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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Gem Collector - Chapter IX
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The Gem Collector - Chapter IX Post by :Ozebookstore Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :July 2011 Read :2565

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The Gem Collector - Chapter IX

CHAPTER IX

It was at dinner that Jimmy had his first chance of seeing the rope of pearls which had so stimulated the roving fancy of Spike Mullins. Lady Blunt sat almost opposite to him. Her dress was of unrelieved black, and formed a wonderfully effective foil to the gems. It was not a rope of pearls. It was a collar. Her neck was covered with them. There was something Oriental and barbaric in the overwhelming display of jewelry. And this suggestion of the East was emphasized by the wearer's regal carriage. Lady Blunt knew when she looked well. She did not hold herself like one apologizing for venturing to exist.

Jimmy stared hungrily across the table. The room was empty to him but for that gleaming mass of gems. He breathed softly and quickly through clinched teeth.

"Jimmy!" whispered a voice.

It seemed infinitely remote.

A hand shook his elbow gently. He started.

"_Don't stare like that, _please_. What is the matter?"

Molly, seated at his side, was looking at him wide-eyed. Jimmy smiled with an effort. Every nerve in his body seemed to be writhing.

"Sorry," he said. "I'm only hungry. I always look like that at the beginning of a meal."

"Well, here comes Keggs with some soup for you. You'd better not waste another moment. You looked perfectly awful."

"No!"

"Like a starved wolf."

"You must look after me," said Jimmy, "see that the wolf's properly fed."

* * * * *

The conversation, becoming general with the fish, was not of a kind to remove from Jimmy's mind the impression made by the sight of the pearls. It turned on crime in general and burglary in particular.

Spennie began it.

"Oh, I say," he said, "I forgot to tell you, mother. Number Six was burgled the other night."

Number Six-a, Easton Square, was the family's London house.

"Burgled!"

"Well, broken into," said Spennie, gratified to find that he had got the ear of his entire audience. Even Lady Blunt was silent and attentive. "Chap got in through the scullery window about one o'clock, in the morning. It was the night after you dined with me, Pitt."

"And what did our Spennie do?" inquired Sir Thomas.

"Oh, I--er--I was out at the time," said Spennie. "But something frightened the feller," he went on hurriedly, "and he made a bolt for it without taking anything."

Jimmy, looking down the table, became conscious that his host's eye was fixed gloomily upon him. He knew intuitively what was passing in McEachern's mind. The ex-policeman was feeling that his worst suspicions had been confirmed. Jimmy had dined with Spennie--obviously a mere excuse for spying out the land; and the very next night the house had been burgled. Once more Mr. McEachern congratulated himself on his astuteness in engaging the detective from Wragge's Agency. With Jimmy above stairs and Spike Mullins below, that sleuthhound would have his hands full.

"Burglary," said Wesson, leaning back and taking advantage of a pause, "is the hobby of the sportsman and the life work of the avaricious."

Everybody seemed to have something to say on the subject. One young lady gave it as her opinion that she would not like to find a burglar under her bed. Somebody else had known a man whose father had fired at the butler, under the impression that he was a housebreaker, and had broken a valuable bust of Socrates. Spennie knew a man at Oxford whose brother wrote lyrics for musical comedy, and had done one about a burglar's best friend being his mother.

"Life," said Wesson, who had had time for reflection, "is a house which we all burgle. We enter it uninvited, take all that we can lay hands on, and go out again."

"This man's brother I was telling you about," said Spennie, "says there's only one rhyme in the English language to 'burglar', and that's 'gurgler'. Unless you count 'pergola', he says----"

"Personally," said Jimmy, with a glance at McEachern, "I have rather a sympathy for burglars. After all, they are one of the hardest-working classes in existence. They toil while everybody else is asleep. They are generally thorough sportsmen. Besides, a burglar is only a practical socialist. Philosophers talk a lot about the redistribution of wealth. The burglar goes out and does it. I have found burglars some of the decentest criminals I have ever met. Out of business hours they are charming."

"I despise burglars!" ejaculated Lady Blunt, with a suddenness which stopped Jimmy's eloquence as if a tap had been turned off. "If I found one coming after my jewels and I had a gun handy, I'd shoot him. I would."

"My dear Julia!" said Lady Jane. "Why suggest such dreadful things? At any rate, this house has never been burgled, and I don't think it's likely to be."

"Beroofen!" said Jimmy, touching the back of his chair. As he did so, he met McEachern's eye, and smiled kindly at him. The ex-policeman was looking at him with the gaze of a baffled but malignant basilisk.

"I take very good care no one gets a chance at my jewels," said Lady Blunt. "I've had a steel box made for me with a special lock which would drive the cunningest burglar on this earth mad before he'd been at it ten minutes. It would. He'd go right away and reform."

Jimmy's lips closed tightly, and a combative look came into his eye at this unconscious challenge. This woman was too aggressively confident. A small lesson. He could return the jewels by post. It would give her a much-needed jolt.

Then he pulled himself up.

"James, my boy," he said to himself, with severity, "this is hypocrisy. You know perfectly well that is not why you want those pearls. Don't try and bluff yourself, because it won't do."

The conversation turned to other topics. Jimmy was glad of it. He wanted to think this thing over.

From where he sat, he had an excellent view of the rope of pearls which was tugging him back to his old ways. And when he looked at them he could not see Molly. The thing was symbolical. It must be one or the other. He was at the crossroads. The affair was becoming a civil war. He felt like a rudderless boat between two currents. Eight years of gem collecting do not leave a man without a deep-rooted passion for the sport. As for that steel box, that was all nonsense. It was probably quite a good steel box, and the lock might very well be something out of the ordinary; but it could not be a harder job than some of those he had tackled.

The pearls shone in the lamplight. They seemed to be winking at him.

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