The Intrusion of Jimmy/Chapter 26

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CHAPTER XXVI


STIRRING TIMES FOR SIR THOMAS


FOR a man whose intentions toward the jewels and their owner were so innocent, and even benevolent, Jimmy was in a singularly compromising position. It would have been difficult even under more favorable conditions to have explained to Sir Thomas's satisfaction his presence in the dressing-room. As things stood, it was even harder, for his lordship's last action before seeking cover had been to fling the necklace from him like a burning coal. For the second time in ten minutes, it had fallen to the carpet, and it was just as Jimmy straightened himself after picking it up that Sir Thomas got a full view of him.

The knight stood in the doorway, his face expressing the most lively astonishment. His bulging eyes were fixed upon the necklace in Jimmy's hand. Jimmy could see him struggling to find words to cope with so special a situation, and felt rather sorry for him. Excitement of this kind was bad for a short-necked man of Sir Thomas's type.

With kindly tact, he endeavored to help his host out.

"Good-evening," he said, pleasantly.

Sir Thomas stammered. He was gradually nearing speech.

"What—what—what—" he said.

"Out with it," said Jimmy.

"—what—"

"I knew a man once in South Dakota who stammered," said Jimmy. "He used to chew dog-biscuit while he was speaking. It cured him—besides being nutritious. Another good way is to count ten while you're thinking what to say, and then get it out quick."

"You—you blackguard!"

Jimmy placed the necklace carefully on the dressing-table. Then, he turned to Sir Thomas, with his hands thrust into his pockets. Over the knight's head, he could see the folds of the curtain quivering gently, as if stirred by some zephyr. Evidently, the drama of the situation was not lost on Hildebrand Spencer, twelfth Earl of Dreever.

Nor was it lost on Jimmy. This was precisely the sort of situation that appealed to him. He had his plan of action clearly mapped out. He knew that it would be useless to tell the knight the true facts of the case. Sir Thomas was as deficient in simple faith as in Norman blood. Though a Londoner by birth, he had one, at least, of the characteristic traits of the natives of Missouri.

To all appearances, this was a tight corner, but Jimmy fancied that he saw his way out of it. Meanwhile, the situation appealed to him. Curiously enough, it was almost identical with the big scene in act three of "Love, the Cracksman," in which Arthur Mifflin had made such a hit as the debonair burglar.

Jimmy proceeded to give his own idea of what the rendering of a debonair burglar should be. Arthur Mifflin had lighted a cigarette, and had shot out smoke-rings and repartee alternately. A cigarette would have been a great help here, but Jimmy prepared to do his best without properties.

"So—so, it's you, is it?" said Sir Thomas.

"Who told you?"

"Thief! Low thief!"

"Come, now," protested Jimmy. "Why low? Just because you don't know me over here, why scorn me? How do you know I haven't got a big American reputation? For all you can tell, I may be Boston Billie or Sacramento Sam, or someone. Let us preserve the decencies of debate."

"I had my suspicions of you. I had my suspicions from the first, when I heard that my idiot of a nephew had made a casual friend in London. So, this was what you were! A thief, who—"

"I don't mind, personally," interrupted Jimmy, "but I hope, if ever you mix with cracksmen, you won't go calling them thieves. They are frightfully sensitive. You see! There's a world of difference between the two branches of the profession and a good deal of snobbish caste-prejudice. Let us suppose that you were an actor-manager. How would you enjoy being called a super? You see the idea, don't you? You'd hurt their feelings. Now, an ordinary thief would probably use violence in a case like this. But violence, except in extreme cases—I hope this won't be one of them—is contrary, I understand, to cracksman's etiquette. On the other hand, Sir Thomas, candor compels me to add that I have you covered."

There was a pipe in the pocket of his coat. He thrust the stem earnestly against the lining. Sir Thomas eyed the protuberance apprehensively, and turned a little pale. Jimmy was scowling ferociously. Arthur Mifflin's scowl in act three had been much admired.

"My gun," said Jimmy, "is, as you see, in my pocket. I always shoot from the pocket, in spite of the tailor's bills. The little fellow is loaded and cocked. He's pointing straight at your diamond solitaire. That fatal spot! No one has ever been hit in the diamond solitaire, and survived. My finger is on the trigger. So, I should recommend you not to touch that bell you are looking at. There are other reasons why you shouldn't, but those I will go into presently."

Sir Thomas's hand wavered.

"Do if you like, of course," said Jimmy, agreeably. "It's your own house. But I shouldn't. I am a dead shot at a yard and a half. You wouldn't believe the number of sitting haystacks I've picked off at that distance. I just can't miss. On second thoughts, I sha'n't fire to kill you. Let us be humane on this joyful occasion. I shall just smash your knees. Painful, but not fatal."

He waggled the pipe suggestively. Sir Thomas blenched. His hand fell to his side.

"Great!" said Jimmy. "After all, why should you be in a hurry to break up this very pleasant little meeting. I'm sure I'm not. Let us chat. How are the theatricals going? Was the duologue a success? Wait till you see our show. Three of us knew our lines at the dress-rehearsal."

Sir Thomas had backed away from the bell, but the retreat was merely for the convenience of the moment. He understood that it might be injudicious to press the button just then; but he had recovered his composure by this time, and he saw that ultimately the game must be his. His face resumed its normal hue. Automatically, his hands began to move toward his coat-tails, his feet to spread themselves. Jimmy noted with a smile these signs of restored complacency. He hoped ere long to upset that complacency somewhat.

Sir Thomas addressed himself to making Jimmy's position clear to him.

"How, may I ask," he said, "do you propose to leave the castle?"

"Won't you let me have the automobile?" said Jimmy. "But I guess I sha'n't be leaving just yet."

Sir Thomas laughed shortly.

"No," he said—"no! I fancy not. I am with you there!"

"Great minds," said Jimmy. "I shouldn't be surprised if we thought alike on all sorts of subjects. Just think how you came round to my views on ringing bells. But what made you fancy that I intended to leave the castle?"

"I should hardly have supposed that you would be anxious to stay."

"On the contrary! It's the one place I have been in, in the last two years, that I have felt really satisfied with. Usually, I want to move on after a week. But I could stop here forever."

"I am afraid, Mr. Pitt— By the way, an alias, of course?"

Jimmy shook his head.

"I fear not," he said. "If I had chosen an alias, it would have been Tressilyan, or Trevelyan, or something. I call Pitt a poor thing in names. I once knew a man called Ronald Cheylesmore. Lucky devil!"

Sir Thomas returned to the point on which he had been about to touch.

"I am afraid, Mr. Pitt," he said, "that you hardly realize your position."

"No?" said Jimmy, interested.

"I find you in the act of stealing my wife's necklace—"

"Would there be any use in telling you that I was not stealing it, but putting it back?"

Sir Thomas raised his eyebrows in silence.

"No?" said Jimmy. "I was afraid not. You were saying—?"

"I find you in the act of stealing my wife's necklace," proceeded Sir Thomas, "and, because for the moment you succeed in postponing arrest by threatening me with a revolver—"

An agitated look came into Jimmy's face.

"Great Scott!" he cried. He felt hastily in his pocket.

"Yes," he said; "as I had begun to fear. I owe you an apology, Sir Thomas," he went on with manly dignity, producing the briar, "I am entirely to blame. How the mistake arose I cannot imagine, but I find it isn't a revolver after all."

Sir Thomas' cheeks took on a richer tint of purple. He glared dumbly at the pipe.

"In the excitement of the moment, I guess—" began Jimmy.

Sir Thomas interrupted. The recollection of his needless panic rankled within him.

"You—you—you—"

"Count ten!"

"You—what you propose to gain by this buffoonery, I am at a loss—"

"How can you say such savage things!" protested Jimmy. "Not buffoonery! Wit! Esprit! Flow of soul such as circulates daily in the best society."

Sir Thomas almost leaped toward the bell. With his finger on it, he turned to deliver a final speech.

"I believe you're insane," he cried, "but I'll have no more of it. I have endured this foolery long enough. I'll—"

"Just one moment," said Jimmy. "I said just now that there were reasons besides the revol—well, pipe—why you should not ring that bell. One of them is that all the servants will be in their places in the audience, so that there won't be anyone to answer it. But that's not the most convincing reason. Will you listen to one more before getting busy?"

"I see your game. Don't imagine for a moment that you can trick me."

"Nothing could be further—"

"You fancy you can gain time by talking, and find some way to escape—"

"But I don't want to escape. Don't you realize that in about ten minutes I am due to play an important part in a great drama on the stage?"

"I'll keep you here, I tell you. You'll leave this room," said Sir Thomas, grandly, "over my body."

"Steeple-chasing in the home," murmured Jimmy. "No more dull evenings. But listen. Do listen! I won't keep you a minute, and, if you want to push that bell after I'm through, you may push it six inches into the wall if you like."

"Well," said Sir Thomas, shortly.

"Would you like me to lead gently up to what I want to say, gradually preparing you for the reception of the news, or shall I—?"

The knight took out his watch.

"I shall give you one minute," he said.

"Heavens, I must hustle! How many seconds have I got now?"

"If you have anything to say, say it."

"Very well, then," said Jimmy. "It's only this: That necklace is a fraud. The diamonds aren't diamonds at all. They're paste!"