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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPiccadilly Jim - Chapter XXII - IN THE LIBRARY
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Piccadilly Jim - Chapter XXII - IN THE LIBRARY Post by :louise_annis Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :2038

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Piccadilly Jim - Chapter XXII - IN THE LIBRARY

CHAPTER XXII - IN THE LIBRARY


Jimmy's first emotion on hearing the footstep was the crude
instinct of self-preservation. All that he was able to think of
at the moment was the fact that he was in a questionable position
and one which would require a good deal of explaining away if he
were found, and his only sensation was a strong desire to avoid
discovery. He made a silent, scrambling leap for the gallery
stairs, and reached their shelter just as the door opened. He
stood there, rigid, waiting to be challenged, but apparently he
had moved in time, for no voice spoke. The door closed so gently
as to be almost inaudible, and then there was silence again. The
room remained in darkness, and it was this perhaps that first
suggested to Jimmy the comforting thought that the intruder was
equally desirous of avoiding the scrutiny of his fellows. He had
taken it for granted in his first panic that he himself was the
only person in that room whose motive for being there would not
have borne inspection. But now, safely hidden in the gallery, out
of sight from the floor below, he had the leisure to consider the
newcomer's movements and to draw conclusions from them.

An honest man's first act would surely have been to switch on the
lights. And an honest man would hardly have crept so stealthily.
It became apparent to Jimmy, as he leaned over the rail and tried
to pierce the darkness, that there was sinister work afoot; and
he had hardly reached this conclusion when his mind took a
further leap and he guessed the identity of the soft-footed
person below. It could be none but his old friend Lord Wisbeach,
known to "the boys" as Gentleman Jack. It surprised him that he
had not thought of this before. Then it surprised him that, after
the talk they had only a few hours earlier in that very room,
Gentleman Jack should have dared to risk this raid.

At this moment the blackness was relieved as if by the striking
of a match. The man below had brought an electric torch into
play, and now Jimmy could see clearly. He had been right in his
surmise. It was Lord Wisbeach. He was kneeling in front of the
safe. What he was doing to the safe, Jimmy could not see, for the
man's body was in the way; but the electric torch shone on his
face, lighting up grim, serious features quite unlike the amiable
and slightly vacant mask which his lordship was wont to present
to the world. As Jimmy looked, something happened in the pool of
light beyond his vision. Gentleman Jack gave a muttered
exclamation of satisfaction, and then Jimmy saw that the door of
the safe had swung open. The air was full of a penetrating smell
of scorched metal. Jimmy was not an expert in these matters, but
he had read from time to time of modern burglars and their
methods, and he gathered that an oxy-acetylene blow-pipe, with
its flame that cuts steel as a knife cuts cheese, had been at
work.

Lord Wisbeach flashed the torch into the open safe, plunged his
hand in, and drew it out again, holding something. Handling this
in a cautious and gingerly manner, he placed it carefully in his
breast pocket. Then he straightened himself. He switched off the
torch, and moved to the window, leaving the rest of his
implements by the open safe. He unfastened the shutter, then
raised the catch of the window. At this point it seemed to Jimmy
that the time had come to interfere.

"Tut, tut!" he said in a tone of mild reproof.

The effect of the rebuke on Lord Wisbeach was remarkable. He
jumped convulsively away from the window, then, revolving on his
own axis, flashed the torch into every corner of the room.

"Who's that?" he gasped.

"Conscience!" said Jimmy.

Lord Wisbeach had overlooked the gallery in his researches. He
now turned his torch upwards. The light flooded the gallery on
the opposite side of the room from where Jimmy stood. There was a
pistol in Gentleman Jack's hand now. It followed the torch
uncertainly.

Jimmy, lying flat on the gallery floor, spoke again.

"Throw that gun away, and the torch, too," he said. "I've got you
covered!"

The torch flashed above his head, but the raised edge of the
gallery rail protected him.

"I'll give you five seconds. If you haven't dropped that gun by
then, I shall shoot!"

As he began to count, Jimmy heartily regretted that he had
allowed his appreciation of the dramatic to lead him into this
situation. It would have been so simple to have roused the house
in a prosaic way and avoided this delicate position. Suppose his
bluff did not succeed. Suppose the other still clung to his
pistol at the end of the five seconds. He wished that he had made
it ten instead. Gentleman Jack was an enterprising person, as his
previous acts had showed. He might very well decide to take a
chance. He might even refuse to believe that Jimmy was armed. He
had only Jimmy's word for it. Perhaps he might be as deficient in
simple faith as he had proved to be in Norman blood! Jimmy
lingered lovingly over his count.

"Four!" he said reluctantly.

There was a breathless moment. Then, to Jimmy's unspeakable
relief, gun and torch dropped simultaneously to the floor. In an
instant Jimmy was himself again.

"Go and stand with your face to that wall," he said crisply.
"Hold your hands up!"

"Why?"

"I'm going to see how many more guns you've got."

"I haven't another."

"I'd like to make sure of that for myself. Get moving!"

Gentleman Jack reluctantly obeyed. When he had reached the wall,
Jimmy came down. He switched on the lights. He felt in the
other's pockets, and almost at once encountered something hard
and metallic.

He shook his head reproachfully.

"You are very loose and inaccurate in your statements," he said.
"Why all these weapons? I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier!
Now you can turn around and put your hands down."

Gentleman Jack's appeared to be a philosophical nature. The
chagrin consequent upon his failure seemed to have left him. He
sat on the arm of a chair and regarded Jimmy without apparent
hostility. He even smiled a faint smile.

"I thought I had fixed you, he said. You must have been smarter
than I took you for. I never supposed you would get on to that
drink and pass it up."

Understanding of an incident which had perplexed him came to
Jimmy.

"Was it you who put that high-ball in my room? Was it doped?"

"Didn't you know?"

"Well," said Jimmy, "I never knew before that virtue got its
reward so darned quick in this world. I rejected that high-ball
not because I suspected it but out of pure goodness, because I
had made up my mind that I was through with all that sort of
thing."

His companion laughed. If Jimmy had had a more intimate
acquaintance with the resourceful individual whom the "boys"
called Gentleman Jack, he would have been disquieted by that
laugh. It was an axiom among those who knew him well, that when
Gentleman Jack chuckled in the reflective way, he generally had
something unpleasant up his sleeve.

"It's your lucky night," said Gentleman Jack.

"It looks like it."

"Well, it isn't over yet."

"Very nearly. You had better go and put that test-tube back in
what is left of the safe now. Did you think I had forgotten it?"

"What test-tube?"

"Come, come, old friend! The one filled with Partridge's
explosive, which you have in your breast-pocket."

Gentleman Jack laughed again. Then he moved towards the safe.

"Place it gently on the top shelf," said Jimmy.

The next moment every nerve in his body was leaping and
quivering. A great shout split the air. Gentleman Jack,
apparently insane, was giving tongue at the top of his voice.

"Help! Help! Help!"

The conversation having been conducted up to this point in
undertones, the effect of this unexpected uproar was like an
explosion. The cries seemed to echo round the room and shake the
very walls. For a moment Jimmy stood paralysed, staring feebly;
then there was a sudden deafening increase in the din. Something
living seemed to writhe and jump in his hand. He dropped it
incontinently, and found himself gazing in a stupefied way at a
round, smoking hole in the carpet. Such had been the effect of
Gentleman Jack's unforeseen outburst that he had quite forgotten
that he held the revolver, and he had been unfortunate enough at
this juncture to pull the trigger.

There was a sudden rush and a swirl of action. Something hit
Jimmy under the chin. He staggered back, and when he had
recovered himself found himself looking into the muzzle of the
revolver which had nearly blown a hole in his foot a moment back.
The sardonic face of Gentleman Jack smiled grimly over the
barrel.

"I told you the night wasn't over yet!" he said.

The blow under the chin had temporarily dulled Jimmy's mentality.
He stood, swallowing and endeavouring to pull himself together
and to get rid of a feeling that his head was about to come off.
He backed to the desk and steadied himself against it.

As he did so, a voice from behind him spoke.

"Whassall this?"

He turned his head. A curious procession was filing in through
the open French window. First came Mr. Crocker, still wearing his
hideous mask; then a heavily bearded individual with round
spectacles, who looked like an automobile coming through a
haystack; then Ogden Ford, and finally a sturdy,
determined-looking woman with glittering but poorly co-ordinated
eyes, who held a large revolver in her unshaking right hand and
looked the very embodiment of the modern female who will stand no
nonsense. It was part of the nightmare-like atmosphere which
seemed to brood inexorably over this particular night that this
person looked to Jimmy exactly like the parlour-maid who had come
to him in this room in answer to the bell and who had sent his
father to him. Yet how could it be she? Jimmy knew little of the
habits of parlour-maids, but surely they did not wander about
with revolvers in the small hours?

While he endeavoured feverishly to find reason in this chaos, the
door opened and a motley crowd, roused from sleep by the cries,
poured in. Jimmy, turning his head back again to attend to this
invasion, perceived Mrs. Pett, Ann, two or three of the geniuses,
and Willie Partridge, in various stages of _negligee and babbling
questions.

The woman with the pistol, assuming instant and unquestioned
domination of the assembly, snapped out an order.

"Shutatdoor!"

Somebody shut the door.

"Now, whassall this?" she said, turning to Gentleman Jack.

Content of CHAPTER XXII - IN THE LIBRARY (P G Wodehouse's novel: Piccadilly Jim)

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