The Saturday Evening Post – November 11, 1916
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.
“Whassal this? Howjer mean—help him?”
“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 recognize this young man 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. 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 that 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 ——”
“Nev’ mind how ’bsurd ’t sounds,” returned the fair Trimble rebukingly. “You close y’r face ’n’ lissen t’ me. Thassal 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 blow pipe 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 bang.
“I say, that dog’s out there!” he said plaintively.
The scratching of Aïda’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 that had eluded him till now sprang into his mind. “Don’t let that man get out!” he cried. “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 eying 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 some thing 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 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 clamor 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 anyone makes a move to stop me I shall drop this test tube and blow the whole place to pieces!”
If his first speech had made a marked impression on his audience his second paralyzed them. A silence followed as of the tomb. Only the yapping of the dog Aïda refused to be stilled.
“Y’ stay where y’ are!” said Miss Trimble, as the speaker moved toward 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 forefinger 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 Aïda, 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 someone 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 that 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’ door ’gain, someone, and t’run this mutt out. I can’t think with th’t yapping going on.”
Mrs. Pett, pale and scared, gathered Aïda into her arms. At the same time Ann removed herself from Jimmy’s. She did not look at him. She was feeling oddly shy. 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 comrade. “They’ve been trying t’ kidnap y’r son!”
Mrs. Pett uttered a piercing cry.
“Oh, can it!” muttered that youth uncomfortably. He foresaw awkward moments ahead, and he wished to concentrate his faculties entirely on the part he was to play in them. He looked sideways at Chicago Ed. In a few minutes, he supposed, Ed would be attempting to minimize 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 t’-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.
“Gosh!” exclaimed Miss Trimble in strong distaste. “Say, ’ve you got some kind of a plague, or wh’t is it? Y’ look like a colored comic supplement!” She confronted the shrinking Mr. Crocker and ran a bony finger over his cheek. “Make-up!” she said, eying the stains disgustedly. “Greasepaint! Gosh!”
“Skinner!” cried Mrs. Pett.
Miss Trimble scanned her victim more closely.
“So ’tis, 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 Jerry’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 anyone 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’ int’resting! 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 cahoots with these other two crooks.”
A feeling of being on the verge of one of those crises that 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 that 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 kidnaping Ogden. Wanted to send him to a dog’s 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 inquiries f’r this duck. She told Anderson’s—and Anderson’s handed it on to us—to call her up any hour ’f 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 h’m!”
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 ——”
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 Aïda 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.
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 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 realization 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 Aïda penetrated his nerve centers 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 Aïda. On the threshold of the library, however, the genius, by treading on his gouty foot, had diverted his anger. He had ceased to concentrate his venom on Aïda. 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. “ ’Ster Pett, siz Pett sent f’r me t’ watch out so’s nobody kidnaped her son.”
“Oggie,” explained Mrs. Pett. “Miss Trimble was guarding darling Oggie.”
“To—to prevent him being kidnaped, 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 kidnaping the boy?” he asked.
“Sure,” said Miss Trimble. “Caught h’m with th’ goods. He w’s waiting out side 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’y’ mean t’ say y’ aren’t going t’ pros’cute? Why, aren’t I tell’ng y’ I caught h’m kidnaping the boy?”
“I told him to kidnap the boy!” snarled Mr. Pett.
Mr. Pett looked like an undersized 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 round the house any longer, so I told Jerry Mitchell to take him away to a friend of his who keeps a dog’s hospital on Long Island, and to tell his friend to hold Ogden 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?”
“If I send him to a school he may be kidnaped.”
“Kidnaping 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 débris 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 bear garden, and coffee or some messy 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!”
“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 to-morrow, 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.”
“ ’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 h’r in? I can’t go.”
“I will,” said Ann.
Mr. Pett regarded Mr. Crocker affectionately.
“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 discolored face. She drew a little nearer, peering.
“D’y’ ’dentify ’m, ma’am?” said Miss Trimble.
“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 somber frown. She was plainly in no sunny mood. “ ’F all th’ bunk jobs I was ever on, this is th’ bunkest. I’m told off t’ watch a gang of crooks, and after I’ve lost a night’s sleep doing it, it turns out it’s a nice jolly fam’ly party!” She jerked her thumb toward Jimmy. “Say, this guy says he’s that guy’s son. I s’pose it’s all right?”
“That is my stepson, 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 it,” she observed caustically, “before it turns out that I’m y’r l’il daughter Genevieve.”
MRS. CROCKER turned to her husband.
“Well, Bingley?” she said, sternly.
“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. Mr. Pett had crumpled up Eugenia’s sister with about three firm speeches.
“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, reopened 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 demeanor crumbling under this unexpected assault.
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 toward anyone 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 honors’ 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 favors 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.
“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 farther 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!”
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 toward the door.
“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 kidnaper—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 revolutionized 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.”
“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 someone 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 someone made of sterner stuff. You want, as it were, a sparring partner, someone 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 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 that 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?”
“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.
He leaped up again and looked wildly round. Then he looked up. Ann was leaning over the gallery rail. She was smiling.
“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?”
“And that you are really a pretty awful sort of person?”
“Then it’s all right. You 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 that 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, Jimmy bounded for the gallery stairs. At the farther end of the gallery a musical laugh sounded, and a door closed. Ann had gone.
Note: Thanks to Neil Midkiff for providing the transcription and images for this story.