THE VOICE FROM 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
He threw it down disgustedly. It was poetry. This man Pett
appeared to have a perfect obsession for poetry. One would never
have suspected it, to look at him. Jimmy had just resigned
himself, after another glance at the shelf, to a bookless vigil,
when his eye was caught by a name on the cover of the last in the
row so unexpected that he had to look again to verify the
He had been perfectly right. There it was, in gold letters.
THE LONELY HEART
He extracted the volume from the shelf in a sort of stupor. Even
now he was inclined to give his goddess of the red hair the
benefit of the doubt, and assume that some one else of the same
name had written it. For it was a defect in Jimmy's
character--one of his many defects--that he loathed and scorned
minor poetry and considered minor poets, especially when
feminine, an unnecessary affliction. He declined to believe that
Ann, his Ann, a girl full of the finest traits of character, the
girl who had been capable of encouraging a comparative stranger
to break the law by impersonating her cousin Jimmy Crocker, could
also be capable of writing The Lonely Heart and other poems. He
skimmed through the first one he came across, and shuddered. It
was pure slush. It was the sort of stuff they filled up pages
with in the magazines when the detective story did not run long
enough. It was the sort of stuff which long-haired blighters read
alone to other long-haired blighters in English suburban
drawing-rooms. It was the sort of stuff which--to be brief--gave
him the Willies. No, it could not be Ann who had written it.
The next moment the horrid truth was thrust upon him. There was
an inscription on the title page.
"To my dearest uncle Peter, with love from the author, Ann
The room seemed to reel before Jimmy's eyes. He felt as if a
friend had wounded him in his tenderest feelings. He felt as if
some loved one had smitten him over the back of the head with a
sandbag. For one moment, in which time stood still, his devotion
to Ann wobbled. It was as if he had found her out in some
terrible crime that revealed unsuspected flaws in her hitherto
Then his eye fell upon the date on the title page, and a strong
spasm of relief shook him. The clouds rolled away, and he loved
her still. This frightful volume had been published five years
A wave of pity swept over Jimmy. He did not blame her now. She
had been a mere child five years ago, scarcely old enough to
distinguish right from wrong. You couldn't blame her for writing
sentimental verse at that age. Why, at a similar stage in his own
career he had wanted to be a vaudeville singer. Everything must
be excused to Youth. It was with a tender glow of affectionate
forgiveness that he turned the pages.
As he did so a curious thing happened to him. He began to have
that feeling, which every one has experienced at some time or
other, that he had done this very thing before. He was almost
convinced that this was not the first time he had seen that poem
on page twenty-seven entitled "A Lament." Why, some of the lines
seemed extraordinarily familiar. The people who understood these
things explained this phenomenon, he believed, by some stuff
about the cells of the brain working simultaneously or something.
Something about cells, anyway. He supposed that that must be it.
But that was not it. The feeling that he had read all this before
grew instead of vanishing, as is generally the way on these
occasions. He _had_ read this stuff before. He was certain of it.
But when? And where? And above all why? Surely he had not done it
It was the total impossibility of his having done it from choice
that led his memory in the right direction. There had only been a
year or so in his life when he had been obliged to read things
which he would not have read of his own free will, and that had
been when he worked on the _Chronicle_. Could it have been that
they had given him this book of poems to review? Or--?
And then memory, in its usual eccentric way, having taken all
this time to make the first part of the journey, finished the
rest of it with one lightning swoop, and he knew.
And with the illumination came dismay. Worse than dismay. Horror.
"Gosh!" said Jimmy.
He knew now why he had thought on the occasion of their first
meeting in London that he had seen hair like Ann's before. The
mists rolled away and he saw everything clear and stark. He knew
what had happened at that meeting five years before, to which she
had so mysteriously alluded. He knew what she had meant that
evening on the boat, when she had charged one Jimmy Crocker with
having cured her of sentiment. A cold sweat sprang into being
about his temples. He could remember that interview now, as
clearly as if it had happened five minutes ago instead of five
years. He could recall the article for the _Sunday Chronicle_ which
he had written from the interview, and the ghoulish gusto with
which he had written it. He had had a boy's undisciplined sense
of humour in those days, the sense of humour which riots like a
young colt, careless of what it bruises and crushes. He shuddered
at the recollection of the things he had hammered out so
gleefully on his typewriter down at the _Chronicle_ office. He
found himself recoiling in disgust from the man he had been, the
man who could have done a wanton thing like that without
compunction or ruth. He had read extracts from the article to an
appreciative colleague. . . .
A great sympathy for Ann welled up in him. No wonder she hated
the memory of Jimmy Crocker.
It is probable that remorse would have tortured him even further,
had he not chanced to turn absently to page forty-six and read a
poem entitled "Love's Funeral." It was not a long poem, and he
had finished it inside of two minutes; but by that time a change
had come upon his mood of self-loathing. He no longer felt like a
particularly mean murderer. "Love's Funeral" was like a tonic.
It braced and invigourated him. It was so unspeakably absurd, so
poor in every respect. All things, he now perceived, had worked
together for good. Ann had admitted on the boat that it was his
satire that had crushed out of her the fondness for this sort of
thing. If that was so, then the part he had played in her life
had been that of a rescuer. He thought of her as she was now and
as she must have been then to have written stuff like this, and
he rejoiced at what he had done. In a manner of speaking the Ann
of to-day, the glorious creature who went about the place
kidnapping Ogdens, was his handiwork. It was he who had destroyed
the minor poetry virus in her.
The refrain of an old song came to him.
"You made me what I am to-day!
I hope you're satisfied!"
He was more than satisfied. He was proud of himself.
He rejoiced, however, after the first flush of enthusiasm,
somewhat moderately. There was no disguising the penalty of his
deed of kindness. To Ann Jimmy Crocker was no rescuer, but a sort
of blend of ogre and vampire. She must never learn his real
identity--or not until he had succeeded by assiduous toil, as he
hoped he would, in neutralising that prejudice of the distant
A footstep outside broke in on his thoughts. He thrust the book
quickly back into its place. Ann came in, and shut the door
"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?"
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
Ann looked troubled.
"But it's such a risk. Something terrible might happen to you.
Isn't impersonation a criminal offence?"
"What does it matter? They tell me prisons are excellent places
nowadays. Concerts, picnics--all that sort of thing. I shan't
mind going there. I have a nice singing-voice. I think I will try
to make the glee-club."
"I suppose we are breaking the law," said Ann seriously. "I told
Jerry that nothing could happen to us except the loss of his
place to him and being sent to my grandmother to me, but I'm
bound to say I said that just to encourage him. Don't you think
we ought to know what the penalty is, in case we are caught?"
"It would enable us to make our plans. If it's a life sentence, I
shouldn't worry about selecting my future career."
"You see," explained Ann, "I suppose they would hardly send me to
prison, as I'm a relation--though I would far rather go there
than to grandmother's. She lives all alone miles away in the
country, and is strong on discipline--but they might do all sorts
of things to you, in spite of my pleadings. I really think you
had better give up the idea, I'm afraid my enthusiasm carried me
away. I didn't think of all this before."
"Never. This thing goes through, or fails over my dead body. What
are you looking for?"
Ann was deep in a bulky volume which stood on a lectern by the
"Catalogue," she said briefly, turning the pages. "Uncle Peter
has heaps of law books. I'll look up kidnapping. Here we are. Law
Encyclopedia. Shelf X. Oh, that's upstairs. I shan't be a
She ran to the little staircase, and disappeared. Her voice came
from the gallery.
"Here we are. I've got it."
"Shoot," said Jimmy.
"There's such a lot of it," called the voice from above. "Pages
and pages. I'm just skimming. Wait a moment."
A rustling followed from the gallery, then a sneeze.
"This is the dustiest place I was ever in," said the voice. "It's
inches deep everywhere. It's full of cigarette ends, too. I must
tell uncle. Oh, here it is. Kidnapping--penalties--"
"Hush" called Jimmy. "There's some one coming."
The door opened.
"Hello," said Ogden, strolling in. "I was looking for you. Didn't
think you would be here."
"Come right in, my little man, and make yourself at home," said
Ogden eyed him with disfavour.
"You're pretty fresh, aren't you?"
"This is praise from Sir Hubert Stanley."
"Eh? Who's he?"
"Oh, a gentleman who knew what was what."
Ogden closed the door.
"Well, I know what's what, too. I know what you are for one
thing." He chuckled. "I've got your number all right."
"In what respect?"
Another chuckle proceeded from the bulbous boy.
"You think you're smooth, don't you? But I'm onto you, Jimmy
Crocker. A lot of Jimmy Crocker you are. You're a crook. Get me?
And I know what you're after, at that. You're going to try to
From the corner of his eye Jimmy was aware of Ann's startled
face, looking over the gallery rail and withdrawn hastily. No
sound came from the heights, but he knew that she was listening
"What makes you think that?"
Ogden lowered himself into the depths of his favourite easy
chair, and, putting his feet restfully on the writing-desk, met
Jimmy's gaze with a glassy but knowing eye.
"Got a cigarette?" he said.
"I have not," said Jimmy. "I'm sorry."
"So am I."
"Returning, with your permission, to our original subject," said
Jimmy, "what makes you think that I have come here to kidnap
"I was in the drawing-room after lunch, and that guy Lord
Wisbeach came in and said he wanted to talk to mother privately.
Mother sent me out of the room, so of course I listened at the
"Do you know where little boys go who listen to private
conversations?" said Jimmy severely.
"To the witness-stand generally, I guess. Well, I listened, and I
heard this Lord Wisbeach tell mother that he had only pretended
to recognise you as Jimmy Crocker and that really he had never
seen you before in his life. He said you were a crook and that
they had got to watch you. Well, I knew then why you had come
here. It was pretty smooth, getting in the way you did. I've got
to hand it to you."
Jimmy did not reply. His mind was occupied with the contemplation
of this dashing counter-stroke on the part of Gentleman Jack. He
could hardly refrain from admiring the simple strategy with which
the latter had circumvented him. There was an artistry about the
move which compelled respect.
"Well, now, see here," said Ogden, "you and I have got to get
together on this proposition. I've been kidnapped twice before,
and the only guys that made anything out of it were the
kidnappers. It's pretty soft for them. They couldn't have got a
cent without me, and they never dreamed of giving me a rake-off.
I'm getting good and tired of being kidnapped for other people's
benefit, and I've made up my mind that the next guy that wants me
has got to come across. See? My proposition is fifty-fifty. If
you like it, I'm game to let you go ahead. If you don't like it,
then the deal's off, and you'll find that you've a darned poor
chance of getting me. When I was kidnapped before, I was just a
kid, but I can look after myself now. Well, what do you say?"
Jimmy found it hard at first to say anything. He had never
properly understood the possibilities of Ogden's character
before. The longer he contemplated him, the more admirable Ann's
scheme appeared. It seemed to him that only a resolute keeper of
a home for dogs would be adequately equipped for dealing with
this remarkable youth.
"This is a commercial age," he said.
"You bet it is," said Ogden. "My middle name is business. Say,
are you working this on your own, or are you in with Buck
Maginnis and his crowd?"
"I don't think I know Mr. Maginnis."
"He's the guy who kidnapped me the first time. He's a rough-neck.
Smooth Sam Fisher got away with me the second time. Maybe you're
in with Sam?"
"No, I guess not. I heard that he had married and retired from
business. I rather wish you were one of Buck's lot. I like Buck.
When he kidnapped me, I lived with him and he gave me a swell
time. When I left him, a woman came and interviewed me about it
for one of the Sunday papers. Sob stuff. Called the piece 'Even
Kidnappers Have Tender Hearts Beneath A Rough Exterior.' I've got
it upstairs in my press-clipping album. It was pretty bad slush.
Buck Maginnis hasn't got any tender heart beneath his rough
exterior, but he's a good sort and I liked him. We used to shoot
craps. And he taught me to chew. I'd be tickled to death to have
Buck get me again. But, if you're working on your own, all right.
It's all the same to me, provided you meet me on the terms."
"You certainly are a fascinating child."
"Less of it, less of it. I've troubles enough to bear without
having you getting fresh. Well, what about it? Talk figures. If I
let you take me away, do we divvy up or don't we? That's all
you've got to say."
"That's easily settled. I'll certainly give you half of whatever
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."
"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!"
"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!"
"You must break your promise."
"I can't do that."
"I can't. One must play the game."
Jimmy groped for words. "But in this case you mustn't--it's
awful--in this special case--" He broke off. He saw the trap he
was in. He could not denounce that crook without exposing
himself. And from that he still shrank. Ann's prejudice against
Jimmy Crocker might have its root in a trivial and absurd
grievance, but it had been growing through the years, and who
could say how strong it was now?
Ann came a step 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.
She moved away. The door closed softly behind her. Jimmy scarcely
knew that she had gone. He sat down in that deep chair which was
Mr. Pett's favourite, and stared sightlessly at the ceiling. And
then, how many minutes or hours later he did not know, the sharp
click of the door-handle roused him. He sprang from the chair.
Was it Ann, come back?
It was not Ann. Round the edge of the door came inquiringly the
fair head of Lord Wisbeach.
"Oh!" said his lordship, sighting Jimmy.
The head withdrew itself.
"Come here!" shouted Jimmy.
The head appeared again.
"Talking to me?"
"Yes, I was talking to you."
Lord Wisbeach followed his superstructure into the room. He was
outwardly all that was bland and unperturbed, but there was a
wary look in the eye that cocked itself at Jimmy, and he did not
move far from the door. His fingers rested easily on the handle
behind him. He did not think it probable that Jimmy could have
heard of his visit to Mrs. Pett, but there had been something
menacing in the latter's voice, and he believed in safety first.
"They told me Miss Chester was here," he said by way of relaxing
any possible strain there might be in the situation.
"And what the devil do you want with Miss Chester, you slimy,
crawling second-story-worker, you damned, oily yegg?" enquired
The sunniest optimist could not have deluded himself into the
belief that the words were spoken in a friendly and genial
spirit. Lord Wisbeach's fingers tightened on the door-handle, and
he grew a little flushed about the cheek-bones.
"What's all this about?" he said.
"You infernal crook!"
Lord Wisbeach looked anxious.
"Don't shout like that! Are you crazy? Do you want people to
Jimmy drew a deep breath.
"I shall have to get further away from you," he said more
quietly. "There's no knowing what may happen if I don't. I don't
want to kill you. At least, I do, but I had better not."
He retired slowly until brought to a halt by the writing-desk. To
this he anchored himself with a firm grip. He was extremely
anxious to do nothing rash, and the spectacle of Gentleman Jack
invited rashness. He leaned against the desk, clutching its
solidity with both hands. Lord Wisbeach held steadfastly to the
door-handle. And in this tense fashion the interview proceeded.
"Miss Chester," said Jimmy, forcing himself to speak calmly, "has
just been telling me that she has promised to marry you."
"Quite true," said Lord Wisbeach. "It will be announced
to-morrow." A remark trembled on his lips, to the effect that he
relied on Jimmy for a fish-slice, but prudence kept it unspoken.
He was unable at present to understand Jimmy's emotion. Why Jimmy
should object to his being engaged to Ann, he could not imagine.
But it was plain that for some reason he had taken the thing to
heart, and, dearly as he loved a bit of quiet fun, Lord Wisbeach
decided that the other was at least six inches too tall and fifty
pounds too heavy to be bantered in his present mood by one of his
own physique. "Why not?"
"It won't be announced to-morrow," said Jimmy. "Because by
to-morrow you will be as far away from here as you can get, if
you have any sense."
"What do you mean?"
"Just this. If you haven't left this house by breakfast time
to-morrow, I shall expose you."
Lord Wisbeach was not feeling particularly happy, but he laughed
"That's what I said."
"Who do you think you are, to go about exposing people?"
"I happen to be Mrs. Pett's nephew, Jimmy Crocker."
Lord Wisbeach laughed again.
"Is that the line you are going to take?"
"You are going to Mrs. Pett to tell her that you are Jimmy
Crocker and that I am a crook and that you only pretended to
recognise me for reasons of your own?"
"Forget it!" Lord Wisbeach had forgotten to be alarmed in his
amusement. He smiled broadly. "I'm not saying it's not good stuff
to pull, but it's old stuff now. I'm sorry for you, but I thought
of it before you did. I went to Mrs. Pett directly after lunch
and sprang that line of talk myself. Do you think she'll believe
you after that? I tell you I'm ace-high with that dame. You
can't queer me with her."
"I think I can. For the simple reason that I really am Jimmy
"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
Lord Wisbeach picked up the garment and looked as directed. His
face turned a little sallower, but he still fought against his
"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
"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
"I get you."
"Then that's about all, I think. Don't let me keep you."
"Say, listen." Gentleman Jack's voice was plaintive. "I think you
might give a fellow a chance to get out good. Give me time to
have a guy in Montreal send me a telegram telling me to go up
there right away. Otherwise you might just as well put the cops
on me at once. The old lady knows I've got business in Canada.
You don't need to be rough on a fellow."
Jimmy pondered this point.
"All right. I don't object to that."
"Don't start anything, though."
"I don't know what you mean."
Jimmy pointed to the safe.
"Come, come, friend of my youth. We have no secrets from each
other. I know you're after what's in there, and you know that I
know. I don't want to harp on it, but you'll be spending to-night
in the house, and I think you had better make up your mind to
spend it in your room, getting a nice sleep to prepare you for
your journey. Do you follow me, old friend?"
"I get you."
"That will be all then, I think. Wind a smile around your neck
The door slammed. Lord Wisbeach had restrained his feelings
successfully during the interview, but he could not deny himself
that slight expression of them. Jimmy crossed the room and took
his coat from the chair where the other had dropped it. As he did
so a voice spoke.
Jimmy spun round. The room was apparently empty. The thing was
beginning to assume an uncanny aspect, when the voice spoke
"You think you're darned funny, don't you?"
It came from above. Jimmy had forgotten the gallery. He directed
his gaze thither, and perceived the heavy face of Ogden hanging
over the rail like a gargoyle.
"What are you doing there?" he demanded.
"How did you get there?"
"There's a door back here that you get to from the stairs. I
often come here for a quiet cigarette. Say, you think yourself
some josher, don't you, telling me you were a kidnapper! You
strung me like an onion. So you're really Jimmy Crocker after
all? Where was the sense in pulling all that stuff about taking
me away and divvying up the ransom? Aw, you make me tired!"
The head was withdrawn, and Jimmy heard heavy steps followed by
the banging of a door. Peace reigned in the library.
Jimmy sat down in the chair which was Mr. Pett's favourite and
which Ogden was accustomed to occupy to that gentleman's
displeasure. The swiftness of recent events had left him a little
dizzy, and he desired to think matters over and find out exactly
what had happened.
The only point which appeared absolutely clear to him in a welter
of confusing occurrences was the fact that he had lost the chance
of kidnapping Ogden. Everything had arranged itself so
beautifully simply and conveniently as regarded that venture
until a moment ago; but now that the boy had discovered his
identity it was impossible for him to attempt it. He was loth to
accept this fact. Surely, even now, there was a way . . .
Quite suddenly an admirable plan occurred to him. It involved the
co-operation of his father. And at that thought he realised with
a start that life had been moving so rapidly for him since his
return to the house that he had not paid any attention at all to
what was really as amazing a mystery as any. He had been too busy
to wonder why his father was there.
He debated the best method of getting in touch with him. It was
out of the question to descend to the pantry or wherever it was
that his father lived in this new incarnation of his. Then the
happy thought struck him that results might be obtained by the
simple process of ringing the bell. It might produce some other
unit of the domestic staff. However, it was worth trying. He rang
A few moments later the door opened. Jimmy looked up. It was not
his father. It was a dangerous-looking female of uncertain age,
dressed as a parlour-maid, who eyed him with what seemed to his
conscience-stricken soul dislike and suspicion. She had a
tight-lipped mouth and beady eyes beneath heavy brows. Jimmy had
seldom seen a woman who attracted him less at first sight.
"Jer ring, S'?"
Jimmy blinked and almost ducked. The words had come at him like a
"Oh, ah, yes."
"J' want anything, s'?"
With an effort Jimmy induced his mind to resume its interrupted
"Oh, ah, yes. Would you mind sending Skinner the butler to me."
The apparition vanished. Jimmy drew out his handkerchief and
dabbed at his forehead. He felt weak and guilty. He felt as if he
had just been accused of nameless crimes and had been unable to
deny the charge. Such was the magic of Miss Trimble's eye--the
left one, which looked directly at its object. Conjecture pauses
baffled at the thought of the effect which her gaze might have
created in the breasts of the sex she despised, had it been
double instead of single-barrelled. But half of it had wasted
itself on a spot some few feet to his right.
Presently the door opened again, and Mr. Crocker appeared,
looking like a benevolent priest.