‘Hands up!’ said Mr Cootes with the uncouth curtness of one who has not had the advantages of a refined home and a nice upbringing. He advanced warily, preceded by the revolver. It was a dainty, miniature weapon, such as might have been the property of some gentle lady. Mr Cootes had, in fact, borrowed it from Miss Peavey, who at this juncture entered the room in a black and silver dinner-dress surmounted by a Rose du Barri wrap, her spiritual face glowing softly in the subdued light.
‘Attaboy, Ed,’ observed Miss Peavey crisply.
She swooped on the table and gathered up the necklace. Mr Cootes, though probably gratified by the tribute, made no acknowledgement of it, but continued to direct an austere gaze at Eve and Psmith.
‘No funny business,’ he advised.
‘I would be the last person,’ said Psmith agreeably, ‘to advocate anything of the sort. This,’ he said to Eve, ‘is Comrade Cootes, of whom you have heard so much.’
Eve was staring, bewildered, at the poetess, who, satisfied with the manner in which the preliminaries had been conducted, had begun looking about her with idle curiosity.
‘Miss Peavey!’ cried Eve. Of all the events of this eventful night the appearance of Lady Constance’s emotional friend in the ro^le of criminal was the most disconcerting. ‘Miss Peavey!’
‘Hallo?’ responded that lady agreeably.
‘What, I think, Miss Halliday is trying to say,’ cut in Psmith, ‘is that she is finding it a little difficult to adjust her mind to the present development. I, too, must confess myself somewhat at a loss. I knew, of course, that Comrade Cootes had — shall I say an acquisitive streak in him, but you I had always supposed to be one hundred per cent, soul — and snowy white at that.’
‘Yeah?’ said Miss Peavey, but faintly interested.
‘I imagined that you were a poetess.’
‘So I am a poetess,’ retorted Miss Peavey hotly. ‘Just you start in joshing my poems and see how quick I’ll bean you with a brick. Well, Ed, no sense in sticking around here. Let’s go.
‘We’ll have to tie these birds up,’ said Mr Cootes. ‘Otherwise we’ll have them squealing before I can make a getaway.’
‘Ed,’ said Miss Peavey with the scorn which her colleague so often excited in her, ‘try to remember sometimes that that thing balanced on your collar is a head, not a hubbard squash. And be careful what you’re doing with that gat! Waving it about like it was a bouquet or something. How are they going to squeal? They can’t say a thing without telling everyone they snitched the stuff first.’
‘That’s right,’ admitted Mr Cootes.
‘Well, then, don’t come butting in.’
The silence into which this rebuke plunged Mr Cootes gave Psmith the opportunity to resume speech. An opportunity of which he was glad, for, while he had nothing of definitely vital import to say, he was optimist enough to feel that his only hope of recovering the necklace was to keep the conversation going on the chance of something turning up. Affable though his manner was, he had never lost sight of the fact that one leap would take him across the space of floor separating him from Mr Cootes. At present, that small but effective revolver precluded anything in the nature of leaps, however short, but if in the near future anything occurred to divert his adversary’s vigilance even momentarily.... He pursued a policy of watchful waiting, and in the meantime started to talk again.
‘If, before you go,’ he said, ‘you can spare us a moment of your valuable time, I should be glad of a few words. And, first, may I say that I cordially agree with your condemnation of Comrade Cootes’s recent suggestion. The man is an ass.’
‘Say!’ cried Mr Cootes, coming to life again, ‘that’ll be about all from you. If there wasn’t ladies present, I’d bust you one.’
‘Ed,’ said Miss Peavey with quiet authority, ‘shut your trap!’
Mr Cootes subsided once more. Psmith gazed at him through his monocle, interested.
‘Pardon me,’ he said, ‘but — if it is not a rude question — are you two married?’
‘You seemed to me to talk to him like a wife. Am I addressing Mrs Cootes?’
‘You will be if you stick around a while.’
‘A thousand congratulations to Comrade Cootes. Not quite so many to you, possibly, but fully that number of good wishes.’
He moved towards the poetess with extended hand. ‘I am thinking of getting married myself shortly.’
‘Keep those hands up,’ said Mr Cootes.
‘Surely,’ said Psmith reproachfully, ‘these conventions need not be observed among friends? You will find the only revolver I have ever possessed over there on the mantelpiece. Go and look at it.’
‘Yes, and have you jumping on my back the moment I took my eyes off you!’
‘There is a suspicious vein in your nature, Comrade Cootes,’ sighed Psmith, ‘which I do not like to see. Fight against it.’ He turned to Miss Peavey once more. ‘To resume a pleasanter topic, you will let me know where to send the plated fish-slice, won’t you?’
‘Huh?’ said the lady.
‘I was hoping,’ proceeded Psmith, ‘if you do not think it a liberty on the part of one who has known you but a short time, to be allowed to send you a small wedding-present in due season. And one of these days, perhaps, when I too am married, you and Comrade Cootes will come and visit us in our little home. You will receive a hearty, unaffected welcome. You must not be offended if, just before you say good-bye, we count the spoons.’