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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPiccadilly Jim - Chapter XVI - MRS. PETT TAKES PRECAUTIONS
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Piccadilly Jim - Chapter XVI - MRS. PETT TAKES PRECAUTIONS Post by :EJ_Lear Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :3154

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Piccadilly Jim - Chapter XVI - MRS. PETT TAKES PRECAUTIONS

CHAPTER XVI - MRS. PETT TAKES PRECAUTIONS


Mrs. Pett, on leaving the luncheon-table, had returned to the
drawing-room to sit beside the sick-settee of her stricken child.
She was troubled about Ogden. The poor lamb was not at all
himself to-day. A bowl of clear soup, the midday meal prescribed
by Doctor Briginshaw, lay untasted at his side.

She crossed the room softly, and placed a cool hand on her son's
aching brow.

"Oh, Gee," said Ogden wearily.

"Are you feeling a little better, Oggie darling?"

"No," said Ogden firmly. "I'm feeling a lot worse."

"You haven't drunk your nice soup."

"Feed it to the cat."

"Could you eat a nice bowl of bread-and-milk, precious?"

"Have a heart," replied the sufferer.

Mrs. Pett returned to her seat, sorrowfully. It struck her as an
odd coincidence that the poor child was nearly always like this
on the morning after she had been entertaining guests; she put it
down to the reaction from the excitement working on a
highly-strung temperament. To his present collapse the brutal
behaviour of Jerry Mitchell had, of course, contributed. Every
drop of her maternal blood boiled with rage and horror whenever
she permitted herself to contemplate the excesses of the late
Jerry. She had always mistrusted the man. She had never liked his
face--not merely on aesthetic grounds but because she had seemed
to detect in it a lurking savagery. How right events had proved
this instinctive feeling. Mrs. Pett was not vulgar enough to
describe the feeling, even to herself, as a hunch, but a hunch it
had been; and, like every one whose hunches have proved correct,
she was conscious in the midst of her grief of a certain
complacency. It seemed to her that hers must be an intelligence
and insight above the ordinary.

The peace of the early afternoon settled upon the drawing-room.
Mrs. Pett had taken up a book; Ogden, on the settee, breathed
stentorously. Faint snores proceeded from the basket in the
corner where Aida, the Pomeranian, lay curled in refreshing
sleep. Through the open window floated sounds of warmth and
Summer.

Yielding to the drowsy calm, Mrs. Pett was just nodding into a
pleasant nap, when the door opened and Lord Wisbeach came in.

Lord Wisbeach had been doing some rapid thinking. Rapid thought
is one of the essentials in the composition of men who are known
as Gentleman Jack to the boys and whose livelihood is won only by
a series of arduous struggles against the forces of Society and
the machinations of Potter and his gang. Condensed into capsule
form, his lordship's meditations during the minutes after he had
left Jimmy in the dining-room amounted to the realisation that
the best mode of defence is attack. It is your man who knows how
to play the bold game on occasion who wins. A duller schemer than
Lord Wisbeach might have been content to be inactive after such a
conversation as had just taken place between himself and Jimmy.
His lordship, giving the matter the concentrated attention of his
trained mind, had hit on a better plan, and he had come to the
drawing-room now to put it into effect.

His entrance shattered the peaceful atmosphere. Aida, who had
been gurgling apoplectically, sprang snarling from the basket,
and made for the intruder open-mouthed. Her shrill barking rang
through the room.

Lord Wisbeach hated little dogs. He hated and feared them. Many
men of action have these idiosyncrasies. He got behind a chair
and said "There, there." Aida, whose outburst was mere sound and
fury and who had no intention whatever of coming to blows,
continued the demonstration from a safe distance, till Mrs. Pett,
swooping down, picked her up and held her in her lap, where she
consented to remain, growling subdued defiance. Lord Wisbeach
came out from behind his chair and sat down warily.

"Can I have a word with you, Mrs. Pett?"

"Certainly, Lord Wisbeach."

His lordship looked meaningly at Ogden.

"In private, you know."

He then looked meaningly at Mrs. Pett.

"Ogden darling," said Mrs. Pett, "I think you had better go to
your room and undress and get into bed. A little nice sleep might
do you all the good in the world."

With surprising docility, the boy rose.

"All right," he said.

"Poor Oggie is not at all well to-day," said Mrs. Pett, when he
was gone. "He is very subject to these attacks. What do you want
to tell me, Lord Wisbeach?"

His lordship drew his chair a little closer.

"Mrs. Pett, you remember what I told you yesterday?"

"Of course."

"Might I ask what you know of this man who has come here calling
himself Jimmy Crocker?"

Mrs. Pett started. She remembered that she had used almost that
very expression to Ann. Her suspicions, which had been lulled by
the prompt recognition of the visitor by Skinner and Lord
Wisbeach, returned. It is one of the effects of a successful
hunch that it breeds other hunches. She had been right about
Jerry Mitchell; was she to be proved right about the self-styled
Jimmy Crocker?

"You have seen your nephew, I believe?"

"Never. But--"

"That man," said Lord Wisbeach impassively, "is not your nephew."

Mrs. Pett thrilled all down her spine. She had been right.

"But you--"

"But I pretended to recognise him? Just so. For a purpose. I
wanted to make him think that I suspected nothing."

"Then you think--?"

"Remember what I said to you yesterday."

"But Skinner--the butler--recognised him?"

"Exactly. It goes to prove that what I said about Skinner was
correct. They are working together. The thing is self-evident.
Look at it from your point of view. How simple it is. This man
pretends to an intimate acquaintance with Skinner. You take that
as evidence of Skinner's honesty. Skinner recognises this man.
You take that as proof that this man is really your nephew. The
fact that Skinner recognised as Jimmy Crocker a man who is not
Jimmy Crocker condemns him."

"But why did you--?"

"I told you that I pretended to accept this man as the real Jimmy
Crocker for a purpose. At present there is nothing that you can
do. Mere impersonation is not a crime. If I had exposed him when
we met, you would have gained nothing beyond driving him from the
house. Whereas, if we wait, if we pretend to suspect nothing, we
shall undoubtedly catch him red-handed in an attempt on your
nephew's invention."

"You are sure that that is why he has come?"

"What other reason could he have?"

"I thought he might be trying to kidnap Ogden."

Lord Wisbeach frowned thoughtfully. He had not taken this
consideration into account.

"It is possible," he said. "There have been several attempts
made, have there not, to kidnap your son?"

"At one time," said Mrs. Pett proudly, "there was not a child in
America who had to be more closely guarded. Why, the kidnappers
had a special nick-name for Oggie. They called him the Little
Nugget."

"Of course, then, it is quite possible that that may be the man's
object. In any case, our course must be the same. We must watch
every move he makes." He paused. "I could help--pardon my
suggesting it--I could help a great deal more if you were to
invite me to live in the house. You were kind enough to ask me to
visit you in the country, but it will be two weeks before you go
to the Country, and in those two weeks--"

"You must come here at once, Lord Wisbeach. To-night. To-day."

"I think that would be the best plan."

"I cannot tell you how grateful I am for all you are doing."

"You have been so kind to me, Mrs. Pett," said Lord Wisbeach with
feeling, "that it is surely only right that I should try to make
some return. Let us leave it at this then. I will come here
to-night and will make it my business to watch these two men. I
will go and pack my things and have them sent here."

"It is wonderful of you, Lord Wisbeach."

"Not at all," replied his lordship. "It will be a pleasure."

He held out his hand, drawing it back rapidly as the dog Aida
made a snap at it. Substituting a long-range leave-taking for the
more intimate farewell, he left the room.

When he had gone, Mrs. Pett remained for some minutes, thinking.
She was aflame with excitement. She had a sensational mind, and
it had absorbed Lord Wisbeach's revelations eagerly. Her
admiration for his lordship was intense, and she trusted him
utterly. The only doubt that occurred to her was whether, with
the best intentions in the world, he would be able unassisted to
foil a pair of schemers so distant from each other geographically
as the man who called himself Jimmy Crocker and the man who had
called himself Skinner. That was a point on which they had not
touched, the fact that one impostor was above stairs, the other
below. It seemed to Mrs. Pett impossible that Lord Wisbeach, for
all his zeal, could watch Skinner without neglecting Jimmy or
foil Jimmy without taking his attention off Skinner. It was
manifestly a situation that called for allies. She felt that she
must have further assistance.

To Mrs. Pett, doubtless owing to her hobby of writing sensational
fiction, there was a magic in the word detective which was shared
by no other word in the language. She loved detectives--their
keen eyes, their quiet smiles, their Derby hats. When they came
on the stage, she leaned forward in her orchestra chair; when
they entered her own stories, she always wrote with a greater
zest. It is not too much to say that she had an almost spiritual
attachment for detectives, and the idea of neglecting to employ
one in real life, now that circumstances had combined to render
his advent so necessary, struck her as both rash and inartistic.
In the old days, when Ogden had been kidnapped, the only thing
which had brought her balm had been the daily interviews with the
detectives. She ached to telephone for one now.

The only consideration that kept her back was a regard for Lord
Wisbeach's feelings. He had been so kind and so shrewd that to
suggest reinforcing him with outside assistance must infallibly
wound him deeply. And yet the situation demanded the services of
a trained specialist. Lord Wisbeach had borne himself during
their recent conversation in such a manner as to leave no doubt
that he considered himself adequate to deal with the matter
single-handed: but admirable though he was he was not a
professional exponent of the art of espionage. He needed to be
helped in spite of himself.

A happy solution struck Mrs. Pett. There was no need to tell him.
She could combine the installation of a detective with the nicest
respect for her ally's feelings by the simple process of engaging
one without telling Lord Wisbeach anything about it.

The telephone stood at her elbow, concealed--at the express
request of the interior decorator who had designed the room--in
the interior of what looked to the casual eye like a stuffed owl.
On a table near at hand, handsomely bound in morocco to resemble
a complete works of Shakespeare, was the telephone book. Mrs.
Pett hesitated no longer. She had forgotten the address of the
detective agency which she had employed on the occasion of the
kidnapping of Ogden, but she remembered the name, and also the
name of the delightfully sympathetic manager or proprietor or
whatever he was who had listened to her troubles then.

She unhooked the receiver, and gave a number.

"I want to speak to Mr. Sturgis," she said.

"Oh, Mr. Sturgis," said Mrs. Pett. "I wonder if you could
possibly run up here--yes, now. This is Mrs. Peter Pett speaking.
You remember we met some years ago when I was Mrs. Ford. Yes, the
mother of Ogden Ford. I want to consult--You will come up at
once? Thank you so much. Good-bye."

Mrs. Pett hung up the receiver.

Content of CHAPTER XVI - MRS. PETT TAKES PRECAUTIONS (P G Wodehouse's novel: Piccadilly Jim)

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