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Piccadilly Jim, Page 1

P. G. Wodehouse

  Produced by Jim Tinsley

  Piccadilly Jim


  Pelham Grenville Wodehouse



  The residence of Mr. Peter Pett, the well-known financier, onRiverside Drive is one of the leading eyesores of that breezy andexpensive boulevard. As you pass by in your limousine, or whileenjoying ten cents worth of fresh air on top of a green omnibus,it jumps out and bites at you. Architects, confronted with it,reel and throw up their hands defensively, and even the layobserver has a sense of shock. The place resembles in almostequal proportions a cathedral, a suburban villa, a hotel and aChinese pagoda. Many of its windows are of stained glass, andabove the porch stand two terra-cotta lions, considerably morerepulsive even than the complacent animals which guard New York'sPublic Library. It is a house which is impossible to overlook:and it was probably for this reason that Mrs. Pett insisted onher husband buying it, for she was a woman who liked to benoticed.

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

  "Darn it!"

  He was afflicted by a sense of the pathos of his position. It wasnot as if he demanded much from life. He asked but little herebelow. At that moment all that he wanted was a quiet spot wherehe might read his Sunday paper in solitary peace, and he couldnot find one. Intruders lurked behind every door. The place wascongested.

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

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

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

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

  He stood outside the door, listening tensely. He could hearnothing. He went in, and for an instant experienced that ecstaticthrill which only comes to elderly gentlemen of solitary habitwho in a house full of their juniors find themselves alone atlast. Then a voice spoke, shattering his dream of solitude.

  "Hello, pop!"

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

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

  Mr. Pett stood in the doorway, regarding his step-son with asombre eye. He resented the boy's tone of easy patronage, all theharder to endure with philosophic calm at the present moment fromthe fact that the latter was lounging in his favourite chair.Even from an aesthetic point of view the sight of the bulgingchild offended him. Ogden Ford was round and blobby and lookedoverfed. He had the plethoric habit of one to whom wholesomeexercise is a stranger and the sallow complexion of the confirmedcandy-fiend. Even now, a bare half hour after breakfast, his jawswere moving with a rhythmical, champing motion.

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


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

  "Mother gave it to me," said Ogden simply. As he had anticipated,the shot silenced the enemy's battery. Mr. Pett grunted, but madeno verbal comment. Ogden celebrated his victory by puttinganother piece of candy in his mouth.

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

  "I will not be spoken to like that!"

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

  Mr. Pett was sniffing suspiciously.

  "You've been smoking."


  "Smoking cigarettes."

  "No, sir!"

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

  "I didn't put them there."

  "One of them is warm."

  "It's a warm day."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  "And look at you now!"

  "What do you mean?"

  "Martyr to lumbago."

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

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

  "Never mind!"

  "I'm only saying what mother . . ."

  "Be quiet!"

  Ogden made further researches in the candy box.

  "Have some, pop?"


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

  "What do you mean?"

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

  Mr. Pett retired, fermenting. He wondered how another man wouldhave handled this situation. The ridiculous inconsistency of thehuman character infuriated him. Why should he be a totallydifferent man on Riverside Drive from the person he was in PineStreet? Why should he be able to hold his own in Pine Street withgrown men--whiskered, square-jawed financiers--and yet be unableon Riverside Drive to eject a fourteen-year-old boy from an easychair? It seemed to him sometimes that a curious paralysis of thewill came over him out of business hours.

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

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

  "Come in," called a girl's voice.

  The room in which Mr. Pett found himself was small but cosy, andits cosiness--oddly, considering the sex of its owner--had thatpeculiar quality which belongs as a rule to the dens of men. Alarge bookcase almost covered one side of it, its reds and bluesand browns smiling cheerfully at whoever entered. The walls werehung with prints, judiciously chosen and arranged. Through awindow to the left, healthfully open at the bottom, the sunstreamed in, bringing with it the pleasantly subdued whirring ofautomobiles out on the Drive. At a desk at right angles to thiswindow, her vivid red-gold hair rippling in the breeze from theriver, sat the girl who had been working at the typewriter. Sheturned as Mr. Pett entered, and smiled over her shoulder.

  Ann Chester, Mr. Pett's niece, looked her best when she smiled.Although her hair was the most obviously striking feature of herappearance, her mouth was really the most individual thing abouther. It was a mouth that suggested adventurous possibilities. Inrepose, it had a look of having just finished saying somethinghumorous, a kind of demure appreciation of itself. When itsmiled, a row of white teeth flashed out: or, if the lips did notpart, a dimple appeared on the right cheek, giving the whole facean air of mischievous geniality. It was an enterprising,swashbuckling sort of mouth, the mouth of one who would leadforlorn hopes with a jest or plot whimsically lawlessconspiracies against convention. In its corners and in the firmline of the chin beneath it there lurked, too, more than a hintof imperiousness. A physiognomist would have gathered, correctly,that Ann Chester liked having her own way and was accustomed toget it.

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

  "Am I interrupting you, Ann?"

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

  Mr. Pett said he would not.

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

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

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

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

  "The boy Ogden's there."

  "What a shame!"

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

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

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

  "Little brute."

  Ann was sorry for Mr. Pett. For many years now, ever since thedeath of her mother, they had been inseparable. Her father, whowas a traveller, explorer, big-game hunter, and general sojournerin the lonelier and wilder spots of the world and paid onlyinfrequent visits to New York, had left her almost entirely inMr. Pett's care, and all her pleasantest memories were associatedwith him. Mr. Chester's was in many ways an admirable character,but not a domestic one; and his relations with his daughter wereconfined for the most part to letters and presents. In the pastfew years she had come almost to regard Mr. Pett in the light ofa father. Hers was a nature swiftly responsive to kindness; andbecause Mr. Pett besides being kind was also pathetic she pitiedas well as loved him. There was a lingering boyishness in thefinancier, the boyishness of the boy who muddles along in anunsympathetic world and can never do anything right: and thisquality called aloud to the youth in her. She was at the valiantage when we burn to right wrongs and succour the oppressed, andwild rebel schemes for the reformation of her small world camereadily to her. From the first she had been a smoulderingspectator of the trials of her uncle's married life, and if Mr.Pett had ever asked her advice and bound himself to act on it hewould have solved his domestic troubles in explosive fashion. ForAnn in her moments of maiden meditation had frequently devisedschemes to that end which would have made his grey hair standerect with horror.

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

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

  "Why don't you send him to school?"

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

  Ann ran her fingers meditatively over the keys.

  "I've sometimes thought . . ."


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

  Mr. Pett placed the bulk of the Sunday paper on the floor besidehim, and began to run an appreciative eye over the comicsupplement. That lingering boyishness in him which endeared himto Ann always led him to open his Sabbath reading in thisfashion. Grey-headed though he was, he still retained both in artand in real life a taste for the slapstick. No one had ever knownthe pure pleasure it had given him when Raymond Green, his wife'snovelist protege, had tripped over a loose stair-rod one morningand fallen an entire flight.

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

  "There's Jerry Mitchell punching the bag."

  "Eh?" said Mr. Pett.

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

  "Yes, he's there."

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

  "Uncle Peter."

  Mr. Pett emerged slowly from the comic supplement.


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

  "Money?" Pett, the student, became Pett, the financier, at themagic word. "There might be something in that if one got behindit. Dogs are fashionable. There would be a market for a reallygood medicine."

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

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

  "It's no use thinking of it, uncle Peter. You couldn't dobusiness with him--in that way. All Mr. Smethurst does when anyone brings him a fat, unhealthy dog is to feed it next tonothing--just the simplest kind of food, you know--and make itrun about a lot. And in about a week the dog's as well and happyand nice as he can possibly be."

  "Oh," said Mr. Pett, disappointed.

  Ann touched the keys of her machine softly.

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

  Mr. Pett's eyes gleamed.

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

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

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

  Silence fell upon the room, broken only by the tapping of thetypewriter. Mr. Pett, having finished the comic supplement,turned to the sporting section, for he was a baseball fan of nolukewarm order. The claims of business did not permit him to seeas many games as he could wish, but he followed the nationalpastime closely on the printed page and had an admiration for theNapoleonic gifts of Mr. McGraw which would have gratified thatgentleman had he known of it.

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


  "It's funny you should have been talking about Ogden gettingkidnapped. This story of aunt Nesta's is all about anangel-child--I suppose it's meant to be Ogden--being stolen andhidden and all that. It's odd that she should write stories likethis. You wouldn't expect it of her."

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

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

  "Ah!" said Mr. Pett wistfully.

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

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

  Mr. Pett said nothing. He was reading an article of medicalinterest in the magazine section, for he was a man who ploughedsteadily through his Sunday paper, omitting nothing. Thetypewriter began tapping again.

  "Great Godfrey!"

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

  "What's the matter?"

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


  The Recent Adventures of Young Mr. Crocker

  of New York and London

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

  Mrs. Nesta Ford Pett

  Well-Known Society Leader and Authoress

  Ann had risen and was peering over his shoulder. She frowned asshe caught sight of the heading of the page. Then her eye fellupon the photograph.

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

  Mr. Pett breathed a deep and gloomy breath.

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

  "Don't let her see it."

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

  Ann was glancing through the article.

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

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

  Ann flushed.

  "I know," she said shortly.

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

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

  There was an awkward silence. Mr. Pett coughed. The matter ofyoung Mr. Crocker's erstwhile connection with the New York_Chronicle_ was one which they had tacitly decided to refrain frommentioning.

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

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

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

  "A distant cousin."

  "It can't be too distant for me."

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

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

  The little photograph had not done Mrs. Pett justice. Seenlife-size, she was both handsomer and more formidable than sheappeared in reproduction. She was a large woman, with a finefigure and bold and compelling eyes, and her personality crasheddisturbingly into the quiet atmosphere of the room. She was thetype of woman whom small, diffident men seem to marryinstinctively, as unable to help themselves as cockleshell boatssucked into a maelstrom.

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

  This was an aspect of the matter which had not occurred to Mr.Pett. He had not contemplated the possibility of actually doinganything. Nature had made him out of office hours essentially apassive organism, and it was his tendency, when he found himselfin a sea of troubles, to float plaintively, not to take armsagainst it. To pick up the slings and arrows of outrageousfortune and fling them back was not a habit of his. He scratchedhis chin and said nothing. He went on saying nothing.

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

  Mrs. Pett paused, and her eyes glowed with reminiscent fire. Shewas recalling the scene which had taken place three years agobetween her sister and herself, when Eugenia had told her of herintention to marry an obscure and middle-aged actor named BingleyCrocker. Mrs. Pett had never seen Bingley Crocker, but she hadcondemned the proposed match in terms which had ended definitelyand forever her relations with her sister. Eugenia was not awoman who welcomed criticism of her actions. She was cast in thesame formidable mould as Mrs. Pett and resembled her strikinglyboth in appearance and character.

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

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

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

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

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

  Mr. Pett moaned sympathetically.

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

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

  "It's tough," he said.

  Mrs. Pett turned on him like a wounded tigress.

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

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

  "You must do something."

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

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

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

  "But is it possible?"

  "Of course it is."

  "Assuming that Jimmy Crocker would accept an invitation to comeover to America, what sort of work could he do here? He couldn'tget his place on the _Chronicle_ back again after dropping out forall these years and making a public pest of himself all thatwhile. And outside of newspaper work what is he fit for?"

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

  "I'm not. These are ready-made."

  Mr. Pett interposed. He was always nervously apprehensive of aclash between these two. Ann had red hair and the nature whichgenerally goes with red hair. She was impulsive and quick oftongue, and--as he remembered her father had always been--alittle too ready for combat. She was usually as quicklyremorseful as she was quickly pugnacious, like most persons ofher colour. Her offer to type the story which now lay on her deskhad been the amende honourable following on just such a scenewith her aunt as this promised to be. Mr. Pett had no wish to seethe truce thus consummated broken almost before it had had timeto operate.

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

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

  Notably his wife's nephew, Willie Partridge, whom he looked on asa specious loafer. He had a stubborn disbelief in the explosivethat was to revolutionise war. He knew, as all the world did,that Willie's late father had been a great inventor, but he didnot accept the fact that Willie had inherited the dead man'sgenius. He regarded the experiments on Partridgite, as it was tobe called, with the profoundest scepticism, and considered thatthe only thing Willie had ever invented or was likely to inventwas a series of ingenious schemes for living in fatted idlenesson other people's money.

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

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

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

  Ann started.

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

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

  Mr. Pett coughed deprecatingly.

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

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

  Ann moved towards the door.

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

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

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

  Mr. Pett hesitated.

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

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

  "She was only a child."

  Mrs. Pett rose in slow horror.

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

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

  Mrs. Pett sank back in her chair.

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

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

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

  "Why, it was this way. Most of the papers just gave Ann's book amention among 'Volumes Received,' or a couple of lines thatdidn't amount to anything, but the _Chronicle_ saw a Sunday featurein it, as Ann was going about a lot then and was a well-knownsociety girl. They sent this Crocker boy to get an interview fromher, all about her methods of work and inspirations and what not.We never suspected it wasn't the straight goods. Why, that veryevening I mailed an order for a hundred copies to be sent to mewhen the thing appeared. And--" pinkness came upon Mr. Pett atthe recollection "it was just a josh from start to finish. Theyoung hound made a joke of the poems and what Ann had told himabout her inspirations and quoted bits of the poems just to kidthe life out of them. . . . I thought Ann would never get overit. Well, it doesn't worry her any more--she's grown out of theschool-girl stage--but you can bet she isn't going to get up andgive three cheers and a tiger if you bring young Crocker to livein the same house."

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

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

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

  "And Ogden, of course."

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

  "I wouldn't dream of leaving him here while I went away, afterwhat happened when poor dear Elmer sent him to school in Englandthat time." The late Mr. Ford had spent most of his married lifeeither quarrelling with or separated from his wife, but sincedeath he had been canonised as 'poor dear Elmer.' "Besides, thesea voyage will do the poor darling good. He has not been lookingat all well lately."

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


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

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

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

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

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

  Mr. Pett was frowning.

  "She hasn't accepted him?"

  "Not definitely."

  "I hope she doesn't."

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

  Mr. Pett shuffled his feet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Mr. Pett said nothing, but he was not convinced. The LordWisbeach under discussion was a pleasant-spoken and presentableyoung man who had called at Mr. Pett's office a short whilebefore to consult him about investing some money. He had broughta letter of introduction from Hammond Chester, Ann's father, whomhe had met in Canada, where the latter was at present engaged inthe comparatively mild occupation of bass-fishing. With theirbusiness talk the acquaintance would have begun and finished, ifMr. Pett had been able to please himself, for he had not taken afancy to Lord Wisbeach. But he was an American, with anAmerican's sense of hospitality, and, the young man being afriend of Hammond Chester, he had felt bound to invite him toRiverside Drive--with misgivings which were now, he felt,completely justified.

  "Ann ought to marry," said Mrs. Pett. "She gets her own way toomuch now. However, it is entirely her own affair, and there isnothing that we can do." She rose. "I only hope she will besensible."

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

  Ann, meanwhile, had made her way down the passage to the gymnasiumwhich Mr. Pett, in the interests of his health, had caused to beconstructed in a large room at the end of the house--a room designedby the original owner, who had had artistic leanings, for a studio.The _tap-tap-tap_ of the leather bag had ceased, but voices fromwithin told her that Jerry Mitchell, Mr. Pett's private physicalinstructor, was still there. She wondered who was his companion, andfound on opening the door that it was Ogden. The boy was leaningagainst the wall and regarding Jerry with a dull and superciliousgaze which the latter was plainly finding it hard to bear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Ogden laughed derisively.

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

  Jerry Mitchell turned an appealing face to Ann. Ogden'srevelations and especially his eulogy of Biggs' personalappearance had tormented him. He knew that, in his wooing of Mrs.Pett's maid, Celestine, he was handicapped by his looks,concerning which he had no illusions. No Adonis to begin with, hehad been so edited and re-edited during a long and prosperousring career by the gloved fists of a hundred foes that in affairsof the heart he was obliged to rely exclusively on moral worthand charm of manner. He belonged to the old school of fighterswho looked the part, and in these days of pugilists who resemblematinee idols he had the appearance of an anachronism. He was astocky man with a round, solid head, small eyes, an undershotjaw, and a nose which ill-treatment had reduced to a merescenario. A narrow strip of forehead acted as a kind ofbuffer-state, separating his front hair from his eyebrows, and hebore beyond hope of concealment the badge of his late employment,the cauliflower ear. Yet was he a man of worth and a goodcitizen, and Ann had liked him from their first meeting. As forJerry, he worshipped Ann and would have done anything she askedhim. Ever since he had discovered that Ann was willing to listento and sympathise with his outpourings on the subject of histroubled wooing, he had been her slave.

  Ann came to the rescue in characteristically direct fashion.

  "Get out, Ogden," she said.

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

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

  "Be quick, Ogden."

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

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

  "Has he been bothering you, Jerry?"

  Jerry Mitchell wiped his forehead.

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

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

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

  Jerry Mitchell sighed a sigh of relief.

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

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

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

  "Yes, Miss Ann?"

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

  "Do you mean Smithers, Miss Ann?"

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

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

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

  "For the love of Mike."

  Jerry Mitchell, after an instant of stunned bewilderment, waslooking at her with worshipping admiration. He had always knownthat Miss Ann possessed a mind of no common order, but this, hefelt, was genius. For a moment the magnificence of the idea tookhis breath away.

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

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

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

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

  Jerry was enthusiastic.

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

  "This isn't that sort of kidnapping."

  "Well, it's mighty like it."

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

  Jerry rose and extended a calloused hand.

  "When do we start?"

  Ann shook the hand warmly.

  "Thank you, Jerry. You're a jewel. I envy Maggie. Well, I don'tthink we can do anything till they come back from England, asaunt Nesta is sure to take Ogden with her."

  "Who's going to England?"

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

  "Crocker? Jimmy Crocker? Piccadilly Jim?"

  "Yes. Why, do you know him?"

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

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

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

  "He's always drinking, I believe."

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

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

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

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

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

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

  "Gee! Is the boss in on this, too?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  "Sure. Sure."

  Ann turned to Mr. Pett as the door closed.

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

  "I wish it was possible."

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

  "Yes," sighed Mr. Pett.

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

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

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

  Mr. Pett blanched. The frightfulness of reality had exceededanticipation.

  "But, Ann!"

  The words came from him in a strangled bleat. His whole being wasparalysed by a clammy horror. This was beyond the uttermost limitof his fears. And, to complete the terror of the moment, he knew,even while he rebelled against the insane lawlessness of herscheme, that he was going to agree to it, and--worst of all--thatdeep, deep down in him there was a feeling toward it which didnot dare to come to the surface but which he knew to be approval.

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

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

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

  Mr. Pett started. Not for many a day had a nickname which heconsidered the most distasteful of all possible nicknames risenup from its grave to haunt him. Patient Pete! He had thought therepulsive title buried forever in the same tomb as his deadyouth. Patient Pete! The first faint glimmer of the flame ofrebellion began to burn in his bosom.

  "Patient Pete!"

  "Patient Pete!" said Ann inexorably.

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

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

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

  "There is! That's why I'm going to make you put your foo
t downsooner or later. You're going to turn all these loafers out ofthe house. And first of all you're going to help us send Ogdenaway to Mr. Smithers."

  There was a long silence.

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

  Ann laughed.

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

  Mr. Pett shook his head.

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