His entrance shattered the peaceful atmosphere. Aida, who had
been gurgling apoplectically, sprang snarling from the basket,
and made for the intruder open-mouthed. Her shrill barking rang
through the room.
Lord Wisbeach hated little dogs. He hated and feared them. Many
men of action have these idiosyncrasies. He got behind a chair
and said "There, there." Aida, whose outburst was mere sound and
fury and who had no intention whatever of coming to blows,
continued the demonstration from a safe distance, till Mrs. Pett,
swooping down, picked her up and held her in her lap, where she
consented to remain, growling subdued defiance. Lord Wisbeach
came out from behind his chair and sat down warily.
"Can I have a word with you, Mrs. Pett?"
"Certainly, Lord Wisbeach."
His lordship looked meaningly at Ogden.
"In private, you know."
He then looked meaningly at Mrs. Pett.
"Ogden darling," said Mrs. Pett, "I think you had better go to
your room and undress and get into bed. A little nice sleep might
do you all the good in the world."
With surprising docility, the boy rose.
"All right," he said.
"Poor Oggie is not at all well to-day," said Mrs. Pett, when he
was gone. "He is very subject to these attacks. What do you want
to tell me, Lord Wisbeach?"
His lordship drew his chair a little closer.
"Mrs. Pett, you remember what I told you yesterday?"
"Might I ask what you know of this man who has come here calling
himself Jimmy Crocker?"
Mrs. Pett started. She remembered that she had used almost that
very expression to Ann. Her suspicions, which had been lulled by
the prompt recognition of the visitor by Skinner and Lord
Wisbeach, returned. It is one of the effects of a successful
hunch that it breeds other hunches. She had been right about
Jerry Mitchell; was she to be proved right about the self-styled
"You have seen your nephew, I believe?"
"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
"You are sure that that is why he has come?"
"What other reason could he have?"
"I thought he might be trying to kidnap Ogden."
Lord Wisbeach frowned thoughtfully. He had not taken this
consideration into account.
"It is possible," he said. "There have been several attempts
made, have there not, to kidnap your son?"
"At one time," said Mrs. Pett proudly, "there was not a child in
America who had to be more closely guarded. Why, the kidnappers
had a special nick-name for Oggie. They called him the Little
"Of course, then, it is quite possible that that may be the man's
object. In any case, our course must be the same. We must watch
every move he makes." He paused. "I could help - pardon my
suggesting it - I could help a great deal more if you were to
invite me to live in the house. You were kind enough to ask me to
visit you in the country, but it will be two weeks before you go
to the Country, and in those two weeks - "
"You must come here at once, Lord Wisbeach. To-night. To-day."
"I think that would be the best plan."
"I cannot tell you how grateful I am for all you are doing."
"You have been so kind to me, Mrs. Pett," said Lord Wisbeach with
feeling, "that it is surely only right that I should try to make
some return. Let us leave it at this then. I will come here
to-night and will make it my business to watch these two men. I
will go and pack my things and have them sent here."
"It is wonderful of you, Lord Wisbeach."
"Not at all," replied his lordship. "It will be a pleasure."
He held out his hand, drawing it back rapidly as the dog Aida
made a snap at it. Substituting a long-range leave-taking for the
more intimate farewell, he left the room.
When he had gone, Mrs. Pett remained for some minutes, thinking.
She was aflame with excitement. She had a sensational mind, and
it had absorbed Lord Wisbeach's revelations eagerly. Her
admiration for his lordship was intense, and she trusted him
utterly. The only doubt that occurred to her was whether, with
the best intentions in the world, he would be able unassisted to
foil a pair of schemers so distant from each other geographically
as the man who called himself Jimmy Crocker and the man who had
called himself Skinner. That was a point on which they had not
touched, the fact that one impostor was above stairs, the other
below. It seemed to Mrs. Pett impossible that Lord Wisbeach, for
all his zeal, could watch Skinner without neglecting Jimmy or
foil Jimmy without taking his attention off Skinner. It was
manifestly a situation that called for allies. She felt that she
must have further assistance.
To Mrs. Pett, doubtless owing to her hobby of writing sensational
fiction, there was a magic in the word detective which was shared
by no other word in the language. She loved detectives - their
keen eyes, their quiet smiles, their Derby hats. When they came
on the stage, she leaned forward in her orchestra chair; when
they entered her own stories, she always wrote with a greater
zest. It is not too much to say that she had an almost spiritual
attachment for detectives, and the idea of neglecting to employ
one in real life, now that circumstances had combined to render
his advent so necessary, struck her as both rash and inartistic.
In the old days, when Ogden had been kidnapped, the only thing
which had brought her balm had been the daily interviews with the
detectives. She ached to telephone for one now.
The only consideration that kept her back was a regard for Lord
Wisbeach's feelings. He had been so kind and so shrewd that to
suggest reinforcing him with outside assistance must infallibly
wound him deeply. And yet the situation demanded the services of
a trained specialist. Lord Wisbeach had borne himself during
their recent conversation in such a manner as to leave no doubt
that he considered himself adequate to deal with the matter
single-handed: but admirable though he was he was not a
professional exponent of the art of espionage. He needed to be
helped in spite of himself.
A happy solution struck Mrs. Pett. There was no need to tell him.
She could combine the installation of a detective with the nicest
respect for her ally's feelings by the simple process of engaging
one without telling Lord Wisbeach anything about it.
The telephone stood at her elbow, concealed - at the express
request of the interior decorator who had designed the room - in
the interior of what looked to the casual eye like a stuffed owl.
On a table near at hand, handsomely bound in morocco to resemble
a complete works of Shakespeare, was the telephone book. Mrs.
Pett hesitated no longer. She had forgotten the address of the
detective agency which she had employed on the occasion of the
kidnapping of Ogden, but she remembered the name, and also the
name of the delightfully sympathetic manager or proprietor or
whatever he was who had listened to her troubles then.
She unhooked the receiver, and gave a number.
"I want to speak to Mr. Sturgis," she said.
"Oh, Mr. Sturgis," said Mrs. Pett. "I wonder if you could
possibly run up here - yes, now. This is Mrs. Peter Pett speaking.
You remember we met some years ago when I was Mrs. Ford. Yes, the
mother of Ogden Ford. I want to consult - You will come up at
once? Thank you so much. Good-bye."
Mrs. Pett hung up the receiver.
MISS TRIMBLE, DETECTIVE
Downstairs, in the dining-room, Jimmy was smoking cigarettes and
reviewing in his mind the peculiarities of the situation, when
Ann came in.
"Oh, there you are," said Ann. "I thought you must have gone
"I have been having a delightful and entertaining conversation
with my old chum, Lord Wisbeach."
"Good gracious! What about?"
"Oh, this and that."
"Not about old times?"
"No, we did not touch upon old times."
"Does he still believe that you are Jimmy Crocker? I'm so
nervous," said Ann, "that I can hardly speak."
"I shouldn't be nervous," said Jimmy encouragingly. "I don't see
how things could be going better."
"That's what makes me nervous. Our luck is too good to last. We
are taking such risks. It would have been bad enough without
Skinner and Lord Wisbeach. At any moment you may make some fatal
slip. Thank goodness, aunt Nesta's suspicions have been squashed
for the time being now that Skinner and Lord Wisbeach have
accepted you as genuine. But then you have only seen them for a
few minutes. When they have been with you a little longer, they
may get suspicious themselves. I can't imagine how you managed to
keep it up with Lord Wisbeach. I should have thought he would be
certain to say something about the time when you were supposed to
be friends in London. We simply mustn't strain our luck. I want
you to go straight to aunt Nesta now and ask her to let Jerry
"You still refuse to let me take Jerry's place?"
"Of course I do. You'll find aunt Nesta upstairs."
"Very well. But suppose I can't persuade her to forgive Jerry?"
"I think she is certain to do anything you ask. You saw how
friendly she was to you at lunch. I don't see how anything can
have happened since lunch to change her."
"Very well. I'll go to her now."
"And when you have seen her, go to the library and wait for me.
It's the second room along the passage outside here. I have
promised to drive Lord Wisbeach down to his hotel in my car. I
met him outside just now and he tells me aunt Nesta has invited
him to stay here, so he wants to go and get his things ready. I
shan't be twenty minutes. I shall come straight back."
Jimmy found himself vaguely disquieted by this piece of
"Lord Wisbeach is coming to stay here?"
"Oh, nothing. Well, I'll go and see Mrs. Pett."
No traces of the disturbance which had temporarily ruffled the
peace of the drawing-room were to be observed when Jimmy reached
it. The receiver of the telephone was back on its hook, Mrs. Pett
back in her chair, the dog Aida back in her basket. Mrs. Pett,
her mind at ease now that she had taken the step of summoning Mr.
Sturgis, was reading a book, one of her own, and was absorbed in
it. The dog Aida slumbered noisily.
The sight of Jimmy, however, roused Mrs. Pett from her literary
calm. To her eye, after what Lord Wisbeach had revealed there was
something sinister in the very way in which he walked into the
room. He made her flesh creep. In "A Society Thug" (Mobbs and
Stifien, $1.35 net, all rights of translation reserved, including
the Scandinavian) she had portrayed just such a man - smooth,
specious, and formidable. Instinctively, as she watched Jimmy,
her mind went back to the perfectly rotten behaviour of her own
Marsden Tuke (it was only in the last chapter but one that they
managed to foil his outrageous machinations), and it seemed to
her that here was Tuke in the flesh. She had pictured him, she
remembered, as a man of agreeable exterior, the better calculated
to deceive and undo the virtuous; and the fact that Jimmy was a
presentable-looking young man only made him appear viler in her
eyes. In a word, she could hardly have been in less suitable
frame of mind to receive graciously any kind of a request from
him. She would have suspected ulterior motives if he had asked
her the time.
Jimmy did not know this. He thought that she eyed him a trifle
frostily, but he did not attribute this to any suspicion of him.
He tried to ingratiate himself by smiling pleasantly. He could
not have made a worse move. Marsden Tuke's pleasant smile had
been his deadliest weapon. Under its influence deluded people had
trusted him alone with their jewellery and what not.
"Aunt Nesta," said Jimmy, "I wonder if I might ask you a personal
Mrs. Pett shuddered at the glibness with which he brought out the
familiar name. This was superTuke. Marsden himself, scoundrel as
he was, could not have called her "Aunt Nesta" as smoothly as
"Yes?" she said at last. She found it difficult to speak.
"I happened to meet an old friend of mine this morning. He was
very sorry for himself. It appears that - for excellent reasons,
of course - you had dismissed him. I mean Jerry Mitchell."
Mrs. Pett was now absolutely appalled. The conspiracy seemed to
grow more complicated every moment. Already its ramifications
embraced this man before her, a trusted butler, and her husband's
late physical instructor. Who could say where it would end? She
had never liked Jerry Mitchell, but she had never suspected him
of being a conspirator. Yet, if this man who called himself Jimmy
Crocker was an old friend of his, how could he be anything else?
"Mitchell," Jimmy went on, unconscious of the emotions which his
every word was arousing in his hearer's bosom, "told me about
what happened yesterday. He is very depressed. He said he could
not think how he happened to behave in such an abominable way. He
entreated me to put in a word for him with you. He begged me to
tell you how he regretted the brutal assault, and asked me to
mention the fact that his record had hitherto been blameless."
Jimmy paused. He was getting no encouragement, and seemed to be
making no impression whatever. Mrs. Pett was sitting bolt upright
in her chair in a stiffly defensive sort of way. She had the
appearance of being absolutely untouched by his eloquence. "In
fact," he concluded lamely, "he is very sorry."
There was silence for a moment.
"How do you come to know Mitchell?" asked Mrs. Pett.
"We knew each other when I was over here working on the
_Chronicle_. I saw him fight once or twice. He is an excellent
fellow, and used to have a right swing that was a pippin - I
should say extremely excellent. Brought it up from the floor, you
"I strongly object to prize-fighters," said Mrs. Pett, "and I was
opposed to Mitchell coming into the house from the first."
"You wouldn't let him come back, I suppose?" queried Jimmy
"I would not. I would not dream of such a thing."
"He's full of remorse, you know."
"If he has a spark of humanity, I have no doubt of it."
Jimmy paused. This thing was not coming out as well as it might
have done. He feared that for once in her life Ann was about to
be denied something on which she had set her heart. The
reflection that this would be extremely good for her competed for
precedence in his mind with the reflection that she would
probably blame him for the failure, which would be unpleasant.
"He is very fond of Ogden really."
"H'm," said Mrs. Pett.
"I think the heat must have made him irritable. In his normal
state he would not strike a lamb. I've known him to do it."
"Not strike lambs."
"Isch," said Mrs. Pett - the first time Jimmy had ever heard that
remarkable monosyllable proceed from human lips. He took
it - rightly - to be intended to convey disapproval, scepticism,
and annoyance. He was convinced that this mission was going to be
one of his failures.
"Then I may tell him," he said, "that it's all right?"
"That what is all right?"
"That he may come back here?"
Mrs. Pett was not a timid woman, but she could not restrain a
shudder as she watched the plot unfold before her eyes. Her
gratitude towards Lord Wisbeach at this point in the proceedings
almost became hero-worship. If it had not been for him and his
revelations concerning this man before her, she would certainly
have yielded to the request that Jerry Mitchell be allowed to
return to the house. Much as she disliked Jerry, she had been
feeling so triumphant at the thought of Jimmy Crocker coming to
her in spite of his step-mother's wishes and so pleased at having
unexpectedly got her own way that she could have denied him
nothing that he might have cared to ask. But now it was as if,
herself unseen, she were looking on at a gang of conspirators
hatching some plot. She was in the strong strategic position of
the person who is apparently deceived, but who in reality knows
For a moment she considered the question of admitting Jerry to
the house. Evidently his presence was necessary to the
consummation of the plot, whatever it might be, and it occurred
to her that it might be as well, on the principle of giving the
schemers enough rope to hang themselves with, to let him come
back and play his part. Then she reflected that, with the
self-styled Jimmy Crocker as well as the fraudulent Skinner in
the house, Lord Wisbeach and the detective would have their hands
quite full enough. It would be foolish to complicate matters.
She glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. Mr. Sturgis would be
arriving soon, if he had really started at once from his office,
as he had promised. She drew comfort from the imminence of his
coming. It would be pleasant to put herself in the hands of an
Jimmy had paused, mid-way to the door, and was standing there as
if reluctant to accept her answer to his plea.
"It would never occur again. What happened yesterday, I mean. You
need not be afraid of that."
"I am not afraid of that," responded Mrs. Pett tartly.
"If you had seen him when I did - "
"When did you? You landed from the boat this morning, you went to
Mr. Pett's office, and then came straight up here with him. I am
interested to know when you did see Mitchell?"
She regretted this thrust a little, for she felt it might put the
man on his guard by showing that she suspected something but she
could not resist it, and it pleased her to see that her companion
was momentarily confused.
"I met him when I was going for my luggage," said Jimmy.
It was just the way Marsden Tuke would have got out of it. Tuke
was always wriggling out of corners like that. Mrs. Pett's horror
of Jimmy grew.
"I told him, of course," said Jimmy, "that you had very kindly
invited me to stay with you, and he told me all, about his
trouble and implored me to plead for him. If you had seen him
when I did, all gloom and repentance, you would have been sorry
for him. Your woman's heart - "
Whatever Jimmy was about to say regarding Mrs. Pett's woman's
heart was interrupted by the opening of the door and the deep,
respectful voice of Mr. Crocker.
The detective entered briskly, as if time were money with him - as
indeed it was, for the International Detective Agency, of which
he was the proprietor, did a thriving business. He was a gaunt,
hungry-looking man of about fifty, with sunken eyes and thin
lips. It was his habit to dress in the height of fashion, for one
of his favourite axioms was that a man might be a detective and
still look a gentleman, and his appearance was that of the
individual usually described as a "popular clubman." That is to
say, he looked like a floorwalker taking a Sunday stroll. His
prosperous exterior deceived Jimmy satisfactorily, and the latter
left the room little thinking that the visitor was anything but
an ordinary caller.
The detective glanced keenly at him as he passed. He made a
practice of glancing keenly at nearly everything. It cost nothing
and impressed clients.
"I am so glad you have come, Mr. Sturgis," said Mrs. Pett. "Won't
you sit down?"
Mr. Sturgis sat down, pulled up the knees of his trousers that
half-inch which keeps them from bagging and so preserves the
gentlemanliness of the appearance, and glanced keenly at Mrs.
"Who was that young man who just went out?"
"It is about him that I wished to consult you, Mr. Sturgis."
Mr. Sturgis leaned back, and placed the tips of his fingers
"Tell me how he comes to be here."
"He pretends that he is my nephew, James Crocker."
"Your nephew? Have you never seen your nephew?"
"Never. I ought to tell you, that a few years ago my sister
married for the second time. I disapproved of the marriage, and
refused to see her husband or his son - he was a widower. A few
weeks ago, for private reasons, I went over to England, where
they are living, and asked my sister to let the boy come here to
work in my husband's office. She refused, and my husband and I
returned to New York. This morning I was astonished to get a
telephone call from Mr. Pett from his office, to say that James
Crocker had unexpectedly arrived after all, and was then at the
office. They came up here, and the young man seemed quite
genuine. Indeed, he had an offensive jocularity which would be
quite in keeping with the character of the real James Crocker,
from what I have heard of him."
Mr. Sturgis nodded.
"Know what you mean. Saw that thing in the paper," he said
"Now, it is very curious, but almost from the start I was uneasy.
When I say that the young man seemed genuine, I mean that he
completely deceived my husband and my niece, who lives with us.
But I had reasons, which I need not go into now, for being on my
guard, and I was suspicious. What aroused my suspicion was the
fact that my husband thought that he remembered this young man as
a fellow-traveller of ours on the _Atlantic_, on our return voyage,
while he claimed to have landed that morning on the _Caronia_."
"You are certain of that, Mrs. Pett? He stated positively that he
had landed this morning?"
"Yes. Quite positively. Unfortunately I myself had no chance of
judging the truth of what he said, as I am such a bad sailor that
I was seldom out of my stateroom from beginning to end of the
voyage. However, as I say, I was suspicious. I did not see how I
could confirm my suspicions, until I remembered that my new
butler, Skinner, had come straight from my sister's house."
"That is the man who just admitted me?"
"Exactly. He entered my employment only a few days ago, having
come direct from London. I decided to wait until Skinner should
meet this young man. Of course, when he first came into the
house, he was with my husband, who opened the door with his key,
so that they did not meet then."
"I understand," said Mr. Sturgis, glancing keenly at the dog
Aida, who had risen and was sniffing at his ankles. "You thought
that if Skinner recognised this young man, it would be proof of
"Did he recognise him?"
"Yes. But wait. I have not finished. He recognised him, and for
the moment I was satisfied. But I had had my suspicions of
Skinner, too. I ought to tell you that I had been warned against
him by a great friend of mine, Lord Wisbeach, an English peer
whom we have known intimately for a very long time. He is one of
the Shropshire Wisbeaches, you know."
"No doubt," said Mr. Sturgis.
"Lord Wisbeach used to be intimate with the real Jimmy Crocker.
He came to lunch to-day and met this impostor. He pretended to
recognise him, in order to put him off his guard, but after lunch
he came to me here and told me that in reality he had never seen
him before in his life, and that, whoever else he might be, he
was certainly not James Crocker, my nephew."
She broke off and looked at Mr. Sturgis expectantly. The
detective smiled a quiet smile.
"And even that is not all. There is another thing. Mr. Pett used
to employ as a physical instructor a man named Jerry Mitchell.
Yesterday I dismissed him for reasons it is not necessary to go
into. To-day - just as you arrived in fact - the man who calls
himself Jimmy Crocker was begging me to allow Mitchell to return
to the house and resume his work here. Does that not strike you
as suspicious, Mr. Sturgis?"
The detective closed his eyes, and smiled his quiet smile again.