" he said. "Yes! I had an idea that was it. But I think I'd
like to have it once again, slowly. Start with these figures.
What does that sixty-seven mean, opposite Hayward's name?"

"He made sixty-seven runs, sir."

"Sixty-seven! In one game?"

"Yes, sir."

"Why, Home-Run Baker couldn't do it!"

"I am not familiar with Mr. Baker, sir."

"I suppose you've never seen a ball-game?"

"Ball-game, sir?"

"A baseball game?"

"Never, sir."

"Then, Bill," said Mr. Crocker, reverting in his emotion to the
bad habit of his early London days, "you haven't lived. See
here!"

Whatever vestige of respect for class distinctions Mr. Crocker
had managed to preserve during the opening stages of the
interview now definitely disappeared. His eyes shone wildly and
he snorted like a war-horse. He clutched the butler by the sleeve
and drew him closer to the table, then began to move forks,
spoons, cups, and even the contents of his plate about the cloth
with an energy little short of feverish.

"Bayliss!"

"Sir?"

"Watch!" said Mr. Crocker, with the air of an excitable high
priest about to initiate a novice into the Mysteries.

He removed a roll from the basket.

"You see this roll? That's the home plate. This spoon is first
base. Where I'm putting this cup is second. This piece of bacon
is third. There's your diamond for you. Very well, then. These
lumps of sugar are the infielders and the outfielders. Now we're
ready. Batter up? He stands here. Catcher behind him. Umps behind
catcher."

"Umps, I take it, sir, is what we would call the umpire?"

"Call him anything you like. It's part of the game. Now here's
the box, where I've put this dab of marmalade, and here's the
pitcher, winding up."

"The pitcher would be equivalent to our bowler?"

"I guess so, though why you should call him a bowler gets past
me."

"The box, then, is the bowler's wicket?"

"Have it your own way. Now pay attention. Play ball! Pitcher's
winding up. Put it over, Mike, put it over! Some speed, kid! Here
it comes, right in the groove. Bing! Batter slams it and streaks
for first. Outfielder--this lump of sugar--boots it. Bonehead!
Batter touches second. Third? No! Get back! Can't be done. Play
it safe. Stick around the sack, old pal. Second batter up.
Pitcher getting something on the ball now besides the cover.
Whiffs him. Back to the bench, Cyril! Third batter up. See him
rub his hands in the dirt. Watch this kid. He's good! He lets
two alone, then slams the next right on the nose. Whizzes around
to second. First guy, the one we left on second, comes home for
one run. That's a game! Take it from me, Bill, that's a _game!_"

Somewhat overcome with the energy with which he had flung himself
into his lecture, Mr. Crocker sat down and refreshed himself with
cold coffee.

"Quite an interesting game," said Bayliss. "But I find, now that
you have explained it, sir, that it is familiar to me, though I
have always known it under another name. It is played a great
deal in this country."

Mr. Crocker started to his feet.

"It is? And I've been five years here without finding it out!
When's the next game scheduled?"

"It is known in England as Rounders, sir. Children play it with a
soft ball and a racquet, and derive considerable enjoyment from
it. I had never heard of it before as a pastime for adults."

Two shocked eyes stared into the butler's face.

"Children?" The word came in a whisper.

"A racquet?"

"Yes, sir."

"You--you didn't say a soft ball?"

"Yes, sir."

A sort of spasm seemed to convulse Mr. Crocker. He had lived five
years in England, but not till this moment had he realised to the
full how utterly alone he was in an alien land. Fate had placed
him, bound and helpless, in a country where they called baseball
Rounders and played it with a soft ball.

He sank back into his chair, staring before him. And as he sat
the wall seemed to melt and he was gazing upon a green field, in
the centre of which a man in a grey uniform was beginning a
Salome dance. Watching this person with a cold and suspicious
eye, stood another uniformed man, holding poised above his
shoulder a sturdy club. Two Masked Marvels crouched behind him in
attitudes of watchful waiting. On wooden seats all around sat a
vast multitude of shirt-sleeved spectators, and the air was full
of voices.

One voice detached itself from the din.

"Pea-nuts! Get y'r pea-nuts!"

Something that was almost a sob shook Bingley Crocker's ample
frame. Bayliss the butler gazed down upon him with concern. He
was sure the master was unwell.

The case of Mr. Bingley Crocker was one that would have provided
an admirable "instance" for a preacher seeking to instil into an
impecunious and sceptical flock the lesson that money does not of
necessity bring with it happiness. And poetry has crystallised
his position in the following stanza.

    An exile from home splendour dazzles in vain.
    Oh, give me my lowly thatched cottage again;
    The birds singing gaily, that came at my call,
    Give me them, and that peace of mind dearer than all.

Mr. Crocker had never lived in a thatched cottage, nor had his
relations with the birds of his native land ever reached the
stage of intimacy indicated by the poet; but substitute "Lambs
Club" for the former and "members" for the latter, and the
parallel becomes complete.

Until the time of his second marriage Bingley Crocker had been an
actor, a snapper-up of whatever small character-parts the gods
provided. He had an excellent disposition, no money, and one son,
a young man of twenty-one. For forty-five years he had lived a
hand-to-mouth existence in which his next meal had generally come
as a pleasant surprise: and then, on an Atlantic liner, he met
the widow of G. G. van Brunt, the sole heiress to that magnate's
immense fortune.

What Mrs. van Brunt could have seen in Bingley Crocker to cause
her to single him out from all the world passes comprehension:
but the eccentricities of Cupid are commonplace. It were best to
shun examination into first causes and stick to results. The
swift romance began and reached its climax in the ten days which
it took one of the smaller Atlantic liners to sail from Liverpool
to New York. Mr. Crocker was on board because he was returning
with a theatrical company from a failure in London, Mrs. van
Brunt because she had been told that the slow boats were the
steadiest. They began the voyage as strangers and ended it as an
engaged couple--the affair being expedited, no doubt, by the fact
that, even if it ever occurred to Bingley to resist the onslaught
on his bachelor peace, he soon realised the futility of doing so,
for the cramped conditions of ship-board intensified the always
overwhelming effects of his future bride's determined nature.

The engagement was received in a widely differing spirit by the
only surviving blood-relations of the two principals. Jimmy, Mr.
Crocker's son, on being informed that his father had plighted his
troth to the widow of a prominent millionaire, displayed the
utmost gratification and enthusiasm, and at a little supper which
he gave by way of farewell to a few of his newspaper comrades and
which lasted till six in the morning, when it was broken up by
the flying wedge of waiters for which the selected restaurant is
justly famous, joyfully announced that work and he would from
then on be total strangers. He alluded in feeling terms to the
Providence which watches over good young men and saves them from
the blighting necessity of offering themselves in the flower of
their golden youth as human sacrifices to the Moloch of
capitalistic greed: and, having commiserated with his guests in
that a similar stroke of luck had not happened to each of them,
advised them to drown their sorrows in drink. Which they did.

Far different was the attitude of Mrs. Crocker's sister, Nesta
Pett. She entirely disapproved of the proposed match. At least,
the fact that in her final interview with her sister she
described the bridegroom-to-be as a wretched mummer, a despicable
fortune-hunter, a broken-down tramp, and a sneaking, grafting
confidence-trickster lends colour to the supposition that she was
not a warm supporter of it. She agreed wholeheartedly with Mrs.
Crocker's suggestion that they should never speak to each other
again as long as they lived: and it was immediately after this
that the latter removed husband Bingley, step-son Jimmy, and all
her other goods and chattels to London, where they had remained
ever since. Whenever Mrs. Crocker spoke of America now, it was in
tones of the deepest dislike and contempt. Her friends were
English, and every year more exclusively of England's
aristocracy. She intended to become a leading figure in London
Society, and already her progress had been astonishing. She knew
the right people, lived in the right square, said the right
things, and thought the right thoughts: and in the Spring of her
third year had succeeded in curing Bingley of his habit of
beginning his remarks with the words "Say, lemme tell ya
something." Her progress, in short, was beginning to assume the
aspect of a walk-over.

Against her complete contentment and satisfaction only one thing
militated. That was the behaviour of her step-son, Jimmy.

It was of Jimmy that she spoke when, having hung the receiver on
its hook, she returned to the breakfast-room. Bayliss had
silently withdrawn, and Mr. Crocker was sitting in sombre silence
at the table.

"A most fortunate thing has happened, Bingley," she said. "It was
most kind of dear Lady Corstorphine to ring me up. It seems that
her nephew, Lord Percy Whipple, is back in England. He has been
in Ireland for the past three years, on the staff of the Lord
Lieutenant, and only arrived in London yesterday afternoon. Lady
Corstorphine has promised to arrange a meeting between him and
James. I particularly want them to be friends."

"Eugenia," said Mr. Crocker in a hollow voice, "do you know they
call baseball Rounders over here, and children play it with a
soft ball?"

"James is becoming a serious problem. It is absolutely necessary
that he should make friends with the right kind of young men."

"And a racquet," said Mr. Crocker.

"Please listen to what I am saying, Bingley. I am talking about
James. There is a crude American strain in him which seems to
grow worse instead of better. I was lunching with the Delafields
at the Carlton yesterday, and there, only a few tables away, was
James with an impossible young man in appalling clothes. It was
outrageous that James should have been seen in public at all with
such a person. The man had a broken nose and talked through it.
He was saying in a loud voice that made everybody turn round
something about his left-scissors hook--whatever that may have
been. I discovered later that he was a low professional pugilist
from New York--a man named Spike Dillon, I think Captain Wroxton
said. And Jimmy was giving him lunch--at the _Carlton!_"

Mr. Crocker said nothing. Constant practice had made him an adept
at saying nothing when his wife was talking.

"James must be made to realise his responsibilities. I shall have
to speak to him. I was hearing only the other day of a most
deserving man, extremely rich and lavishly generous in his
contributions to the party funds, who was only given a
knighthood, simply because he had a son who had behaved in a
manner that could not possibly be overlooked. The present Court
is extraordinarily strict in its views. James cannot be too
careful. A certain amount of wildness in a young man is quite
proper in the best set, provided that he is wild in the right
company. Every one knows that young Lord Datchet was ejected from
the Empire Music-Hall on Boat-Race night every year during his
residence at Oxford University, but nobody minds. The family
treats it as a joke. But James has such low tastes. Professional
pugilists! I believe that many years ago it was not unfashionable
for young men in Society to be seen about with such persons, but
those days are over. I shall certainly speak to James. He cannot
afford to call attention to himself in any way. That
breach-of-promise case of his three years ago, is, I hope and
trust, forgotten, but the slightest slip on his part might start
the papers talking about it again, and that would be fatal. The
eventual successor to a title must be quite as careful as--"

It was not, as has been hinted above, the usual practice of Mr.
Crocker to interrupt his wife when she was speaking, but he did
it now.

"Say!"

Mrs. Crocker frowned.

"I wish, Bingley--and I have told you so often--that you would
not begin your sentences with the word 'Say'! It is such a
revolting Americanism. Suppose some day when you are addressing
the House of Lords you should make a slip like that! The papers
would never let you hear the end of it."

Mr. Crocker was swallowing convulsively, as if testing his larynx
with a view to speech. Like Saul of Tarsus, he had been stricken
dumb by the sudden bright light which his wife's words had caused
to flash upon him. Frequently during his sojourn in London he had
wondered just why Eugenia had settled there in preference to her
own country. It was not her wont to do things without an object,
yet until this moment he had been unable to fathom her motives.
Even now it seemed almost incredible. And yet what meaning would
her words have other than the monstrous one which had smitten him
as a blackjack?

"Say--I mean, Eugenia--you don't want--you aren't trying--you
aren't working to--you haven't any idea of trying to get them to
make me a Lord, have you?"

"It is what I have been working for all these years!"

"But--but why? Why? That's what I want to know. Why?"

Mrs. Crocker's fine eyes glittered.

"I will tell you why, Bingley. Just before we were married I had
a talk with my sister Nesta. She was insufferably offensive. She
referred to you in terms which I shall never forgive. She affected
to look down on you, to think that I was marrying beneath me. So
I am going to make you an English peer and send Nesta a newspaper
clipping of the Birthday Honours with your name in it, if I have
to keep working till I die! Now you know!"

Silence fell. Mr. Crocker drank cold coffee. His wife stared with
gleaming eyes into the glorious future.

"Do you mean that I shall have to stop on here till they make me
a lord?" said Mr. Crocker limply.

"Yes."

"Never go back to America?"

"Not till we have succeeded."

"Oh Gee! Oh Gosh! Oh Hell!" said Mr. Crocker, bursting the bonds
of years.

Mrs. Crocker though resolute, was not unkindly. She made
allowances for her husband's state of mind. She was willing to
permit even American expletives during the sinking-in process of
her great idea, much as a broad-minded cowboy might listen
indulgently to the squealing of a mustang during the branding
process. Docility and obedience would be demanded of him later,
but not till the first agony had abated. She spoke soothingly to
him.

"I am glad we have had this talk, Bingley. It is best that you
should know. It will help you to realise your responsibilities.
And that brings me back to James. Thank goodness Lord Percy
Whipple is in town. He is about James' age, and from what Lady
Corstorphine tells me will be an ideal friend for him. You
understand who he is, of course? The second son of the Duke of
Devizes, the Premier's closest friend, the man who can
practically dictate the Birthday Honours. If James and Lord Percy
can only form a close friendship, our battle will be as good as
won. It will mean everything. Lady Corstorphine has promised to
arrange a meeting. In the meantime, I will speak to James and
warn him to be more careful."

Mr. Crocker had produced a stump of pencil from his pocket and
was writing on the table-cloth.

    Lord Crocker
    Lord Bingley Crocker
    Lord Crocker of Crocker
    The Marquis of Crocker
    Baron Crocker
    Bingley, first Viscount Crocker

He blanched as he read the frightful words. A sudden thought stung
him.

"Eugenia!"

"Well?"

"What will the boys at the Lambs say?"

"I am not interested," replied his wife, "in the boys at the
Lambs."

"I thought you wouldn't be," said the future baron gloomily.



CHAPTER III

FAMILY JARS

It is a peculiarity of the human mind that, with whatever
apprehension it may be regarding the distant future, it must
return after a while to face the minor troubles of the future
that is immediate. The prospect of a visit to the dentist this
afternoon causes us to forget for the moment the prospect of
total ruin next year. Mr. Crocker, therefore, having tortured
himself for about a quarter of an hour with his meditations on
the subject of titles, was jerked back to a more imminent
calamity than the appearance of his name in the Birthday
Honours--the fact that in all probability he would be taken again
this morning to watch the continuation of that infernal
cricket-match, and would be compelled to spend the greater part
of to-day, as he had spent the greater part of yesterday, bored
to the verge of dissolution in the pavilion at Lord's.

One gleam of hope alone presented itself. Like baseball, this
pastime of cricket was apparently affected by rain, if there had
been enough of it. He had an idea that there had been a good deal
of rain in the night, but had there been sufficient to cause the
teams of Surrey and Kent to postpone the second instalment of
their serial struggle? He rose from the table and went out into
the hall. It was his purpose to sally out into Grosvenor Square
and examine the turf in its centre with the heel of his shoe, in
order to determine the stickiness or non-stickiness of the
wicket. He moved towards the front door, hoping for the best, and
just as he reached it the bell rang.

One of the bad habits of which his wife had cured Mr. Crocker in
the course of the years was the habit of going and answering
doors. He had been brought up in surroundings where every man was
his own door-keeper, and it had been among his hardest tasks to
learn the lesson that the perfect gentleman does not open doors
but waits for the appropriate menial to come along and do it for
him. He had succeeded at length in mastering this great truth,
and nowadays seldom offended. But this morning his mind was
clouded by his troubles, and instinct, allaying itself with
opportunity, was too much for him. His fingers had been on the
handle when the ring came, so he turned it.

At the top of the steps which connect the main entrance of
Drexdale House with the sidewalk three persons were standing. One
was a tall and formidably handsome woman in the early forties
whose appearance seemed somehow oddly familiar. The second was a
small, fat, blobby, bulging boy who was chewing something. The
third, lurking diffidently in the rear, was a little man of about
Mr. Crocker's own age, grey-haired and thin with brown eyes that
gazed meekly through rimless glasses.

Nobody could have been less obtrusive than this person, yet it was
he who gripped Mr. Crocker's attention and caused that home-sick
sufferer's heart to give an almost painful leap. For he was
clothed in one of those roomy suits with square shoulders which
to the seeing eye are as republican as the Stars and Stripes. His
blunt-toed yellow shoes sang gaily of home. And his hat was not
so much a hat as an effusive greeting from Gotham. A long time
had passed since Mr. Crocker had set eyes upon a biped so
exhilaratingly American, and rapture held him speechless, as one
who after long exile beholds some landmark of his childhood.

The female member of the party took advantage of his
dumbness--which, as she had not unnaturally mistaken him for the
butler, she took for a silent and respectful query as to her
business and wishes--to open the conversation.

"Is Mrs. Crocker at home? Please tell her that Mrs. Pett wishes
to see her."

There was a rush and scurry in the corridors of Mr. Crocker's
brain, as about six different thoughts tried to squash
simultaneously into that main chamber where there is room for
only one at a time. He understood now why this woman's appearance
had seemed familiar. She was his wife's sister, and that same
Nesta who was some day to be pulverised by the sight of his name
in the Birthday Honours. He was profoundly thankful that she had
mistaken him for the butler. A chill passed through him as he
pictured what would have been Eugenia's reception of the
information that he had committed such a bourgeois solecism as
opening the front door to Mrs. Pett of all people, who already
despised him as a low vulgarian. There had been trouble enough
when she had found him opening it a few weeks before to a mere
collector of subscriptions for a charity. He perceived, with a
clarity remarkable in view of the fact that the discovery of her
identity had given him a feeling of physical dizziness, that at
all costs he must foster this misapprehension on his
sister-in-law's part.

Fortunately he was in a position to do so. He knew all about what
butlers did and what they said on these occasions, for in his
innocently curious way he had often pumped Bayliss on the subject.
He bowed silently and led the way to the morning-room, followed
by the drove of Petts: then, opening the door, stood aside to
allow the procession to march past the given point.

"I will inform Mrs. Crocker that you are here, madam."

Mrs. Pett, shepherding the chewing child before her, passed into
the room. In the light of her outspoken sentiments regarding her
brother-in-law, it is curious to reflect that his manner at this,
their first meeting, had deeply impressed her. After many months
of smouldering revolt she had dismissed her own butler a day or
so before sailing for England, and for the first time envy of her
sister Eugenia gripped her. She did not covet Eugenia's other
worldly possessions, but she did grudge her this supreme butler.

Mr. Pett, meanwhile, had been trailing in the rear with a hunted
expression on his face. He wore the unmistakable look of a man
about to be present at a row between women, and only a wet cat in
a strange back-yard bears itself with less jauntiness than a man
faced by such a prospect. A millionaire several times over, Mr.
Pett would cheerfully have given much of his wealth to have been
elsewhere at that moment. Such was the agitated state of his mind
that, when a hand was laid lightly upon his arm as he was about
to follow his wife into the room, he started so violently that
his hat flew out of his hand. He turned to meet the eyes of the
butler who had admitted him to the house, fixed on his in an
appealing stare.

"Who's leading in the pennant race?" said this strange butler in
a feverish whisper.

It was a question, coming from such a source, which in another
than Mr. Pett might well have provoked a blank stare of
amazement. Such, however, is the almost superhuman intelligence
and quickness of mind engendered by the study of America's
national game that he answered without the slightest hesitation.

"Giants!"

"Wow!" said the butler.

No sense of anything strange or untoward about the situation came
to mar the perfect joy of Mr. Pett, the overmastering joy of the
baseball fan who in a strange land unexpectedly encounters a
brother. He thrilled with a happiness which he had never hoped
to feel that morning.

"No signs of them slumping?" enquired the butler.

"No. But you never can tell. It's early yet. I've seen those boys
lead the league till the end of August and then be nosed out."

"True enough," said the butler sadly.

"Matty's in shape."

"He is? The old souper working well?"

"Like a machine. He shut out the Cubs the day before I sailed!"

"Fine!"

At this point an appreciation of the unusualness of the
proceedings began to steal upon Mr. Pett. He gaped at this
surprising servitor.

"How on earth do you know anything about baseball?" he demanded.

The other seemed to stiffen. A change came over his whole
appearance. He had the air of an actor who has remembered his
part.

"I beg your pardon, sir. I trust I have not taken a liberty. I was
at one time in the employment of a gentleman in New York, and
during my stay I became extremely interested in the national
game. I picked up a few of the American idioms while in the
country." He smiled apologetically. "They sometimes slip out."

"Let 'em slip!" said Mr. Pett with enthusiasm. "You're the first
thing that's reminded me of home since I left. Say!"

"Sir?"

"Got a good place here?"

"Er--oh, yes, sir."

"Well, here's my card. If you ever feel like making a change,
there's a job waiting for you at that address."

"Thank you, sir." Mr. Crocker stooped.

"Your hat, sir."

He held it out, gazing fondly at it the while. It was like being
home again to see a hat like that. He followed Mr. Pett as he
went into the morning-room with an affectionate eye.

Bayliss was coming along the hall, hurrying more than his wont.
The ring at the front door had found him deep in an extremely
interesting piece of news in his halfpenny morning paper, and he
was guiltily aware of having delayed in answering it.

"Bayliss," said Mr. Crocker in a cautious undertone, "go and tell
Mrs. Crocker that Mrs. Pett is waiting to see her. She's in the
morning-room. If you're asked, say you let her in. Get me?"

"Yes, sir," said Bayliss, grateful for this happy solution.

"Oh, Bayliss!"

"Sir?"

"Is the wicket at Lord's likely to be too sticky for them to go
on with that game to-day?"

"I hardly think it probable that there will be play, sir. There
was a great deal of rain in the night."

Mr. Crocker passed on to his den with a lighter heart.

            *       *       *       *       *

It was Mrs. Crocker's habit, acquired after years of practice and
a sedulous study of the best models, to conceal beneath a mask of
well-bred indifference any emotion which she might chance to
feel. Her dealings with the aristocracy of England had shown her
that, while the men occasionally permitted themselves an
outburst, the women never did, and she had schooled herself so
rigorously that nowadays she seldom even raised her voice. Her
bearing, as she approached the morning-room was calm and serene,
but inwardly curiosity consumed her. It was unbelievable that
Nesta could have come to try to effect a reconciliation, yet she
could think of no other reason for her visit.

She was surprised to find three persons in the morning-room.
Bayliss, delivering his message, had mentioned only Mrs. Pett. To
Mrs. Crocker the assemblage had the appearance of being a sort of
Old Home Week of Petts, a kind of Pett family mob-scene. Her
sister's second marriage having taken place after their quarrel,
she had never seen her new brother-in-law, but she assumed that
the little man lurking in the background was Mr. Pett. The guess
was confirmed.

"Good morning, Eugenia," said Mrs. Pett.

"Peter, this is my sister, Eugenia. My husband."

Mrs. Crocker bowed stiffly. She was thinking how hopelessly
American Mr. Pett was, how baggy his clothes looked, what
absurdly shaped shoes he wore, how appalling his hat was, how
little hair he had and how deplorably he lacked all those graces
of repose, culture, physical beauty, refinement, dignity, and
mental alertness which raise men above the level of the common
cock-roach.

Mr. Pett, on his side, receiving her cold glance squarely between
the eyes, felt as if he were being disembowelled by a clumsy
amateur. He could not help wondering what sort of a man this
fellow Crocker was whom this sister-in-law of his had married. He
pictured him as a handsome, powerful, robust individual with a
strong jaw and a loud voice, for he could imagine no lesser type
of man consenting to link his lot with such a woman. He sidled in
a circuitous manner towards a distant chair, and, having lowered
himself into it, kept perfectly still, pretending to be dead,
like an opossum. He wished to take no part whatever in the coming
interview.

"Ogden, of course, you know," said Mrs. Pett.

She was sitting so stiffly upright on a hard chair and had so
much the appearance of having been hewn from the living rock that
every time she opened her mouth it was as if a statue had spoken.

"I know Ogden," said Mrs. Crocker shortly. "Will you please stop
him fidgeting with that vase? It is valuable."

She directed at little Ogden, who was juggling aimlessly with a
handsome _objet d'art_ of the early Chinese school, a glance similar
to that which had just disposed of his step-father. But Ogden
required more than a glance to divert him from any pursuit in which
he was interested. He shifted a deposit of candy from his right
cheek to his left cheek, inspected Mrs. Crocker for a moment with a
pale eye, and resumed his juggling. Mrs. Crocker meant nothing in
his young life.

"Ogden, come and sit down," said Mrs. Pett.

"Don't want to sit down."

"Are you making a long stay in England, Nesta?" asked Mrs.
Crocker coldly.

"I don't know. We have made no plans."

"Indeed?"

She broke off. Ogden, who had possessed himself of a bronze
paper-knife, had begun to tap the vase with it. The ringing note
thus produced appeared to please his young mind.

"If Ogden really wishes to break that vase," said Mrs. Crocker in
a detached voice, "let me ring for the butler to bring him a
hammer."

"Ogden!" said Mrs. Pett.

"Oh Gee! A fellow can't do a thing!" muttered Ogden, and walked
to the window. He stood looking out into the square, a slight
twitching of the ears indicating that he still made progress with
the candy.

"Still the same engaging child!" murmured Mrs. Crocker.

"I did not come here to discuss Ogden!" said Mrs. Pett.

Mrs. Crocker raised her eyebrows. Not even Mrs. Otho Lanners,
from whom she had learned the art, could do it more effectively.

"I am still waiting to find out why you did come, Nesta!"

"I came here to talk to you about your step-son, James Crocker."

The discipline to which Mrs. Crocker had subjected herself in the
matter of the display of emotion saved her from the humiliation
of showing surprise. She waved her hand graciously--in the manner
of the Duchess of Axminster, a supreme hand-waver--to indicate
that she was all attention.

"Your step-son, James Crocker," repeated Mrs. Pett. "What is it
the New York papers call him, Peter?"

Mr. Pett, the human opossum, came to life. He had contrived to
create about himself such a defensive atmosphere of non-existence
that now that he re-entered the conversation it was as if a
corpse had popped out of its tomb like a jack-in-the-box.

Obeying the voice of authority, he pushed the tombstone to one
side and poked his head out of the sepulchre.

"Piccadilly Jim!" he murmured apologetically.

"Piccadilly Jim!" said Mrs. Crocker. "It is extremely impertinent
of them!"

In spite of his misery, a wan smile appeared on Mr. Pett's
death-mask at this remark.

"They should worry about--!"

"Peter!"

Mr. Pett died again, greatly respected.

"Why should the New York papers refer to James at all?" said Mrs.
Crocker.

"Explain, Peter!"

Mr. Pett emerged reluctantly from the cerements. He had supposed
that Nesta would do the talking.

"Well, he's a news-item."

"Why?"

"Well, here's a boy that's been a regular fellow--raised in
America--done work on a newspaper--suddenly taken off to England
to become a London dude--mixing with all the dukes, playing
pinochle with the King--naturally they're interested in him."

A more agreeable expression came over Mrs. Crocker's face.

"Of course, that is quite true. One cannot prevent the papers
from printing what they wish. So they have published articles
about James' doings in English Society?"

"Doings," said Mr. Pett, "is right!"

"Something has got to be done about it," said Mrs. Pett.

Mr. Pett endorsed this.

"Nesta's going to lose her health if these stories go on," he
said.

Mrs. Crocker raised her eyebrows, but she had hard work to keep a
contented smile off her face.

"If you are not above petty jealousy, Nesta . . ."

Mrs. Pett laughed a sharp, metallic laugh.

"It is the disgrace I object to!"

"The disgrace!"

"What else would you call it, Eugenia? Wouldn't you be ashamed if
you opened your Sunday paper and came upon a full page article
about your nephew having got intoxicated at the races and fought
a book-maker--having broken up a political meeting--having been
sued for breach-of-promise by a barmaid . . ."

Mrs. Crocker preserved her well-bred calm, but she was shaken.
The episodes to which her sister had alluded were ancient
history, horrors of the long-dead past, but it seemed that they
still lived in print. There and then she registered the resolve
to talk to her step-son James when she got hold of him in such a
manner as would scourge the offending Adam out of him for once
and for all.

"And not only that," continued Mrs. Pett. "That would be bad enough
in itself, but somehow the papers have discovered that I am the
boy's aunt. Two weeks ago they printed my photograph with one of
these articles. I suppose they will always do it now. That is why I
have come to you. It must stop. And the only way it can be made to
stop is by taking your step-son away from London where he is
running wild. Peter has most kindly consented to give the boy a
position in his office. It is very good of him, for the boy cannot
in the nature of things be of any use for a very long time, but we
have talked it over and it seems the only course. I have come this
morning to ask you to let us take James Crocker back to America
with us and keep him out of mischief by giving him honest work.
What do you say?"

Mrs. Crocker raised her eyebrows.

"What do you expect me to say? It is utterly preposterous. I have
never heard anything so supremely absurd in my life."

"You refuse?"

"Of course I refuse."

"I think you are extremely foolish."

"Indeed!"

Mr. Pett cowed in his chair. He was feeling rather like a nervous
and peace-loving patron of a wild western saloon who observes two
cowboys reach for their hip-pockets. Neither his wife nor his
sister-in-law paid any attention to him. The concluding exercises
of a duel of the eyes was in progress between them. After some
silent, age-long moments, Mrs. Crocker laughed a light laugh.

"Most extraordinary!" she murmured.

Mrs. Pett was in no mood for Anglicisms.

"You know perfectly well, Eugenia," she said heatedly, "that
James Crocker is being ruined here. For his sake, if not for
mine--"

Mrs. Crocker laughed another light laugh, one of those offensive
rippling things which cause so much annoyance.

"Don't be so ridiculous, Nesta! Ruined! Really! It is quite true
that, a long while ago, when he was much younger and not quite used
to the ways of London Society, James was a little wild, but all
that sort of thing is over now. He knows"--she paused, setting
herself as it were for the punch--"he knows that at any moment
the government may decide to give his father a Peerage . . ."

The blow went home. A quite audible gasp escaped her stricken
sister.

"What!"

Mrs. Crocker placed two ringed fingers before her mouth in order
not to hide a languid yawn.

"Yes. Didn't you know? But of course you live so out of the world.
Oh yes, it is extremely probable that Mr. Crocker's name will
appear in the next Honours List. He is very highly thought of by
the Powers. So naturally James is quite aware that he must behave
in a suitable manner. He is a dear boy! He was handicapped at
first by getting into the wrong set, but now his closest friend
is Lord Percy Whipple, the second son of the Duke of Devizes, who
is one of the most eminent men in the kingdom and a personal
friend of the Premier."

Mrs. Pett was in bad shape under this rain of titles, but she
rallied herself to reply in kind.

"Indeed?" she said. "I should like to meet him. I have no doubt
he knows our great friend, Lord Wisbeach."

Mrs. Crocker was a little taken aback. She had not supposed that
her sister had even this small shot in her locker.

"Do you know Lord Wisbeach?" she said.

"Oh yes," replied Mrs. Pett, beginning to feel a little better.
"We have been seeing him every day. He always says that he looks
on my house as quite a home. He knows so few people in New York.
It has been a great comfort to him, I think, knowing us."

Mrs. Crocker had had time now to recover her poise.

"Poor dear Wizzy!" she said languidly.

Mrs. Pett started.

"What!"

"I suppose he is still the same dear, stupid, shiftless fellow?
He left here with the intention of travelling round the world,
and he has stopped in New York! How like him!"

"Do you know Lord Wisbeach?" demanded Mrs. Pett.

Mrs. Crocker raised her eyebrows.

"Know him? Why, I suppose, after Lord Percy Whipple, he is James'
most intimate friend!"

Mrs. Pett rose. She was dignified even in defeat. She collected
Ogden and Mr. Pett with an eye which even Ogden could see was not
to be trifled with. She uttered no word.

"Must you really go?" said Mrs. Crocker. "It was sweet of you to
bother to come all the way from America like this. So strange to
meet any one from America nowadays. Most extraordinary!"

The _cortege_ left the room in silence. Mrs. Crocker had touched
the bell, but the mourners did not wait for the arrival of
Bayliss. They were in no mood for the formalities of polite
Society. They wanted to be elsewhere, and they wanted to be there
quick. The front door had closed behind them before the butler
reached the morning-room.

"Bayliss," said Mrs. Crocker with happy, shining face, "send for
the car to come round at once."

"Very good, madam."

"Is Mr. James up yet?"

"I believe not, madam."

Mrs. Crocker went upstairs to her room. If Bayliss had not been
within earshot, she would probably have sung a bar or two. Her
amiability extended even to her step-son, though she had not
altered her intention of speaking eloquently to him on certain
matters when she could get hold of him. That, however, could
wait. For the moment, she felt in vein for a gentle drive in the
Park.

A few minutes after she had disappeared, there was a sound of
slow footsteps on the stairs, and a young man came down into the
hall. Bayliss, who had finished telephoning to the garage for
Mrs. Crocker's limousine and was about to descend to those lower
depths where he had his being, turned, and a grave smile of
welcome played over his face.

"Good morning, Mr. James," he said.



CHAPTER IV

JIMMY'S DISTURBING NEWS

Jimmy Crocker was a tall and well-knit young man who later on in
the day would no doubt be at least passably good-looking. At the
moment an unbecoming pallor marred his face, and beneath his eyes
were marks that suggested that he had slept little and ill. He
stood at the foot of the stairs, yawning cavernously.

"Bayliss," he said, "have you been painting yourself yellow?"

"No, sir."

"Strange! Your face looks a bright gamboge to me, and your
outlines wobble. Bayliss, never mix your drinks. I say this to
you as a friend. Is there any one in the morning-room?"

"No, Mr. James."

"Speak softly, Bayliss, for I am not well. I am conscious of a
strange weakness. Lead me to the morning-room, then, and lay me
gently on a sofa. These are the times that try men's souls."

The sun was now shining strongly through the windows of the
morning-room. Bayliss lowered the shades. Jimmy Crocker sank onto
the sofa, and closed his eyes.

"Bayliss."

"Sir?"

"A conviction is stealing over me that I am about to expire."

"Shall I bring you a little breakfast, Mr. James?"

A strong shudder shook Jimmy.

"Don't be flippant, Bayliss," he protested. "Try to cure yourself
of this passion for being funny at the wrong time. Your comedy is
good, but tact is a finer quality than humour. Perhaps you think
I have forgotten that morning when I was feeling just as I do
to-day and you came to my bedside and asked me if I would like a
nice rasher of ham. I haven't and I never shall. You may bring me
a brandy-and-soda. Not a large one. A couple of bath-tubs full
will be enough."

"Very good, Mr. James."

"And now leave me, Bayliss, for I would be alone. I have to make
a series of difficult and exhaustive tests to ascertain whether I
am still alive."

When the butler had gone, Jimmy adjusted the cushions, closed his
eyes, and remained for a space in a state of coma. He was trying,
as well as an exceedingly severe headache would permit, to recall
the salient events of the previous night. At present his memories
refused to solidify. They poured about in his brain in a fluid
and formless condition, exasperating to one who sought for hard
facts.

It seemed strange to Jimmy that the shadowy and inchoate vision of
a combat, a fight, a brawl of some kind persisted in flitting
about in the recesses of his mind, always just far enough away to
elude capture. The absurdity of the thing annoyed him. A man has
either indulged in a fight overnight or he has not indulged in a
fight overnight. There can be no middle course. That he should be
uncertain on the point was ridiculous. Yet, try as he would, he
could not be sure. There were moments when he seemed on the very
verge of settling the matter, and then some invisible person
would meanly insert a red-hot corkscrew in the top of his head
and begin to twist it, and this would interfere with calm
thought. He was still in a state of uncertainty when Bayliss
returned, bearing healing liquids on a tray.

"Shall I set it beside you, sir?"

Jimmy opened one eye.

"Indubitably. No mean word, that, Bayliss, for the morning after.
Try it yourself next time. Bayliss, who let me in this morning?"

"Let you in, sir?"

"Precisely. I was out and now I am in. Obviously I must have
passed the front door somehow. This is logic."

"I fancy you let yourself in, Mr. James, with your key."

"That would seem to indicate that I was in a state of icy
sobriety. Yet, if such is the case, how is it that I can't
remember whether I murdered somebody or not last night? It isn't
the sort of thing your sober man would lightly forget. Have you
ever murdered anybody, Bayliss?"

"No, sir."

"Well, if you had, you would remember it next morning?"

"I imagine so, Mr. James."

"Well, it's a funny thing, but I can't get rid of the impression
that at some point in my researches into the night life of London
yestreen I fell upon some person to whom I had never been
introduced and committed mayhem upon his person."

It seemed to Bayliss that the time had come to impart to Mr. James
a piece of news which he had supposed would require no imparting.
He looked down upon his young master's recumbent form with a
grave commiseration. It was true that he had never been able to
tell with any certainty whether Mr. James intended the statements
he made to be taken literally or not, but on the present occasion
he seemed to have spoken seriously and to be genuinely at a loss
to recall an episode over the printed report of which the entire
domestic staff had been gloating ever since the arrival of the
halfpenny morning paper to which they subscribed.

"Do you really mean it, Mr. James?" he enquired cautiously.

"Mean what?"

"You have really forgotten that you were engaged in a fracas last
night at the Six Hundred Club?"

Jimmy sat up with a jerk, staring at this omniscient man. Then
the movement having caused a renewal of the operations of the
red-hot corkscrew, he fell back again with a groan.

"Was I? How on earth did you know? Why should you know all about
it when I can't remember a thing? It was my fault, not yours."

"There is quite a long report of it in to-day's _Daily Sun_, Mr.
James."

"A report? In the _Sun_?"

"Half a column, Mr. James. Would you like me to fetch the paper?
I have it in my pantry."

"I should say so. Trot a quick heat back with it. This wants
looking into."

Bayliss retired, to return immediately with the paper. Jimmy took
it, gazed at it, and handed it back.

"I overestimated my powers. It can't be done. Have you any
important duties at the moment, Bayliss?"

"No, sir."

"Perhaps you wouldn't mind reading me the bright little excerpt,
then?"

"Certainly, sir."

"It will be good practice for you. I am convinced I am going to be
a confirmed invalid for the rest of my life, and it will be part
of your job to sit at my bedside and read to me. By the way, does
the paper say who the party of the second part was? Who was the
citizen with whom I went to the mat?"

"Lord Percy Whipple, Mr. James."

"Lord who?"

"Lord Percy Whipple."

"Never heard of him. Carry on, Bayliss."

Jimmy composed himself to listen, yawning.



CHAPTER V

THE MORNING AFTER

Bayliss took a spectacle-case from the recesses of his costume,
opened it, took out a pair of gold-rimmed glasses, dived into the
jungle again, came out with a handkerchief, polished the
spectacles, put them on his nose, closed the case, restored it to
its original position, replaced the handkerchief, and took up the
paper.

"Why the hesitation, Bayliss? Why the coyness?" enquired Jimmy,
lying with closed eyes. "Begin!"

"I was adjusting my glasses, sir."

"All set now?"

"Yes, sir. Shall I read the headlines first?"

"Read everything."

The butler cleared his throat.

"Good Heavens, Bayliss," moaned Jimmy, starting, "don't gargle.
Have a heart! Go on!"

Bayliss began to read.

         FRACAS IN FASHIONABLE NIGHT-CLUB

             SPRIGS OF NOBILITY BRAWL

Jimmy opened his eyes, interested.

"Am I a sprig of nobility?"

"It is what the paper says, sir."

"We live and learn. Carry on."

The butler started to clear his throat, but checked himself.

         SENSATIONAL INTERNATIONAL CONTEST

                   BATTLING PERCY

                     (England)

                         v

                    CYCLONE JIM

                     (America)

           FULL DESCRIPTION BY OUR EXPERT

Jimmy sat up.

"Bayliss, you're indulging that distorted sense of humour of
yours again. That isn't in the paper?"

"Yes, sir. Very large headlines."

Jimmy groaned.

"Bayliss, I'll give you a piece of advice which may be useful to
you when you grow up. Never go about with newspaper men. It all
comes back to me. Out of pure kindness of heart I took young Bill
Blake of the _Sun_ to supper at the Six Hundred last night. This is
my reward. I suppose he thinks it funny. Newspaper men are a low
lot, Bayliss."

"Shall I go on, sir?"

"Most doubtless. Let me hear all."

Bayliss resumed. He was one of those readers who, whether their
subject be a murder case or a funny anecdote, adopt a measured
and sepulchral delivery which gives a suggestion of tragedy and
horror to whatever they read. At the church which he attended on
Sundays, of which he was one of the most influential and
respected members, children would turn pale and snuggle up to
their mothers when Bayliss read the lessons. Young Mr. Blake's
account of the overnight proceedings at the Six Hundred Club he
rendered with a gloomy gusto more marked even than his wont. It
had a topical interest for him which urged him to extend himself.

"At an early hour this morning, when our myriad readers
were enjoying that refreshing and brain-restoring sleep so
necessary to the proper appreciation of the _Daily Sun_ at
the breakfast table, one of the most interesting sporting
events of the season was being pulled off at the Six
Hundred Club in Regent Street, where, after three rounds
of fast exchanges, James B. Crocker, the well-known
American welter-weight scrapper, succeeded in stopping
Lord Percy Whipple, second son of the Duke of Devizes,
better known as the Pride of Old England. Once again the
superiority of the American over the English style of
boxing was demonstrated. Battling Percy has a kind heart,
but Cyclone Jim packs the punch."

"The immediate cause of the encounter had to do with a
disputed table, which each gladiator claimed to have
engaged in advance over the telephone."

"I begin to remember," said Jimmy meditatively. "A pill with
butter-coloured hair tried to jump my claim. Honeyed words
proving fruitless, I soaked him on the jaw. It may be that I was
not wholly myself. I seem to remember an animated session at the
Empire earlier in the evening, which may have impaired my
self-control. Proceed!"

"One word leading to others, which in their turn led to
several more, Cyclone Jim struck Battling Percy on what
our rude forefathers were accustomed to describe as the
mazzard, and the gong sounded for

                "ROUND ONE

"Both men came up fresh and eager to mix things, though it
seems only too probable that they had already been mixing
more things than was good for them. Battling Percy tried a
right swing which got home on a waiter. Cyclone Jim put in
a rapid one-two punch which opened a large gash in the
atmosphere. Both men sparred cautiously, being hampered in
their movements by the fact, which neither had at this
stage of the proceedings perceived, that they were on
opposite sides of the disputed table. A clever Fitzsimmons'
shift on the part of the Battler removed this obstacle,
and some brisk work ensued in neutral territory. Percy
landed twice without a return. The Battler's round by a
shade.

                "ROUND TWO

"The Cyclone came out of his corner with a rush, getting
home on the Battler's shirt-front and following it up with
a right to the chin. Percy swung wildly and upset a bottle
of champagne on a neighbouring table. A good rally
followed, both men doing impressive in-fighting. The
Cyclone landed three without a return. The Cyclone's
round.

                "ROUND THREE

"Percy came up weak, seeming to be overtrained. The
Cyclone waded in, using both hands effectively. The
Battler fell into a clinch, but the Cyclone broke away
and, measuring his distance, picked up a haymaker from the
floor and put it over. Percy down and out.

"Interviewed by our representative after the fight,
Cyclone Jim said: 'The issue was never in doubt. I was
handicapped at the outset by the fact that I was under the
impression that I was fighting three twin-brothers, and I
missed several opportunities of putting over the winning
wallop by attacking the outside ones. It was only in the
second round that I decided to concentrate my assault on
the one in the middle, when the affair speedily came to a
conclusion. I shall not adopt pugilism as a profession.
The prizes are attractive, but it is too much like work.'"

Bayliss ceased, and silence fell upon the room.

"Is that all?"

"That is all, sir."

"And about enough."

"Very true, sir."

"You know, Bayliss," said Jimmy thoughtfully, rolling over on the
couch, "life is peculiar, not to say odd. You never know what is
waiting for you round the corner. You start the day with the
fairest prospects, and before nightfall everything is as rocky
and ding-basted as stig tossed full of doodlegammon. Why is this,
Bayliss?"

"I couldn't say, sir."

"Look at me. I go out to spend a happy evening, meaning no harm
to any one, and I come back all blue with the blood of the
aristocracy. We now come to a serious point. Do you think my
lady stepmother has read that sporting chronicle?"

"I fancy not, Mr. James."

"On what do you base these words of comfort?"

"Mrs. Crocker does not read the halfpenny papers, sir."

"True! She does not. I had forgotten. On the other hand the
probability that she will learn about the little incident from
other sources is great. I think the merest prudence suggests that
I keep out of the way for the time being, lest I be fallen upon
and questioned. I am not equal to being questioned this morning.
I have a headache which starts at the soles of my feet and gets
worse all the way up. Where is my stepmother?"

"Mrs. Crocker is in her room, Mr. James. She ordered the car to
be brought round at once. It should be here at any moment now,
sir. I think Mrs. Crocker intends to visit the Park before
luncheon."

"Is she lunching out?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then, if I pursue the excellent common-sense tactics of the
lesser sand-eel, which as you doubtless know buries itself tail
upwards in the mud on hearing the baying of the eel-hounds and
remains in that position till the danger is past, I shall be able
to postpone an interview. Should you be questioned as to my
whereabouts, inflate your chest and reply in a clear and manly
voice that I have gone out, you know not where. May I rely on
your benevolent neutrality, Bayliss?"

"Very good, Mr. James."

"I think I will go and sit in my father's den. A man may lie hid
there with some success as a rule."

Jimmy heaved himself painfully off the sofa, blinked, and set out
for the den, where his father, in a deep arm-chair, was smoking a
restful pipe and reading the portions of the daily papers which
did not deal with the game of cricket.

Mr. Crocker's den was a small room at the back of the house. It
was not luxurious, and it looked out onto a blank wall, but it
was the spot he liked best in all that vast pile which had once
echoed to the tread of titled shoes; for, as he sometimes
observed to his son, it had the distinction of being the only
room on the ground floor where a fellow could move without
stubbing his toe on a countess or an honourable. In this peaceful
backwater he could smoke a pipe, put his feet up, take off his
coat, and generally indulge in that liberty and pursuit of
happiness to which the Constitution entitles a free-born
American. Nobody ever came there except Jimmy and himself.

He did not suspend his reading at his son's entrance. He muttered
a welcome through the clouds, but he did not raise his eyes.
Jimmy took the other arm-chair, and began to smoke silently. It
was the unwritten law of the den that soothing silence rather
than aimless chatter should prevail. It was not until a quarter
of an hour had passed that Mr. Crocker dropped his paper and
spoke.

"Say, Jimmy, I want to talk to you."

"Say on. You have our ear."

"Seriously."

"Continue--always, however, keeping before you the fact that I am
a sick man. Last night was a wild night on the moors, dad."

"It's about your stepmother. She was talking at breakfast about
you. She's sore at you for giving Spike Dillon lunch at the
Carlton. You oughtn't to have taken him there, Jimmy. That's what
got her goat. She was there with a bunch of swells and they had
to sit and listen to Spike talking about his half-scissors hook."

"What's their kick against Spike's half-scissors hook? It's a
darned good one."

"She said she was going to speak to you about it. I thought I'd
let you know."

"Thanks, dad. But was that all?"

"All."

"All that she was going to speak to me about? Sure there was
nothing else?"

"She didn't say anything about anything else."

"Then she _doesn't_ know! Fine!"

Mr. Crocker's feet came down from the mantelpiece with a crash.

"Jimmy! You haven't been raising Cain again?"

"No, no, dad. Nothing serious. High-spirited Young Patrician
stuff, the sort of thing that's expected of a fellow in my
position."

Mr. Crocker was not to be comforted.

"Jimmy, you've got to pull up. Honest, you have. I don't care for
myself. I like to see a boy having a good time. But your
stepmother says you're apt to queer us with the people up top,
the way you're going on. Lord knows I wouldn't care if things
were different, but I'll tell you exactly how I stand. I didn't
get wise till this morning. Your stepmother sprang it on me
suddenly. I've often wondered what all this stuff was about, this
living in London and trailing the swells. I couldn't think what
was your stepmother's idea. Now I know. Jimmy, she's trying to
get them to make me a peer!"

"What!"

"Just that. And she says--"

"But, dad, this is rich! This is comedy of a high order! A peer!
Good Heavens, if it comes off, what shall I be? This title
business is all so complicated. I know I should have to change my
name to Hon. Rollo Cholmondeley or the Hon. Aubrey Marjoribanks,
but what I want to know is which? I want to be prepared for the
worst."

"And you see, Jimmy, these people up top, the guys who arrange
the giving of titles, are keeping an eye on you, because you
would have the title after me and naturally they don't want to
get stung. I gathered all that from your stepmother. Say, Jimmy,
I'm not asking a lot of you, but there is just one thing you can
do for me without putting yourself out too much."

"I'll do it, dad, if it kills me. Slip me the info!"

"Your stepmother's friend Lady Corstorphine's nephew . . ."

"It's not the sort of story to ask a man with a headache to
follow. I hope it gets simpler as it goes along."

"Your stepmother wants you to be a good fellow and make friends
with this boy. You see, his father is in right with the Premier
and has the biggest kind of a pull when it comes to handing out
titles."

"Is that all you want? Leave it to me. Inside of a week I'll be
playing kiss-in-the-ring with him. The whole force of my sunny
personality shall be directed towards making him love me. What's
his name?"

"Lord Percy Whipple."

Jimmy's pipe fell with a clatter.

"Dad, pull yourself together! Reflect! You know you don't
seriously mean Lord Percy Whipple."

"Eh?"

Jimmy laid a soothing hand on his father's shoulder.

"Dad, prepare yourself for the big laugh. This is where you throw
your head back and roar with honest mirth. I met Lord Percy
Whipple last night at the Six Hundred Club. Words ensued. I fell
upon Percy and beat his block off! How it started, except that we
both wanted the same table, I couldn't say. 'Why, that I cannot
tell,' said he, 'but 'twas a famous victory!' If I had known,
dad, nothing would have induced me to lay a hand upon Perce, save
in the way of kindness, but, not even knowing who he was, it
would appear from contemporary accounts of the affair that I just
naturally sailed in and expunged the poor, dear boy!"

The stunning nature of this information had much the same effect
on Mr. Crocker as the announcement of his ruin has upon the Good
Old Man in melodrama. He sat clutching the arms of his chair and
staring into space, saying nothing. Dismay was written upon his
anguished countenance.

His collapse sobered Jimmy. For the first time he perceived that
the situation had another side than the humorous one which had
appealed to him. He had anticipated that Mr. Crocker, who as a
general thing shared his notions of what was funny and could be
relied on to laugh in the right place, would have been struck,
like himself, by the odd and pleasing coincidence of his having
picked on for purposes of assault and battery the one young man
with whom his stepmother wished him to form a firm and lasting
friendship. He perceived now that his father was seriously upset.
Neither Jimmy nor Mr. Crocker possessed a demonstrative nature,
but there had always existed between them the deepest affection.
Jimmy loved his father as he loved nobody else in the world, and
the thought of having hurt him was like a physical pain. His
laughter died away and he set himself with a sinking heart to try
to undo the effect of his words.

"I'm awfully sorry, dad. I had no idea you would care. I wouldn't
have done a fool thing like that for a million dollars if I'd
known. Isn't there anything I can do? Gee whiz! I'll go right
round to Percy now and apologise. I'll lick his boots. Don't you
worry, dad. I'll make it all right."

The whirl of words roused Mr. Crocker from his thoughts.

"It doesn't matter, Jimmy. Don't worry yourself. It's only a
little unfortunate, because your stepmother says she won't think
of our going back to America till these people here have given me
a title. She wants to put one over on her sister. That's all
that's troubling me, the thought that this affair will set us
back, this Lord Percy being in so strong with the guys who give
the titles. I guess it will mean my staying on here for a while
longer, and I'd liked to have seen another ball-game. Jimmy, do
you know they call baseball Rounders in this country, and
children play it with a soft ball!"

Jimmy was striding up and down the little room. Remorse had him
in its grip.

"What a damned fool I am!"

"Never mind, Jimmy. It's unfortunate, but it wasn't your fault.
You couldn't know."

"It was my fault. Nobody but a fool like me would go about
beating people up. But don't worry, dad. It's going to be all
right. I'll fix it. I'm going right round to this fellow Percy
now to make things all right. I won't come back till I've squared
him. Don't you bother yourself about it any longer, dad. It's
going to be all right."



CHAPTER VI

JIMMY ABANDONS PICCADILLY

Jimmy removed himself sorrowfully from the doorstep of the Duke
of Devizes' house in Cleveland Row. His mission had been a
failure. In answer to his request to be permitted to see Lord
Percy Whipple, the butler had replied that Lord Percy was
confined to his bed and was seeing nobody. He eyed Jimmy, on
receiving his name, with an interest which he failed to conceal,
for he too, like Bayliss, had read and heartily enjoyed Bill
Blake's spirited version of the affair of last night which had
appeared in the _Daily Sun_. Indeed, he had clipped the report out
and had been engaged in pasting it in an album when the bell
rang.

In face of this repulse, Jimmy's campaign broke down. He was at a
loss to know what to do next. He ebbed away from the Duke's front
door like an army that has made an unsuccessful frontal attack on
an impregnable fortress. He could hardly force his way in and
search for Lord Percy.

He walked along Pall Mall, deep in thought. It was a beautiful
day. The rain which had fallen in the night and relieved Mr.
Crocker from the necessity of watching cricket had freshened
London up.

The sun was shining now from a turquoise sky. A gentle breeze
blew from the south. Jimmy made his way into Piccadilly, and
found that thoroughfare a-roar with happy automobilists and
cheery pedestrians. Their gaiety irritated him. He resented
their apparent enjoyment of life.

Jimmy's was not a nature that lent itself readily to
introspection, but he was putting himself now through a searching
self-examination which was revealing all kinds of unsuspected
flaws in his character. He had been having too good a time for
years past to have leisure to realise that he possessed any
responsibilities. He had lived each day as it came in the spirit
of the Monks of Thelema. But his father's reception of the news
of last night's escapade and the few words he had said had given
him pause. Life had taken on of a sudden a less simple aspect.
Dimly, for he was not accustomed to thinking along these lines,
he perceived the numbing truth that we human beings are merely as
many pieces in a jig-saw puzzle and that our every movement
affects the fortunes of some other piece. Just so, faintly at
first and taking shape by degrees, must the germ of civic spirit
have come to Prehistoric Man. We are all individualists till we
wake up.

The thought of having done anything to make his father unhappy
was bitter to Jimmy Crocker. They had always been more like
brothers than father and son. Hard thoughts about himself surged
through Jimmy's mind. With a dejectedness to which it is possible
that his headache contributed he put the matter squarely to
himself. His father was longing to return to America--he, Jimmy,
by his idiotic behaviour was putting obstacles in the way of that
return--what was the answer? The answer, to Jimmy's way of
thinking, was that all was not well with James Crocker, that,
when all the evidence was weighed, James Crocker would appear to
be a fool, a worm, a selfish waster, and a hopeless, low-down,
skunk.

Having come to this conclusion, Jimmy found himself so low in
spirit that the cheerful bustle of Piccadilly was too much for
him. He turned, and began to retrace his steps. Arriving in due
course at the top of the Haymarket he hesitated, then turned down
it till he reached Cockspur Street. Here the Trans-Atlantic
steamship companies have their offices, and so it came about that
Jimmy, chancing to look up as he walked, perceived before him,
riding gallantly on a cardboard ocean behind a plate-glass
window, the model of a noble vessel. He stopped, conscious of a
curious thrill. There is a superstition in all of us. When an
accidental happening chances to fit smoothly in with a mood,
seeming to come as a direct commentary on that mood, we are apt
to accept it in defiance of our pure reason as an omen. Jimmy
strode to the window and inspected the model narrowly. The sight
of it had started a new train of thought. His heart began to
race. Hypnotic influences were at work on him.

Why not? Could there be a simpler solution of the whole trouble?

Inside the office he would see a man with whiskers buying a
ticket for New York. The simplicity of the process fascinated
him. All you had to do was to walk in, bend over the counter
while the clerk behind it made dabs with a pencil at the
illustrated plate of the ship's interior organs, and hand over
your money. A child could do it, if in funds. At this thought his
hand strayed to his trouser-pocket. A musical crackling of
bank-notes proceeded from the depths. His quarterly allowance had
been paid to him only a short while before, and, though a willing
spender, he still retained a goodly portion of it. He rustled the
notes again. There was enough in that pocket to buy three tickets
to New York. Should he? . . . Or, on the other hand--always look
on both sides of the question--should he not?

It would certainly seem to be the best thing for all parties if
he did follow the impulse. By remaining in London he was injuring
everybody, himself included. . . . Well, there was no harm in
making enquiries. Probably the boat was full up anyway. . . . He
walked into the office.

"Have you anything left on the _Atlantic_ this trip?"

The clerk behind the counter was quite the wrong sort of person
for Jimmy to have had dealings with in his present mood. What
Jimmy needed was a grave, sensible man who would have laid a hand
on his shoulder and said "Do nothing rash, my boy!" The clerk
fell short of this ideal in practically every particular. He was
about twenty-two, and he seemed perfectly enthusiastic about the
idea of Jimmy going to America. He beamed at Jimmy.

"Plenty of room," he said. "Very few people crossing. Give you
excellent accommodation."

"When does the boat sail?"

"Eight to-morrow morning from Liverpool. Boat-train leaves
Paddington six to-night."

Prudence came at the eleventh hour to check Jimmy. This was not a
matter, he perceived, to be decided recklessly, on the spur of a
sudden impulse. Above all, it was not a matter to be decided
before lunch. An empty stomach breeds imagination. He had
ascertained that he could sail on the _Atlantic_ if he wished to.
The sensible thing to do now was to go and lunch and see how he
felt about it after that. He thanked the clerk, and started to
walk up the Haymarket, feeling hard-headed and practical, yet
with a strong premonition that he was going to make a fool of
himself just the same.

It was half-way up the Haymarket that he first became conscious
of the girl with the red hair.

Plunged in thought, he had not noticed her before. And yet she
had been walking a few paces in front of him most of the way. She
had come out of Panton Street, walking briskly, as one going to
keep a pleasant appointment. She carried herself admirably, with
a jaunty swing.

Having become conscious of this girl, Jimmy, ever a warm admirer
of the sex, began to feel a certain interest stealing over him.
With interest came speculation. He wondered who she was. He
wondered where she had bought that excellently fitting suit of
tailor-made grey. He admired her back, and wondered whether her
face, if seen, would prove a disappointment. Thus musing, he drew
near to the top of the Haymarket, where it ceases to be a street
and becomes a whirlpool of rushing traffic. And here the girl,
having paused and looked over her shoulder, stepped off the
sidewalk. As she did so a taxi-cab rounded the corner quickly
from the direction of Coventry Street.

The agreeable surprise of finding the girl's face fully as
attractive as her back had stimulated Jimmy, so that he was keyed
up for the exhibition of swift presence-of-mind. He jumped
forward and caught her arm, and swung her to one side as the cab
rattled past, its driver thinking hard thoughts to himself. The
whole episode was an affair of seconds.

"Thank you," said the girl.

She rubbed the arm which he had seized with rather a rueful
expression. She was a little white, and her breath came quickly.

"I hope I didn't hurt you," said Jimmy.

"You did. Very much. But the taxi would have hurt me more."

She laughed. She looked very attractive when she laughed. She had
a small, piquant, vivacious face. Jimmy, as he looked at it, had
an odd feeling that he had seen her before--when and where he did
not know. That mass of red-gold hair seemed curiously familiar.
Somewhere in the hinterland of his mind there lurked a memory,
but he could not bring it into the open. As for the girl, if she
had ever met him before, she showed no signs of recollecting it.
Jimmy decided that, if he had seen her, it must have been in his
reporter days. She was plainly an American, and he occasionally
had the feeling that he had seen every one in America when he had
worked for the _Chronicle_.

"That's right," he said approvingly. "Always look on the bright
side."

"I only arrived in London yesterday," said the girl, "and I
haven't got used to your keeping-to-the-left rules. I don't
suppose I shall ever get back to New York alive. Perhaps, as you
have saved my life, you wouldn't mind doing me another service.
Can you tell me which is the nearest and safest way to a
restaurant called the Regent Grill?"

"It's just over there, at the corner of Regent Street. As to the
safest way, if I were you I should cross over at the top of the
street there and then work round westward. Otherwise you will have
to cross Piccadilly Circus."

"I absolutely refuse even to try to cross Piccadilly Circus.
Thank you very much. I will follow your advice. I hope I shall
get there. It doesn't seem at all likely."

She gave him a little nod, and moved away. Jimmy turned into that
drug-store at the top of the Haymarket at which so many Londoners
have found healing and comfort on the morning after, and bought
the pink drink for which his system had been craving since he
rose from bed. He wondered why, as he drained it, he should feel
ashamed and guilty.

A few minutes later he found himself, with mild surprise, going
down the steps of the Regent Grill. It was the last place he had
had in his mind when he had left the steamship company's offices
in quest of lunch. He had intended to seek out some quiet,
restful nook where he could be alone with his thoughts. If
anybody had told him then that five minutes later he would be
placing himself of his own free will within the range of a
restaurant orchestra playing "My Little Grey Home in the
West"--and the orchestra at the Regent played little else--he
would not have believed him.

Restaurants in all large cities have their ups and downs. At this
time the Regent Grill was enjoying one of those bursts of
popularity for which restaurateurs pray to whatever strange gods
they worship. The more prosperous section of London's Bohemia
flocked to it daily. When Jimmy had deposited his hat with the
robber-band who had their cave just inside the main entrance and
had entered the grill-room, he found it congested. There did not
appear to be a single unoccupied table.

From where he stood he could see the girl of the red-gold hair.
Her back was towards him, and she was sitting at a table against
one of the pillars with a little man with eye-glasses, a handsome
woman in the forties, and a small stout boy who was skirmishing
with the olives. As Jimmy hesitated, the vigilant head-waiter,
who knew him well, perceived him, and hurried up.

"In one moment, Mister Crockaire!" he said, and began to scatter
commands among the underlings. "I will place a table for you in
the aisle."

"Next to that pillar, please," said Jimmy.

The underlings had produced a small table--apparently from up
their sleeves, and were draping it in a cloth. Jimmy sat down and
gave his order. Ordering was going on at the other table. The
little man seemed depressed at the discovery that corn on the cob
and soft-shelled crabs were not to be obtained, and his wife's
reception of the news that clams were not included in the
Regent's bill-of-fare was so indignant that one would have said
that she regarded the fact as evidence that Great Britain was
going to pieces and would shortly lose her place as a world
power.

A selection having finally been agreed upon, the orchestra struck
up "My Little Grey Home in the West," and no attempt was made to
compete with it. When the last lingering strains had died away
and the violinist-leader, having straightened out the kinks in
his person which the rendition of the melody never failed to
produce, had bowed for the last time, a clear, musical voice
spoke from the other side of the pillar.

"Jimmy Crocker is a WORM!"

Jimmy spilled his cocktail. It might have been the voice of
Conscience.

"I despise him more than any one on earth. I hate to think that
he's an American."

Jimmy drank the few drops that remained in his glass, partly to
make sure of them, partly as a restorative. It is an unnerving
thing to be despised by a red-haired girl whose life you have
just saved. To Jimmy it was not only unnerving; it was uncanny.
This girl had not known him when they met on the street a few
moments before. How then was she able to display such intimate
acquaintance with his character now as to describe him--justly
enough--as a worm? Mingled with the mystery of the thing was its
pathos. The thought that a girl could be as pretty as this one
and yet dislike him so much was one of the saddest things Jimmy
had ever come across. It was like one of those Things Which Make
Me Weep In This Great City so dear to the hearts of the
sob-writers of his late newspaper.

A waiter bustled up with a high-ball. Jimmy thanked him with his
eyes. He needed it. He raised it to his lips.

"He's always drinking--"

He set it down hurriedly.

"--and making a disgraceful exhibition of himself in public! I
always think Jimmy Crocker--"

Jimmy began to wish that somebody would stop this girl. Why
couldn't the little man change the subject to the weather, or
that stout child start prattling about some general topic? Surely
a boy of that age, newly arrived in London, must have all sorts
of things to prattle about? But the little man was dealing
strenuously with a breaded cutlet, while the stout boy, grimly
silent, surrounded fish-pie in the forthright manner of a
starving python. As for the elder woman, she seemed to be
wrestling with unpleasant thoughts, beyond speech.

"--I always think that Jimmy Crocker is the worst case I know of
the kind of American young man who spends all his time in Europe
and tries to become an imitation Englishman. Most of them are the
sort any country would be glad to get rid of, but he used to work
once, so you can't excuse him on the ground that he hasn't the
sense to know what he's doing. He's deliberately chosen to loaf
about London and make a pest of himself. He went to pieces with
his eyes open. He's a perfect, utter, hopeless WORM!"

Jimmy had never been very fond of the orchestra at the Regent
Grill, holding the view that it interfered with conversation and
made for an unhygienic rapidity of mastication; but he was
profoundly grateful to it now for bursting suddenly into _La
Boheme_, the loudest item in its repertory. Under cover of that
protective din he was able to toy with a steaming dish which his
waiter had brought. Probably that girl was saying all sorts of
things about him still but he could not hear them.

The music died away. For a moment the tortured air quivered in
comparative silence; then the girl's voice spoke again. She had,
however, selected another topic of conversation.

"I've seen all I want to of England," she said, "I've seen
Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament and His Majesty's
Theatre and the Savoy and the Cheshire Cheese, and I've developed
a frightful home-sickness. Why shouldn't we go back to-morrow?"

For the first time in the proceedings the elder woman spoke. She
cast aside her mantle of gloom long enough to say "Yes," then
wrapped it round her again. The little man, who had apparently
been waiting for her vote before giving his own, said that the
sooner he was on board a New York-bound boat the better he would
be pleased. The stout boy said nothing. He had finished his
fish-pie, and was now attacking jam roll with a sort of morose
resolution.

"There's certain to be a boat," said the girl. "There always is.
You've got to say that for England--it's an easy place to get back
to America from." She paused. "What I can't understand is how,
after having been in America and knowing what it was like, Jimmy
Crocker could stand living . . ."

The waiter had come to Jimmy's side, bearing cheese; but Jimmy
looked at it with dislike and shook his head in silent negation.
He was about to depart from this place. His capacity for
absorbing home-truths about himself was exhausted. He placed a
noiseless sovereign on the table, caught the waiter's eye,
registered renunciation, and departed soft-footed down the aisle.
The waiter, a man who had never been able to bring himself to
believe in miracles, revised the views of a life-time. He looked
at the sovereign, then at Jimmy, then at the sovereign again.
Then he took up the coin and bit it furtively.

A few minutes later, a hat-check boy, untipped for the first time
in his predatory career, was staring at Jimmy with equal
intensity, but with far different feelings. Speechless concern
was limned on his young face.

The commissionaire at the Piccadilly entrance of the restaurant
touched his hat ingratiatingly, with the smug confidence of a man
who is accustomed to getting sixpence a time for doing it.

"Taxi, Mr. Crocker?"

"A worm," said Jimmy.

"Beg pardon, sir?"

"Always drinking," explained Jimmy, "and making a pest of
himself."

He passed on. The commissionaire stared after him as intently as
the waiter and the hat-check boy. He had sometimes known Mr.
Crocker like this after supper, but never before during the
luncheon hour.

Jimmy made his way to his club in Northumberland Avenue. For
perhaps half an hour he sat in a condition of coma in the
smoking-room; then, his mind made up, he went to one of the
writing-tables. He sat awaiting inspiration for some minutes,
then began to write.

The letter he wrote was to his father:


Dear Dad:

I have been thinking over what we talked about this
morning, and it seems to me the best thing I can do is to
drop out of sight for a brief space. If I stay on in
London, I am likely at any moment to pull some boner like
last night's which will spill the beans for you once more.
The least I can do for you is to give you a clear field
and not interfere, so I am off to New York by to-night's
boat.

I went round to Percy's to try to grovel in the dust
before him, but he wouldn't see me. It's no good
grovelling in the dust of the front steps for the benefit
of a man who's in bed on the second floor, so I withdrew
in more or less good order. I then got the present idea.
Mark how all things work together for good. When they come
to you and say "No title for you. Your son slugged our pal
Percy," all you have to do is to come back at them with "I
know my son slugged Percy, and believe me I didn't do a
thing to him! I packed him off to America within
twenty-four hours. Get me right, boys! I'm anti-Jimmy and
pro-Percy." To which their reply will be "Oh, well, in
that case arise, Lord Crocker!" or whatever they say when
slipping a title to a deserving guy. So you will see that
by making this getaway I am doing the best I can to put
things straight. I shall give this to Bayliss to give to
you. I am going to call him up on the phone in a minute to
have him pack a few simple tooth-brushes and so on for me.
On landing in New York, I shall instantly proceed to the
Polo Grounds to watch a game of Rounders, and will cable
you the full score. Well. I think that's about all. So
good-bye--or even farewell--for the present.

J.

P.S. I know you'll understand, dad. I'm doing what seems
to me the only possible thing. Don't worry about me. I
shall be all right. I'll get back my old job and be a
terrific success all round. You go ahead and get that
title and then meet me at the entrance of the Polo
Grounds. I'll be looking for you.

P.P.S. I'm a worm.


The young clerk at the steamship offices appeared rejoiced to see
Jimmy once more. With a sunny smile he snatched a pencil from his
ear and plunged it into the vitals of the Atlantic.

"How about E. a hundred and eight?"

"Suits me."

"You're too late to go in the passenger-list, of course."

Jimmy did not reply. He was gazing rigidly at a girl who had just
come in, a girl with red hair and a friendly smile.

"So you're sailing on the _Atlantic_, too!" she said, with a glance
at the chart on the counter. "How odd! We have just decided to go
back on her too. There's nothing to keep us here and we're all
homesick. Well, you see I wasn't run over after I left you."

A delicious understanding relieved Jimmy's swimming brain, as
thunder relieves the tense and straining air. The feeling that he
was going mad left him, as the simple solution of his mystery
came to him. This girl must have heard of him in New
York--perhaps she knew people whom he knew and it was on hearsay,
not on personal acquaintance, that she based that dislike of him
which she had expressed with such freedom and conviction so short
a while before at the Regent Grill. She did not know who he was!

Into this soothing stream of thought cut the voice of the clerk.

"What name, please?"

Jimmy's mind rocked again. Why were these things happening to him
to-day of all days, when he needed the tenderest treatment, when
he had a headache already?

The clerk was eyeing him expectantly. He had laid down his pencil
and was holding aloft a pen. Jimmy gulped. Every name in the
English language had passed from his mind. And then from out of
the dark came inspiration.

"Bayliss," he croaked.

The girl held out her hand.

"Then we can introduce ourselves at last. My name is Ann Chester.
How do you do, Mr. Bayliss?"

"How do you do, Miss Chester?"

The clerk had finished writing the ticket, and was pressing
labels and a pink paper on him. The paper, he gathered dully, was
a form and had to be filled up. He examined it, and found it to
be a searching document. Some of its questions could be answered
off-hand, others required thought.

"Height?" Simple. Five foot eleven.

"Hair?" Simple. Brown.

"Eyes?" Simple again. Blue.

Next, queries of a more offensive kind.

"Are you a polygamist?"

He could answer that. Decidedly no. One wife would be
ample--provided she had red-gold hair, brown-gold eyes, the right
kind of mouth, and a dimple. Whatever doubts there might be in
his mind on other points, on that one he had none whatever.

"Have you ever been in prison?"

Not yet.

And then a very difficult one. "Are you a lunatic?"

Jimmy hesitated. The ink dried on his pen. He was wondering.


                    *   *   *


In the dim cavern of Paddington Station the boat-train snorted
impatiently, varying the process with an occasional sharp shriek.
The hands of the station clock pointed to ten minutes to six. The
platform was a confused mass of travellers, porters, baggage,
trucks, boys with buns and fruits, boys with magazines, friends,
relatives, and Bayliss the butler, standing like a faithful
watchdog beside a large suitcase. To the human surf that broke
and swirled about him he paid no attention. He was looking for
the young master.

Jimmy clove the crowd like a one-man flying-wedge. Two fruit and
bun boys who impeded his passage drifted away like leaves on an
Autumn gale.

"Good man!" He possessed himself of the suitcase. "I was afraid
you might not be able to get here."

"The mistress is dining out, Mr. James. I was able to leave the
house."

"Have you packed everything I shall want?"

"Within the scope of a suitcase, yes, sir."

"Splendid! Oh, by the way, give this letter to my father, will
you?"

"Very good, sir."

"I'm glad you were able to manage. I thought your voice sounded
doubtful over the phone."

"I was a good deal taken aback, Mr. James. Your decision to leave
was so extremely sudden."

"So was Columbus'. You know about him? He saw an egg standing on
its head and whizzed off like a jack-rabbit."

"If you will pardon the liberty, Mr. James, is it not a little
rash--?"

"Don't take the joy out of life, Bayliss. I may be a chump, but
try to forget it. Use your willpower."

"Good evening, Mr. Bayliss," said a voice behind them. They both
turned. The butler was gazing rather coyly at a vision in a grey
tailor-made suit.

"Good evening, miss," he said doubtfully.

Ann looked at him in astonishment, then broke into a smile.

"How stupid of me! I meant this Mr. Bayliss. Your son! We met at
the steamship offices. And before that he saved my life. So we
are old friends."

Bayliss, gaping perplexedly and feeling unequal to the
intellectual pressure of the conversation, was surprised further
to perceive a warning scowl on the face of his Mr. James. Jimmy
had not foreseen this thing, but he had a quick mind and was
equal to it.

"How are you, Miss Chester? My father has come down to see me
off. This is Miss Chester, dad."

A British butler is not easily robbed of his poise, but Bayliss
was frankly unequal to the sudden demand on his presence of mind.
He lowered his jaw an inch or two, but spoke no word.

"Dad's a little upset at my going," whispered Jimmy
confidentially. "He's not quite himself."

Ann was a girl possessed not only of ready tact but of a kind
heart. She had summed up Mr. Bayliss at a glance. Every line of
him proclaimed him a respectable upper servant. No girl on earth
could have been freer than she of snobbish prejudice, but she
could not check a slight thrill of surprise and disappointment at
the discovery of Jimmy's humble origin. She understood everything,
and there were tears in her eyes as she turned away to avoid
intruding on the last moments of the parting of father and son.

"I'll see you on the boat, Mr. Bayliss," she said.

"Eh?" said Bayliss.

"Yes, yes," said Jimmy. "Good-bye till then."

Ann walked on to her compartment. She felt as if she had just read
a whole long novel, one of those chunky younger-English-novelist
things. She knew the whole story as well as if it had been told
to her in detail. She could see the father, the honest steady
butler, living his life with but one aim, to make a gentleman of
his beloved only son. Year by year he had saved. Probably he had
sent the son to college. And now, with a father's blessing and
the remains of a father's savings, the boy was setting out for
the New World, where dollar-bills grew on trees and no one asked
or cared who any one else's father might be.

There was a lump in her throat. Bayliss would have been amazed if
he could have known what a figure of pathetic fineness he seemed
to her. And then her thoughts turned to Jimmy, and she was aware
of a glow of kindliness towards him. His father had succeeded in
his life's ambition. He had produced a gentleman! How easily and
simply, without a trace of snobbish shame, the young man had
introduced his father. There was the right stuff in him. He was
not ashamed of the humble man who had given him his chance in
life. She found herself liking Jimmy amazingly . . .

The hands of the clock pointed to three minutes to the hour.
Porters skimmed to and fro like water-beetles.

"I can't explain," said Jimmy. "It wasn't temporary insanity; it
was necessity."

"Very good, Mr. James. I think you had better be taking your seat
now."

"Quite right, I had. It would spoil the whole thing if they left
me behind. Bayliss, did you ever see such eyes? Such hair! Look
after my father while I am away. Don't let the dukes worry him.
Oh, and, Bayliss"--Jimmy drew his hand from his pocket--"as one
pal to another--"

Bayliss looked at the crackling piece of paper.

"I couldn't, Mr. James, I really couldn't! A five-pound note! I
couldn't!"

"Nonsense! Be a sport!"

"Begging your pardon, Mr. James, I really couldn't. You cannot
afford to throw away your money like this. You cannot have a
great deal of it, if you will excuse me for saying so."

"I won't do anything of the sort. Grab it! Oh, Lord, the train's
starting! Good-bye, Bayliss!"

The engine gave a final shriek of farewell. The train began to
slide along the platform, pursued to the last by optimistic boys
offering buns for sale. It gathered speed. Jimmy, leaning out the
window, was amazed at a spectacle so unusual as practically to
amount to a modern miracle--the spectacled Bayliss running. The
butler was not in the pink of condition, but he was striding out
gallantly. He reached the door of Jimmy's compartment, and raised
his hand.

"Begging your pardon, Mr. James," he panted, "for taking the
liberty, but I really couldn't!"

He reached up and thrust something into Jimmy's hand, something
crisp and crackling. Then, his mission performed, fell back and
stood waving a snowy handkerchief. The train plunged into the
tunnel.

Jimmy stared at the five-pound note. He was aware, like Ann
farther along the train, of a lump in his throat. He put the note
slowly into his pocket.

The train moved on.



CHAPTER VII

ON THE BOAT-DECK

Rising waters and a fine flying scud that whipped stingingly over
the side had driven most of the passengers on the _Atlantic_ to the
shelter of their staterooms or to the warm stuffiness of the
library. It was the fifth evening of the voyage. For five days
and four nights the ship had been racing through a placid ocean
on her way to Sandy Hook: but in the early hours of this
afternoon the wind had shifted to the north, bringing heavy seas.
Darkness had begun to fall now. The sky was a sullen black. The
white crests of the rollers gleamed faintly in the dusk, and the
wind sang in the ropes.

Jimmy and Ann had had the boat-deck to themselves for half an
hour. Jimmy was a good sailor: it exhilarated him to fight the
wind and to walk a deck that heaved and dipped and shuddered
beneath his feet; but he had not expected to have Ann's company
on such an evening. But she had come out of the saloon entrance,
her small face framed in a hood and her slim body shapeless
beneath a great cloak, and joined him in his walk.

Jimmy was in a mood of exaltation. He had passed the last few
days in a condition of intermittent melancholy, consequent on the
discovery that he was not the only man on board the _Atlantic_ who
desired the society of Ann as an alleviation of the tedium of an
ocean voyage. The world, when he embarked on this venture, had
consisted so exclusively of Ann and himself that, until the ship
was well on its way to Queenstown, he had not conceived the
possibility of intrusive males forcing their unwelcome attentions
on her. And it had added bitterness to the bitter awakening that
their attentions did not appear to be at all unwelcome. Almost
immediately after breakfast on the very first day, a creature with
a small black moustache and shining teeth had descended upon Ann
and, vocal with surprise and pleasure at meeting her again--he
claimed, damn him!, to have met her before at Palm Beach, Bar
Harbor, and a dozen other places--had carried her off to play an
idiotic game known as shuffle-board. Nor was this an isolated
case. It began to be borne in upon Jimmy that Ann, whom he had
looked upon purely in the light of an Eve playing opposite his
Adam in an exclusive Garden of Eden, was an extremely well-known
and popular character. The clerk at the shipping-office had lied
absurdly when he had said that very few people were crossing on
the _Atlantic_ this voyage. The vessel was crammed till its sides
bulged, it was loaded down in utter defiance of the Plimsoll law,
with Rollos and Clarences and Dwights and Twombleys who had known
and golfed and ridden and driven and motored and swum and danced
with Ann for years. A ghastly being entitled Edgar Something or
Teddy Something had beaten Jimmy by a short head in the race for
the deck-steward, the prize of which was the placing of his
deck-chair next to Ann's. Jimmy had been driven from the
promenade deck by the spectacle of this beastly creature lying
swathed in rugs reading best-sellers to her.

He had scarcely seen her to speak to since the beginning of the
voyage. When she was not walking with Rolly or playing
shuffle-board with Twombley, she was down below ministering to
the comfort of a chronically sea-sick aunt, referred to in
conversation as "poor aunt Nesta". Sometimes Jimmy saw the little
man--presumably her uncle--in the smoking-room, and once he came
upon the stout boy recovering from the effects of a cigar in a
quiet corner of the boat-deck: but apart from these meetings the
family was as distant from him as if he had never seen Ann at
all--let alone saved her life.

And now she had dropped down on him from heaven. They were alone
together with the good clean wind and the bracing scud. Rollo,
Clarence, Dwight, and Twombley, not to mention Edgar or possibly
Teddy, were down below--he hoped, dying. They had the world to
themselves.

"I love rough weather," said Ann, lifting her face to the wind.
Her eyes were very bright. She was beyond any doubt or question
the only girl on earth. "Poor aunt Nesta doesn't. She was bad
enough when it was quite calm, but this storm has finished her.
I've just been down below, trying to cheer her up."

Jimmy thrilled at the picture. Always fascinating, Ann seemed to
him at her best in the role of ministering angel. He longed to
tell her so, but found no words. They reached the end of the
deck, and turned. Ann looked up at him.

"I've hardly seen anything of you since we sailed," she said. She
spoke almost reproachfully. "Tell me all about yourself, Mr.
Bayliss. Why are you going to America?"

Jimmy had had an impassioned indictment of the Rollos on his
tongue, but she had closed the opening for it as quickly as she
had made it. In face of her direct demand for information he
could not hark back to it now. After all, what did the Rollos
matter? They had no part in this little wind-swept world: they
were where they belonged, in some nether hell on the C. or D.
deck, moaning for death.

"To make a fortune, I hope," he said.

Ann was pleased at this confirmation of her diagnosis. She had
deduced this from the evidence at Paddington Station.

"How pleased your father will be if you do!"

The slight complexity of Jimmy's affairs caused him to pause for
a moment to sort out his fathers, but an instant's reflection
told him that she must be referring to Bayliss the butler.

"Yes."

"He's a dear old man," said Ann. "I suppose he's very proud of
you?"

"I hope so."

"You must do tremendously well in America, so as not to
disappoint him. What are you thinking of doing?"

Jimmy considered for a moment.

"Newspaper work, I think."

"Oh? Why, have you had any experience?"

"A little."

Ann seemed to grow a little aloof, as if her enthusiasm had been
damped.

"Oh, well, I suppose it's a good enough profession. I'm not very
fond of it myself. I've only met one newspaper man in my life,
and I dislike him very much, so I suppose that has prejudiced
me."

"Who was that?"

"You wouldn't have met him. He was on an American paper. A man
named Crocker."

A sudden gust of wind drove them back a step, rendering talk
impossible. It covered a gap when Jimmy could not have spoken.
The shock of the information that Ann had met him before made him
dumb. This thing was beyond him. It baffled him.

Her next words supplied a solution. They were under shelter of
one of the boats now and she could make herself heard.

"It was five years ago, and I only met him for a very short
while, but the prejudice has lasted."

Jimmy began to understand. Five years ago! It was not so strange,
then, that they should not recognise each other now. He stirred
up his memory. Nothing came to the surface. Not a gleam of
recollection of that early meeting rewarded him. And yet
something of importance must have happened then, for her to
remember it. Surely his mere personality could not have been so
unpleasant as to have made such a lasting impression on her!

"I wish you could do something better than newspaper work," said
Ann. "I always think the splendid part about America is that it
is such a land of adventure. There are such millions of chances.
It's a place where anything may happen. Haven't you an
adventurous soul, Mr. Bayliss?"

No man lightly submits to a charge, even a hinted charge, of
being deficient in the capacity for adventure.

"Of course I have," said Jimmy indignantly. "I'm game to tackle
anything that comes along."

"I'm glad of that."

Her feeling of comradeship towards this young man deepened. She
loved adventure and based her estimate of any member of the
opposite sex largely on his capacity for it. She moved in a set,
when at home, which was more polite than adventurous, and had
frequently found the atmosphere enervating.

"Adventure," said Jimmy, "is everything."

He paused. "Or a good deal," he concluded weakly.

"Why qualify it like that? It sounds so tame. Adventure is the
biggest thing in life."

It seemed to Jimmy that he had received an excuse for a remark of
a kind that had been waiting for utterance ever since he had met
her. Often and often in the watches of the night, smoking endless
pipes and thinking of her, he had conjured up just such a vision
as this--they two walking the deserted deck alone, and she
innocently giving him an opening for some low-voiced, tender
speech, at which she would start, look at him quickly, and then
ask him haltingly if the words had any particular application.
And after that--oh, well, all sorts of things might happen. And
now the moment had come. It was true that he had always pictured
the scene as taking place by moonlight and at present there was a
half-gale blowing, out of an inky sky; also on the present
occasion anything in the nature of a low-voiced speech was
absolutely out of the question owing to the uproar of the
elements. Still, taking these drawbacks into consideration, the
chance was far too good to miss. Such an opening might never
happen again. He waited till the ship had steadied herself after
an apparently suicidal dive into an enormous roller, then,
staggering back to her side, spoke.

"Love is the biggest thing in life!" he roared.

"What is?" shrieked Ann.

"Love!" bellowed Jimmy.

He wished a moment later that he had postponed this statement of
faith, for their next steps took them into a haven of comparative
calm, where some dimly seen portion of the vessel's anatomy
jutted out and formed a kind of nook where it was possible to
hear the ordinary tones of the human voice. He halted here, and
Ann did the same, though unwillingly. She was conscious of a
feeling of disappointment and of a modification of her mood of
comradeship towards her companion. She held strong views, which
she believed to be unalterable, on the subject under discussion.

"Love!" she said. It was too dark to see her face, but her voice
sounded unpleasantly scornful. "I shouldn't have thought that you
would have been so conventional as that. You seemed different."

"Eh?" said Jimmy blankly.

"I hate all this talk about Love, as if it were something
wonderful that was worth everything else in life put together.
Every book you read and every song that you see in the
shop-windows is all about Love. It's as if the whole world were
in a conspiracy to persuade themselves that there's a wonderful
something just round the corner which they can get if they try
hard enough. And they hypnotise themselves into thinking of
nothing else and miss all the splendid things of life."

"That's Shaw, isn't it?" said Jimmy.

"What is Shaw?"

"What you were saying. It's out of one of Bernard Shaw's things,
isn't it?"

"It is not." A note of acidity had crept into Ann's voice. "It is
perfectly original."

"I'm certain I've heard it before somewhere."

"If you have, that simply means that you must have associated
with some sensible person."

Jimmy was puzzled.

"But why the grouch?" he asked.

"I don't understand you."

"I mean, why do you feel that way about it?"

Ann was quite certain now that she did not like this young man
nearly as well as she had supposed. It is trying for a
strong-minded, clear-thinking girl to have her philosophy
described as a grouch.

"Because I've had the courage to think about it for myself, and
not let myself be blinded by popular superstition. The whole
world has united in making itself imagine that there is something
called love which is the most wonderful happening in life. The
poets and novelists have simply hounded them on to believe it.
It's a gigantic swindle."

A wave of tender compassion swept over Jimmy. He understood it
all now. Naturally a girl who had associated all her life with
the Rollos, Clarences, Dwights, and Twombleys would come to
despair of the possibility of falling in love with any one.

"You haven't met the right man," he said. She had, of course, but
only recently: and, anyway, he could point that out later.

"There is no such thing as the right man," said Ann resolutely,
"if you are suggesting that there is a type of man in existence
who is capable of inspiring what is called romantic love. I
believe in marriage. . . ."

"Good work!" said Jimmy, well satisfied.

" . . . But not as the result of a sort of delirium. I believe in
it as a sensible partnership between two friends who know each
other well and trust each other. The right way of looking at
marriage is to realise, first of all, that there are no thrills,
no romances, and then to pick out some one who is nice and kind
and amusing and full of life and willing to do things to make you
happy."

"Ah!" said Jimmy, straightening his tie, "Well, that's
something."

"How do you mean--that's something? Are you shocked at my views?"

"I don't believe they are your views. You've been reading one of
these stern, soured fellows who analyse things."

Ann stamped. The sound was inaudible, but Jimmy noticed the
movement.

"Cold?" he said. "Let's walk on."

Ann's sense of humour reasserted itself. It was not often that it
remained dormant for so long. She laughed.

"I know exactly what you are thinking," she said. "You believe
that I am posing, that those aren't my real opinions."

"They can't be. But I don't think you are posing. It's getting on
for dinner-time, and you've got that wan, sinking feeling that
makes you look upon the world and find it a hollow fraud. The
bugle will be blowing in a few minutes, and half an hour after
that you will be yourself again."

"I'm myself now. I suppose you can't realise that a pretty girl
can hold such views."

Jimmy took her arm.

"Let me help you," he said. "There's a knothole in the deck.
Watch your step. Now, listen to me. I'm glad you've brought up
this subject--I mean the subject of your being the prettiest girl
in the known world--"

"I never said that."

"Your modesty prevented you. But it's a fact, nevertheless. I'm
glad, I say, because I have been thinking a lot along those lines
myself, and I have been anxious to discuss the point with you.
You have the most glorious hair I have ever seen!"

"Do you like red hair?"

"Red-gold."

"It is nice of you to put it like that. When I was a child all
except a few of the other children called me Carrots."

"They have undoubtedly come to a bad end by this time. If bears
were sent to attend to the children who criticised Elijah, your
little friends were in line for a troupe of tigers. But there
were some of a finer fibre? There were a few who didn't call you
Carrots?"

"One or two. They called me Brick-Top."

"They have probably been electrocuted since. Your eyes are
perfectly wonderful!"

Ann withdrew her arm. An extensive acquaintance of young men told
her that the topic of conversation was now due to be changed.

"You will like America," she said.

"We are not discussing America."

"I am. It is a wonderful country for a man who wants to succeed.
If I were you, I should go out West."

"Do you live out West?"

"No."

"Then why suggest my going there? Where do you live?"

"I live in New York."

"I shall stay in New York, then."

Ann was wary, but amused. Proposals of marriage--and Jimmy seemed
to be moving swiftly towards one--were no novelty in her life. In
the course of several seasons at Bar Harbor, Tuxedo, Palm Beach,
and in New York itself, she had spent much of her time foiling
and discouraging the ardour of a series of sentimental youths who
had laid their unwelcome hearts at her feet.

"New York is open for staying in about this time, I believe."

Jimmy was silent. He had done his best to fight a tendency to
become depressed and had striven by means of a light tone to keep
himself resolutely cheerful, but the girl's apparently total
indifference to him was too much for his spirits. One of the
young men who had had to pick up the heart he had flung at Ann's
feet and carry it away for repairs had once confided to an
intimate friend, after the sting had to some extent passed, that
the feelings of a man who made love to Ann might be likened to
the emotions which hot chocolate might be supposed to entertain
on contact with vanilla ice-cream. Jimmy, had the comparison been
presented to him, would have endorsed its perfect accuracy. The
wind from the sea, until now keen and bracing, had become merely
infernally cold. The song of the wind in the rigging, erstwhile
melodious, had turned into a damned depressing howling.

"I used to be as sentimental as any one a few years ago," said
Ann, returning to the dropped subject. "Just after I left
college, I was quite maudlin. I dreamed of moons and Junes and
loves and doves all the time. Then something happened which made
me see what a little fool I was. It wasn't pleasant at the time,
but it had a very bracing effect. I have been quite different
ever since. It was a man, of course, who did it. His method was
quite simple. He just made fun of me, and Nature did the rest."

Jimmy scowled in the darkness. Murderous thoughts towards the
unknown brute flooded his mind.

"I wish I could meet him!" he growled.

"You aren't likely to," said Ann. "He lives in England. His name
is Crocker. Jimmy Crocker. I spoke about him just now."

Through the howling of the wind cut the sharp notes of a bugle.
Ann turned to the saloon entrance.

"Dinner!" she said brightly. "How hungry one gets on board ship!"
She stopped. "Aren't you coming down, Mr. Bayliss?"

"Not just yet," said Jimmy thickly.



CHAPTER VIII

PAINFUL SCENE IN A CAFE

The noonday sun beat down on Park Row. Hurrying mortals, released
from a thousand offices, congested the sidewalks, their thoughts
busy with the vision of lunch. Up and down the canyon of Nassau
Street the crowds moved more slowly. Candy-selling aliens jostled
newsboys, and huge dray-horses endeavoured to the best of their
ability not to grind the citizenry beneath their hooves.
Eastward, pressing on to the City Hall, surged the usual dense
army of happy lovers on their way to buy marriage-licenses. Men
popped in and out of the subway entrances like rabbits. It was a
stirring, bustling scene, typical of this nerve-centre of New
York's vast body.

Jimmy Crocker, standing in the doorway, watched the throngs
enviously. There were men in that crowd who chewed gum, there
were men who wore white satin ties with imitation diamond
stick-pins, there were men who, having smoked seven-tenths of a
cigar, were eating the remainder: but there was not one with whom
he would not at that moment willingly have exchanged identities.
For these men had jobs. And in his present frame of mind it
seemed to him that no further ingredient was needed for the
recipe of the ultimate human bliss.

The poet has said some very searching and unpleasant things about
the man "whose heart has ne'er within him burned as home his
footsteps he has turned from wandering on some foreign strand,"
but he might have excused Jimmy for feeling just then not so much
a warmth of heart as a cold and clammy sensation of dismay. He
would have had to admit that the words "High though his titles,
proud his name, boundless his wealth as wish can claim" did not
apply to Jimmy Crocker. The latter may have been "concentred all
on self," but his wealth consisted of one hundred and
thirty-three dollars and forty cents and his name was so far from
being proud that the mere sight of it in the files of the New
York _Sunday Chronicle_, the record-room of which he had just been
visiting, had made him consider the fact that he had changed it
to Bayliss the most sensible act of his career.

The reason for Jimmy's lack of enthusiasm as he surveyed the
portion of his native land visible from his doorway is not far to
seek. The _Atlantic_ had docked on Saturday night, and Jimmy,
having driven to an excellent hotel and engaged an expensive room
therein, had left instructions at the desk that breakfast should
be served to him at ten o'clock and with it the Sunday issue of
the _Chronicle_. Five years had passed since he had seen the dear
old rag for which he had reported so many fires, murders,
street-accidents, and weddings: and he looked forward to its
perusal as a formal taking _seisin_ of his long-neglected country.
Nothing could be more fitting and symbolic than that the first
morning of his return to America should find him propped up in
bed reading the good old _Chronicle_. Among his final meditations
as he dropped off to sleep was a gentle speculation as to who was
City editor now and whether the comic supplement was still
featuring the sprightly adventures of the Doughnut family.

A wave of not unmanly sentiment passed over him on the following
morning as he reached out for the paper. The sky-line of New
York, seen as the boat comes up the bay, has its points, and the
rattle of the Elevated trains and the quaint odour of the Subway
extend a kindly welcome, but the thing that really convinces the
returned traveller that he is back on Manhattan Island is the
first Sunday paper. Jimmy, like every one else, began by opening
the comic supplement: and as he scanned it a chilly discomfort,
almost a premonition of evil, came upon him. The Doughnut Family
was no more. He knew that it was unreasonable of him to feel as
if he had just been informed of the death of a dear friend, for
Pa Doughnut and his associates had been having their adventures
five years before he had left the country, and even the toughest
comic supplementary hero rarely endures for a decade: but
nevertheless the shadow did fall upon his morning optimism, and
he derived no pleasure whatever from the artificial rollickings
of a degraded creature called Old Pop Dill-Pickle who was offered
as a substitute.

But this, he was to discover almost immediately, was a trifling
disaster. It distressed him, but it did not affect his material
welfare. Tragedy really began when he turned to the magazine
section. Scarcely had he started to glance at it when this
headline struck him like a bullet:

            PICCADILLY JIM AT IT AGAIN

And beneath it his own name.

Nothing is so capable of diversity as the emotion we feel on
seeing our name unexpectedly in print. We may soar to the heights
or we may sink to the depths. Jimmy did the latter. A mere
cursory first inspection of the article revealed the fact that it
was no eulogy. With an unsparing hand the writer had muck-raked
his eventful past, the text on which he hung his remarks being
that ill-fated encounter with Lord Percy Whipple at the Six
Hundred Club. This the scribe had recounted at a length and with
a boisterous vim which outdid even Bill Blake's effort in the
London _Daily Sun_. Bill Blake had been handicapped by
consideration of space and the fact that he had turned in his
copy at an advanced hour when the paper was almost made up. The
present writer was shackled by no restrictions. He had plenty of
room to spread himself in, and he had spread himself. So liberal
had been the editor's views in the respect that, in addition to
the letter-press, the pages contained an unspeakably offensive
picture of a burly young man in an obviously advanced condition
of alcoholism raising his fist to strike a monocled youth in
evening dress who had so little chin that Jimmy was surprised
that he had ever been able to hit it. The only gleam of
consolation that he could discover in this repellent drawing was
the fact that the artist had treated Lord Percy even more
scurvily than himself. Among other things, the second son of the
Duke of Devizes was depicted as wearing a coronet--a thing which
would have excited remark even in a London night-club.

Jimmy read the thing through in its entirety three times before
he appreciated a _nuance_ which his disordered mind had at first
failed to grasp--to wit, that this character-sketch of himself
was no mere isolated outburst but apparently one of a series. In
several places the writer alluded unmistakeably to other theses
on the same subject.

Jimmy's breakfast congealed on its tray, untouched. That boon
which the gods so seldom bestow, of seeing ourselves as others
see us, had been accorded to him in full measure. By the time he
had completed his third reading he was regarding himself in a
purely objective fashion not unlike the attitude of a naturalist
towards some strange and loathesome manifestation of insect life.
So this was the sort of fellow he was! He wondered they had let
him in at a reputable hotel.

The rest of the day he passed in a state of such humility that he
could have wept when the waiters were civil to him. On the Monday
morning he made his way to Park Row to read the files of the
_Chronicle_--a morbid enterprise, akin to the eccentric behaviour
of those priests of Baal who gashed themselves with knives or of
authors who subscribe to press-clipping agencies.

He came upon another of the articles almost at once, in an issue
not a month old. Then there was a gap of several weeks, and hope
revived that things might not be as bad as he had feared--only to
be crushed by another trenchant screed. After that he set about
his excavations methodically, resolved to know the worst. He
knew it in just under two hours. There it all was--his row with
the bookie, his bad behaviour at the political meeting, his
breach-of-promise case. It was a complete biography.

And the name they called him. Piccadilly Jim! Ugh!

He went out into Park Row, and sought a quiet doorway where he
could brood upon these matters.

It was not immediately that the practical or financial aspect of
the affair came to scourge him. For an appreciable time he
suffered in his self-esteem alone. It seemed to him that all
these bustling persons who passed knew him, that they were
casting sidelong glances at him and laughing derisively, that
those who chewed gum chewed it sneeringly and that those who ate
their cigars ate them with thinly-veiled disapproval and scorn.
Then, the passage of time blunting sensitiveness, he found that
there were other and weightier things to consider.

As far as he had had any connected plan of action in his sudden
casting-off of the flesh-pots of London, he had determined as
soon as possible after landing to report at the office of his old
paper and apply for his ancient position. So little thought had
he given to the minutiae of his future plans that it had not
occurred to him that he had anything to do but walk in, slap the
gang on the back, and announce that he was ready to work. Work!--on
the staff of a paper whose chief diversion appeared to be the
satirising of his escapades! Even had he possessed the moral
courage--or gall--to make the application, what good would it be?
He was a by-word in a world where he had once been a worthy
citizen. What paper would trust Piccadilly Jim with an
assignment? What paper would consider Piccadilly Jim even on
space rates? A chill dismay crept over him. He seemed to hear the
grave voice of Bayliss the butler speaking in his car as he had
spoken so short a while before at Paddington Station.

"Is it not a little rash, Mr. James?"

Rash was the word. Here he stood, in a country that had no
possible use for him, a country where competition was keen and
jobs for the unskilled infrequent. What on earth was there that
he could do?

Well, he could go home. . . . No, he couldn't. His pride revolted
at that solution. Prodigal Son stuff was all very well in its
way, but it lost its impressiveness if you turned up again at
home two weeks after you had left. A decent interval among the
husks and swine was essential. Besides, there was his father to
consider. He might be a poor specimen of a fellow, as witness the
_Sunday Chronicle_ _passim_, but he was not so poor as to come
slinking back to upset things for his father just when he had
done the only decent thing by removing himself. No, that was out
of the question.

What remained? The air of New York is bracing and healthy, but a
man cannot live on it. Obviously he must find a job. But what
job?

What could he do?

A gnawing sensation in the region of the waistcoat answered the
question. The solution--which it put forward was, it was true,
but a temporary one, yet it appealed strongly to Jimmy. He had
found it admirable at many crises. He would go and lunch, and it
might be that food would bring inspiration.

He moved from his doorway and crossed to the entrance of the
subway. He caught a timely express, and a few minutes later
emerged into the sunlight again at Grand Central. He made his way
westward along Forty-second Street to the hotel which he thought
would meet his needs. He had scarcely entered it when in a chair
by the door he perceived Ann Chester, and at the sight of her all
his depression vanished and he was himself again.

"Why, how do you do, Mr. Bayliss? Are you lunching here?"

"Unless there is some other place that you would prefer," said
Jimmy. "I hope I haven't kept you waiting."

Ann laughed. She was looking very delightful in something soft
and green.

"I'm not going to lunch with you. I'm waiting for Mr. Ralstone
and his sister. Do you remember him? He crossed over with us. His
chair was next to mine on the promenade deck."

Jimmy was shocked. When he thought how narrowly she had escaped,
poor girl, from lunching with that insufferable pill Teddy--or
was it Edgar?--he felt quite weak. Recovering himself, he spoke
firmly.

"When were they to have met you?"

"At one o'clock."

"It is now five past. You are certainly not going to wait any
longer. Come with me, and we will whistle for cabs."

"Don't be absurd!"

"Come along. I want to talk to you about my future."

"I shall certainly do nothing of the kind," said Ann, rising. She
went with him to the door. "Teddy would never forgive me." She
got into the cab. "It's only because you have appealed to me to
help you discuss your future," she said, as they drove off.
"Nothing else would have induced me . . ."

"I know," said Jimmy. "I felt that I could rely on your womanly
sympathy. Where shall we go?"

"Where do you want to go? Oh, I forget that you have never been
in New York before. By the way, what are your impressions of our
glorious country?"

"Most gratifying, if only I could get a job."

"Tell him to drive to Delmonico's. It's just around the corner on
Forty-fourth Street."

"There are some things round the corner, then?"

"That sounds cryptic. What do you mean."

"You've forgotten our conversation that night on the ship. You
refused to admit the existence of wonderful things just round the
corner. You said some very regrettable things that night. About
love, if you remember."

"You can't be going to talk about love at one o'clock in the
afternoon! Talk about your future."

"Love is inextricably mixed up with my future."

"Not with your immediate future. I thought you said that you were
trying to get a job. Have you given up the idea of newspaper
work, then?"

"Absolutely."

"Well, I'm rather glad."

The cab drew up at the restaurant door, and the conversation was
interrupted. When they were seated at their table and Jimmy had
given an order to the waiter of absolutely inexcusable
extravagance, Ann returned to the topic.

"Well, now the thing is to find something for you to do."

Jimmy looked round the restaurant with appreciative eyes. The
summer exodus from New York was still several weeks distant, and
the place was full of prosperous-looking lunchers, not one of
whom appeared to have a care or an unpaid bill in the world. The
atmosphere was redolent of substantial bank-balances. Solvency
shone from the closely shaven faces of the men and reflected
itself in the dresses of the women. Jimmy sighed.

"I suppose so," he said. "Though for choice I'd like to be one of
the Idle Rich. To my mind the ideal profession is strolling into
the office and touching the old dad for another thousand."

Ann was severe.

"You revolt me!" she said. "I never heard anything so thoroughly
disgraceful. You _need_ work!"

"One of these days," said Jimmy plaintively, "I shall be sitting
by the roadside with my dinner-pail, and you will come by in your
limousine, and I shall look up at you and say '_You_ hounded me
into this!' How will you feel then?"

"Very proud of myself."

"In that case, there is no more to be said. I'd much rather hang
about and try to get adopted by a millionaire, but if you insist
on my working--Waiter!"

"What do you want?" asked Ann.

"Will you get me a Classified Telephone Directory," said Jimmy.

"What for?" asked Ann.

"To look for a profession. There is nothing like being
methodical."

The waiter returned, bearing a red book. Jimmy thanked him and
opened it at the A's.

"The boy, what will he become?" he said. He turned the pages.
"How about an Auditor? What do you think of that?"

"Do you think you could audit?"

"That I could not say till I had tried. I might turn out to be
very good at it. How about an Adjuster?"

"An adjuster of what?"

"The book doesn't say. It just remarks broadly--in a sort of
spacious way--'Adjuster.' I take it that, having decided to
become an adjuster, you then sit down and decide what you wish to
adjust. One might, for example, become an Asparagus Adjuster."

"A what?"

"Surely you know? Asparagus Adjusters are the fellows who sell
those rope-and-pulley affairs by means of which the Smart Set
lower asparagus into their mouths--or rather Francis the footman
does it for them, of course. The diner leans back in his chair,
and the menial works the apparatus in the background. It is
entirely superseding the old-fashioned method of picking the
vegetable up and taking a snap at it. But I suspect that to be a
successful Asparagus Adjuster requires capital. We now come to
Awning Crank and Spring Rollers. I don't think I should like
that. Rolling awning cranks seems to me a sorry way of spending
life's springtime. Let's try the B's."

"Let's try this omelette. It looks delicious." Jimmy shook his
head.

"I will toy with it--but absently and in a _distrait_ manner, as
becomes a man of affairs. There's nothing in the B's. I might
devote my ardent youth to Bar-Room Glassware and Bottlers'
Supplies. On the other hand, I might not. Similarly, while there
is no doubt a bright future for somebody in Celluloid, Fiberloid,
and Other Factitious Goods, instinct tells me that there is none
for--" he pulled up on the verge of saying, "James Braithwaite
Crocker," and shuddered at the nearness of the pitfall.
"--for--" he hesitated again--"for Algernon Bayliss," he
concluded.

Ann smiled delightedly. It was so typical that his father should
have called him something like that. Time had not dimmed her
regard for the old man she had seen for that brief moment at
Paddington Station. He was an old dear, and she thoroughly
approved of this latest manifestation of his supposed pride in
his offspring.

"Is that really your name--Algernon?"

"I cannot deny it."

"I think your father is a darling," said Ann inconsequently.

Jimmy had buried himself in the directory again.

"The D's," he said. "Is it possible that posterity will know me
as Bayliss the Dermatologist? Or as Bayliss the Drop Forger? I
don't quite like that last one. It may be a respectable
occupation, but it sounds rather criminal to me. The sentence for
forging drops is probably about twenty years with hard labour."

"I wish you would put that book away and go on with your lunch,"
said Ann.

"Perhaps," said Jimmy, "my grandchildren will cluster round my
knee some day and say in their piping, childish voices, 'Tell us
how you became the Elastic Stocking King, grandpa!' What do you
think?"

"I think you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You are wasting
your time, when you ought to be either talking to me or else
thinking very seriously about what you mean to do."

Jimmy was turning the pages rapidly.

"I will be with you in a moment," he said. "Try to amuse yourself
somehow till I am at leisure. Ask yourself a riddle. Tell
yourself an anecdote. Think of life. No, it's no good. I don't
see myself as a Fan Importer, a Glass Beveller, a Hotel Broker,
an Insect Exterminator, a Junk Dealer, a Kalsomine Manufacturer,
a Laundryman, a Mausoleum Architect, a Nurse, an Oculist, a
Paper-Hanger, a Quilt Designer, a Roofer, a Ship Plumber, a
Tinsmith, an Undertaker, a Veterinarian, a Wig Maker, an X-ray
apparatus manufacturer, a Yeast producer, or a Zinc Spelter." He
closed the book. "There is only one thing to do. I must starve in
the gutter. Tell me--you know New York better than I do--where is
there a good gutter?"

At this moment there entered the restaurant an Immaculate Person.
He was a young man attired in faultlessly fitting clothes, with
shoes of flawless polish and a perfectly proportioned floweret in
his buttonhole. He surveyed the room through a monocle. He was a
pleasure to look upon, but Jimmy, catching sight of him, started
violently and felt no joy at all; for he had recognised him. It
was a man he knew well and who knew him well--a man whom he had
last seen a bare two weeks ago at the Bachelors' Club in London.
Few things are certain in this world, but one was that, if
Bartling--such was the Vision's name--should see him, he would
come over and address him as Crocker. He braced himself to the
task of being Bayliss, the whole Bayliss, and nothing but
Bayliss. It might be that stout denial would carry him through.
After all, Reggie Bartling was a man of notoriously feeble
intellect, who could believe in anything.

The monocle continued its sweep. It rested on Jimmy's profile.

"By Gad!" said the Vision.

Reginald Bartling had landed in New York that morning, and
already the loneliness of a strange city had begun to oppress
him. He had come over on a visit of pleasure, his suit-case
stuffed with letters of introduction, but these he had not yet
used. There was a feeling of home-sickness upon him, and he ached
for a pal. And there before him sat Jimmy Crocker, one of the
best. He hastened to the table.

"I say, Crocker, old chap, I didn't know you were over here. When
did you arrive?"

Jimmy was profoundly thankful that he had seen this pest in time
to be prepared for him. Suddenly assailed in this fashion, he
would undoubtedly have incriminated himself by recognition of his
name. But, having anticipated the visitation, he was able to say
a whole sentence to Ann before showing himself aware that it was
he who was addressed.

"I say! Jimmy Crocker!"

Jimmy achieved one of the blankest stares of modern times. He
looked at Ann. Then he looked at Bartling again.

"I think there's some mistake," he said. "My name is Bayliss."

Before his stony eye the immaculate Bartling wilted. It was a
perfectly astounding likeness, but it was apparent to him when
what he had ever heard and read about doubles came to him. He was
confused. He blushed. It was deuced bad form going up to a
perfect stranger like this and pretending you knew him. Probably
the chappie thought he was some kind of a confidence johnnie or
something. It was absolutely rotten! He continued to blush till
one could have fancied him scarlet to the ankles. He backed away,
apologising in ragged mutters. Jimmy was not insensible to the
pathos of his suffering acquaintance's position; he knew Reggie
and his devotion to good form sufficiently well to enable him to
appreciate the other's horror at having spoken to a fellow to
whom he had never been introduced; but necessity forbade any
other course. However Reggie's soul might writhe and however
sleepless Reggie's nights might become as a result of this
encounter, he was prepared to fight it out on those lines if it
took all summer. And, anyway, it was darned good for Reggie to
get a jolt like that every once in a while. Kept him bright and
lively.

So thinking, he turned to Ann again, while the crimson Bartling
tottered off to restore his nerve centres to their normal tone at
some other hostelry. He found Ann staring amazedly at him, eyes
wide and lips parted.

"Odd, that!" he observed with a light carelessness which he
admired extremely and of which he would not have believed himself
capable. "I suppose I must be somebody's double. What was the
name he said?"

"Jimmy Crocker!" cried Ann.

Jimmy raised his glass, sipped, and put it down.

"Oh yes, I remember. So it was. It's a curious thing, too, that
it sounds familiar. I've heard the name before somewhere."

"I was talking about Jimmy Crocker on the ship. That evening on
deck."

Jimmy looked at her doubtfully.

"Were you? Oh yes, of course. I've got it now. He is the man you
dislike so."

Ann was still looking at him as if he had undergone a change into
something new and strange.

"I hope you aren't going to let the resemblance prejudice you
against _me_?" said Jimmy. "Some are born Jimmy Crockers, others
have Jimmy Crockers thrust upon them. I hope you'll bear in mind
that I belong to the latter class."

"It's such an extraordinary thing."

"Oh, I don't know. You often hear of doubles. There was a man in
England a few years ago who kept getting sent to prison for
things some genial stranger who happened to look like him had
done."

"I don't mean that. Of course there are doubles. But it is
curious that you should have come over here and that we should
have met like this at just this time. You see, the reason I went
over to England at all was to try to get Jimmy Crocker to come
back here."

"What!"

"I don't mean that _I_ did. I mean that I went with my uncle and
aunt, who wanted to persuade him to come and live with them."

Jimmy was now feeling completely out of his depth.

"Your uncle and aunt? Why?"

"I ought to have explained that they are his uncle and aunt, too.
My aunt's sister married his father."

"But--"

"It's quite simple, though it doesn't sound so. Perhaps you
haven't read the _Sunday Chronicle_ lately? It has been publishing
articles about Jimmy Crocker's disgusting behaviour in
London--they call him Piccadilly Jim, you know--"

In print, that name had shocked Jimmy. Spoken, and by Ann, it was
loathly. Remorse for his painful past tore at him.

"There was another one printed yesterday."

"I saw it," said Jimmy, to avert description.

"Oh, did you? Well, just to show you what sort of a man Jimmy
Crocker is, the Lord Percy Whipple whom he attacked in the club
was his very best friend. His step-mother told my aunt so. He
seems to be absolutely hopeless." She smiled. "You're looking
quite sad, Mr. Bayliss. Cheer up! You may look like him, but you
aren't him he?--him?--no, 'he' is right. The soul is what counts.
If you've got a good, virtuous, Algernonish soul, it doesn't
matter if you're so like Jimmy Crocker that his friends come up
and talk to you in restaurants. In fact, it's rather an
advantage, really. I'm sure that if you were to go to my aunt and
pretend to be Jimmy Crocker, who had come over after all in a fit
of repentance, she would be so pleased that there would be
nothing she wouldn't do for you. You might realise your ambition
of being adopted by a millionaire. Why don't you try it? I won't
give you away."

"Before they found me out and hauled me off to prison, I should
have been near you for a time. I should have lived in the same
house with you, spoken to you--!" Jimmy's voice shook.

Ann turned her head to address an imaginary companion.

"You must listen to this, my dear," she said in an undertone. "He
speaks _wonderfully!_ They used to call him the Boy Orator in his
home-town. Sometimes that, and sometimes Eloquent Algernon!"

Jimmy eyed her fixedly. He disapproved of this frivolity.

"One of these days you will try me too high--!"

"Oh, you didn't hear what I was saying to my friend, did you?"
she said in concern. "But I meant it, every word. I love to hear
you talk. You have such _feeling!_"

Jimmy attuned himself to the key of the conversation.

"Have you no sentiment in you?" he demanded.

"I was just warming up, too! In another minute you would have
heard something worth while. You've damped me now. Let's talk
about my lifework again."

"Have you thought of anything?"

"I'd like to be one of those fellows who sit in offices, and sign
checks, and tell the office-boy to tell Mr. Rockerfeller they can
give him five minutes. But of course I should need a check-book,
and I haven't got one. Oh well, I shall find something to do all
right. Now tell me something about yourself. Let's drop the
future for awhile."


        *       *       *       *       *


An hour later Jimmy turned into Broadway. He walked pensively,
for he had much to occupy his mind. How strange that the Petts
should have come over to England to try to induce him to return
to New York, and how galling that, now that he was in New York,
this avenue to a prosperous future was closed by the fact that
something which he had done five years ago--that he could
remember nothing about it was quite maddening--had caused Ann to
nurse this abiding hatred of him. He began to dream tenderly of
Ann, bumping from pedestrian to pedestrian in a gentle trance.

From this trance the seventh pedestrian aroused him by uttering
his name, the name which circumstances had compelled him to
abandon.

"Jimmy Crocker!"

Surprise brought Jimmy back from his dreams to the hard
world--surprise and a certain exasperation. It was ridiculous to be
incognito in a city which he had not visited in five years and to
be instantly recognised in this way by every second man he met.
He looked sourly at the man. The other was a sturdy,
square-shouldered, battered young man, who wore on his homely
face a grin of recognition and regard. Jimmy was not particularly
good at remembering faces, but this person's was of a kind which
the poorest memory might have recalled. It was, as the
advertisements say, distinctively individual. The broken nose,
the exiguous forehead, and the enlarged ears all clamoured for
recognition. The last time Jimmy had seen Jerry Mitchell had been
two years before at the National Sporting Club in London, and,
placing him at once, he braced himself, as a short while ago he
had braced himself to confound immaculate Reggie.

"Hello!" said the battered one.

"Hello indeed!" said Jimmy courteously. "In what way can I
brighten your life?"

The grin faded from the other's face. He looked puzzled.

"You're Jimmy Crocker, ain't you?"

"No. My name chances to be Algernon Bayliss."

Jerry Mitchell reddened.

"'Scuse me. My mistake."

He was moving off, but Jimmy stopped him. Parting from Ann had
left a large gap in his life, and he craved human society.

"I know you now," he said. "You're Jerry Mitchell. I saw you
fight Kid Burke four years ago in London."

The grin returned to the pugilist's face, wider than ever. He
beamed with gratification.

"Gee! Think of that! I've quit since then. I'm working for an old
guy named Pett. Funny thing, he's Jimmy Crocker's uncle that I
mistook you for. Say, you're a dead ringer for that guy! I could
have sworn it was him when you bumped into me. Say, are you doing
anything?"

"Nothing in particular."

"Come and have a yarn. There's a place I know just round by
here."

"Delighted."

They made their way to the place.

"What's yours?" said Jerry Mitchell. "I'm on the wagon myself,"
he said apologetically.

"So am I," said Jimmy. "It's the only way. No sense in always
drinking and making a disgraceful exhibition of yourself in
public!"

Jerry Mitchell received this homily in silence. It disposed
definitely of the lurking doubt in his mind as to the possibility
of this man really being Jimmy Crocker. Though outwardly
convinced by the other's denial, he had not been able to rid
himself till now of a nebulous suspicion. But this convinced him.
Jimmy Crocker would never have said a thing like that nor would
have refused the offer of alcohol. He fell into pleasant
conversation with him. His mind eased.



CHAPTER IX

MRS. PETT IS SHOCKED

At five o'clock in the afternoon some ten days after her return
to America, Mrs. Pett was at home to her friends in the house on
Riverside Drive. The proceedings were on a scale that amounted to
a reception, for they were not only a sort of official
notification to New York that one of its most prominent hostesses
was once more in its midst, but were also designed to entertain
and impress Mr. Hammond Chester, Ann's father, who had been
spending a couple of days in the metropolis preparatory to
departing for South America on one of his frequent trips. He was
very fond of Ann in his curious, detached way, though he never
ceased in his private heart to consider it injudicious of her not
to have been born a boy, and he always took in New York for a day
or two on his way from one wild and lonely spot to another, if he
could manage it.

The large drawing-room overlooking the Hudson was filled almost
to capacity with that strange mixture of humanity which Mrs. Pett
chiefly affected. She prided herself on the Bohemian element in
her parties, and had become during the past two years a human
drag-net, scooping Genius from its hiding-place and bringing it
into the open. At different spots in the room stood the six
resident geniuses to whose presence in the home Mr. Pett had such
strong objections, and in addition to these she had collected so
many more of a like breed from the environs of Washington Square
that the air was clamorous with the hoarse cries of futurist
painters, esoteric Buddhists, _vers libre_ poets, interior
decorators, and stage reformers, sifted in among the more
conventional members of society who had come to listen to them.
Men with new religions drank tea with women with new hats.
Apostles of Free Love expounded their doctrines to persons who
had been practising them for years without realising it. All over
the room throats were being strained and minds broadened.

Mr. Chester, standing near the door with Ann, eyed the assemblage
with the genial contempt of a large dog for a voluble pack of
small ones. He was a massive, weather-beaten man, who looked very
like Ann in some ways and would have looked more like her but for
the misfortune of having had some of his face clawed away by an
irritable jaguar with whom he had had a difference some years
back in the jungles of Peru.

"Do you like this sort of thing?" he asked.

"I don't mind it," said Ann.

"Well, I shall be very sorry to leave you, Ann, but I'm glad I'm
pulling out of here this evening. Who are all these people?"

Ann surveyed the gathering.

"That's Ernest Wisden, the playwright, over there, talking to
Lora Delane Porter, the feminist writer. That's Clara
What's-her-name, the sculptor, with the bobbed hair. Next to
her--"

Mr. Chester cut short the catalogue with a stifled yawn.

"Where's old Pete? Doesn't he come to these jamborees?"

Ann laughed.

"Poor uncle Peter! If he gets back from the office before these
people leave, he will sneak up to his room and stay there till
it's safe to come out. The last time I made him come to one of
these parties he was pounced on by a woman who talked to him for
an hour about the morality of Finance and seemed to think that
millionaires were the scum of the earth."

"He never would stand up for himself." Mr. Chester's gaze hovered
about the room, and paused. "Who's that fellow? I believe I've
seen him before somewhere."

A constant eddying swirl was animating the multitude. Whenever
the mass tended to congeal, something always seemed to stir it up
again. This was due to the restless activity of Mrs. Pett, who
held it to be the duty of a good hostess to keep her guests
moving. From the moment when the room began to fill till the
moment when it began to empty she did not cease to plough her way
to and fro, in a manner equally reminiscent of a hawk swooping on
chickens and an earnest collegian bucking the line. Her guests
were as a result perpetually forming new ententes and
combinations, finding themselves bumped about like those little
moving figures which one sees in shop-windows on Broadway, which
revolve on a metal disc until, urged by impact with another
little figure, they scatter to regroup themselves elsewhere. It
was a fascinating feature of Mrs. Pett's at-homes and one which
assisted that mental broadening process already alluded to that
one never knew, when listening to a discussion on the sincerity
of Oscar Wilde, whether it would not suddenly change in the
middle of a sentence to an argument on the inner meaning of the
Russian Ballet.

Plunging now into a group dominated for the moment by an angular
woman who was saying loud and penetrating things about the
suffrage, Mrs. Pett had seized and removed a tall, blonde young
man with a mild, vacuous face. For the past few minutes this
young man had been sitting bolt upright on a chair with his hands
on his knees, so exactly in the manner of an end-man at a
minstrel show that one would hardly have been surprised had he
burst into song or asked a conundrum.

Ann followed her father's gaze.

"Do you mean the man talking to aunt Nesta? There, they've gone
over to speak to Willie Partridge. Do you mean that one?"

"Yes. Who is he?"

"Well, I like that!" said Ann. "Considering that you introduced
him to us! That's Lord Wisbeach, who came to uncle Peter with a
letter of introduction from you. You met him in Canada."

"I remember now. I ran across him in British Columbia. We camped
together one night. I'd never seen him before and I didn't see
him again. He said he wanted a letter to old Pete for some
reason, so I scribbled him one in pencil on the back of an
envelope. I've never met any one who played a better game of draw
poker. He cleaned me out. There's a lot in that fellow, in spite
of his looking like a musical comedy dude. He's clever."

Ann looked at him meditatively.

"It's odd that you should be discovering hidden virtues in Lord
Wisbeach, father. I've been trying to make up my mind about him.
He wants me to marry him."

"He does! I suppose a good many of these young fellows here want
the same thing, don't they, Ann?" Mr. Chester looked at his
daughter with interest. Her growing-up and becoming a beauty had
always been a perplexity to him. He could never rid himself of
the impression of her as a long-legged child in short skirts. "I
suppose you're refusing them all the time?"

"Every day from ten to four, with an hour off for lunch. I keep
regular office hours. Admission on presentation of visiting
card."

"And how do you feel about this Lord Wisbeach?"

"I don't know," said Ann frankly. "He's very nice. And--what is
more important--he's different. Most of the men I know are all
turned out of the same mould. Lord Wisbeach--and one other
man--are the only two I've met who might not be the brothers of
all the rest."

"Who's the other?"

"A man I hardly know. I met him on board ship--"

Mr. Chester looked at his watch.

"It's up to you, Ann," he said. "There's one comfort in being
your father--I don't mean that exactly; I mean that it is a
comfort to me AS your father--to know that I need feel no
paternal anxiety about you. I don't have to give you advice.
You've not only got three times the sense that I have, but you're
not the sort of girl who would take advice. You've always known
just what you wanted ever since you were a kid. . . . Well, if
you're going to take me down to the boat, we'd better be
starting. Where's the car?"

"Waiting outside. Aren't you going to say good-bye to aunt
Nesta?"

"Good God, no!" exclaimed Mr. Chester in honest concern. "What!
Plunge into that pack of coyotes and fight my way through to her!
I'd be torn to pieces by wild poets. Besides, it seems silly to
make a fuss saying good-bye when I'm only going to be away a
short time. I shan't go any further than Colombia this trip."

"You'll be able to run back for week-ends," said Ann.

She paused at the door to cast a fleeting glance over her
shoulder at the fair-haired Lord Wisbeach, who was now in
animated conversation with her aunt and Willie Partridge; then
she followed her father down the stairs. She was a little
thoughtful as she took her place at the wheel of her automobile.
It was not often that her independent nature craved outside
support, but she was half conscious of wishing at the present
juncture that she possessed a somewhat less casual father. She
would have liked to ask him to help her decide a problem which
had been vexing her for nearly three weeks now, ever since Lord
Wisbeach had asked her to marry him and she had promised to give
him his answer on her return from England. She had been back in
New York several days now, but she had not been able to make up
her mind. This annoyed her, for she was a girl who liked swift
decisiveness of thought and action both in others and in herself.
She was fond of Mr. Chester in much the same unemotional,
detached way that he was fond of her, but she was perfectly well
aware of the futility of expecting counsel from him. She said
good-bye to him at the boat, fussed over his comfort for awhile
in a motherly way, and then drove slowly back. For the first time
in her life she was feeling uncertain of herself. When she had
left for England, she had practically made up her mind to accept
Lord Wisbeach, and had only deferred actual acceptance of him
because in her cool way she wished to re-examine the position at
her leisure. Second thoughts had brought no revulsion of feeling.
She had not wavered until her arrival in New York. Then, for some
reason which baffled her, the idea of marrying Lord Wisbeach had
become vaguely distasteful. And now she found herself fluctuating
between this mood and her former one.

She reached the house on Riverside Drive, but did not slacken the
speed of the machine. She knew that Lord Wisbeach would be
waiting for her there, and she did not wish to meet him just yet.
She wanted to be alone. She was feeling depressed. She wondered
if this was because she had just departed from her father, and
decided that it was. His swift entrances into and exits from her
life always left her temporarily restless. She drove on up the
river. She meant to decide her problem one way or the other
before she returned home.

Lord Wisbeach, meanwhile, was talking to Mrs. Pett and Willie,
its inventor, about Partridgite. Willie, on hearing himself
addressed, had turned slowly with an air of absent
self-importance, the air of a great thinker disturbed in
mid-thought. He always looked like that when spoken to, and there
were those--Mr. Pett belonged to this school of thought--who held
that there was nothing to him beyond that look and that he had
built up his reputation as a budding mastermind on a foundation
that consisted entirely of a vacant eye, a mop of hair through
which he could run his fingers, and the fame of his late father.

Willie Partridge was the son of the great inventor, Dwight
Partridge, and it was generally understood that the explosive,
Partridgite, was to be the result of a continuation of
experiments which his father had been working upon at the time of
his death. That Dwight Partridge had been trying experiments in
the direction of a new and powerful explosive during the last
year of his life was common knowledge in those circles which are
interested in such things. Foreign governments were understood to
have made tentative overtures to him. But a sudden illness,
ending fatally, had finished the budding career of Partridgite
abruptly, and the world had thought no more of it until an
interview in the _Sunday Chronicle_, that store-house of
information about interesting people, announced that Willie was
carrying on his father's experiments at the point where he had
left off. Since then there had been vague rumours of possible
sensational developments, which Willie had neither denied nor
confirmed. He preserved the mysterious silence which went so well
with his appearance.

Having turned slowly so that his eyes rested on Lord Wisbeach's
ingenuous countenance, Willie paused, and his face assumed the
expression of his photograph in the _Chronicle_.

"Ah, Wisbeach!" he said.

Lord Wisbeach did not appear to resent the patronage of his
manner. He plunged cheerily into talk. He had a pleasant, simple
way of comporting himself which made people like him.

"I was just telling Mrs. Pett," he said, "that I shouldn't be
surprised if you were to get an offer for your stuff from our
fellows at home before long. I saw a lot of our War Office men
when I was in England, don't you know. Several of them mentioned
the stuff."

Willie resented Partridgite as being referred to as "the stuff,"
but he made allowance. All Englishmen talked that way, he
supposed.

"Indeed?" he said.

"Of course," said Mrs. Pett, "Willie is a patriot and would have
to give our own authorities the first chance."

"Rather!"

"But you know what officials are all over the world. They are so
sceptical and they move so slowly."

"I know. Our men at home are just the same as a rule. I've got a
pal who invented something-or-other, I forget what, but it was a
most decent little contrivance and very useful and all that; and
he simply can't get them to say Yes or No about it. But, all the
same, I wonder you didn't have some of them trying to put out
feelers to you when you were in London."

"Oh, we were only in London a few hours. By the way, Lord
Wisbeach, my sister--"--Mrs. Pett paused; she disliked to have to
mention her sister or to refer to this subject at all, but
curiosity impelled her--"my sister said that you are a great
friend of her step-son, James Crocker. I didn't know that you
knew him."

Lord Wisbeach seemed to hesitate for a moment.

"He's not coming over, is he? Pity! It would have done him a
world of good. Yes, Jimmy Crocker and I have always been great
pals. He's a bit of a nut, of course, . . . I beg your pardon!
. . . I mean . . ." He broke off confusedly, and turned to Willie
again to cover himself. "How are you getting on with the jolly
old stuff?" he asked.

If Willie had objected to Partridgite being called "the stuff,"
he was still less in favour of its being termed "the jolly old
stuff." He replied coldly.

"I have ceased to get along with the jolly old stuff."

"Struck a snag?" enquired Lord Wisbeach sympathetically.

"On the contrary, my experiments have been entirely successful. I
have enough Partridgite in my laboratory to blow New York to
bits!"

"Willie!" exclaimed Mrs. Pett. "Why didn't you tell me before?
You know I am so interested."

"I only completed my work last night."

He moved off with an important nod. He was tired of Lord
Wisbeach's society. There was something about the young man which
he did not like. He went to find more congenial company in a
group by the window.

Lord Wisbeach turned to his hostess. The vacuous expression had
dropped from his face like a mask. A pair of keen and intelligent
eyes met Mrs. Pett's.

"Mrs. Pett, may I speak to you seriously?"

Mrs. Pett's surprise at the alteration in the man prevented her
from replying. Much as she liked Lord Wisbeach, she had never
given him credit for brains, and it was a man with brains and
keen ones who was looking at her now. She nodded.

"If your nephew has really succeeded in his experiments, you
should be awfully careful. That stuff ought not to lie about in
his laboratory, though no doubt he has hidden it as carefully as
possible. It ought to be in a safe somewhere. In that safe in
your library. News of this kind moves like lightning. At this
very moment, there may be people watching for a chance of getting
at the stuff."

Every nerve in Mrs. Pett's body, every cell of a brain which had
for years been absorbing and giving out sensational fiction,
quivered irrepressibly at these words, spoken in a low, tense
voice which gave them additional emphasis. Never had she
misjudged a man as she had misjudged Lord Wisbeach.

"Spies?" she quavered.

"They wouldn't call themselves that," said Lord Wisbeach. "Secret
Service agents. Every country has its men whose only duty it is
to handle this sort of work."

"They would try to steal Willie's--?" Mrs. Pett's voice failed.

"They would not look on it as stealing. Their motives would be
patriotic. I tell you, Mrs. Pett, I have heard stories from
friends of mine in the English Secret Service which would amaze
you. Perfectly straight men in private life, but absolutely
unscrupulous when at work. They stick at nothing--nothing. If I
were you, I should suspect every one, especially every stranger."
He smiled engagingly. "You are thinking that that is odd advice
from one who is practically a stranger like myself. Never mind.
Suspect me, too, if you like. Be on the safe side."

"I would not dream of doing such a thing, Lord Wisbeach," said
Mrs. Pett horrified. "I trust you implicitly. Even supposing such
a thing were possible, would you have warned me like this, if you
had been--?"

"That's true," said Lord Wisbeach. "I never thought of that.
Well, let me say, suspect everybody but me." He stopped abruptly.
"Mrs. Pett," he whispered, "don't look round for a moment.
Wait." The words were almost inaudible. "Who is that man behind
you? He has been listening to us. Turn slowly."

With elaborate carelessness, Mrs. Pett turned her head. At first
she thought her companion must have alluded to one of a small
group of young men who, very improperly in such surroundings,
were discussing with raised voices the prospects of the clubs
competing for the National League Baseball Pennant. Then,
extending the sweep of her gaze, she saw that she had been
mistaken. Midway between her and this group stood a single
figure, the figure of a stout man in a swallow-tail suit, who
bore before him a tray with cups on it. As she turned, this man
caught her eye, gave a guilty start, and hurried across the room.

"You saw?" said Lord Wisbeach. "He was listening. Who is that
man? Your butler apparently. What do you know of him?"

"He is my new butler. His name is Skinner."

"Ah, your _new_ butler? He hasn't been with you long, then?"

"He only arrived from England three days ago."

"From England? How did he get in here? I mean, on whose
recommendation?"

"Mr. Pett offered him the place when we met him at my sister's in
London. We went over there to see my sister, Eugenia--Mrs.
Crocker. This man was the butler who admitted us. He asked Mr.
Pett something about baseball, and Mr. Pett was so pleased that
he offered him a place here if he wanted to come over. The man
did not give any definite answer then, but apparently he sailed
on the next boat, and came to the house a few days after we had
returned."

Lord Wisbeach laughed softly.

"Very smart. Of course they had him planted there for the
purpose."

"What ought I to do?" asked Mrs. Pett agitatedly.

"Do nothing. There is nothing that you can do, for the present,
except keep your eyes open. Watch this man Skinner. See if he has
any accomplices. It is hardly likely that he is working alone.
Suspect everybody. Believe me . . ."

At this moment, apparently from some upper region, there burst
forth an uproar so sudden and overwhelming that it might well
have been taken for a premature testing of a large sample of
Partridgite; until a moment later it began to resemble more
nearly the shrieks of some partially destroyed victim of that
death-dealing invention. It was a bellow of anguish, and it
poured through the house in a cascade of sound, advertising to
all beneath the roof the twin facts that some person unknown was
suffering and that whoever the sufferer might be he had excellent
lungs.

The effect on the gathering in the drawing-room was immediate and
impressive. Conversation ceased as if it had been turned off with
a tap. Twelve separate and distinct discussions on twelve highly
intellectual topics died instantaneously. It was as if the last
trump had sounded. Futurist painters stared pallidly at _vers
libre_ poets, speech smitten from their lips; and stage performers
looked at esoteric Buddhists with a wild surmise.

The sudden silence had the effect of emphasising the strange
noise and rendering it more distinct, thus enabling it to carry
its message to one at least of the listeners. Mrs. Pett, after a
moment of strained attention in which time seemed to her to stand
still, uttered a wailing cry and leaped for the door.

"Ogden!" she shrilled; and passed up the stairs two at a time,
gathering speed as she went. A boy's best friend is his mother.



CHAPTER X

INSTRUCTION IN DEPORTMENT

While the feast of reason and flow of soul had been in progress
in the drawing-room, in the gymnasium on the top floor Jerry
Mitchell, awaiting the coming of Mr. Pett, had been passing the
time in improving with strenuous exercise his already impressive
physique. If Mrs. Pett's guests had been less noisily
concentrated on their conversation, they might have heard the
muffled _tap-tap-tap_ that proclaimed that Jerry Mitchell was
punching the bag upstairs.

It was not until he had punched it for perhaps five minutes that,
desisting from his labours, he perceived that he had the pleasure
of the company of little Ogden Ford. The stout boy was standing
in the doorway, observing him with an attentive eye.

"What are you doing?" enquired Ogden.

Jerry passed a gloved fist over his damp brow.

"Punchin' the bag."

He began to remove his gloves, eyeing Ogden the while with a
disapproval which he made no attempt to conceal. An extremist on
the subject of keeping in condition, the spectacle of the bulbous
stripling was a constant offence to him. Ogden, in pursuance of
his invariable custom on the days when Mrs. Pett entertained, had
been lurking on the stairs outside the drawing-room for the past
hour, levying toll on the food-stuffs that passed his way. He
wore a congested look, and there was jam about his mouth.

"Why?" he said, retrieving a morsel of jam from his right cheek
with the tip of his tongue.

"To keep in condition."

"Why do you want to keep in condition?"

Jerry flung the gloves into their locker.

"Fade!" he said wearily. "Fade!"

"Huh?"

"Beat it!"

"Huh?" Much pastry seemed to have clouded the boy's mind.

"Run away."

"Don't want to run away."

The annoyed pugilist sat down and scrutinised his visitor
critically.

"You never do anything you don't want to, I guess?"

"No," said Ogden simply. "You've got a funny nose," he added
dispassionately. "What did you do to it to make it like that?"

Mr. Mitchell shifted restlessly on his chair. He was not a vain
man, but he was a little sensitive about that particular item in
his make-up.

"Lizzie says it's the funniest nose she ever saw. She says it's
something out of a comic supplement."

A dull flush, such as five minutes with the bag had been unable
to produce, appeared on Jerry Mitchell's peculiar countenance. It
was not that he looked on Lizzie Murphy, herself no Lillian
Russell, as an accepted authority on the subject of facial
beauty; but he was aware that in this instance she spoke not
without reason, and he was vexed, moreover, as many another had
been before him, by the note of indulgent patronage in Ogden's
voice. His fingers twitched a little eagerly, and he looked
sullenly at his tactless junior.

"Get out!"

"Huh?"

"Get outa here!"

"Don't want to get out of here," said Ogden with finality. He put
his hand in his trouser-pocket and pulled out a sticky mass which
looked as if it might once have been a cream-puff or a meringue.
He swallowed it contentedly. "I'd forgotten I had that," he
explained. "Mary gave it to me on the stairs. Mary thinks you've
a funny nose, too," he proceeded, as one relating agreeable
gossip.

"Can it! Can it!" exclaimed the exasperated pugilist.

"I'm only telling you what I heard her say."

Mr. Mitchell rose convulsively and took a step towards his
persecutor, breathing noisily through the criticised organ. He
was a chivalrous man, a warm admirer of the sex, but he was
conscious of a wish that it was in his power to give Mary what he
would have described as "hers." She was one of the parlour-maids,
a homely woman with a hard eye, and it was part of his grievance
against her that his Maggie, alias Celestine, Mrs. Pett's maid,
had formed an enthusiastic friendship with her. He had no
evidence to go on, but he suspected Mary of using her influence
with Celestine to urge the suit of his leading rival for the
latter's hand, Biggs the chauffeur. He disliked Mary intensely,
even on general grounds. Ogden's revelation added fuel to his
aversion. For a moment he toyed with the fascinating thought of
relieving his feelings by spanking the boy, but restrained
himself reluctantly at the thought of the inevitable ruin which
would ensue. He had been an inmate of the house long enough to
know, with a completeness which would have embarrassed that
gentleman, what a cipher Mr. Pett was in the home and how little
his championship would avail in the event of a clash with Mrs.
Pett. And to give Ogden that physical treatment which should long
since have formed the main plank in the platform of his education
would be to invite her wrath as nothing else could. He checked
himself, and reached out for the skipping-rope, hoping to ease
his mind by further exercise.

Ogden, chewing the remains of the cream-puff, eyed him with
languid curiosity.

"What are you doing that for?"

Mr. Mitchell skipped grimly on.

"What are you doing that for? I thought only girls skipped."

Mr. Mitchell paid no heed. Ogden, after a moment's silent
contemplation, returned to his original train of thought.

"I saw an advertisement in a magazine the other day of a sort of
machine for altering the shape of noses. You strap it on when you
go to bed. You ought to get pop to blow you to one."

Jerry Mitchell breathed in a laboured way.

"You want to look nice about the place, don't you? Well, then!
there's no sense in going around looking like that if you don't
have to, is there? I heard Mary talking about your nose to Biggs
and Celestine. She said she had to laugh every time she saw it."

The skipping-rope faltered in its sweep, caught in the skipper's
legs, and sent him staggering across the room. Ogden threw back
his head and laughed merrily. He liked free entertainments, and
this struck him as a particularly enjoyable one.

There are moments in the life of every man when the impulse
attacks him to sacrifice his future to the alluring gratification
of the present. The strong man resists such impulses. Jerry
Mitchell was not a weak man, but he had been sorely tried. The
annoyance of Ogden's presence and conversation had sapped his
self-restraint, as dripping water will wear away a rock. A short
while before, he had fought down the urgent temptation to
massacre this exasperating child, but now, despised love adding
its sting to that of injured vanity, he forgot the consequences.
Bounding across the room, he seized Ogden in a powerful grip, and
the next instant the latter's education, in the true sense of the
word, so long postponed, had begun; and with it that avalanche of
sound which, rolling down into the drawing-room, hurled Mrs. Pett
so violently and with such abruptness from the society of her
guests.

Disposing of the last flight of stairs with the agility of the
chamois which leaps from crag to crag of the snow-topped Alps,
Mrs. Pett finished with a fine burst of speed along the passage
on the top floor, and rushed into the gymnasium just as Jerry's
avenging hand was descending for the eleventh time.



CHAPTER XI

JIMMY DECIDES TO BE HIMSELF

It was less than a quarter of an hour later--such was the speed
with which Nemesis, usually slow, had overtaken him--that Jerry
Mitchell, carrying a grip and walking dejectedly, emerged from
the back premises of the Pett home and started down Riverside
Drive in the direction of his boarding-house, a cheap, clean, and
respectable establishment situated on Ninety-seventh Street
between the Drive and Broadway. His usually placid nervous system
was ruffled and a-quiver from the events of the afternoon, and
his cauliflower ears still burned reminiscently at the
recollection of the uncomplimentary words shot at them by Mrs.
Pett before she expelled him from the house. Moreover, he was in
a mild panic at the thought of having to see Ann later on and try
to explain the disaster to her. He knew how the news would affect
her. She had set her heart on removing Ogden to more disciplinary
surroundings, and she could not possibly do it now that her ally
was no longer an inmate of the house. He was an essential factor
in the scheme, and now, to gratify the desire of the moment, he
had eliminated himself. Long before he reached the brown-stone
house, which looked exactly like all the other brown-stone houses
in all the other side-streets of uptown New York, the first fine
careless rapture of his mad outbreak had passed from Jerry
Mitchell, leaving nervous apprehension in its place. Ann was a
girl whom he worshipped respectfully, but he feared her in her
wrath.

Having entered the boarding-house, Jerry, seeking company in his
hour of sorrow, climbed the stairs till he reached a door on the
second floor. Sniffing and detecting the odour of tobacco, he
knocked and was hidden to enter.

"Hello, Bayliss!" he said sadly, having obeyed the call.

He sat down on the end of the bed and heaved a deep sigh.

The room which he had entered was airy but small, so small,
indeed, that the presence of any furniture in it at all was
almost miraculous, for at first sight it seemed incredible that
the bed did not fill it from side to side. There were however, a
few vacant spots, and in these had been placed a wash-stand, a
chest of drawers, and a midget rocking-chair. The window, which
the thoughtful architect had designed at least three sizes too
large for the room and which admitted the evening air in pleasing
profusion, looked out onto a series of forlorn back-yards. In
boarding-houses, it is only the windows of the rich and haughty
that face the street.

On the bed, a corn-cob pipe between his teeth, lay Jimmy Crocker.
He was shoeless and in his shirt-sleeves. There was a crumpled
evening paper on the floor beside the bed. He seemed to be taking
his rest after the labours of a trying day.

At the sound of Jerry's sigh he raised his head, but, finding the
attitude too severe a strain on the muscles of the neck, restored
it to the pillow.

"What's the matter, Jerry? You seem perturbed. You have the
aspect of one whom Fate has smitten in the spiritual solar
plexus, or of one who has been searching for the leak in Life's
gaspipe with a lighted candle. What's wrong?"

"Curtains!"

Jimmy, through long absence from his native land, was not always
able to follow Jerry's thoughts when concealed in the wrappings
of the peculiar dialect which he affected.

"I get you not, friend. Supply a few footnotes."

"I've been fired."

Jimmy sat up. This was no imaginary trouble, no mere _malaise_
of the temperament. It was concrete, and called for sympathy.

"I'm awfully sorry," he said. "No wonder you aren't rollicking.
How did it happen?"

"That half-portion Bill Taft came joshing me about my beezer till
it got something fierce," explained Jerry. "William J. Bryan
couldn't have stood for it."

Once again Jimmy lost the thread. The wealth of political
allusion baffled him.

"What's Taft been doing to you?"

"It wasn't Taft. He only looks like him. It was that kid Ogden up
where I work. He came butting into the gym, joshing me
about--makin' pers'nal remarks till I kind of lost my goat, and
the next thing I knew I was giving him his!" A faint gleam of
pleasure lightened the gloom of his face. "I cert'nly give him
his!" The gleam faded. "And after that--well, here I am!"

Jimmy understood now. He had come to the boarding-house the night
of his meeting with Jerry Mitchell on Broadway, and had been
there ever since, and frequent conversations with the pugilist
had put him abreast of affairs at the Pett home. He was familiar
with the _personnel_ of the establishment on Riverside Drive,
and knew precisely how great was the crime of administering
correction to Ogden Ford, no matter what the cause. Nor did he
require explanation of the phenomenon of Mrs. Pett dismissing one
who was in her husband's private employment. Jerry had his
sympathy freely.

"You appear," he said, "to have acted in a thoroughly capable and
praiseworthy manner. The only point in your conduct which I would
permit myself to criticise is your omission to slay the kid.
That, however, was due, I take it, to the fact that you were
interrupted. We will now proceed to examine the future. I cannot
see that it is altogether murky. You have lost a good job, but
there are others, equally good, for a man of your calibre. New
York is crammed with dyspeptic millionaires who need an efficient
physical instructor to look after them. Cheer up, Cuthbert, for
the sun is still shining!"

Jerry Mitchell shook his head. He refused to be comforted.

"It's Miss Ann," he said. "What am I going to say to her?"

"What has she got to do with it?" asked Jimmy, interested.

For a moment Jerry hesitated, but the desire for sympathy and
advice was too strong for him. And after all there was no harm in
confiding in a good comrade like Jimmy.

"It's like this," he said. "Miss Ann and me had got it all fixed
up to kidnap the kid!"

"What!"

"Say, I don't mean ordinary kidnapping. It's this way. Miss Ann
come to me and we agree that the kid's a pest that had ought to
have some strong-arm keep him in order, so we decide to get him
away to a friend of mine who keeps a dogs' hospital down on Long
Island. Bud Smithers is the guy to handle that kid. You ought to
see him take hold of a dog that's all grouch and ugliness and
make it over into a dog that it's a pleasure to have around. I
thought a few weeks with Bud was what the doctor ordered for
Ogden, and Miss Ann guessed I was right, so we had it all framed.
And now this happens and balls everything up! She can't do
nothing with a husky kid like that without me to help her. And
how am I going to help her if I'm not allowed in the house?"

Jimmy was conscious of a renewed admiration for a girl whom he
had always considered a queen among women. How rarely in this
world did one find a girl who combined every feminine charm of
mind and body with a resolute determination to raise Cain at the
slightest provocation!

"What an absolutely corking idea!"

Jerry smirked modestly at the approbation, but returned instantly
to his gloom.

"You get me now? What am I to say to her? She'll be sore!"

"The problem," Jimmy had begun, "is one which, as you suggest,
presents certain--" when there was a knock at the door and the
head of the boarding-house's maid-of-all-work popped in.

"Mr. Bayliss, is Mr. Mitchell--? Oh, say, Mr. Mitchell, there's a
lady down below wants to see you. Says her name's Chester."

Jerry looked at Jimmy appealingly.

"What'll I do?"

"Do nothing," said Jimmy, rising and reaching for his shoes.
"I'll go down and see her. I can explain for you."

"It's mighty good of you."

"It will be a pleasure. Rely on me."

Ann, who had returned from her drive shortly after the Ogden
disaster and had instantly proceeded to the boarding-house, had
been shown into the parlour. Jimmy found her staring in a rapt
way at a statuette of the Infant Samuel which stood near a bowl
of wax fruit on the mantelpiece. She was feeling aggrieved with
Fate and extremely angry with Jerry Mitchell, and she turned at
the sound of the opening door with a militant expression in her
eyes, which changed to one of astonishment on perceiving who it
was that had come in.

"Mr. Bayliss!"

"Good evening, Miss Chester. We, so to speak, meet again. I have
come as an intermediary. To be brief, Jerry Mitchell daren't face
you, so I offered to come down instead."

"But how--but why are you here?"

"I live here." He followed her gaze. It rested on a picture of
cows in a field. "Late American school," he said. "Attributed to
the landlady's niece, a graduate of the Wissahickon, Pa.
Correspondence School of Pictorial Art. Said to be genuine."

"You _live_ here?" repeated Ann. She had been brought up all her
life among the carefully thought out effects of eminent interior
decorators, and the room seemed more dreadful to her than it
actually was. "What an awful room!"

"Awful? You must be overlooking the piano. Can't you see the
handsome plush cover from where you are standing? Move a little
to the southeast and shade your eyes. We get music here of an
evening--when we don't see it coming and sidestep."

"Why in the name of goodness do you live here, Mr. Bayliss?"

"Because, Miss Chester, I am infernally hard up! Because the
Bayliss bank-roll has been stricken with a wasting sickness."

Ann was looking at him incredulously.

"But--but--then, did you really mean all that at lunch the other
day? I thought you were joking. I took it for granted that you
could get work whenever you wanted to or you wouldn't have made
fun of it like that! Can't you really find anything to do?"

"Plenty to do. But I'm not paid for it. I walk a great number of
blocks and jump into a great number of cars and dive into
elevators and dive out again and open doors and say 'Good
morning' when people tell me they haven't a job for me. My days
are quite full, but my pocket-book isn't!"

Ann had forgotten all about her errand in her sympathy.

"I'm so sorry. Why, it's terrible! I should have thought you
could have found _something_."

"I thought the same till the employers of New York in a body told
me I couldn't. Men of widely differing views on religion,
politics, and a hundred other points, they were unanimous on
that. The nearest I came to being a financial Titan was when I
landed a job in a store on Broadway, demonstrating a patent
collar-clip at ten dollars a week. For awhile all Nature seemed
to be shouting 'Ten per! Ten per!' than which there are few
sweeter words in the language. But I was fired half-way through
the second day, and Nature changed her act."

"But why?"

"It wasn't my fault. Just Fate. This contrivance was called
Klipstone's Kute Kollar-Klip, and it was supposed to make it easy
for you to fasten your tie. My job was to stand in the window in
my shirt-sleeves, gnashing my teeth and registering baffled rage
when I tried the old, obsolete method and beaming on the
multitude when I used the Klip. Unfortunately I got the cards
mixed. I beamed when I tried the old, obsolete method and nearly
burst myself with baffled fury just after I had exhibited the
card bearing the words 'I will now try Klipstone's Kute Klip.' I
couldn't think what the vast crowd outside the window was
laughing at till the boss, who chanced to pause on the outskirts
of the gathering on his way back from lunch, was good enough to
tell me. Nothing that I could say would convince him that I was
not being intentionally humorous. I was sorry to lose the job,
though it did make me feel like a goldfish. But talking of being
fired brings us back to Jerry Mitchell."

"Oh, never mind Jerry Mitchell now--"

"On the contrary, let us discuss his case and the points arising
from it with care and concentration. Jerry Mitchell has told me
all!"

Ann was startled.

"What do you mean?"

"The word 'all,'" said Jimmy, "is slang for 'everything.' You see
in me a confidant. In a word, I am hep."

"You know--?"

"Everything. A colloquialism," explained Jimmy, "for 'all.' About
Ogden, you know. The scheme. The plot. The enterprise."

Ann found nothing to say.

"I am thoroughly in favour of the plan. So much so that I propose
to assist you by taking Jerry's place."

"I don't understand."

"Do you remember at lunch that day, after that remarkable person
had mistaken me for Jimmy Crocker, you suggested in a light,
casual way that if I were to walk into your uncle's office and
claim to be Jimmy Crocker I should be welcomed without a
question? I'm going to do it. Then, once aboard the lugger--once
in the house, I am at your orders. Use me exactly as you would
have used Jerry Mitchell."

"But--but--!"

"Jerry!" said Jimmy scornfully. "Can't I do everything that he
could have done? And more. A bonehead like Jerry would have been
certain to have bungled the thing somehow. I know him well. A
good fellow, but in matters requiring intellect and swift thought
dead from the neck up. It's a very lucky thing he is out of the
running. I love him like a brother, but his dome is of ivory.
This job requires a man of tact, sense, shrewdness, initiative,
_esprit_, and _verve_." He paused. "Me!" he concluded.

"But it's ridiculous! It's out of the question!"

"Not at all. I must be extraordinarily like Jimmy Crocker, or
that fellow at the restaurant wouldn't have taken me for him.
Leave this in my hands. I can get away with it."

"I shan't dream of allowing you--"

"At nine o'clock to-morrow morning," said Jimmy firmly, "I
present myself at Mr. Pett's office. It's all settled."

Ann was silent. She was endeavouring to adjust her mind to the
idea. Her first startled revulsion from it had begun to wane. It
was an idea peculiarly suited to her temperament, an idea that
she might have suggested herself if she had thought of it. Soon,
from being disapproving, she found herself glowing with
admiration for its author. He was a young man of her own sort!

"You asked me on the boat, if you remember," said Jimmy, "if I
had an adventurous soul. I am now submitting my proofs. You also
spoke highly of America as a land where there were adventures to
be had. I now see that you were right."

Ann thought for a moment.

"If I consent to your doing this insane thing, Mr. Bayliss, will
you promise me something?"

"Anything."

"Well, in the first place I absolutely refuse to let you risk all
sorts of frightful things by coming into this kidnapping plot."
She waved him down, and went on. "But I see where you can help me
very much. As I told you at lunch, my aunt would do anything for
Jimmy Crocker if he were to appear in New York now. I want you to
promise that you will confine your activities to asking her to
let Jerry Mitchell come back."

"Never!"

"You said you would promise me anything."

"Anything but that."

"Then it is all off!"

Jimmy pondered.

"It's terribly tame that way."

"Never mind. It's the only way I will consider."

"Very well. I protest, though."

Ann sat down.

"I think you're splendid, Mr. Bayliss. I'm much obliged!"

"Not at all."

"It will be such a splendid thing for Ogden, won't it?"

"Admirable."

"Now the only thing to do is just to see that we have got
everything straight. How about this, for instance? They will ask
you when you arrived in New York. How are you going to account
for your delay in coming to see them?"

"I've thought of that. There's a boat that docks to-morrow--the
_Caronia_, I think. I've got a paper upstairs. I'll look it up. I
can say I came by her."

"That seems all right. It's lucky you and uncle Peter never met
on the _Atlantic_."

"And now as to my demeanour on entering the home? How should I
behave? Should I be jaunty or humble? What would a long-lost
nephew naturally do?"

"A long-lost nephew with a record like Jimmy Crocker's would
crawl in with a white flag, I should think."

A bell clanged in the hall.

"Supper!" said Jimmy. "To go into painful details, New England
boiled dinner, or my senses deceive me, and prunes."

"I must be going."

"We shall meet at Philippi."

He saw her to the door, and stood at the top of the steps
watching her trim figure vanish into the dusk. She passed from
his sight. Jimmy drew a deep breath, and, thinking hard, went
down the passage to fortify himself with supper.



CHAPTER XII

JIMMY CATCHES THE BOSS'S EYE

When Jimmy arrived at Mr. Pett's office on Pine Street at
ten-thirty the next morning--his expressed intention of getting
up early enough to be there by nine having proved an empty
boast--he was in a high state of preparedness. He had made ready
for what might be a trying interview by substituting a
combination of well-chosen dishes at an expensive hotel for the
less imaginative boarding-house breakfast with which he had of
late been insulting his interior. His suit was pressed, his shoes
gleamed brightly, and his chin was smoothly shaven. These things,
combined with the perfection of the morning and that vague
exhilaration which a fine day in down-town New York brings to the
man who has not got to work, increased his natural optimism.
Something seemed to tell him that all would be well. He would
have been the last person to deny that his position was a little
complicated--he had to use a pencil and a sheet of paper to show
himself just where he stood--but what of that? A few
complications in life are an excellent tonic for the brain. It
was with a sunny geniality which startled that unaccustomed
stripling considerably--and indeed caused him to swallow his
chewing gum--that he handed in his card to Mr. Pett's watchfully
waiting office-boy.

"This to the boss, my open-faced lad!" he said. "Get swiftly off
the mark."

The boy departed dumbly.

From where he stood, outside the barrier which separated visitors
to the office from the workers within, Jimmy could see a vista of
efficient-looking young men with paper protectors round their
cuffs working away at mysterious jobs which seemed to involve the
use of a great deal of paper. One in particular was so surrounded
by it that he had the appearance of a bather in surf. Jimmy eyed
these toilers with a comfortable and kindly eye. All this
industry made him feel happy. He liked to think of this sort of
thing going on all round him.

The office-boy returned. "This way, please."

The respectfulness of the lad's manner had increased noticeably.
Mr. Pett's reception of the visitor's name had impressed him. It
was an odd fact that the financier, a cipher in his own home,
could impress all sorts of people at the office.

To Mr. Pett, the announcement that Mr. James Crocker was waiting
to see him had come like the announcement of a miracle. Not a day
had passed since their return to America without lamentations
from Mrs. Pett on the subject of their failure to secure the
young man's person. The occasion of Mrs. Pett's reading of the
article in the _Sunday Chronicle_ descriptive of the Lord Percy
Whipple affair had been unique in the little man's domestic
history. For the first time since he had known her the
indomitable woman had completely broken down. Of all sad words of
tongue or pen the saddest are these "It might have been!" and the
thought that, if she had only happened to know it, she had had in
her hands during that interview with her sister in London a
weapon which would have turned defeat into triumph was more than
even Mrs. Pett's strong spirit could endure. When she looked back
on that scene and recalled the airy way in which Mrs. Crocker had
spoken of her step-son's "best friend, Lord Percy Whipple" and
realised that at that very moment Lord Percy had been recovering
in bed from the effects of his first meeting with Jimmy Crocker,
the iron entered into her soul and she refused to be comforted.
In the first instant of realisation she thought of six separate
and distinct things she could have said to her sister, each more
crushing than the last--things which now she would never be able
to say.

And now, suddenly and unaccountably, the means was at hand for
restoring her to her tranquil self-esteem. Jimmy Crocker, despite
what his stepmother had said, probably in active defiance of her
commands, had come to America after all. Mr. Pett's first thought
was that his wife would, as he expressed it to himself, be
"tickled to death about this." Scarcely waiting for the
office-boy to retire, he leaped towards Jimmy like a gambolling
lamb and slapped him on the back with every evidence of joy and
friendliness.

"My dear boy!" he cried. "My dear boy! I'm delighted to see you!"

Jimmy was surprised, relieved, and pleased. He had not expected
this warmth. A civil coldness had been the best he had looked
for. He had been given to understand that in the Pett home he was
regarded as the black sheep: and, while one may admit a black
sheep into the fold, it does not follow that one must of
necessity fawn upon him.

"You're very kind," he said, rather startled.

They inspected each other for a brief moment. Mr. Pett was
thinking that Jimmy was a great improvement on the picture his
imagination had drawn of him. He had looked for something
tougher, something flashy and bloated. Jimmy, for his part, had
taken an instant liking to the financier. He, too, had been
misled by imagination. He had always supposed that these
millionaires down Wall Street way were keen, aggressive fellows,
with gimlet eyes and sharp tongues. On the boat he had only seen
Mr. Pett from afar, and had had no means of estimating his
character. He found him an agreeable little man.

"We had given up all hope of your coming," said Mr. Pett.

A little manly penitence seemed to Jimmy to be in order.

"I never expected you would receive me like this. I thought I
must have made myself rather unpopular."

Mr. Pett buried the past with a gesture.

"When did you land?" he asked.

"This morning. On the _Caronia_ . . ."

"Good passage?"

"Excellent."

There was a silence. It seemed to Jimmy that Mr. Pett was looking
at him rather more closely than was necessary for the actual
enjoyment of his style of beauty. He was just about to throw out
some light remark about the health of Mrs. Pett or something
about porpoises on the voyage to add local colour and
verisimilitude, when his heart missed a beat, as he perceived
that he had made a blunder. Like many other amateur plotters, Ann
and he had made the mistake of being too elaborate. It had struck
them as an ingenious idea for Jimmy to pretend that he had
arrived that morning, and superficially it was a good idea: but
he now remembered for the first time that, if he had seen Mr.
Pett on the _Atlantic_, the probability was that Mr. Pett had seen
him. The next moment the other had confirmed this suspicion.

"I've an idea I've seen you before. Can't think where."

"Everybody well at home?" said Jimmy.

"I'm sure of it."

"I'm looking forward to seeing them all."

"I've seen you some place."

"I'm often there."

"Eh?"

Mr. Pett seemed to be turning this remark over in his mind a
trifle suspiciously. Jimmy changed the subject.

"To a young man like myself," he said, "with life opening out
before him, there is something singularly stimulating in the
sight of a modern office. How busy those fellows seem!"

"Yes," said Mr. Pett. "Yes." He was glad that this conversational
note had been struck. He was anxious to discuss the future with
this young man.

"Everybody works but father!" said Jimmy.

Mr. Pett started.

"Eh?"

"Nothing."

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
work?"

"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
doubted it.

"All right," he said. "Count me in. I take it that I shall have a
job like one of those out there?"

"Yes."

"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
is right."

"And that last fool-game of yours, that Lord Percy Whipple
business, must have made London pretty hot for you?" suggested
Mr. Pett.

"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
difference."

"I've half a mind to send you straight back to London."

"Couldn't we compromise?"

"How?"

"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
can do."

"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
well."

"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,
serious-minded!"

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
eye.

"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.

"Eh?"

"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."

"What crowd?"

"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,
Jimmy!"

"Put it there, uncle Pete!" said Jimmy. "You're all right.
You're the finest Captain of Industry I ever met!"



CHAPTER XIII

SLIGHT COMPLICATIONS

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
door.

"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
the room?"

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
he stammered.

"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."

"Thank 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
astounded youth.

"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
other day--"

"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,
Ann."

Jimmy could not admire sufficiently the start of surprise which
she gave. It was artistic and convincing.

"Jimmy Crocker!"

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
his.

"I thought you weren't coming over!" said Ann.

"I changed my mind."

Mr. Pett, who had been gazing attentively at them, uttered an
exclamation.

"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
suspicious eye.

"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
like Jimmy."

"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
seem unreasonable.

"They have their spies everywhere," she said doggedly.

"Who have?"

"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
possible criminal."

"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
_Atlantic_."

"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
Crocker."

Ann became rigid again.

"A way? What way?"

"Why, don't you remember, my dear, that Skinner has known James
Crocker for years."

"Skinner?"

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
not."

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
hands.



CHAPTER XIV

LORD WISBEACH

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
baseball enthusiast--"

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?"

"Oh, nothing."

"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
arrested."

"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?"

"But--?"

"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
was.

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.
Crocker's lips.

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
respectful smile.

"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.

"'At-a-boy!"

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
saw Jimmy!"

Mrs. Pett could not check an incautious exclamation.

"Did Skinner recognise--?" she began; then stopped herself
abruptly.

Ann laughed.

"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."

"He was!"

"You will be meeting another old friend in a minute or two," said
Mrs. Pett.

Jimmy had been sinking into a chair. This remark stopped him in
mid-descent.

"Another!"

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
friends, James."

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
minutes.

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!"

"H-hello, Jimmy!"

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
doorway.



CHAPTER XV

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
flower."

The dish rocked in Mr. Crocker's hand, but his face remained
impassive.

"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
his plate.

"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
here."

"Don't drop it," advised Jimmy. "What is it?"

"Partridgite!"

Mrs. Pett had risen from the table, with blanched face.

"Willie, how can you bring that stuff here? What are you thinking
of?"

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
morning."

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."

"Very well."

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
confidential.

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?"

"Absolutely."

"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."

Jimmy laughed.

"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
Wisbeach."

"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
honesty."

"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 what?"

"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.



CHAPTER XVI

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
aching brow.

"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
Summer.

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?"

"Of course."

"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
Jimmy Crocker?

"You have seen your nephew, I believe?"

"Never. But--"

"That man," said Lord Wisbeach impassively, "is not your nephew."

Mrs. Pett thrilled all down her spine. She had been right.

"But you--"

"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
nephew's invention."

"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
Nugget."

"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.



CHAPTER XVII

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
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?"

"Yes. Why?"

"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
favour."

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
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 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
know."

"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
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 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."

"Do what?"

"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?"

"Certainly not."

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
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, 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.

"Mr. Sturgis."

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.
Pett.

"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
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 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
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-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
his identity?"

"Exactly."

"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_."

"You did?"

"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.

"Skinner!"

"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
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 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?"

"Of course."

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 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
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 endeavoured 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
taxi-cab. 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 taxi-cab stopped at the corner, and a young woman got
out and walked towards 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 parlour-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
round at the achievements of the interior decorator, who had
lavished his art unsparingly in this particular room. At this
close range she more than fulfilled the promise of that distant
view which 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: and 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, she 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.

"Good afternoon," she said faintly.

"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."

"Oh, yes."

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 snifted again.
"Not s'prised y'have trouble. All rich people 've trouble. Noth'
t'do with their time 'cept 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 which
had caused her to telephone to Mr. Sturgis. In a career which 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 any one is found who
is not dazzled by the glamour of incivility. She 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 anti-Suffragist, 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."

"Whassiz game?"

"I do not know. Personally I think he is here to kidnap my son
Ogden."

"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 photographs 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."

She 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, had 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 Aida, who had risen from the basket and
removing the last remains of sleep from her system by a series of
calisthenics of her own invention, as if she suspected 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 short-sighted 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, uh? Not a crook,
huh?"

"Of course he is not!" said Mrs. Pett indignantly. "He's a great
friend of mine."

"All right. Well, I guess thass 'bout all, huh? I'll be going
downstairs 'an starting in."

"You can come here immediately?"

"Sure. Got parlour-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'bye. 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 which 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. "Brrh!"

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
which philosophers tell 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 parlour-maid."

"Oh, ah?" said Mr. Crocker, feebly.

"Grrrh!" observed Miss Trimble, and departed.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE VOICE PROM THE PAST

The library, whither Jimmy had made his way after leaving Mrs.
Pett, was a large room on the ground floor, looking out on the
street which ran parallel to the south side of the house. It had
French windows, opening onto a strip of lawn which ended in a
high stone wall with a small gate in it, the general effect of
these things being to create a resemblance to a country house
rather than to one in the centre of the city. Mr. Pett's town
residence was full of these surprises.

In one corner of the room a massive safe had been let into the
wall, striking a note of incongruity, for the remainder of the
wall-space was completely covered with volumes of all sorts and
sizes, which filled the shelves and overflowed into a small
gallery, reached by a short flight of stairs and running along
the north side of the room over the door.

Jimmy cast a glance at the safe, behind the steel doors of which
he presumed the test-tube of Partridgite which Willie had carried
from the luncheon-table lay hid: then transferred his attention
to the shelves. A cursory inspection of these revealed nothing
which gave promise of whiling away entertainingly the moments
which must elapse before the return of Ann. Jimmy's tastes in
literature lay in the direction of the lighter kind of modern
fiction, and Mr. Pett did not appear to possess a single volume
that had been written later than the eighteenth century--and
mostly poetry at that. He turned to the writing-desk near the
window, on which he had caught sight of a standing shelf full of
books of a more modern aspect. He picked one up at random and
opened it.

He threw it down disgustedly. It was poetry. This man Pett
appeared to have a perfect obsession for poetry. One would never
have suspected it, to look at him. Jimmy had just resigned
himself, after another glance at the shelf, to a bookless vigil,
when his eye was caught by a name on the cover of the last in the
row so unexpected that he had to look again to verify the
discovery.

He had been perfectly right. There it was, in gold letters.

                THE LONELY HEART

                      BY

                  ANN CHESTER

He extracted the volume from the shelf in a sort of stupor. Even
now he was inclined to give his goddess of the red hair the
benefit of the doubt, and assume that some one else of the same
name had written it. For it was a defect in Jimmy's
character--one of his many defects--that he loathed and scorned
minor poetry and considered minor poets, especially when
feminine, an unnecessary affliction. He declined to believe that
Ann, his Ann, a girl full of the finest traits of character, the
girl who had been capable of encouraging a comparative stranger
to break the law by impersonating her cousin Jimmy Crocker, could
also be capable of writing The Lonely Heart and other poems. He
skimmed through the first one he came across, and shuddered. It
was pure slush. It was the sort of stuff they filled up pages
with in the magazines when the detective story did not run long
enough. It was the sort of stuff which long-haired blighters read
alone to other long-haired blighters in English suburban
drawing-rooms. It was the sort of stuff which--to be brief--gave
him the Willies. No, it could not be Ann who had written it.

The next moment the horrid truth was thrust upon him. There was
an inscription on the title page.

"To my dearest uncle Peter, with love from the author, Ann
Chester."

The room seemed to reel before Jimmy's eyes. He felt as if a
friend had wounded him in his tenderest feelings. He felt as if
some loved one had smitten him over the back of the head with a
sandbag. For one moment, in which time stood still, his devotion
to Ann wobbled. It was as if he had found her out in some
terrible crime that revealed unsuspected flaws in her hitherto
ideal character.

Then his eye fell upon the date on the title page, and a strong
spasm of relief shook him. The clouds rolled away, and he loved
her still. This frightful volume had been published five years
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 every one has experienced at some time or
other, that he had done this very thing before. He was almost
convinced that this was not the first time he had seen that poem
on page twenty-seven entitled "A Lament." Why, some of the lines
seemed extraordinarily familiar. The people who understood these
things explained this phenomenon, he believed, by some stuff
about the cells of the brain working simultaneously or something.
Something about cells, anyway. He supposed that that must be it.

But that was not it. The feeling that he had read all this before
grew instead of vanishing, as is generally the way on these
occasions. He _had_ read this stuff before. He was certain of it.
But when? And where? And above all why? Surely he had not done it
from choice.

It was the total impossibility of his having done it from choice
that led his memory in the right direction. There had only been a
year or so in his life when he had been obliged to read things
which he would not have read of his own free will, and that had
been when he worked on the _Chronicle_. Could it have been that
they had given him this book of poems to review? Or--?

And then memory, in its usual eccentric way, having taken all
this time to make the first part of the journey, finished the
rest of it with one lightning swoop, and he knew.

And with the illumination came dismay. Worse than dismay. Horror.

"Gosh!" said Jimmy.

He knew now why he had thought on the occasion of their first
meeting in London that he had seen hair like Ann's before. The
mists rolled away and he saw everything clear and stark. He knew
what had happened at that meeting five years before, to which she
had so mysteriously alluded. He knew what she had meant that
evening on the boat, when she had charged one Jimmy Crocker with
having cured her of sentiment. A cold sweat sprang into being
about his temples. He could remember that interview now, as
clearly as if it had happened five minutes ago instead of five
years. He could recall the article for the _Sunday Chronicle_ which
he had written from the interview, and the ghoulish gusto with
which he had written it. He had had a boy's undisciplined sense
of humour in those days, the sense of humour which riots like a
young colt, careless of what it bruises and crushes. He shuddered
at the recollection of the things he had hammered out so
gleefully on his typewriter down at the _Chronicle_ office. He
found himself recoiling in disgust from the man he had been, the
man who could have done a wanton thing like that without
compunction or ruth. He had read extracts from the article to an
appreciative colleague. . . .

A great sympathy for Ann welled up in him. No wonder she hated
the memory of Jimmy Crocker.

It is probable that remorse would have tortured him even further,
had he not chanced to turn absently to page forty-six and read a
poem entitled "Love's Funeral." It was not a long poem, and he
had finished it inside of two minutes; but by that time a change
had come upon his mood of self-loathing. He no longer felt like a
particularly mean murderer. "Love's Funeral" was like a tonic.
It braced and invigourated him. It was so unspeakably absurd, so
poor in every respect. All things, he now perceived, had worked
together for good. Ann had admitted on the boat that it was his
satire that had crushed out of her the fondness for this sort of
thing. If that was so, then the part he had played in her life
had been that of a rescuer. He thought of her as she was now and
as she must have been then to have written stuff like this, and
he rejoiced at what he had done. In a manner of speaking the Ann
of to-day, the glorious creature who went about the place
kidnapping Ogdens, was his handiwork. It was he who had destroyed
the minor poetry virus in her.

The refrain of an old song came to him.

        "You made me what I am to-day!
         I hope you're satisfied!"

He was more than satisfied. He was proud of himself.

He rejoiced, however, after the first flush of enthusiasm,
somewhat moderately. There was no disguising the penalty of his
deed of kindness. To Ann Jimmy Crocker was no rescuer, but a sort
of blend of ogre and vampire. She must never learn his real
identity--or not until he had succeeded by assiduous toil, as he
hoped he would, in neutralising that prejudice of the distant
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 offence?"

"What does it matter? They tell me prisons are excellent places
nowadays. Concerts, picnics--all that sort of thing. I shan't
mind going there. I have a nice singing-voice. I think I will try
to make the glee-club."

"I suppose we are breaking the law," said Ann seriously. "I told
Jerry that nothing could happen to us except the loss of his
place to him and being sent to my grandmother to me, but I'm
bound to say I said that just to encourage him. Don't you think
we ought to know what the penalty is, in case we are caught?"

"It would enable us to make our plans. If it's a life sentence, I
shouldn't worry about selecting my future career."

"You see," explained Ann, "I suppose they would hardly send me to
prison, as I'm a relation--though I would far rather go there
than to grandmother's. She lives all alone miles away in the
country, and is strong on discipline--but they might do all sorts
of things to you, in spite of my pleadings. I really think you
had better give up the idea, I'm afraid my enthusiasm carried me
away. I didn't think of all this before."

"Never. This thing goes through, or fails over my dead body. What
are you looking for?"

Ann was deep in a bulky volume which stood on a lectern by the
window.

"Catalogue," she said briefly, turning the pages. "Uncle Peter
has heaps of law books. I'll look up kidnapping. Here we are. Law
Encyclopedia. Shelf X. Oh, that's upstairs. I shan't be a
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. Kidnapping--penalties--"

"Hush" called Jimmy. "There's some one coming."

The door opened.

"Hello," said Ogden, strolling in. "I was looking for you. Didn't
think you would be here."

"Come right in, my little man, and make yourself at home," said
Jimmy.

Ogden eyed him with disfavour.

"You're pretty fresh, aren't you?"

"This is praise from Sir Hubert Stanley."

"Eh? Who's he?"

"Oh, a gentleman who knew what was what."

Ogden closed the door.

"Well, I know what's what, too. I know what you are for one
thing." He chuckled. "I've got your number all right."

"In what respect?"

Another chuckle proceeded from the bulbous boy.

"You think you're smooth, don't you? But I'm onto you, Jimmy
Crocker. A lot of Jimmy Crocker you are. You're a crook. Get me?
And I know what you're after, at that. You're going to try to
kidnap me."

From the corner of his eye Jimmy was aware of Ann's startled
face, looking over the gallery rail and withdrawn hastily. No
sound came from the heights, but he knew that she was listening
intently.

"What makes you think that?"

Ogden lowered himself into the depths of his favourite easy
chair, and, putting his feet restfully on the writing-desk, met
Jimmy's gaze with a glassy but knowing eye.

"Got a cigarette?" he said.

"I have not," said Jimmy. "I'm sorry."

"So am I."

"Returning, with your permission, to our original subject," said
Jimmy, "what makes you think that I have come here to kidnap
you?"

Ogden yawned.

"I was in the drawing-room after lunch, and that guy Lord
Wisbeach came in and said he wanted to talk to mother privately.
Mother sent me out of the room, so of course I listened at the
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 recognise you as Jimmy Crocker and that really he had never
seen you before in his life. He said you were a crook and that
they had got to watch you. Well, I knew then why you had come
here. It was pretty smooth, getting in the way you did. I've got
to hand it to you."

Jimmy did not reply. His mind was occupied with the contemplation
of this dashing counter-stroke on the part of Gentleman Jack. He
could hardly refrain from admiring the simple strategy with which
the latter had circumvented him. There was an artistry about the
move which compelled respect.

"Well, now, see here," said Ogden, "you and I have got to get
together on this proposition. I've been kidnapped twice before,
and the only guys that made anything out of it were the
kidnappers. It's pretty soft for them. They couldn't have got a
cent without me, and they never dreamed of giving me a rake-off.
I'm getting good and tired of being kidnapped for other people's
benefit, and I've made up my mind that the next guy that wants me
has got to come across. See? My proposition is fifty-fifty. If
you like it, I'm game to let you go ahead. If you don't like it,
then the deal's off, and you'll find that you've a darned poor
chance of getting me. When I was kidnapped before, I was just a
kid, but I can look after myself now. Well, what do you say?"

Jimmy found it hard at first to say anything. He had never
properly understood the possibilities of Ogden's character
before. The longer he contemplated him, the more admirable Ann's
scheme appeared. It seemed to him that only a resolute keeper of
a home for dogs would be adequately equipped for dealing with
this remarkable youth.

"This is a commercial age," he said.

"You bet it is," said Ogden. "My middle name is business. Say,
are you working this on your own, or are you in with Buck
Maginnis and his crowd?"

"I don't think I know Mr. Maginnis."

"He's the guy who kidnapped me the first time. He's a rough-neck.
Smooth Sam Fisher got away with me the second time. Maybe you're
in with Sam?"

"No."

"No, I guess not. I heard that he had married and retired from
business. I rather wish you were one of Buck's lot. I like Buck.
When he kidnapped me, I lived with him and he gave me a swell
time. When I left him, a woman came and interviewed me about it
for one of the Sunday papers. Sob stuff. Called the piece 'Even
Kidnappers Have Tender Hearts Beneath A Rough Exterior.' I've got
it upstairs in my press-clipping album. It was pretty bad slush.
Buck Maginnis hasn't got any tender heart beneath his rough
exterior, but he's a good sort and I liked him. We used to shoot
craps. And he taught me to chew. I'd be tickled to death to have
Buck get me again. But, if you're working on your own, all right.
It's all the same to me, provided you meet me on the terms."

"You certainly are a fascinating child."

"Less of it, less of it. I've troubles enough to bear without
having you getting fresh. Well, what about it? Talk figures. If I
let you take me away, do we divvy up or don't we? That's all
you've got to say."

"That's easily settled. I'll certainly give you half of whatever
I get."

Ogden looked wistfully at the writing-desk.

"I wish I could have that in writing. But I guess it wouldn't
stand in law. I suppose I shall have to trust you."

"Honour among thieves."

"Less of the thieves. This is just a straight business
proposition. I've got something valuable to sell, and I'm darned
if I'm going to keep giving it away. I've been too easy. I ought
to have thought of this before. All right, then, that's settled.
Now it's up to you. You can think out the rest of it yourself."

He heaved himself out of the chair, and left the room. Ann,
coming down from the gallery, found Jimmy meditating. He looked
up at the sound of her step.

"Well, that seems to make it pretty easy for us, doesn't it?" he
said. "It solves the problem of ways and means."

"But this is awful. This alters everything. It isn't safe for you
to stay here. You must go away at once. They've found you out.
You may be arrested at any moment."

"That's a side-issue. The main point is to put this thing
through. Then we can think about what is going to happen to me."

"But can't you see the risk you're running?"

"I don't mind. I want to help you."

"I won't let you."

"You must."

"But do be sensible. What would you think of me if I allowed you
to face this danger--?"

"I wouldn't think any differently of you. My opinion of you is a
fixed thing. Nothing can alter it. I tried to tell you on the
boat, but you wouldn't let me. I think you're the most perfect,
wonderful girl in all the world. I've loved you since the first
moment I saw you. I knew who you were when we met for half a
minute that day in London. We were utter strangers, but I knew
you. You were the girl I had been looking for all my life. Good
Heavens, you talk of risks. Can't you understand that just being
with you and speaking to you and knowing that we share this thing
together is enough to wipe out any thought of risk? I'd do
anything for you. And you expect me to back out of this thing
because there is a certain amount of danger!"

Ann had retreated to the door, and was looking at him with wide
eyes. With other young men and there had been many--who had said
much the same sort of thing to her since her _debutante_ days she
had been cool and composed--a little sorry, perhaps, but in no
doubt as to her own feelings and her ability to resist their
pleadings. But now her heart was racing, and the conviction had
begun to steal over her that the cool and composed Ann Chester
was in imminent danger of making a fool of herself. Quite
suddenly, without any sort of warning, she realised that there
was some quality in Jimmy which called aloud to some
corresponding quality in herself--a nebulous something that made
her know that he and she were mates. She knew herself hard to
please where men were concerned. She could not have described
what it was in her that all the men she had met, the men with
whom she had golfed and ridden and yachted, had failed to
satisfy: but, ever since she had acquired the power of
self-analysis, she had known that it was something which was a
solid and indestructible part of her composition. She could not
have put into words what quality she demanded in man, but she had
always known that she would recognise it when she found it: and
she recognised it now in Jimmy. It was a recklessness, an
irresponsibility, a cheerful dare-devilry, the complement to her
own gay lawlessness.

"Ann!" said Jimmy.

"It's too late!"

She had not meant to say that. She had meant to say that it was
impossible, out of the question. But her heart was running away
with her, goaded on by the irony of it all. A veil seemed to have
fallen from before her eyes, and she knew now why she had been
drawn to Jimmy from the very first. They were mates, and she had
thrown away her happiness.

"I've promised to marry Lord Wisbeach!"

Jimmy stopped dead, as if the blow had been a physical one.

"You've promised to marry Lord Wisbeach!"

"Yes."

"But--but when?"

"Just now. Only a few minutes ago. When I was driving him to his
hotel. He had asked me to marry him before I left for England,
and I had promised to give him his answer when I got back. But
when I got back, somehow I couldn't make up my mind. The days
slipped by. Something seemed to be holding me back. He pressed me
to say that I would marry him, and it seemed absurd to go on
refusing to be definite, so I said I would."

"You can't love him? Surely you don't--?"

Ann met his gaze frankly.

"Something seems to have happened to me in the last few minutes,"
she said, "and I can't think clearly. A little while ago it
didn't seem to matter much. I liked him. He was good-looking and
good-tempered. I felt that we should get along quite well and be
as happy as most people are. That seemed as near perfection as
one could expect to get nowadays, so--well, that's how it was."

"But you can't marry him! It's out of the question!"

"I've promised."

"You must break your promise."

"I can't do that."

"You must!"

"I can't. One must play the game."

Jimmy groped for words. "But in this case you mustn't--it's
awful--in this special case--" He broke off. He saw the trap he
was in. He could not denounce that crook without exposing
himself. And from that he still shrank. Ann's prejudice against
Jimmy Crocker might have its root in a trivial and absurd
grievance, but it had been growing through the years, and who
could say how strong it was now?

Ann came a step towards him, then paused doubtfully. Then, as if
making up her mind, she drew near and touched his sleeve.

"I'm sorry," she said.

There was a silence.

"I'm sorry!"

She moved away. The door closed softly behind her. Jimmy scarcely
knew that she had gone. He sat down in that deep chair which was
Mr. Pett's favourite, and stared sightlessly at the ceiling. And
then, how many minutes or hours later he did not know, the sharp
click of the door-handle roused him. He sprang from the chair.
Was it Ann, come back?

It was not Ann. Round the edge of the door came inquiringly the
fair head of Lord Wisbeach.

"Oh!" said his lordship, sighting Jimmy.

The head withdrew itself.

"Come here!" shouted Jimmy.

The head appeared again.

"Talking to me?"

"Yes, I was talking to you."

Lord Wisbeach followed his superstructure into the room. He was
outwardly all that was bland and unperturbed, but there was a
wary look in the eye that cocked itself at Jimmy, and he did not
move far from the door. His fingers rested easily on the handle
behind him. He did not think it probable that Jimmy could have
heard of his visit to Mrs. Pett, but there had been something
menacing in the latter's voice, and he believed in safety first.

"They told me Miss Chester was here," he said by way of relaxing
any possible strain there might be in the situation.

"And what the devil do you want with Miss Chester, you slimy,
crawling second-story-worker, you damned, oily yegg?" enquired
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 further away from you," he said more
quietly. "There's no knowing what may happen if I don't. I don't
want to kill you. At least, I do, but I had better not."

He retired slowly until brought to a halt by the writing-desk. To
this he anchored himself with a firm grip. He was extremely
anxious to do nothing rash, and the spectacle of Gentleman Jack
invited rashness. He leaned against the desk, clutching its
solidity with both hands. Lord Wisbeach held steadfastly to the
door-handle. And in this tense fashion the interview proceeded.

"Miss Chester," said Jimmy, forcing himself to speak calmly, "has
just been telling me that she has promised to marry you."

"Quite true," said Lord Wisbeach. "It will be announced
to-morrow." A remark trembled on his lips, to the effect that he
relied on Jimmy for a fish-slice, but prudence kept it unspoken.
He was unable at present to understand Jimmy's emotion. Why Jimmy
should object to his being engaged to Ann, he could not imagine.
But it was plain that for some reason he had taken the thing to
heart, and, dearly as he loved a bit of quiet fun, Lord Wisbeach
decided that the other was at least six inches too tall and fifty
pounds too heavy to be bantered in his present mood by one of his
own physique. "Why not?"

"It won't be announced to-morrow," said Jimmy. "Because by
to-morrow you will be as far away from here as you can get, if
you have any sense."

"What do you mean?"

"Just this. If you haven't left this house by breakfast time
to-morrow, I shall expose you."

Lord Wisbeach was not feeling particularly happy, but he laughed
at this.

"You!"

"That's what I said."

"Who do you think you are, to go about exposing people?"

"I happen to be Mrs. Pett's nephew, Jimmy Crocker."

Lord Wisbeach laughed again.

"Is that the line you are going to take?"

"It is."

"You are going to Mrs. Pett to tell her that you are Jimmy
Crocker and that I am a crook and that you only pretended to
recognise me for reasons of your own?"

"Just that."

"Forget it!" Lord Wisbeach had forgotten to be alarmed in his
amusement. He smiled broadly. "I'm not saying it's not good stuff
to pull, but it's old stuff now. I'm sorry for you, but I thought
of it before you did. I went to Mrs. Pett directly after lunch
and sprang that line of talk myself. Do you think she'll believe
you after that? I tell you I'm ace-high with that dame. You
can't queer me with her."

"I think I can. For the simple reason that I really am Jimmy
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."

"Thanks."

"Don't start anything, though."

"I don't know what you mean."

Jimmy pointed to the safe.

"Come, come, friend of my youth. We have no secrets from each
other. I know you're after what's in there, and you know that I
know. I don't want to harp on it, but you'll be spending to-night
in the house, and I think you had better make up your mind to
spend it in your room, getting a nice sleep to prepare you for
your journey. Do you follow me, old friend?"

"I get you."

"That will be all then, I think. Wind a smile around your neck
and recede."

The door slammed. Lord Wisbeach had restrained his feelings
successfully during the interview, but he could not deny himself
that slight expression of them. Jimmy crossed the room and took
his coat from the chair where the other had dropped it. As he did
so a voice spoke.

"Say!"

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.

"Listening."

"How did you get there?"

"There's a door back here that you get to from the stairs. I
often come here for a quiet cigarette. Say, you think yourself
some josher, don't you, telling me you were a kidnapper! You
strung me like an onion. So you're really Jimmy Crocker after
all? Where was the sense in pulling all that stuff about taking
me away and divvying up the ransom? Aw, you make me tired!"

The head was withdrawn, and Jimmy heard heavy steps followed by
the banging of a door. Peace reigned in the library.

Jimmy sat down in the chair which was Mr. Pett's favourite and
which Ogden was accustomed to occupy to that gentleman's
displeasure. The swiftness of recent events had left him a little
dizzy, and he desired to think matters over and find out exactly
what had happened.

The only point which appeared absolutely clear to him in a welter
of confusing occurrences was the fact that he had lost the chance
of kidnapping Ogden. Everything had arranged itself so
beautifully simply and conveniently as regarded that venture
until a moment ago; but now that the boy had discovered his
identity it was impossible for him to attempt it. He was loth to
accept this fact. Surely, even now, there was a way . . .

Quite suddenly an admirable plan occurred to him. It involved the
co-operation of his father. And at that thought he realised with
a start that life had been moving so rapidly for him since his
return to the house that he had not paid any attention at all to
what was really as amazing a mystery as any. He had been too busy
to wonder why his father was there.

He debated the best method of getting in touch with him. It was
out of the question to descend to the pantry or wherever it was
that his father lived in this new incarnation of his. Then the
happy thought struck him that results might be obtained by the
simple process of ringing the bell. It might produce some other
unit of the domestic staff. However, it was worth trying. He rang
the bell.

A few moments later the door opened. Jimmy looked up. It was not
his father. It was a dangerous-looking female of uncertain age,
dressed as a parlour-maid, who eyed him with what seemed to his
conscience-stricken soul dislike and suspicion. She had a
tight-lipped mouth and beady eyes beneath heavy brows. Jimmy had
seldom seen a woman who attracted him less at first sight.

"Jer ring, S'?"

Jimmy blinked and almost ducked. The words had come at him like a
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."

"Y's'r."

The apparition vanished. Jimmy drew out his handkerchief and
dabbed at his forehead. He felt weak and guilty. He felt as if he
had just been accused of nameless crimes and had been unable to
deny the charge. Such was the magic of Miss Trimble's eye--the
left one, which looked directly at its object. Conjecture pauses
baffled at the thought of the effect which her gaze might have
created in the breasts of the sex she despised, had it been
double instead of single-barrelled. But half of it had wasted
itself on a spot some few feet to his right.

Presently the door opened again, and Mr. Crocker appeared,
looking like a benevolent priest.



CHAPTER XIX

BETWEEN FATHER AND SON

"Well, Skinner, my man," said Jimmy, "how goes it?"

Mr. Crocker looked about him cautiously. Then his priestly manner
fell from him like a robe, and he bounded forward.

"Jimmy!" he exclaimed, seizing his son's hand and shaking it
violently. "Say, it's great seeing you again, Jim!"

Jimmy drew himself up haughtily.

"Skinner, my good menial, you forget yourself strangely! You will
be getting fired if you mitt the handsome guest in this chummy
fashion!" He slapped his father on the back. "Dad, this is great!
How on earth do you come to be here? What's the idea? Why the
buttling? When did you come over? Tell me all!"

Mr. Crocker hoisted himself nimbly onto the writing-desk, and sat
there, beaming, with dangling legs.

"It was your letter that did it, Jimmy. Say, Jim, there wasn't
any need for you to do a thing like that just for me."

"Well, I thought you would have a better chance of being a peer
without me around. By the way, dad, how did my step-mother take
the Lord Percy episode?"

A shadow fell upon Mr. Crocker's happy face.

"I don't like to do much thinking about your step-mother," he
said. "She was pretty sore about Percy. And she was pretty sore
about your lighting out for America. But, gee! what she must be
feeling like now that I've come over, I daren't let myself
think."

"You haven't explained that yet. Why did you come over?"

"Well, I'd been feeling homesick--I always do over there in the
baseball season--and then talking with Pett made it worse--"

"Talking with Pett? Did you see him, then, when he was in
London?"

"See him? I let him in!"

"How?"

"Into the house, I mean. I had just gone to the front door to see
what sort of a day it was--I wanted to know if there had been
enough rain in the night to stop my having to watch that cricket
game--and just as I got there the bell rang. I opened the door."

"A revoltingly plebeian thing to do! I'm ashamed of you, dad!
They won't stand for that sort of thing in the House of Lords!"

"Well, before I knew what was happening they had taken me for the
butler. I didn't want your step-mother to know I'd been opening
doors--you remember how touchy she was always about it so I just
let it go at that and jollied them along. But I just couldn't
help asking the old man how the pennant race was making out, and
that tickled him so much that he offered me a job here as butler
if I ever wanted to make a change. And then your note came saying
that you were going to New York, and--well, I couldn't help
myself. You couldn't have kept me in London with ropes. I sneaked
out next day and bought a passage on the _Carmantic_--she sailed
the Wednesday after you left--and came straight here. They gave
me this job right away." Mr. Crocker paused, and a holy light of
enthusiasm made his homely features almost beautiful. "Say, Jim,
I've seen a ball-game every darned day since I landed! Say, two
days running Larry Doyle made home-runs! But, gosh! that guy Klem
is one swell robber! See here!" Mr. Crocker sprang down from the
desk, and snatched up a handful of books, which he proceeded to
distribute about the floor. "There were two men on bases in the
sixth and What's-his-name came to bat. He lined one out to
centre-field--where this book is--and--"

"Pull yourself together, Skinner! You can't monkey about with the
employer's library like that." Jimmy restored the books to their
places. "Simmer down and tell me more. Postpone the gossip from
the diamond. What plans have you made? Have you considered the
future at all? You aren't going to hold down this buttling job
forever, are you? When do you go back to London?"

The light died out of Mr. Crocker's face.

"I guess I shall have to go back some time. But how can I yet,
with the Giants leading the league like this?"

"But did you just light out without saying anything?"

"I left a note for your step-mother telling her I had gone to
America for a vacation. Jimmy, I hate to think what she's going
to do to me when she gets me back!"

"Assert yourself, dad! Tell her that woman's place is the home
and man's the ball-park! Be firm!"

Mr. Crocker shook his head dubiously.

"It's all very well to talk that way when you're three thousand
miles from home, but you know as well as I do, Jim, that your
step-mother, though she's a delightful woman, isn't the sort you
can assert yourself with. Look at this sister of hers here. I
guess you haven't been in the house long enough to have noticed,
but she's very like Eugenia in some ways. She's the boss all
right, and old Pett does just what he's told to. I guess it's the
same with me, Jim. There's a certain type of man that's just born
to have it put over on him by a certain type of woman. I'm that
sort of man and your stepmother's that sort of woman. No, I guess
I'm going to get mine all right, and the only thing to do is to
keep it from stopping me having a good time now."

There was truth in what he said, and Jimmy recognised it. He
changed the subject.

"Well, never mind that. There's no sense in worrying oneself
about the future. Tell me, dad, where did you get all the
'dinner-is-served, madam' stuff? How did you ever learn to be a
butler?"

"Bayliss taught me back in London. And, of course, I've played
butlers when I was on the stage."

Jimmy did not speak for a moment.

"Did you ever play a kidnapper, dad?" he asked at length.

"Sure. I was Chicago Ed. in a crook play called 'This Way Out.'
Why, surely you saw me in that? I got some good notices."

Jimmy nodded.

"Of course. I knew I'd seen you play that sort of part some time.
You came on during the dark scene and--"

"--switched on the lights and--"

"--covered the bunch with your gun while they were still
blinking! You were great in that part, dad."

"It was a good part," said Mr. Crocker modestly. "It had fat. I'd
like to have a chance to play a kidnapper again. There's a lot of
pep to kidnappers."

"You _shall_ play one again," said Jimmy. "I am putting on a little
sketch with a kidnapper as the star part."

"Eh? A sketch? You, Jim? Where?"

"Here. In this house. It is entitled 'Kidnapping Ogden' and opens
to-night."

Mr. Crocker looked at his only son in concern. Jimmy appeared to
him to be rambling.

"Amateur theatricals?" he hazarded.

"In the sense that there is no pay for performing, yes. Dad, you
know that kid Ogden upstairs? Well, it's quite simple. I want you
to kidnap him for me."

Mr. Crocker sat down heavily. He shook his head.

"I don't follow all this."

"Of course not. I haven't begun to explain. Dad, in your rambles
through this joint you've noticed a girl with glorious red-gold
hair, I imagine?"

"Ann Chester?"

"Ann Chester. I'm going to marry her."

"Jimmy!"

"But she doesn't know it yet. Now, follow me carefully, dad. Five
years ago Ann Chester wrote a book of poems. It's on that desk
there. You were using it a moment back as second-base or
something. Now, I was working at that time on the _Chronicle_. I
wrote a skit on those poems for the Sunday paper. Do you begin to
follow the plot?"

"She's got it in for you? She's sore?"

"Exactly. Get that firmly fixed in your mind, because it's the
source from which all the rest of the story springs."

Mr. Crocker interrupted.

"But I don't understand. You say she's sore at you. Well, how is
it that you came in together looking as if you were good friends
when I let you in this morning?"

"I was waiting for you to ask that. The explanation is that she
doesn't know that I am Jimmy Crocker."

"But you came here saying that you were Jimmy Crocker."

"Quite right. And that is where the plot thickens. I made Ann's
acquaintance first in London and then on the boat. I had found
out that Jimmy Crocker was the man she hated most in the world,
so I took another name. I called myself Bayliss."

"Bayliss!"

"I had to think of something quick, because the clerk at the
shipping office was waiting to fill in my ticket. I had just been
talking to Bayliss on the phone and his was the only name that
came into my mind. You know how it is when you try to think of a
name suddenly. Now mark the sequel. Old Bayliss came to see me
off at Paddington. Ann was there and saw me. She said 'Good
evening, Mr. Bayliss' or something, and naturally old Bayliss
replied 'What ho!' or words to that effect. The only way to
handle the situation was to introduce him as my father. I did so.
Ann, therefore, thinks that I am a young man named Bayliss who
has come over to America to make his fortune. We now come to the
third reel. I met Ann by chance at the Knickerbocker and took her
to lunch. While we were lunching, that confirmed congenital
idiot, Reggie Bartling, who happened to have come over to America
as well, came up and called me by my name. I knew that, if Ann
discovered who I really was, she would have nothing more to do
with me, so I gave Reggie the haughty stare and told him that he
had made a mistake. He ambled away--and possibly committed
suicide in his anguish at having made such a bloomer--leaving Ann
discussing with me the extraordinary coincidence of my being
Jimmy Crocker's double. Do you follow the story of my life so
far?"

Mr. Crocker, who had been listening with wrinkled brow and other
signs of rapt attention, nodded.

"I understand all that. But how did you come to get into this
house?"

"That is reel four. I am getting to that. It seems that Ann, who
is the sweetest girl on earth and always on the lookout to do
some one a kindness, had decided, in the interests of the boy's
future, to remove young Ogden Ford from his present sphere, where
he is being spoiled and ruined, and send him down to a man on
Long Island who would keep him for awhile and instil the first
principles of decency into him. Her accomplice in this admirable
scheme was Jerry Mitchell."

"Jerry Mitchell!"

"Who, as you know, got fired yesterday. Jerry was to have done
the rough work of the job. But, being fired, he was no longer
available. I, therefore, offered to take his place. So here I
am."

"You're going to kidnap that boy?"

"No. You are."

"Me!"

"Precisely. You are going to play a benefit performance of your
world-famed success, Chicago Ed. Let me explain further. Owing to
circumstances which I need not go into, Ogden has found out that
I am really Jimmy Crocker, so he refuses to have anything more to
do with me. I had deceived him into believing that I was a
professional kidnapper, and he came to me and offered to let me
kidnap him if I would go fifty-fifty with him in the ransom!"

"Gosh!"

"Yes, he's an intelligent child, full of that sort of bright
ideas. Well, now he has found that I am not all his fancy painted
me, he wouldn't come away with me; and I want you to understudy
me while the going is good. In the fifth reel, which will be
released to-night after the household has retired to rest, you
will be featured. It's got to be tonight, because it has just
occurred to me that Ogden, knowing that Lord Wisbeach is a crook,
may go to him with the same proposal that he made to me."

"Lord Wisbeach a crook!"

"Of the worst description. He is here to steal that explosive
stuff of Willie Partridge's. But as I have blocked that play, he
may turn his attention to Ogden."

"But, Jimmy, if that fellow is a crook--how do you know he is?"

"He told me so himself."

"Well, then, why don't you expose him?"

"Because in order to do so, Skinner my man, I should have to
explain that I was really Jimmy Crocker, and the time is not yet
ripe for that. To my thinking, the time will not be ripe till you
have got safely away with Ogden Ford. I can then go to Ann and
say 'I may have played you a rotten trick in the past, but I have
done you a good turn now, so let's forget the past!' So you see
that everything now depends on you, dad. I'm not asking you to do
anything difficult. I'll go round to the boarding-house now and
tell Jerry Mitchell about what we have arranged, and have him
waiting outside here in a car. Then all you will have to do is to
go to Ogden, play a short scene as Chicago Ed., escort him to the
car, and then go back to bed and have a good sleep. Once Ogden
thinks you are a professional kidnapper, you won't have any
difficulty at all. Get it into your head that he wants to be
kidnapped. Surely you can tackle this light and attractive job?
Why, it will be a treat for you to do a bit of character acting
once more!"

Jimmy had struck the right note. His father's eyes began to gleam
with excitement. The scent of the footlights seemed to dilate his
nostrils.

"I was always good at that rough-neck stuff," he murmured
meditatively. "I used to eat it!"

"Exactly," said Jimmy. "Look at it in the right way, and I am
doing you a kindness in giving you this chance."

Mr. Crocker rubbed his cheek with his forefinger.

"You'd want me to make up for the part?" he asked wistfully.

"Of course!"

"You want me to do it to-night?"

"At about two in the morning, I thought."

"I'll do it, Jim!"

Jimmy grasped his hand.

"I knew I could rely on you, dad."

Mr. Crocker was following a train of thought.

"Dark wig . . . blue chin . . . heavy eyebrows . . . I guess I
can't do better than my old Chicago Ed. make-up. Say, Jimmy, how
am I to get to the kid?"

"That'll be all right. You can stay in my room till the time
comes to go to him. Use it as a dressing-room."

"How am I to get him out of the house?"

"Through this room. I'll tell Jerry to wait out on the
side-street with the car from two o'clock on."

Mr. Crocker considered these arrangements.

"That seems to be about all," he said.

"I don't think there's anything else."

"I'll slip downtown and buy the props."

"I'll go and tell Jerry."

A thought struck Mr. Crocker.

"You'd better tell Jerry to make up, too. He doesn't want the kid
recognising him and squealing on him later."

Jimmy was lost in admiration of his father's resource.

"You think of everything, dad! That wouldn't have occurred to me.
You certainly do take to Crime in the most wonderful way. It
seems to come naturally to you!"

Mr. Crocker smirked modestly.



CHAPTER XX

CELESTINE IMPARTS INFORMATION

Plit is only as strong as its weakest link. The best-laid schemes
of mice and men gang agley if one of the mice is a mental
defective or if one of the men is a Jerry Mitchell. . . .

Celestine, Mrs. Pett's maid--she who was really Maggie O'Toole
and whom Jerry loved with a strength which deprived him of even
that small amount of intelligence which had been bestowed upon
him by Nature--came into the house-keeper's room at about ten
o'clock that night. The domestic staff had gone in a body to the
moving-pictures, and the only occupant of the room was the new
parlourmaid, who was sitting in a hard chair, reading
Schopenhauer.

Celestine's face was flushed, her dark hair was ruffled, and her
eyes were shining. She breathed a little quickly, and her left
hand was out of sight behind her back. She eyed the new
parlour-maid doubtfully for a moment. The latter was a woman of
somewhat unencouraging exterior, not the kind that invites
confidences. But Celestine had confidences to bestow, and the
exodus to the movies had left her in a position where she could
not pick and choose. She was faced with the alternative of
locking her secret in her palpitating bosom or of revealing it to
this one auditor. The choice was one which no impulsive damsel in
like circumstances would have hesitated to make.

"Say!" said Celestine.

A face rose reluctantly from behind Schopenhauer. A gleaming eye
met Celestine's. A second eye no less gleaming glared at the
ceiling.

"Say, I just been talking to my feller outside," said Celestine
with a coy simper. "Say, he's a grand man!"

A snort of uncompromising disapproval proceeded from the
thin-lipped mouth beneath the eyes. But Celestine was too full of
her news to be discouraged.

"I'm strong fer Jer!" she said.

"Huh?" said the student of Schopenhauer.

"Jerry Mitchell, you know. You ain't never met him, have you?
Say, he's a grand man!"

For the first time she had the other's undivided attention. The
new parlour-maid placed her book upon the table.

"Uh?" she said.

Celestine could hold back her dramatic surprise no longer. Her
concealed left hand flashed into view. On the third finger
glittered a ring. She gazed at it with awed affection.

"Ain't it a beaut!"

She contemplated its sparkling perfection for a moment in
rapturous silence.

"Say, you could have knocked me down with a feather!" she
resumed. "He telephones me awhile ago and says to be outside the
back door at ten to-night, because he'd something he wanted to
tell me. Of course he couldn't come in and tell it me here,
because he'd been fired and everything. So I goes out, and there
he is. 'Hello, kid!' he says to me. 'Fresh!' I says to him.
'Say, I got something to be fresh about!' he says to me. And then
he reaches into his jeans and hauls out the sparkler. 'What's
that?' I says to him. 'It's an engagement ring,' he says to me.
'For you, if you'll wear it!' I came over so weak, I could have
fell! And the next thing I know he's got it on my finger and--"
Celestine broke off modestly. "Say, ain't it a beaut, honest!"
She gave herself over to contemplation once more. "He says to me
how he's on Easy Street now, or will be pretty soon. I says to
him 'Have you got a job, then?' He says to me 'Now, I ain't got a
job, but I'm going to pull off a stunt to-night that's going to
mean enough to me to start that health-farm I've told you about.'
Say, he's always had a line of talk about starting a health-farm
down on Long Island, he knowing all about training and health and
everything through having been one of them fighters. I asks him
what the stunt is, but he won't tell me yet. He says he'll tell
me after we're married, but he says it's sure-fire and he's going
to buy the license tomorrow."

She paused for comment and congratulations, eyeing her companion
expectantly.

"Huh!" said the new parlour-maid briefly, and resumed her
Schopenhauer. Decidedly hers was not a winning personality.

"Ain't it a beaut?" demanded Celestine, damped.

The new parlour-maid uttered a curious sound at the back of her
throat.

"He's a beaut!" she said cryptically.

She added another remark in a lower tone, too low for Celestine's
ears. It could hardly have been that, but it sounded to Celestine
like:

"I'll fix 'm!"



CHAPTER XXI

CHICAGO ED.

Riverside Drive slept. The moon shone on darkened windows and
deserted sidewalks. It was past one o'clock in the morning. The
wicked Forties were still ablaze with light and noisy foxtrots;
but in the virtuous Hundreds, where Mr. Pett's house stood,
respectable slumber reigned. Only the occasional drone of a
passing automobile broke the silence, or the love-sick cry of
some feline Romeo patrolling a wall-top.

Jimmy was awake. He was sitting on the edge of his bed watching
his father put the finishing touches to his make-up, which was of
a shaggy and intimidating nature. The elder Crocker had conceived
the outward aspect of Chicago Ed., King of the Kidnappers, on
broad and impressive lines, and one glance would have been enough
to tell the sagacious observer that here was no white-souled
comrade for a nocturnal saunter down lonely lanes and
out-of-the-way alleys.

Mr. Crocker seemed to feel this himself.

"The only trouble is, Jim," he said, peering at himself in the
glass, "shan't I scare the boy to death directly he sees me?
Oughtn't I to give him some sort of warning?"

"How? Do you suggest sending him a formal note?"

Mr. Crocker surveyed his repellent features doubtfully.

"It's a good deal to spring on a kid at one in the morning," he
said. "Suppose he has a fit!"

"He's far more likely to give you one. Don't you worry about
Ogden, dad. I shouldn't think there was a child alive more equal
to handling such a situation."

There was an empty glass standing on a tray on the
dressing-table. Mr. Crocker eyed this sadly.

"I wish you hadn't thrown that stuff away, Jim. I could have done
with it. I'm feeling nervous."

"Nonsense, dad! You're all right! I had to throw it away. I'm on
the wagon now, but how long I should have stayed on with that
smiling up at me I don't know. I've made up my mind never to
lower myself to the level of the beasts that perish with the
demon Rum again, because my future wife has strong views on the
subject: but there's no sense in taking chances. Temptation is
all very well, but you don't need it on your dressing-table. It
was a kindly thought of yours to place it there, dad, but--"

"Eh? I didn't put it there."

"I thought that sort of thing came in your department. Isn't it
the butler's job to supply drinks to the nobility and gentry?
Well, it doesn't matter. It is now distributed over the
neighbouring soil, thus removing a powerful temptation from your
path. You're better without it." He looked at his watch. "Well,
it ought to be all right now." He went to the window. "There's an
automobile down there. I suppose it's Jerry. I told him to be
outside at one sharp and it's nearly half-past. I think you might
be starting, dad. Oh, by the way, you had better tell Ogden that
you represent a gentleman of the name of Buck Maginnis. It was
Buck who got away with him last time, and a firm friendship seems
to-have sprung up between them. There's nothing like coming with
a good introduction."

Mr. Crocker took a final survey of himself in the mirror.

"Gee I I'd hate to meet myself on a lonely road!"

He opened the door, and stood for a moment listening.

From somewhere down the passage came the murmur of a muffled
snore.

"Third door on the left," said Jimmy. "Three--count 'em!--three.
Don't go getting mixed."

Mr. Crocker slid into the outer darkness like a stout ghost, and
Jimmy closed the door gently behind him.

Having launched his indulgent parent safely on a career of crime,
Jimmy switched off the light and returned to the window. Leaning
out, he gave himself up for a moment to sentimental musings. The
night was very still. Through the trees which flanked the house
the dimmed headlights of what was presumably Jerry Mitchell's
hired car shone faintly like enlarged fire-flies. A boat of some
description was tooting reflectively far down the river. Such was
the seductive influence of the time and the scene that Jimmy
might have remained there indefinitely, weaving dreams, had he
not been under the necessity of making his way down to the
library. It was his task to close the French windows after his
father and Ogden had passed through, and he proposed to remain
hid in the gallery there until the time came for him to do this.
It was imperative that he avoid being seen by Ogden.

Locking his door behind him, he went downstairs. There were no
signs of life in the house. Everything was still. He found the
staircase leading to the gallery without having to switch on the
lights.

It was dusty in the gallery, and a smell of old leather enveloped
him. He hoped his father would not be long. He lowered himself
cautiously to the floor, and, resting his head against a
convenient shelf, began to wonder how the interview between
Chicago Ed. and his prey was progressing.

        *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Crocker, meanwhile, masked to the eyes, had crept in fearful
silence to the door which Jimmy had indicated. A good deal of the
gay enthusiasm with which he had embarked on this enterprise had
ebbed away from him. Now that he had become accustomed to the
novelty of finding himself once more playing a character part,
his intimate respectability began to assert itself. It was one
thing to play Chicago Ed. at a Broadway theatre, but quite another
to give a benefit performance like this. As he tip-toed along the
passage, the one thing that presented itself most clearly to him
was the appalling outcome of this act of his, should anything go
wrong. He would have turned back, but for the thought that Jimmy
was depending on him and that success would mean Jimmy's
happiness. Stimulated by this reflection, he opened Ogden's door
inch by inch and went in. He stole softly across the room.

He had almost reached the bed, and had just begun to wonder how
on earth, now that he was there, he could open the proceedings
tactfully and without alarming the boy, when he was saved the
trouble of pondering further on this problem. A light flashed out
of the darkness with the suddenness of a bursting bomb, and a
voice from the same general direction said "Hands up!"

When Mr. Crocker had finished blinking and had adjusted his eyes
to the glare, he perceived Ogden sitting up in bed with a
revolver in his hand. The revolver was resting on his knee, and
its muzzle pointed directly at Mr. Crocker's ample stomach.

Exhaustive as had been the thought which Jimmy's father had given
to the possible developments of his enterprise, this was a
contingency of which he had not dreamed. He was entirely at a
loss.

"Don't do that!" he said huskily. "It might go off!"

"I should worry!" replied Ogden coldly. "I'm at the right end of
it. What are you doing here?" He looked fondly at the lethal
weapon. "I got this with cigarette-coupons, to shoot rabbits when
we went to the country. Here's where I get a chance at something
part-human."

"Do you want to murder me?"

"Why not?"

Mr. Crocker's make-up was trickling down his face in sticky
streams. The mask, however, prevented Ogden from seeing this
peculiar phenomenon. He was gazing interestedly at his visitor.
An idea struck him.

"Say, did you come to kidnap me?"

Mr. Crocker felt the sense of relief which he had sometimes
experienced on the stage when memory had failed him during a
scene and a fellow-actor had thrown him the line. It would be
exaggerating to say that he was himself again. He could never be
completely at his case with that pistol pointing at him; but he
felt considerably better. He lowered his voice an octave or so,
and spoke in a husky growl.

"Aw, cheese it, kid. Nix on the rough stuff!"

"Keep those hands up!" advised Ogden.

"Sure! Sure!" growled Mr. Crocker. "Can the gun-play, bo! Say,
you've soitanly grown since de last time we got youse!"

Ogden's manner became magically friendly.

"Are you one of Buck Maginnis' lot?" he enquired almost politely.

"Dat's right!" Mr. Crocker blessed the inspiration which had
prompted Jimmy's parting words. "I'm wit Buck."

"Why didn't Buck come himself?"

"He's woiking on anudder job!"

To Mr. Crocker's profound relief Ogden lowered the pistol.

"I'm strong for Buck," he said conversationally. "We're old pals.
Did you see the piece in the paper about him kidnapping me last
time? I've got it in my press-clipping album."

"Sure," said Mr. Crocker.

"Say, listen. If you take me now, Buck's got to come across. I
like Buck, but I'm not going to let myself be kidnapped for his
benefit. It's fifty-fifty, or nothing doing. See?"

"I get you, kid."

"Well, if that's understood, all right. Give me a minute to get
some clothes on, and I'll be with you."

"Don't make a noise," said Mr. Crocker.

"Who's making any noise? Say, how did you get in here?"

"T'roo de libery windows."

"I always knew some yegg would stroll in that way. It beats me
why they didn't have bars fixed on them."

"Dere's a buzz-wagon outside, waitin'."

"You do it in style, don't you?" observed Ogden, pulling on his
shirt. "Who's working this with you? Any one I know?"

"Naw. A new guy."

"Oh? Say, I don't remember you, if it comes to that."

"You don't?" said Mr. Crocker a little discomposed.

"Well, maybe I wouldn't, with that mask on you. Which of them
are you?"

"Chicago Ed.'s my monaker."

"I don't remember any Chicago Ed."

"Well, you will after dis!" said Mr. Crocker, happily inspired.

Ogden was eyeing him with sudden suspicion.

"Take that mask off and let's have a look at you."

"Nothing doin'."

"How am I to know you're on the level?"

Mr. Crocker played a daring card.

"All right," he said, making a move towards the door. "It's up to
youse. If you t'ink I'm not on de level, I'll beat it."

"Here, stop a minute," said Ogden hastily, unwilling that a
promising business deal should be abandoned in this summary
manner. "I'm not saying anything against you. There's no need to
fly off the handle like that."

"I'll tell Buck I couldn't get you," said Mr. Crocker, moving
another step.

"Here, stop! What's the matter with you?"

"Are youse comin' wit me?"

"Sure, if you get the conditions. Buck's got to slip me half of
whatever he gets out of this."

"Dat's right. Buck'll slip youse half of anyt'ing he gets."

"All right, then. Wait till I've got this shoe on, and let's
start. Now I'm ready."

"Beat it quietly."

"What did you think I was going to do? Sing?"

"Step dis way!" said Mr. Crocker jocosely.

They left the room cautiously. Mr. Crocker for a moment had a
sense of something missing. He had reached the stairs before he
realised what it was. Then it dawned upon him that what was
lacking was the applause. The scene had deserved a round.

Jimmy, vigilant in the gallery, heard the library door open
softly and, peering over the rail, perceived two dim forms in the
darkness. One was large, the other small. They crossed the room
together.

Whispered words reached him.

"I thought you said you came in this way."

"Sure."

"Then why's the shutter closed?"

"I fixed it after I was in."

There was a faint scraping sound, followed by a click. The
darkness of the room was relieved by moonlight. The figures
passed through. Jimmy ran down from the gallery, and closed the
windows softly. He had just fastened the shutters, when from the
passage outside there came the unmistakeable sound of a footstep.



CHAPTER XXII

IN THE LIBRARY

Jimmy's first emotion on hearing the footstep was the crude
instinct of self-preservation. All that he was able to think of
at the moment was the fact that he was in a questionable position
and one which would require a good deal of explaining away if he
were found, and his only sensation was a strong desire to avoid
discovery. He made a silent, scrambling leap for the gallery
stairs, and reached their shelter just as the door opened. He
stood there, rigid, waiting to be challenged, but apparently he
had moved in time, for no voice spoke. The door closed so gently
as to be almost inaudible, and then there was silence again. The
room remained in darkness, and it was this perhaps that first
suggested to Jimmy the comforting thought that the intruder was
equally desirous of avoiding the scrutiny of his fellows. He had
taken it for granted in his first panic that he himself was the
only person in that room whose motive for being there would not
have borne inspection. But now, safely hidden in the gallery, out
of sight from the floor below, he had the leisure to consider the
newcomer's movements and to draw conclusions from them.

An honest man's first act would surely have been to switch on the
lights. And an honest man would hardly have crept so stealthily.
It became apparent to Jimmy, as he leaned over the rail and tried
to pierce the darkness, that there was sinister work afoot; and
he had hardly reached this conclusion when his mind took a
further leap and he guessed the identity of the soft-footed
person below. It could be none but his old friend Lord Wisbeach,
known to "the boys" as Gentleman Jack. It surprised him that he
had not thought of this before. Then it surprised him that, after
the talk they had only a few hours earlier in that very room,
Gentleman Jack should have dared to risk this raid.

At this moment the blackness was relieved as if by the striking
of a match. The man below had brought an electric torch into
play, and now Jimmy could see clearly. He had been right in his
surmise. It was Lord Wisbeach. He was kneeling in front of the
safe. What he was doing to the safe, Jimmy could not see, for the
man's body was in the way; but the electric torch shone on his
face, lighting up grim, serious features quite unlike the amiable
and slightly vacant mask which his lordship was wont to present
to the world. As Jimmy looked, something happened in the pool of
light beyond his vision. Gentleman Jack gave a muttered
exclamation of satisfaction, and then Jimmy saw that the door of
the safe had swung open. The air was full of a penetrating smell
of scorched metal. Jimmy was not an expert in these matters, but
he had read from time to time of modern burglars and their
methods, and he gathered that an oxy-acetylene blow-pipe, with
its flame that cuts steel as a knife cuts cheese, had been at
work.

Lord Wisbeach flashed the torch into the open safe, plunged his
hand in, and drew it out again, holding something. Handling this
in a cautious and gingerly manner, he placed it carefully in his
breast pocket. Then he straightened himself. He switched off the
torch, and moved to the window, leaving the rest of his
implements by the open safe. He unfastened the shutter, then
raised the catch of the window. At this point it seemed to Jimmy
that the time had come to interfere.

"Tut, tut!" he said in a tone of mild reproof.

The effect of the rebuke on Lord Wisbeach was remarkable. He
jumped convulsively away from the window, then, revolving on his
own axis, flashed the torch into every corner of the room.

"Who's that?" he gasped.

"Conscience!" said Jimmy.

Lord Wisbeach had overlooked the gallery in his researches. He
now turned his torch upwards. The light flooded the gallery on
the opposite side of the room from where Jimmy stood. There was a
pistol in Gentleman Jack's hand now. It followed the torch
uncertainly.

Jimmy, lying flat on the gallery floor, spoke again.

"Throw that gun away, and the torch, too," he said. "I've got you
covered!"

The torch flashed above his head, but the raised edge of the
gallery rail protected him.

"I'll give you five seconds. If you haven't dropped that gun by
then, I shall shoot!"

As he began to count, Jimmy heartily regretted that he had
allowed his appreciation of the dramatic to lead him into this
situation. It would have been so simple to have roused the house
in a prosaic way and avoided this delicate position. Suppose his
bluff did not succeed. Suppose the other still clung to his
pistol at the end of the five seconds. He wished that he had made
it ten instead. Gentleman Jack was an enterprising person, as his
previous acts had showed. He might very well decide to take a
chance. He might even refuse to believe that Jimmy was armed. He
had only Jimmy's word for it. Perhaps he might be as deficient in
simple faith as he had proved to be in Norman blood! Jimmy
lingered lovingly over his count.

"Four!" he said reluctantly.

There was a breathless moment. Then, to Jimmy's unspeakable
relief, gun and torch dropped simultaneously to the floor. In an
instant Jimmy was himself again.

"Go and stand with your face to that wall," he said crisply.
"Hold your hands up!"

"Why?"

"I'm going to see how many more guns you've got."

"I haven't another."

"I'd like to make sure of that for myself. Get moving!"

Gentleman Jack reluctantly obeyed. When he had reached the wall,
Jimmy came down. He switched on the lights. He felt in the
other's pockets, and almost at once encountered something hard
and metallic.

He shook his head reproachfully.

"You are very loose and inaccurate in your statements," he said.
"Why all these weapons? I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier!
Now you can turn around and put your hands down."

Gentleman Jack's appeared to be a philosophical nature. The
chagrin consequent upon his failure seemed to have left him. He
sat on the arm of a chair and regarded Jimmy without apparent
hostility. He even smiled a faint smile.

"I thought I had fixed you, he said. You must have been smarter
than I took you for. I never supposed you would get on to that
drink and pass it up."

Understanding of an incident which had perplexed him came to
Jimmy.

"Was it you who put that high-ball in my room? Was it doped?"

"Didn't you know?"

"Well," said Jimmy, "I never knew before that virtue got its
reward so darned quick in this world. I rejected that high-ball
not because I suspected it but out of pure goodness, because I
had made up my mind that I was through with all that sort of
thing."

His companion laughed. If Jimmy had had a more intimate
acquaintance with the resourceful individual whom the "boys"
called Gentleman Jack, he would have been disquieted by that
laugh. It was an axiom among those who knew him well, that when
Gentleman Jack chuckled in the reflective way, he generally had
something unpleasant up his sleeve.

"It's your lucky night," said Gentleman Jack.

"It looks like it."

"Well, it isn't over yet."

"Very nearly. You had better go and put that test-tube back in
what is left of the safe now. Did you think I had forgotten it?"

"What test-tube?"

"Come, come, old friend! The one filled with Partridge's
explosive, which you have in your breast-pocket."

Gentleman Jack laughed again. Then he moved towards the safe.

"Place it gently on the top shelf," said Jimmy.

The next moment every nerve in his body was leaping and
quivering. A great shout split the air. Gentleman Jack,
apparently insane, was giving tongue at the top of his voice.

"Help! Help! Help!"

The conversation having been conducted up to this point in
undertones, the effect of this unexpected uproar was like an
explosion. The cries seemed to echo round the room and shake the
very walls. For a moment Jimmy stood paralysed, staring feebly;
then there was a sudden deafening increase in the din. Something
living seemed to writhe and jump in his hand. He dropped it
incontinently, and found himself gazing in a stupefied way at a
round, smoking hole in the carpet. Such had been the effect of
Gentleman Jack's unforeseen outburst that he had quite forgotten
that he held the revolver, and he had been unfortunate enough at
this juncture to pull the trigger.

There was a sudden rush and a swirl of action. Something hit
Jimmy under the chin. He staggered back, and when he had
recovered himself found himself looking into the muzzle of the
revolver which had nearly blown a hole in his foot a moment back.
The sardonic face of Gentleman Jack smiled grimly over the
barrel.

"I told you the night wasn't over yet!" he said.

The blow under the chin had temporarily dulled Jimmy's mentality.
He stood, swallowing and endeavouring to pull himself together
and to get rid of a feeling that his head was about to come off.
He backed to the desk and steadied himself against it.

As he did so, a voice from behind him spoke.

"Whassall this?"

He turned his head. A curious procession was filing in through
the open French window. First came Mr. Crocker, still wearing his
hideous mask; then a heavily bearded individual with round
spectacles, who looked like an automobile coming through a
haystack; then Ogden Ford, and finally a sturdy,
determined-looking woman with glittering but poorly co-ordinated
eyes, who held a large revolver in her unshaking right hand and
looked the very embodiment of the modern female who will stand no
nonsense. It was part of the nightmare-like atmosphere which
seemed to brood inexorably over this particular night that this
person looked to Jimmy exactly like the parlour-maid who had come
to him in this room in answer to the bell and who had sent his
father to him. Yet how could it be she? Jimmy knew little of the
habits of parlour-maids, but surely they did not wander about
with revolvers in the small hours?

While he endeavoured feverishly to find reason in this chaos, the
door opened and a motley crowd, roused from sleep by the cries,
poured in. Jimmy, turning his head back again to attend to this
invasion, perceived Mrs. Pett, Ann, two or three of the geniuses,
and Willie Partridge, in various stages of _negligee_ and babbling
questions.

The woman with the pistol, assuming instant and unquestioned
domination of the assembly, snapped out an order.

"Shutatdoor!"

Somebody shut the door.

"Now, whassall this?" she said, turning to Gentleman Jack.



CHAPTER XXIII

STIRRING TIMES FOR THE PETTS

Gentleman Jack had lowered his revolver, and was standing waiting
to explain all, with the insufferable look of the man who is just
going to say that he has only done his duty and requires no
thanks.

"Who are you?" he said.

"Nev' min' who I am!" said Miss Trimble curtly. "Siz Pett knows
who I am."

"I hope you won't be offended, Lord Wisbeach," said Mrs. Pett
from the group by the door. "I engaged a detective to help you. I
really thought you could not manage everything by yourself. I
hope you do not mind."

"Not at all, Mrs. Pett. Very wise."

"I'm so glad to hear you say so."

"An excellent move."

Miss Trimble broke in on these amiable exchanges.

"Whassall this? Howjer mean--help me?"

"Lord Wisbeach most kindly offered to do all he could to protect
my nephew's explosive," said Mrs. Pett.

Gentleman Jack smiled modestly.

"I hope I have been of some slight assistance! I think I came
down in the nick of time. Look!" He pointed to the safe. "He had
just got it open! Luckily I had my pistol with me. I covered him,
and called for help. In another moment he would have got away."

Miss Trimble crossed to the safe and inspected it with a frown,
as if she disliked it. She gave a grunt and returned to her place
by the window.

"Made good job 'f it!" was her comment.

Ann came forward. Her face was glowing and her eyes shone.

"Do you mean to say that you found Jimmy breaking into the safe?
I never heard anything so absurd!"

Mrs. Pett intervened.

"This is not James Crocker, Ann! This man is an impostor, who
came into the house in order to steal Willie's invention." She
looked fondly at Gentleman Jack. "Lord Wisbeach told me so. He
only pretended to recognise him this afternoon."

A low gurgle proceeded from the open mouth of little Ogden. The
proceedings bewildered him. The scene he had overheard in the
library between the two men had made it clear to him that Jimmy
was genuine and Lord Wisbeach a fraud, and he could not
understand why Jimmy did not produce his proofs as before. He was
not aware that Jimmy's head was only just beginning to clear from
the effects of the blow on the chin. Ogden braced himself for
resolute lying in the event of Jimmy calling him as a witness.
But he did not intend to have his little business proposition
dragged into the open.

Ann was looking at Jimmy with horror-struck eyes. For the first
time it came to her how little she knew of him and how very
likely it was--in the face of the evidence it was almost
certain--that he should have come to the house with the intention
of stealing Willie's explosive. She fought against it, but a
voice seemed to remind her that it was he who had suggested the
idea of posing as Jimmy Crocker. She could not help remembering
how smoothly and willingly he had embarked on the mad scheme.
But had it been so mad? Had it not been a mere cloak for this
other venture? If Lord Wisbeach had found him in this room, with
the safe blown open, what other explanation could there be?

And then, simultaneously with her conviction that he was a
criminal, came the certainty that he was the man she loved. It
had only needed the spectacle of him in trouble to make her sure.
She came to his side with the vague idea of doing something to
help him, of giving him her support. Once there, she found that
there was nothing to do and nothing to say. She put her hand on
his, and stood waiting helplessly for she knew not what.

It was the touch of her fingers which woke Jimmy from his stupor.
He came to himself almost with a jerk. He had been mistily aware
of what had been said, but speech had been beyond him. Now, quite
suddenly, he was a whole man once more. He threw himself into the
debate with energy.

"Good Heavens!" he cried. "You're all wrong. I found _him_ blowing
open the safe!"

Gentleman Jack smiled superciliously.

"A likely story, what! I mean to say, it's a bit thin!"

"Ridiculous!" said Mrs. Pett. She turned to Miss Trimble with a
gesture. "Arrest that man!"

"Wait a mom'nt," replied that clear-headed maiden, picking her
teeth thoughtfully with the muzzle of her revolver. "Wait mom'nt.
Gotta look 'nto this. Hear both these guys' st'ries."

"Really," said Gentleman Jack suavely, "it seems somewhat
absurd--"

"Ney' mind how 'bsurd 't sounds," returned the fair Trimble
rebukingly. "You close y'r face 'n lissen t' me. Thass all you've
gotta do."

"I know you didn't do it!" cried Ann, tightening her hold on
Jimmy's arm.

"Less 'f it, please. Less 'f it!" Miss Trimble removed the pistol
from her mouth and pointed it at Jimmy. "What've you to say? Talk
quick!"

"I happened to be down there--"

"Why?" asked Miss Trimble, as if she had touched off a bomb.

Jimmy stopped short. He perceived difficulties in the way of
explanation.

"I happened to be down there," he resumed stoutly, "and that man
came into the room with an electric torch and a blowpipe and
began working on the safe--"

The polished tones of Gentleman Jack cut in on his story.

"Really now, is it worth while?" He turned to Miss Trimble. "I came
down here, having heard a noise. I did not _happen_ to be here for
some unexplained purpose. I was lying awake and something attracted
my attention. As Mrs. Pett knows, I was suspicious of this worthy
and expected him to make an attempt on the explosive at any moment:
so I took my pistol and crept downstairs. When I got here, the safe
was open and this man making for the window."

Miss Trimble scratched her chin caressingly with the revolver,
and remained for a moment in thought. Then she turned to Jimmy
like a striking rattlesnake.

"Y' gotta pull someth'g better th'n that," she said. "I got y'r
number. Y're caught with th' goods."

"No!" cried Ann.

"Yes!" said Mrs. Pett. "The thing is obvious."

"I think the best thing I can do," said Gentleman Jack smoothly,
"is to go and telephone for the police."

"You think of everything, Lord Wisbeach," said Mrs. Pett.

"Not at all," said his lordship.

Jimmy watched him moving to the door. At the back of his mind
there was a dull feeling that he could solve the whole trouble if
only he could remember one fact which had escaped him. The
effects of the blow he had received still handicapped him. He
struggled to remember, but without result. Gentleman Jack reached
the door and opened it: and as he did so a shrill yapping,
hitherto inaudible because of the intervening oak and the raised
voices within, made itself heard from the passage outside.
Gentleman Jack closed the door with a hasty bang.

"I say that dog's out there!" he said plaintively.

The scratching of Aida's busy feet on the wood bore out his
words. He looked about him, baffled.

"That dog's out there!" he repeated gloomily.

Something seemed to give way in Jimmy's brain. The simple fact
which had eluded him till now sprang into his mind.

"Don't let that man get out!" he cried. "Good Lord! I've only
just remembered. You say you found me breaking into the safe!
You say you heard a noise and came down to investigate! Well,
then, what's that test-tube of the explosive doing in your
breast-pocket?" He swung round to Miss Trimble. "You needn't take
my word or his word. There's a much simpler way of finding out
who's the real crook. Search us both." He began to turn out his
pockets rapidly. "Look here--and here--and here! Now ask him to
do the same!"

He was pleased to observe a spasm pass across Gentleman Jack's
hitherto composed countenance. Miss Trimble was eyeing the latter
with sudden suspicion.

"Thasso!" she said. "Say, Bill, I've f'gott'n y'r name--'sup to
you to show us! Less've a look 't what y' got inside there."

Gentleman Jack drew himself up haughtily.

"I really could not agree to--"

Mrs. Pett interrupted indignantly.

"I never heard of such a thing! Lord Wisbeach is an old friend--"

"Less'f it!" ordered Miss Trimble, whose left eye was now like
the left eye of a basilisk. "Y' _gotta_ show us, Bill, so b'
quick 'bout 't!"

A tired smile played over Gentleman Jack's face. He was the bored
aristocrat, mutely protesting against something that "wasn't
done." He dipped his slender fingers into his pocket. Then,
drawing out the test-tube, and holding it up, he spoke with a
drawling calm for which even Jimmy could not help admiring him.

"All right! If I'm done, I'm done!"

The sensation caused by his action and his words was of the kind
usually described as profound. Mrs. Pett uttered a strangled
shriek. Willie Partridge yelped like a dog. Sharp exclamations
came simultaneously from each of the geniuses.

Gentleman Jack waited for the clamour to subside. Then he resumed
his gentle drawl.

"But I'm not done," he explained. "I'm going out now through that
window. And if anybody tries to stop me, it will be his--or
her--" he bowed politely to Miss Trimble--"last act in the world.
If any one makes a move to stop me, I shall drop this test-tube
and blow the whole damned place to pieces."

If his first speech had made a marked impression on his audience,
his second paralysed them. A silence followed as of the tomb.
Only the yapping of the dog Aida refused to be stilled.

"Y' stay where y' are!" said Miss Trimble, as the speaker moved
towards the window. She held the revolver poised, but for the
first time that night--possibly for the first time in her
life--she spoke irresolutely. Superbly competent woman though she
was, here was a situation that baffled her.

Gentleman Jack crossed the room slowly, the test-tube held aloft
between fore-finger and thumb. He was level with Miss Trimble,
who had lowered her revolver and had drawn to one side, plainly at
a loss to know how to handle this unprecedented crisis, when the
door flew open. For an instant the face of Howard Bemis, the
poet, was visible.

"Mrs. Pett, I have telephoned--"

Then another voice interrupted him.

"Yipe! Yipe! Yipe!"

Through the opening the dog Aida, rejoicing in the removal of the
obstacle, raced like a fur muff mysteriously endowed with legs
and a tongue. She tore across the room to where Gentleman Jack's
ankles waited invitingly. Ever since their first meeting she had
wanted a fair chance at those ankles, but some one had always
prevented her.

"Damn!" shouted Gentleman Jack.

The word was drowned in one vast cataclysm of noise. From every
throat in the room there proceeded a shout, a shriek, or some
other variety of cry, as the test-tube, slipping from between the
victim's fingers, described a parabola through the air.

Ann flung herself into Jimmy's arms, and he held her tight. He
shut his eyes. Even as he waited for the end the thought flashed
through his mind that, if he must die, this was the manner of
death which he would prefer.

The test-tube crashed on the writing-desk, and burst into a
million pieces. . . .

Jimmy opened his eyes. Things seemed to be much about the same as
before. He was still alive. The room in which he stood was solid
and intact. Nobody was in fragments. There was only one respect
in which the scene differed from what it had been a moment
before. Then, it had contained Gentleman Jack. Now it did not.

A great sigh seemed to sweep through the room. There was a long
silence. Then, from the direction of the street, came the roar of
a starting automobile. And at that sound the bearded man with the
spectacles who had formed part of Miss Trimble's procession
uttered a wailing cry.

"Gee! He's beat it in my bubble! And it was a hired one!"

The words seemed to relieve the tension in the air. One by one
the company became masters of themselves once more. Miss Trimble,
that masterly woman, was the first to recover. She raised herself
from the floor--for with a confused idea that she would be safer
there she had flung herself down--and, having dusted her skirt
with a few decisive dabs of her strong left hand, addressed
herself once more to business.

"I let 'm bluff me with a fake bomb!" she commented bitterly. She
brooded on this for a moment. "Say, shut th't door 'gain, some
one, and t'run this mutt out. I can't think with th't yapping
going on."

Mrs. Pett, pale and scared, gathered Aida into her arms. At the
same time Ann removed herself from Jimmy's. She did not look at
him. She was feeling oddly shy. Shyness had never been a failing
of hers, but she would have given much now to have been
elsewhere.

Miss Trimble again took charge of the situation. The sound of the
automobile had died away. Gentleman Jack had passed out of their
lives. This fact embittered Miss Trimble. She spoke with
asperity.

"Well, _he's_ gone!" she said acidly. "Now we can get down t' cases
again. Say!" She addressed Mrs. Pett, who started nervously. The
experience of passing through the shadow of the valley of death and
of finding herself in one piece instead of several thousand had
robbed her of all her wonted masterfulness. "Say, list'n t' me.
There's been a double game on here t'night. That guy that's jus'
gone was th' first part of th' entertainment. Now we c'n start th'
sec'nd part. You see these ducks?" She indicated with a wave of the
revolver Mr. Crocker and his bearded comrade. "They've been trying
t' kidnap y'r son!"

Mrs. Pett uttered a piercing cry.

"Oggie!"

"Oh, can it!" muttered that youth, uncomfortably. He foresaw
awkward moments ahead, and he wished to concentrate his faculties
entirely on the part he was to play in them. He looked sideways
at Chicago Ed. In a few minutes, he supposed, Ed. would be
attempting to minimise his own crimes, by pretending that he,
Ogden, had invited him to come and kidnap him. Stout denial must
be his weapon.

"I had m' suspicions," resumed Miss Trimble, "that someth'ng was
goin' t' be pulled off to-night, 'nd I was waiting outside f'r it
to break loose. This guy here," she indicated the bearded
plotter, who blinked deprecatingly through his spectacles, "h's
been waiting on the c'rner of th' street for the last hour with
'n automobile. I've b'n watching him right along. I was onto h's
game! Well, just now out came the kid with this plug-ugly here."
She turned to Mr. Crocker. "Say you! Take off th't mask. Let's
have a l'k at you!"

Mr. Crocker reluctantly drew the cambric from his face.

"Goosh!" exclaimed Miss Trimble in strong distaste. "Say, 've you
got some kind of a plague, or wh't is it? Y'look like a coloured
comic supplement!" She confronted the shrinking Mr. Crocker and
ran a bony finger over his cheek. "Make-up!" she said, eyeing the
stains disgustedly. "Grease paint! Goosh!"

"Skinner!" cried Mrs. Pett.

Miss Trimble scanned her victim more closely.

"So 't is, if y' do a bit 'f excavating." She turned on the
bearded one. "'nd I guess all this shrubbery is fake, 'f you come
down to it!" She wrenched at the unhappy man's beard. It came off
in her hands, leaving a square chin behind it. "If this ain't a
wig, y'll have a headache t'morrow," observed Miss Trimble,
weaving her fingers into his luxuriant head-covering and pulling.
"Wish y' luck! Ah! 'twas a wig. Gimme those spect'cles." She
surveyed the results of her handiwork grimly. "Say, Clarence,"
she remarked, "y're a wise guy. Y' look handsomer with 'em on.
Does any one know _this_ duck?"

"It is Mitchell," said Mrs. Pett. "My husband's physical
instructor."

Miss Trimble turned, and, walking to Jimmy, tapped him meaningly
on the chest with her revolver.

"Say, this is gett'n interesting! This is where y' 'xplain, y'ng
man, how 'twas you happened to be down in this room when th't
crook who's just gone was monkeyin' with the safe. L'ks t' me as
if you were in with these two."

A feeling of being on the verge of one of those crises which dot
the smooth path of our lives came to Jimmy. To conceal his
identity from Ann any longer seemed impossible. He was about to
speak, when Ann broke in.

"Aunt Nesta," she said, "I can't let this go on any longer. Jerry
Mitchell isn't to blame. I told him to kidnap Ogden!"

There was an awkward silence. Mrs. Pett laughed nervously.

"I think you had better go to bed, my dear child. You have had a
severe shock. You are not yourself."

"But it's true! I did tell him, didn't I, Jerry?"

"Say!" Miss Trimble silenced Jerry with a gesture. "You beat 't
back t' y'r little bed, honey, like y'r aunt says. Y' say y' told
this guy t' steal th' kid. Well, what about this here Skinner? Y'
didn't tell _him_, did y'?"

"I--I--" Ann began confusedly. She was utterly unable to account
for Skinner, and it made her task of explaining difficult.

Jimmy came to the rescue. He did not like to think how Ann would
receive the news, but for her own sake he must speak now. It
would have required a harder-hearted man than himself to resist
the mute pleading of his father's grease-painted face. Mr.
Crocker was a game sport: he would not have said a word without
the sign from Jimmy, even to save himself from a night in prison,
but he hoped that Jimmy would speak.

"It's perfectly simple," said Jimmy, with an attempt at airiness
which broke down miserably under Miss Trimble's eye. "Perfectly
simple. I really am Jimmy Crocker, you know." He avoided Ann's
gaze. "I can't think what you are making all this fuss about."

"Th'n why did y' sit in at a plot to kidnap this boy?"

"That, of course--ha, ha!--might seem at first sight to require a
little explanation."

"Y' admit it, then?"

"Yes. As a matter of fact, I did have the idea of kidnapping
Ogden. Wanted to send him to a dogs' hospital, if you understand
what I mean." He tried to smile a conciliatory smile, but,
encountering Miss Trimble's left eye, abandoned the project. He
removed a bead of perspiration from his forehead with his
handkerchief. It struck him as a very curious thing that the
simplest explanations were so often quite difficult to make.
"Before I go any further, I ought to explain one thing. Skinner
there is my father."

Mrs. Pett gasped.

"Skinner was my sister's butler in London."

"In a way of speaking," said Jimmy, "that is correct. It's rather
a long story. It was this way, you see. . . ."

Miss Trimble uttered an ejaculation of supreme contempt.

"I n'ver saw such a lot of babbl'ng crooks in m' life! 't beats
me what y' hope to get pulling this stuff. Say!" She indicated
Mr. Crocker. "This guy's wanted f'r something over in England.
We've got h's photographs 'n th' office. If y' ask me, he lit out
with the spoons 'r something. Say!" She fixed one of the geniuses
with her compelling eye. "'Bout time y' made y'rself useful. Go'n
call up th' Astorbilt on th' phone. There's a dame there that's
been making the enquiries f'r this duck. She told Anderson's--and
Anderson's handed it on to us--to call her up any hour of the day
'r night when they found him. You go get her on the wire and t'll
her t' come right up here'n a taxi and identify him."

The genius paused at the door.

"Whom shall I ask for?"

"Mrs. Crocker," snapped Miss Trimble. "Siz Bingley Crocker. Tell
her we've found th' guy she's been looking for!"

The genius backed out. There was a howl of anguish from the
doorway.

"I _beg_ your pardon!" said the genius.

"Can't you look where you're going!"

"I am exceedingly sorry--"

"Brrh!"

Mr. Pett entered the room, hopping. He was holding one slippered
foot in his hand and appeared to be submitting it to some form of
massage. It was plain that the usually mild and gentle little man
was in a bad temper. He glowered round him at the company
assembled.

"What the devil's the matter here?" he demanded. "I stood it as
long as I could, but a man can't get a wink of sleep with this
noise going on!"

"Yipe! Yipe! Yipe!" barked Aida from the shelter of Mrs. Pett's
arms.

Mr. Pett started violently.

"Kill that dog! Throw her out! Do _something_ to her!"

Mrs. Pett was staring blankly at her husband. She had never seen
him like this before. It was as if a rabbit had turned and
growled at her. Coming on top of the crowded sensations of the
night, it had the effect of making her feel curiously weak. In
all her married life she had never known what fear was. She had
coped dauntlessly with the late Mr. Ford, a man of a spirited
temperament; and as for the mild Mr. Pett she had trampled on
him. But now she felt afraid. This new Peter intimidated her.



CHAPTER XXIV

SENSATIONAL TURNING OF A WORM

To this remarkable metamorphosis in Mr. Peter Pett several causes
had contributed. In the first place, the sudden dismissal of
Jerry Mitchell had obliged him to go two days without the
physical exercises to which his system had become accustomed, and
this had produced a heavy, irritable condition of body and mind.
He had brooded on the injustice of his lot until he had almost
worked himself up to rebellion. And then, as sometimes happened
with him when he was out of sorts, a touch of gout came to add to
his troubles. Being a patient man by nature, he might have borne
up against these trials, had he been granted an adequate night's
rest. But, just as he had dropped off after tossing restlessly
for two hours, things had begun to happen noisily in the library.
He awoke to a vague realisation of tumult below.

Such was the morose condition of his mind as the result of his
misfortune that at first not even the cries for help could
interest him sufficiently to induce him to leave his bed. He knew
that walking in his present state would be painful, and he
declined to submit to any more pain just because some party
unknown was apparently being murdered in his library. It was not
until the shrill barking of the dog Aida penetrated right in
among his nerve-centres and began to tie them into knots that he
found himself compelled to descend. Even when he did so, it was
in no spirit of kindness. He did not come to rescue anybody or to
interfere between any murderer and his victim. He came in a fever
of militant wrath to suppress Aida. On the threshold of the
library, however, the genius, by treading on his gouty foot, had
diverted his anger and caused it to become more general. He had
not ceased to concentrate his venom on Aida. He wanted to assail
everybody.

"What's the matter here?" he demanded, red-eyed. "Isn't somebody
going to tell me? Have I got to stop here all night? Who on earth
is this?" He glared at Miss Trimble. "What's she doing with that
pistol?" He stamped incautiously with his bad foot, and emitted a
dry howl of anguish.

"She is a detective, Peter," said Mrs. Pett timidly.

"A detective? Why? Where did she come from?"

Miss Trimble took it upon herself to explain.

"Mister Pett, siz Pett sent f'r me t' watch out so's nobody
kidnapped her son."

"Oggie," explained Mrs. Pett. "Miss Trimble was guarding darling
Oggie."

"Why?"

"To--to prevent him being kidnapped, Peter."

Mr. Pett glowered at the stout boy. Then his eye was attracted by
the forlorn figure of Jerry Mitchell. He started.

"Was this fellow kidnapping the boy?" he asked.

"Sure," said Miss Trimble. "Caught h'm with th' goods. He w's
waiting outside there with a car. I held h'm and this other guy
up w'th a gun and brought 'em back!"

"Jerry," said Mr. Pett, "it wasn't your fault that you didn't
bring it off, and I'm going to treat you right. You'd have done
it if nobody had butted in to stop you. You'll get the money to
start that health-farm of yours all right. I'll see to that. Now
you run off to bed. There's nothing to keep you here."

"Say!" cried Miss Trimble, outraged. "D'ya mean t' say y' aren't
going t' pros'cute? Why, aren't I tell'ng y' I caught h'm
kidnapping th' boy?"

"I told him to kidnap the boy!" snarled Mr. Pett.

"Peter!"

Mr. Pett looked like an under-sized lion as he faced his wife. He
bristled. The recollection of all that he had suffered from Ogden
came to strengthen his determination.

"I've tried for two years to get you to send that boy to a good
boarding-school, and you wouldn't do it. I couldn't stand having
him loafing around the house any longer, so I told Jerry Mitchell
to take him away to a friend of his who keeps a dogs' hospital on
Long Island and to tell his friend to hold him there till he got
some sense into him. Well, you've spoiled that for the moment
with your detectives, but it still looks good to me. I'll give
you a choice. You can either send that boy to a boarding-school
next week, or he goes to Jerry Mitchell's friend. I'm not going
to have him in the house any longer, loafing in my chair and
smoking my cigarettes. Which is it to be?"

"But, Peter!"

"Well?"

"If I send him to a school, he may be kidnapped."

"Kidnapping can't hurt him. It's what he needs. And, anyway, if
he is I'll pay the bill and be glad to do it. Take him off to bed
now. To-morrow you can start looking up schools. Great Godfrey!"
He hopped to the writing-desk and glared disgustedly at the
_debris_ on it. "Who's been making this mess on my desk? It's hard!
It's darned hard! The only room in the house that I ask to have
for my own, where I can get a little peace, and I find it turned
into a beer-garden, and coffee or some damned thing spilled all
over my writing-desk!"

"That isn't coffee, Peter," said Mrs. Pett mildly. This cave-man
whom she had married under the impression that he was a gentle
domestic pet had taken all the spirit out of her. "It's Willie's
explosive."

"Willie's explosive?"

"Lord Wisbeach--I mean the man who pretended to be Lord
Wisbeach--dropped it there."

"Dropped it there? Well, why didn't it explode and blow the place
to Hoboken, then?"

Mrs. Pett looked helplessly at Willie, who thrust his fingers
into his mop of hair and rolled his eyes.

"There was fortunately some slight miscalculation in my formula,
uncle Peter," he said. "I shall have to look into it to-morrow.
Whether the trinitrotoluol--"

Mr. Pett uttered a sharp howl. He beat the air with his clenched
fists. He seemed to be having a brain-storm.

"Has this--this _fish_ been living on me all this time--have I been
supporting this--this _buzzard_ in luxury all these years while he
fooled about with an explosive that won't explode! He pointed an
accusing finger at the inventor. Look into it tomorrow, will you?
Yes, you can look into it to-morrow after six o'clock! Until then
you'll be working--for the first time in your life--working in my
office, where you ought to have been all along." He surveyed the
crowded room belligerently. "Now perhaps you will all go back to
bed and let people get a little sleep. Go home!" he said to the
detective.

Miss Trimble stood her ground. She watched Mrs. Pett pass away
with Ogden, and Willie Partridge head a stampede of geniuses, but
she declined to move.

"Y' gotta cut th' rough stuff, 'ster Pett," she said calmly. "I
need my sleep, j'st 's much 's everyb'dy else, but I gotta stay
here. There's a lady c'ming right up in a taxi fr'm th' Astorbilt
to identify this gook. She's after'm f'r something."

"What! Skinner?"

"'s what he calls h'mself."

"What's he done?"

"I d'no. Th' lady'll tell us that."

There was a violent ringing at the front door bell.

"I guess that's her," said Miss Trimble. "Who's going to let 'r
in? I can't go."

"I will," said Ann.

Mr. Pett regarded Mr. Crocker with affectionate encouragement.

"I don't know what you've done, Skinner," he said, "but I'll
stand by you. You're the best fan I ever met, and if I can keep
you out of the penitentiary, I will."

"It isn't the penitentiary!" said Mr. Crocker unhappily.

A tall, handsome, and determined-looking woman came into the
room. She stood in the doorway, looking about her. Then her eyes
rested on Mr. Crocker. For a moment she gazed incredulously at
his discoloured face. She drew a little nearer, peering.

"D'yo 'dentify 'm, ma'am?" said Miss Trimble.

"Bingley!"

"Is 't th' guy y' wanted?"

"It's my husband!" said Mrs. Crocker.

"Y' can't arrest 'm f'r _that!_" said Miss Trimble disgustedly.

She thrust her revolver back into the hinterland of her costume.

"Guess I'll be beatin' it," she said with a sombre frown. She was
plainly in no sunny mood. "'f all th' hunk jobs I was ever on,
this is th' hunkest. I'm told off 't watch a gang of crooks, and
after I've lost a night's sleep doing it, it turns out 't's a
nice, jolly fam'ly party!" She jerked her thumb towards Jimmy.
"Say, this guy says he's that guy's son. I s'pose it's all
right?"

"That is my step-son, James Crocker."

Ann uttered a little cry, but it was lost in Miss Trimble's
stupendous snort. The detective turned to the window.

"I guess I'll beat 't," she observed caustically, "before it
turns out that I'm y'r l'il daughter Genevieve."



CHAPTER XXV

NEARLY EVERYBODY HAPPY

Mrs. Crocker turned to her husband.

"Well, Bingley?" she said, a steely tinkle in her voice.

"Well, Eugenia?" said Mr. Crocker.

A strange light was shining in Mr. Crocker's mild eyes. He had
seen a miracle happen that night. He had seen an even more
formidable woman than his wife dominated by an even meeker man
than himself, and he had been amazed and impressed by the
spectacle. It had never even started to occur to him before, but
apparently it could be done. A little resolution, a little
determination . . . nothing more was needed. He looked at Mr.
Pett. And yet Mr. Pett had crumpled up Eugenia's sister with
about three firm speeches. It could be done. . . .

"What have you to say, Bingley?"

Mr. Crocker drew himself up.

"Just this!" he said. "I'm an American citizen, and the way I've
figured it out is that my place is in America. It's no good
talking about it, Eugenia. I'm sorry if it upsets your plans, but
I--am--not--going--back--to--London!" He eyed his speechless wife
unflatteringly. "I'm going to stick on here and see the pennant
race out. And after that I'm going to take in the World's
Series."

Mrs. Crocker opened her mouth to speak, closed it, re-opened it.
Then she found that she had nothing to say.

"I hope you'll be sensible, Eugenia, and stay on this side, and
we can all be happy. I'm sorry to have to take this stand, but
you tried me too high. You're a woman, and you don't know what it
is to go five years without seeing a ball game; but take it from
me it's more than any real fan can stand. It nearly killed me,
and I'm not going to risk it again. If Mr. Pett will keep me on
as his butler, I'll stay here in this house. If he won't, I'll
get another job somewhere. But, whatever happens, I stick to this
side!"

Mr. Pett uttered a whoop of approval.

"There's always been a place for you in my house, old man!" he
cried. "When I get a butler who--"

"But, Bingley! How can you be a butler?"

"You ought to watch him!" said Mr. Pett enthusiastically. "He's a
wonder! He can pull all the starchy stuff as if he'd lived with
the Duke of Whoosis for the last forty years, and then go right
off and fling a pop-bottle at an umpire! He's all right!"

The eulogy was wasted on Mrs. Crocker. She burst into tears. It
was a new experience for her husband, and he watched her
awkwardly, his resolute demeanour crumbling under this unexpected
assault.

"Eugenia!"

Mrs. Crocker wiped her eyes.

"I can't stand it!" she sobbed. "I've worked and worked all these
years, and now, just as success has nearly come--Bingley, _do_
come back! It will only be for a little longer."

Mr. Crocker stared.

"A little longer? Why, that Lord Percy Whipple business--I know
you must have had excellent reasons for soaking him, Jimmy, but
it did put the lid on it--surely, after that Lord Percy affair
there's no chance--?"

"There is! There is! It has made no difference at all! Lord Percy
came to call next day with a black eye, poor boy!--and said that
James was a sportsman and that he wanted to know him better! He
said he had never felt so drawn towards any one in his life and
he wanted him to show him how he made some blow which he called a
right hook. The whole affair has simply endeared James to him,
and Lady Corstorphine says that the Duke of Devizes read the
account of the fight to the Premier that very evening and they
both laughed till they nearly got apoplexy."

Jimmy was deeply touched. He had not suspected such a sporting
spirit in his antagonist.

"Percy's all right." he said enthusiastically. "Dad, you ought to
go back. It's only fair."

"But, Jimmy! Surely _you_ can understand? There's only a game
separating the Giants and the Phillies, with the Braves coming
along just behind. And the season only half over!"

Mrs. Crocker looked imploringly at him.

"It will only be for a little while, Bingley. Lady Corstorphine,
who has means of knowing, says that your name is certain to be in
the next Honours List. After that you can come back as often as
you like. We could spend the summer here and the winter in
England, or whatever you pleased."

Mr. Crocker capitulated.

"All right, Eugenia. I'll come."

"Bingley! We shall have to go back by the next boat, dear. People
are beginning to wonder where you are. I've told them that you
are taking a rest in the country. But they will suspect something
if you don't come back at once."

Mr. Crocker's face wore a drawn look. He had never felt so
attached to his wife as now, when she wept these unexpected tears
and begged favours of him with that unfamiliar catch in her
voice. On the other hand . . . A vision rose before him of the
Polo Grounds on a warm afternoon. . . . He crushed it down.

"Very well," he said.

Mr. Pett offered a word of consolation.

"Maybe you'll be able to run over for the World's Series?"

Mr. Crocker's face cleared.

"That's true."

"And I'll cable you the scores every day, dad," said Jimmy.

Mrs. Crocker looked at him with a touch of disapproval clouding
the happiness of her face.

"Are you staying over here, James? There is no reason why you
should not come back, too. If you make up your mind to change
your habits--"

"I have made up my mind to change them. But I'm going to do it in
New York. Mr. Pett is going to give me a job in his office. I am
going to start at the bottom and work my way still further down."

Mr. Pett yapped with rapture. He was experiencing something of
the emotion of the preacher at the camp-meeting who sees the
Sinners' Bench filling up. To have secured Willie Partridge, whom
he intended to lead gradually into the realms of high finance by
way of envelope-addressing, was much. But that Jimmy, with a
choice in the matter, should have chosen the office filled him
with such content that he only just stopped himself from dancing
on his bad foot.

"Don't worry about me, dad. I shall do wonders. It's quite easy
to make a large fortune. I watched uncle Pete in his office this
morning, and all he does is sit at a mahogany table and tell the
office-boy to tell callers that he has gone away for the day. I
think I ought to rise to great heights in that branch of
industry. From the little I have seen of it, it seems to have
been made for me!"



CHAPTER XXVI

EVERYBODY HAPPY

Jimmy looked at Ann. They were alone. Mr. Pett had gone back to
bed, Mrs. Crocker to her hotel. Mr. Crocker was removing his
make-up in his room. A silence had followed their departure.

"This is the end of a perfect day!" said Jimmy.

Ann took a step towards the door.

"Don't go!"

Ann stopped.

"Mr. Crocker!" she said.

"Jimmy," he corrected.

"Mr. Crocker!" repeated Ann firmly.

"Or Algernon, if you prefer it."

"May I ask--" Ann regarded him steadily. "May I ask."

"Nearly always," said Jimmy, "when people begin with that, they
are going to say something unpleasant."

"May I ask why you went to all this trouble to make a fool of me?
Why could you not have told me who you were from the start?"

"Have you forgotten all the harsh things you said to me from time
to time about Jimmy Crocker? I thought that, if you knew who I
was, you would have nothing more to do with me."

"You were quite right."

"Surely, though, you won't let a thing that happened five years
ago make so much difference?"

"I shall never forgive you!"

"And yet, a little while ago, when Willie's bomb was about to go
off, you flung yourself into my arms!"

Ann's face flamed.

"I lost my balance."

"Why try to recover it?"

Ann bit her lip.

"You did a cruel, heartless thing. What does it matter how long
ago it was? If you were capable of it then--"

"Be reasonable. Don't you admit the possibility of reformation?
Take your own case. Five years ago you were a minor poetess. Now
you are an amateur kidnapper--a bright, lovable girl at whose
approach people lock up their children and sit on the key. As for
me, five years ago I was a heartless brute. Now I am a sober
serious business-man, specially called in by your uncle to help
jack up his tottering firm. Why not bury the dead past?
Besides--I don't want to praise myself, I just want to call your
attention to it--think what I have done for you. You admitted
yourself that it was my influence that had revolutionised your
character. But for me, you would now be doing worse than write
poetry. You would be writing _vers libre_. I saved you from that.
And you spurn me!"

"I hate you!" said Ann.

Jimmy went to the writing-desk and took up a small book.

"Put that down!"

"I just wanted to read you 'Love's Funeral!' It illustrates my
point. Think of yourself as you are now, and remember that it is
I who am responsible for the improvement. Here we are. 'Love's
Funeral.' 'My heart is dead. . . .' "

Ann snatched the book from his hands and flung it away. It soared
up, clearing the gallery rails, and fell with a thud on the
gallery floor. She stood facing him with sparkling eyes. Then she
moved away.

"I beg your pardon," she said stiffly. "I lost my temper."

"It's your hair," said Jimmy soothingly. "You're bound to be
quick-tempered with hair of that glorious red shade. You must
marry some nice, determined fellow, blue-eyed, dark-haired,
clean-shaven, about five foot eleven, with a future in business.
He will keep you in order."

"Mr. Crocker!"

"Gently, of course. Kindly-lovingly. The velvet thingummy rather
than the iron what's-its-name. But nevertheless firmly."

Ann was at the door.

"To a girl with your ardent nature some one with whom you can
quarrel is an absolute necessity of life. You and I are
affinities. Ours will be an ideally happy marriage. You would be
miserable if you had to go through life with a human doormat with
'Welcome' written on him. You want some one made of sterner
stuff. You want, as it were, a sparring-partner, some one with
whom you can quarrel happily with the certain knowledge that he
will not curl up in a ball for you to kick, but will be there
with the return wallop. I may have my faults--" He paused
expectantly. Ann remained silent. "No, no!" he went on. "But I am
such a man. Brisk give-and-take is the foundation of the happy
marriage. Do you remember that beautiful line of Tennyson's--'We
fell out, my wife and I'? It always conjures up for me a vision
of wonderful domestic happiness. I seem to see us in our old age,
you on one side of the radiator, I on the other, warming our old
limbs and thinking up snappy stuff to hand to each
other--sweethearts still! If I were to go out of your life now,
you would be miserable. You would have nobody to quarrel with.
You would be in the position of the female jaguar of the Indian
jungle, who, as you doubtless know, expresses her affection for
her mate by biting him shrewdly in the fleshy part of the leg, if
she should snap sideways one day and find nothing there."

Of all the things which Ann had been trying to say during this
discourse, only one succeeded in finding expression. To her
mortification, it was the only weak one in the collection.

"Are you asking me to marry you?"

"I am."

"I won't!"

"You think so now, because I am not appearing at my best. You see
me nervous, diffident, tongue-tied. All this will wear off,
however, and you will be surprised and delighted as you begin to
understand my true self. Beneath the surface--I speak
conservatively--I am a corker!"

The door banged behind Ann. Jimmy found himself alone. He walked
thoughtfully to Mr. Pett's armchair and sat down. There was a
feeling of desolation upon him. He lit a cigarette and began to
smoke pensively. What a fool he had been to talk like that! What
girl of spirit could possibly stand it? If ever there had been a
time for being soothing and serious and pleading, it had been
these last few minutes. And he talked like that!

Ten minutes passed. Jimmy sprang from his chair. He thought he
had heard a footstep. He flung the door open. The passage was
empty. He returned miserably to his chair. Of course she had not
come back. Why should she?

A voice spoke.

"Jimmy!"

He leaped up again, and looked wildly round. Then he looked up.
Ann was leaning over the gallery rail.

"Jimmy, I've been thinking it over. There's something I want to
ask you. Do you admit that you behaved abominably five years
ago?"

"Yes!" shouted Jimmy.

"And that you've been behaving just as badly ever since?"

"Yes!"

"And that you are really a pretty awful sort of person?"

"Yes!"

"Then it's all right. You deserve it!"

"Deserve it?"

"Deserve to marry a girl like me. I was worried about it, but now
I see that it's the only punishment bad enough for you!" She
raised her arm.

"Here's the dead past, Jimmy! Go and bury it! Good-night!"

A small book fell squashily at Jimmy's feet. He regarded it dully
for a moment. Then, with a wild yell which penetrated even to Mr.
Pett's bedroom and woke that sufferer just as he was dropping off
to sleep for the third time that night he bounded for the gallery
stairs.

At the further end of the gallery a musical laugh sounded, and a
door closed. Ann had gone.



--------------------------------

Transcriber's Notes for edition 11:

I am greatly indebted to the Wodehouse readers from the BLANDINGS
e-mail group who did such detailed research on this text, not only
on simple typos but on the differences between the 1916 Saturday
Evening Post serialization and the US and UK early printings.

I have made use, in this new PG edition, of the 1918 UK first edition
references provided by these helpful savants, to correct misprints or
other publisher's errors in the US edition, but I have otherwise
followed the US edition.

The punctuation is somewhat different from the UK versions, notably in
its use of colons. The words "Uncle" and "Aunt", where used with a name
("Uncle Peter", "Aunt Nesta"), were capitalized in the original
serialized and UK editions, but lower-cased in the US edition, so I have
retained the lower-case.

I have also restored some _italics_ omitted in the previous PG edition.

I note below some significant differences between the early printings:

Chapter II:
 ""Well played, sir!" when they meant "'at-a-boy!""
  "mean" is in the US edition; other editions have "meant".

Chapter VI:
 "Regent's bill-of-fare" has been corrected from "Regent's bill-of-fair"
  in the US edition.
 "pull some boner" has been corrected from "pull some bone"
  in the US edition.

Chapter VIII:
 "Before his stony eye the immaculate Bartling wilted.
 It was a perfectly astounding likeness, but it was
 apparent to him when what he had ever heard and read
 about doubles came to him."

This is a somewhat clumsy construction, and quite un-Wodehousian.
The original passage in the serialization read:

 "Before his stony eye the immaculate Bartling wilted. All that
 he had ever heard and read about doubles came to him."

--------------------------------





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