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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Little Nugget By P. G. Wodehouse Characters: 8267

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


I give the letter in full. It was written from the s.y. Mermaid, lying in Monaco Harbour.

MY DEAR PETER, Where is Ogden? We have been expecting him every day. Mrs Ford is worrying herself to death. She keeps asking me if I have any news, and it is very tiresome to have to keep telling her that I have not heard from you. Surely, with the opportunities you must get every day, you can manage to kidnap him. Do be quick. We are relying on you.-In haste, CYNTHIA.

I read this brief and business-like communication several times during the day; and after dinner that night, in order to meditate upon it in solitude, I left the house and wandered off in the direction of the village.

I was midway between house and village when I became aware that I was being followed. The night was dark, and the wind moving in the tree-tops emphasized the loneliness of the country road. Both time and place were such as made it peculiarly unpleasant to hear stealthy footsteps on the road behind me.

Uncertainty in such cases is the unnerving thing. I turned sharply, and began to walk back on tiptoe in the direction from which I had come.

I had not been mistaken. A moment later a dark figure loomed up out of the darkness, and the exclamation which greeted me, as I made my presence known, showed that I had taken him by surprise.

There was a momentary pause. I expected the man, whoever he might be, to run, but he held his ground. Indeed, he edged forward.

'Get back!' I said, and allowed my stick to rasp suggestively on the road before raising it in readiness for any sudden development. It was as well that he should know it was there.

The hint seemed to wound rather than frighten him.

'Aw, cut out the rough stuff, bo,' he said reproachfully in a cautious, husky undertone. 'I ain't goin' to start anything.'

I had an impression that I had heard the voice before, but I could not place it.

'What are you following me for?' I demanded. 'Who are you?'

'Say, I want a talk wit youse. I took a slant at youse under de lamp-post back dere, an' I seen it was you, so I tagged along. Say, I'm wise to your game, sport.'

I had identified him by this time. Unless there were two men in the neighbourhood of Sanstead who hailed from the Bowery, this must be the man I had seen at the 'Feathers' who had incurred the disapproval of Miss Benjafield.

'I haven't the faintest idea what you mean,' I said. 'What is my game?'

His voice became reproachful again.

'Ah chee!' he protested. 'Quit yer kiddin'! What was youse rubberin' around de house for last night if you wasn't trailin' de kid?'

'Was it you who ran into me last night?' I asked.

'Gee! I fought it was a tree. I came near takin' de count.'

'I did take it. You seemed in a great hurry.'

'Hell!' said the man simply, and expectorated.

'Say,' he resumed, having delivered this criticism on that stirring episode, dat's a great kid, dat Nugget. I fought it was a Black Hand soup explosion when he cut loose. But, say, let's don't waste time. We gotta get together about dat kid.'

'Certainly, if you wish it. What do you happen to mean?'

'Aw, quit yer kiddin'!' He expectorated again. He seemed to be a man who could express the whole gamut of emotions by this simple means. 'I know you!'

'Then you have the advantage of me, though I believe I remember seeing you before. Weren't you at the "Feathers" one Wednesday evening, singing something about a dog?'

'Sure. Dat was me.'

'What do you mean by saying that you know me?'

'Aw, quit yer kiddin', Sam!'

There was, it seemed to me, a reluctantly admiring note in his voice.

'Tell me, who do you think I am?' I asked patiently.

'Ahr ghee! You can't string me, sport. Smooth Sam Fisher, is who you are, bo. I know you.'

I was too surprised to speak. Verily, some have greatness thrust upon them.

'I hain't never seen youse, Sam,' he continued, 'but I know it's you. And I'll tell youse how I doped it out. To begin with, there ain't but you and your bunch and me and my bunch dat knows de Little Nugget's on dis side at all. Dey sneaked him out of New Yor

k mighty slick. And I heard that you had come here after him. So when I runs into a guy dat's trailin' de kid down here, well, who's it going to be if it ain't youse? And when dat guy talks like a dude, like they all say you do, well, who's it going to be if it ain't youse? So quit yer kiddin', Sam, and let's get down to business.'

'Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr Buck MacGinnis?' I said. I felt convinced that this could be no other than that celebrity.

'Dat's right. Dere's no need to keep up anyt'ing wit me, Sam.

We're bote on de same trail, so let's get down to it.'

'One moment,' I said. 'Would it surprise you to hear that my name is Burns, and that I am a master at the school?'

He expectorated admirably.

'Hell, no!' he said. 'Gee, it's just what you would be, Sam. I always heard youse had been one of dese rah-rah boys oncest. Say, it's mighty smart of youse to be a perfessor. You're right in on de ground floor.'

His voice became appealing.

'Say, Sam, don't be a hawg. Let's go fifty-fifty in dis deal. My bunch and me has come a hell of a number of miles on dis proposition, and dere ain't no need for us to fall scrappin' over it. Dere's plenty for all of us. Old man Ford'll cough up enough for every one, and dere won't be any fuss. Let's sit in togedder on dis nuggett'ing. It ain't like as if it was an ornery two-by-four deal. I wouldn't ask youse if it wasn't big enough fir de whole bunch of us.'

As I said nothing, he proceeded.

'It ain't square, Sam, to take advantage of your having education. If it was a square fight, and us bote wit de same chance, I wouldn't say; but you bein' a dude perfessor and gettin' right into de place like dat ain't right. Say, don't be a hawg, Sam. Don't swipe it all. Fifty-fifty! Does dat go?'

'I don't know,' I said. 'You had better ask the real Sam. Good night.'

I walked past him and made for the school gates at my best pace.

He trotted after me, pleading.

'Sam, give us a quarter, then.'

I walked on.

'Sam, don't be a hawg!'

He broke into a run.

'Sam!' His voice lost its pleading tone and rasped menacingly.

'Gee, if I had me canister, youse wouldn't be so flip! Listen here, you big cheese! You t'ink youse is de only t'ing in sight, huh? Well, we ain't done yet. You'll see yet. We'll fix you! Youse had best watch out.'

I stopped and turned on him. 'Look here, you fool,' I cried. 'I tell you I am not Sam Fisher. Can't you understand that you have got hold of the wrong man? My name is Burns-Burns.'

He expectorated-scornfully this time. He was a man slow by nature to receive ideas, but slower to rid himself of one that had contrived to force its way into what he probably called his brain. He had decided on the evidence that I was Smooth Sam Fisher, and no denials on my part were going to shake his belief. He looked on them merely as so many unsportsmanlike quibbles prompted by greed.

'Tell it to Sweeney!' was the form in which he crystallized his scepticism.

'May be you'll say youse ain't trailin' de Nugget, huh?'

It was a home-thrust. If truth-telling has become a habit, one gets slowly off the mark when the moment arrives for the prudent lie. Quite against my will, I hesitated. Observant Mr MacGinnis perceived my hesitation and expectorated triumphantly.

'Ah ghee!' he remarked. And then with a sudden return to ferocity,

'All right, you Sam, you wait! We'll fix you, and fix you good!

See? Dat goes. You t'ink youse kin put it across us, huh? All

right, you'll get yours. You wait!'

And with these words he slid off into the night. From somewhere in the murky middle distance came a scornful 'Hawg!' and he was gone, leaving me with a settled conviction that, while I had frequently had occasion, since my expedition to Sanstead began, to describe affairs as complex, their complexity had now reached its height. With a watchful Pinkerton's man within, and a vengeful gang of rivals without, Sanstead House seemed likely to become an unrestful place for a young kidnapper with no previous experience.

The need for swift action had become imperative.

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