A Damsel in Distress
by P.G. Wodehouse
Inasmuch as the scene of this story is that historic pile, Belpher
Castle, in the county of Hampshire, it would be an agreeable task
to open it with a leisurely description of the place, followed by
some notes on the history of the Earls of Marshmoreton, who have
owned it since the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, in these days
of rush and hurry, a novelist works at a disadvantage. He must
leap into the middle of his tale with as little delay as he would
employ in boarding a moving tramcar. He must get off the mark with
the smooth swiftness of a jack-rabbit surprised while lunching.
Otherwise, people throw him aside and go out to picture palaces.
I may briefly remark that the present Lord Marshmoreton is a
widower of some forty-eight years: that he has two children--a son,
Percy Wilbraham Marsh, Lord Belpher, who is on the brink of his
twenty-first birthday, and a daughter, Lady Patricia Maud Marsh,
who is just twenty: that the chatelaine of the castle is Lady
Caroline Byng, Lord Marshmoreton's sister, who married the very
wealthy colliery owner, Clifford Byng, a few years before his death
(which unkind people say she hastened): and that she has a
step-son, Reginald. Give me time to mention these few facts and I
am done. On the glorious past of the Marshmoretons I will not even
Luckily, the loss to literature is not irreparable. Lord
Marshmoreton himself is engaged upon a history of the family, which
will doubtless be on every bookshelf as soon as his lordship gets
it finished. And, as for the castle and its surroundings, including
the model dairy and the amber drawing-room, you may see them for
yourself any Thursday, when Belpher is thrown open to the public on
payment of a fee of one shilling a head. The money is collected by
Keggs the butler, and goes to a worthy local charity. At least,
that is the idea. But the voice of calumny is never silent, and
there exists a school of thought, headed by Albert, the page-boy,
which holds that Keggs sticks to these shillings like glue, and
adds them to his already considerable savings in the Farmers' and
Merchants' Bank, on the left side of the High Street in Belpher
village, next door to the Oddfellows' Hall.
With regard to this, one can only say that Keggs looks far too much
like a particularly saintly bishop to indulge in any such
practices. On the other hand, Albert knows Keggs. We must leave the
Of course, appearances are deceptive. Anyone, for instance, who had
been standing outside the front entrance of the castle at eleven
o'clock on a certain June morning might easily have made a mistake.
Such a person would probably have jumped to the conclusion that the
middle-aged lady of a determined cast of countenance who was
standing near the rose-garden, talking to the gardener and watching
the young couple strolling on the terrace below, was the mother of
the pretty girl, and that she was smiling because the latter had
recently become engaged to the tall, pleasant-faced youth at her
Sherlock Holmes himself might have been misled. One can hear him
explaining the thing to Watson in one of those lightning flashes of
inductive reasoning of his. "It is the only explanation, my dear
Watson. If the lady were merely complimenting the gardener on his
rose-garden, and if her smile were merely caused by the excellent
appearance of that rose-garden, there would be an answering smile
on the face of the gardener. But, as you see, he looks morose and
As a matter of fact, the gardener--that is to say, the stocky,
brown-faced man in shirt sleeves and corduroy trousers who was
frowning into a can of whale-oil solution--was the Earl of
Marshmoreton, and there were two reasons for his gloom. He hated to
be interrupted while working, and, furthermore, Lady Caroline Byng
always got on his nerves, and never more so than when, as now, she
speculated on the possibility of a romance between her step-son
Reggie and his lordship's daughter Maud.
Only his intimates would have recognized in this curious
corduroy-trousered figure the seventh Earl of Marshmoreton. The
Lord Marshmoreton who made intermittent appearances in London, who
lunched among bishops at the Athenaeum Club without exciting
remark, was a correctly dressed gentleman whom no one would have
suspected of covering his sturdy legs in anything but the finest
cloth. But if you will glance at your copy of Who's Who, and turn
up the "M's", you will find in the space allotted to the Earl the
words "Hobby--Gardening". To which, in a burst of modest pride, his
lordship has added "Awarded first prize for Hybrid Teas, Temple
Flower Show, 1911". The words tell their own story.
Lord Marshmoreton was the most enthusiastic amateur gardener in a
land of enthusiastic amateur gardeners. He lived for his garden.
The love which other men expend on their nearest and dearest Lord
Marshmoreton lavished on seeds, roses and loamy soil. The hatred
which some of his order feel for Socialists and Demagogues Lord
Marshmoreton kept for roseslugs, rose-beetles and the small,
yellowish-white insect which is so depraved and sinister a
character that it goes through life with an alias--being sometimes
called a rose-hopper and sometimes a thrips. A simple soul, Lord
Marshmoreton--mild and pleasant. Yet put him among the thrips, and
he became a dealer-out of death and slaughter, a destroyer in the
class of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan. Thrips feed on the
underside of rose leaves, sucking their juice and causing them to
turn yellow; and Lord Marshmoreton's views on these things were so
rigid that he would have poured whale-oil solution on his
grandmother if he had found her on the underside of one of his rose
leaves sucking its juice.
The only time in the day when he ceased to be the horny-handed
toiler and became the aristocrat was in the evening after dinner,
when, egged on by Lady Caroline, who gave him no rest in the
matter--he would retire to his private study and work on his
History of the Family, assisted by his able secretary, Alice
Faraday. His progress on that massive work was, however, slow. Ten
hours in the open air made a man drowsy, and too often Lord
Marshmoreton would fall asleep in mid-sentence to the annoyance of
Miss Faraday, who was a conscientious girl and liked to earn her
The couple on the terrace had turned. Reggie Byng's face, as he
bent over Maud, was earnest and animated, and even from a distance
it was possible to see how the girl's eyes lit up at what he was
saying. She was hanging on his words. Lady Caroline's smile became
more and more benevolent.
"They make a charming pair," she murmured. "I wonder what dear
Reggie is saying. Perhaps at this very moment--"
She broke off with a sigh of content. She had had her troubles over
this affair. Dear Reggie, usually so plastic in her hands, had
displayed an unaccountable reluctance to offer his agreeable self
to Maud--in spite of the fact that never, not even on the public
platform which she adorned so well, had his step-mother reasoned
more clearly than she did when pointing out to him the advantages
of the match. It was not that Reggie disliked Maud. He admitted
that she was a "topper", on several occasions going so far as to
describe her as "absolutely priceless". But he seemed reluctant to
ask her to marry him. How could Lady Caroline know that Reggie's
entire world--or such of it as was not occupied by racing cars and
golf--was filled by Alice Faraday? Reggie had never told her. He
had not even told Miss Faraday.
"Perhaps at this very moment," went on Lady Caroline, "the dear boy
is proposing to her."
Lord Marshmoreton grunted, and continued to peer with a questioning
eye in the awesome brew which he had prepared for the thrips.
"One thing is very satisfactory," said Lady Caroline. "I mean that
Maud seems entirely to have got over that ridiculous infatuation of
hers for that man she met in Wales last summer. She could not be so
cheerful if she were still brooding on that. I hope you will admit
now, John, that I was right in keeping her practically a prisoner
here and never allowing her a chance of meeting the man again
either by accident or design. They say absence makes the heart grow
fonder. Stuff! A girl of Maud's age falls in and out of love half a
dozen times a year. I feel sure she has almost forgotten the man by
"Eh?" said Lord Marshmoreton. His mind had been far away, dealing
with green flies.
"I was speaking about that man Maud met when she was staying with
Brenda in Wales."
"Oh, yes!" echoed Lady Caroline annoyed. "Is that the only comment
you can find to make? Your only daughter becomes infatuated with a
perfect stranger--a man we have never seen--of whom we know nothing,
not even his name--nothing except that he is an American and hasn't
a penny--Maud admitted that. And all you say is 'Oh, yes'!"
"But it's all over now, isn't it? I understood the dashed affair
was all over."
"We hope so. But I should feel safer if Maud were engaged to
Reggie. I do think you might take the trouble to speak to Maud."
"Speak to her? I do speak to her." Lord Marshmoreton's brain moved
slowly when he was pre-occupied with his roses. "We're on
Lady Caroline frowned impatiently. Hers was an alert, vigorous
mind, bright and strong like a steel trap, and her brother's
vagueness and growing habit of inattention irritated her.
"I mean to speak to her about becoming engaged to Reggie. You are
her father. Surely you can at least try to persuade her."
"Can't coerce a girl."
"I never suggested that you should coerce her, as you put it. I
merely meant that you could point out to her, as a father, where
her duty and happiness lie."
"Drink this!" cried his lordship with sudden fury, spraying his can
over the nearest bush, and addressing his remark to the invisible
thrips. He had forgotten Lady Caroline completely. "Don't stint
yourselves! There's lots more!"
A girl came down the steps of the castle and made her way towards
them. She was a good-looking girl, with an air of quiet efficiency
about her. Her eyes were grey and whimsical. Her head was
uncovered, and the breeze stirred her dark hair. She made a
graceful picture in the morning sunshine, and Reggie Byng, sighting
her from the terrace, wobbled in his tracks, turned pink, and lost
the thread of his remarks.
The sudden appearance of Alice Faraday always affected him like
"I have copied out the notes you made last night, Lord
Marshmoreton. I typed two copies."
Alice Faraday spoke in a quiet, respectful, yet subtly
authoritative voice. She was a girl of great character. Previous
employers of her services as secretary had found her a jewel. To
Lord Marshmoreton she was rapidly becoming a perfect incubus. Their
views on the relative importance of gardening and family histories
did not coincide. To him the history of the Marshmoreton family was
the occupation of the idle hour: she seemed to think that he ought
to regard it as a life-work. She was always coming and digging him
out of the garden and dragging him back to what should have been a
purely after-dinner task. It was Lord Marshmoreton's habit, when
he awoke after one of his naps too late to resume work, to throw
out some vague promise of "attending to it tomorrow"; but, he
reflected bitterly, the girl ought to have tact and sense to
understand that this was only polite persiflage, and not to be
"They are very rough," continued Alice, addressing her conversation
to the seat of his lordship's corduroy trousers. Lord Marshmoreton
always assumed a stooping attitude when he saw Miss Faraday
approaching with papers in her hand; for he laboured under a
pathetic delusion, of which no amount of failures could rid him,
that if she did not see his face she would withdraw. "You remember
last night you promised you would attend to them this morning." She
paused long enough to receive a non-committal grunt by way of
answer. "Of course, if you're busy--" she said placidly, with a
half-glance at Lady Caroline. That masterful woman could always be
counted on as an ally in these little encounters.
"Nothing of the kind!" said Lady Caroline crisply. She was still
ruffled by the lack of attention which her recent utterances had
received, and welcomed the chance of administering discipline. "Get
up at once, John, and go in and work."
"I am working," pleaded Lord Marshmoreton.
Despite his forty-eight years his sister Caroline still had the
power at times to make him feel like a small boy. She had been a
great martinet in the days of their mutual nursery.
"The Family History is more important than grubbing about in the
dirt. I cannot understand why you do not leave this sort of thing
to MacPherson. Why you should pay him liberal wages and then do his
work for him, I cannot see. You know the publishers are waiting for
the History. Go and attend to these notes at once."
"You promised you would attend to them this morning, Lord
Marshmoreton," said Alice invitingly.
Lord Marshmoreton clung to his can of whale-oil solution with the
clutch of a drowning man. None knew better than he that these
interviews, especially when Caroline was present to lend the weight
of her dominating personality, always ended in the same way.
"Yes, yes, yes!" he said. "Tonight, perhaps. After dinner, eh? Yes,
after dinner. That will be capital."
"I think you ought to attend to them this morning," said Alice,
gently persistent. It really perturbed this girl to feel that she
was not doing work enough to merit her generous salary. And on the
subject of the history of the Marshmoreton family she was an
enthusiast. It had a glamour for her.
Lord Marshmoreton's fingers relaxed their hold. Throughout the
rose-garden hundreds of spared thrips went on with their morning
meal, unwitting of doom averted.
"Oh, all right, all right, all right! Come into the library."
"Very well, Lord Marshmoreton." Miss Faraday turned to Lady
Caroline. "I have been looking up the trains, Lady Caroline. The
best is the twelve-fifteen. It has a dining-car, and stops at
Belpher if signalled."
"Are you going away, Caroline?" inquired Lord Marshmoreton
"I am giving a short talk to the Social Progress League at
Lewisham. I shall return tomorrow."
"Oh!" said Marshmoreton, hope fading from his voice.
"Thank you, Miss Faraday," said Lady Caroline. "The twelve-fifteen."
"The motor will be round at a quarter to twelve."
"Thank you. Oh, by the way, Miss Faraday, will you call to Reggie
as you pass, and tell him I wish to speak to him."
Maud had left Reggie by the time Alice Faraday reached him, and
that ardent youth was sitting on a stone seat, smoking a cigarette
and entertaining himself with meditations in which thoughts of
Alice competed for precedence with graver reflections connected
with the subject of the correct stance for his approach-shots.
Reggie's was a troubled spirit these days. He was in love, and he
had developed a bad slice with his mid-iron. He was practically a
soul in torment.
"Lady Caroline asked me to tell you that she wishes to speak to
you, Mr. Byng."
Reggie leaped from his seat.
"Hullo-ullo-ullo! There you are! I mean to say, what?"
He was conscious, as was his custom in her presence, of a warm,
prickly sensation in the small of the back. Some kind of
elephantiasis seemed to have attacked his hands and feet, swelling
them to enormous proportions. He wished profoundly that he could
get rid of his habit of yelping with nervous laughter whenever he
encountered the girl of his dreams. It was calculated to give her a
wrong impression of a chap--make her think him a fearful chump and
"Lady Caroline is leaving by the twelve-fifteen."
"That's good! What I mean to say is--oh, she is, is she? I see
what you mean." The absolute necessity of saying something at least
moderately coherent gripped him. He rallied his forces. "You
wouldn't care to come for a stroll, after I've seen the mater, or a
row on the lake, or any rot like that, would you?"
"Thank you very much, but I must go in and help Lord Marshmoreton
with his book."
"What a rotten--I mean, what a dam' shame!"
The pity of it tore at Reggie's heart strings. He burned with
generous wrath against Lord Marshmoreton, that modern Simon Legree,
who used his capitalistic power to make a slave of this girl and
keep her toiling indoors when all the world was sunshine.
"Shall I go and ask him if you can't put it off till after dinner?"
"Oh, no, thanks very much. I'm sure Lord Marshmoreton wouldn't
dream of it."
She passed on with a pleasant smile. When he had recovered from the
effect of this Reggie proceeded slowly to the upper level to meet
"Hullo, mater. Pretty fit and so forth? What did you want to see me
"Well, Reggie, what is the news?"
"Eh? What? News? Didn't you get hold of a paper at breakfast?
Nothing much in it. Tam Duggan beat Alec Fraser three up and two to
play at Prestwick. I didn't notice anything else much. There's a
new musical comedy at the Regal. Opened last night, and seems to be
just like mother makes. The Morning Post gave it a topping notice.
I must trickle up to town and see it some time this week."
Lady Caroline frowned. This slowness in the uptake, coming so soon
after her brother's inattention, displeased her.
"No, no, no. I mean you and Maud have been talking to each other
for quite a long time, and she seemed very interested in what you
were saying. I hoped you might have some good news for me."
Reggie's face brightened. He caught her drift.
"Oh, ah, yes, I see what you mean. No, there wasn't anything of
that sort or shape or order."
"What were you saying to her, then, that interested her so much?"
"I was explaining how I landed dead on the pin with my spoon out of
a sand-trap at the eleventh hole yesterday. It certainly was a
pretty ripe shot, considering. I'd sliced into this baby bunker,
don't you know; I simply can't keep 'em straight with the iron
nowadays--and there the pill was, grinning up at me from the sand.
Of course, strictly speaking, I ought to have used a niblick, but--
"Do you mean to say, Reggie, that, with such an excellent
opportunity, you did not ask Maud to marry you?"
"I see what you mean. Well, as a matter of absolute fact, I, as it
Lady Caroline uttered a wordless sound.
"By the way, mater," said Reggie, "I forgot to tell you about that.
It's all off."
"Absolutely. You see, it appears there's a chappie unknown for whom
Maud has an absolute pash. It seems she met this sportsman up in
Wales last summer. She was caught in the rain, and he happened to
be passing and rallied round with his rain-coat, and one thing led
to another. Always raining in Wales, what! Good fishing, though,
here and there. Well, what I mean is, this cove was so deucedly
civil, and all that, that now she won't look at anybody else. He's
the blue-eyed boy, and everybody else is an also-ran, with about as
much chance as a blind man with one arm trying to get out of a
bunker with a tooth-pick."
"What perfect nonsense! I know all about that affair. It was just a
passing fancy that never meant anything. Maud has got over that
"She didn't seem to think so."
"Now, Reggie," said Lady Caroline tensely, "please listen to me.
You know that the castle will be full of people in a day or two for
Percy's coming-of-age, and this next few days may be your last
chance of having a real, long, private talk with Maud. I shall be
seriously annoyed if you neglect this opportunity. There is no
excuse for the way you are behaving. Maud is a charming girl--"
"Oh, absolutely! One of the best."
"Very well, then!"
"But, mater, what I mean to say is--"
"I don't want any more temporizing, Reggie!"
"No, no! Absolutely not!" said Reggie dutifully, wishing he knew
what the word meant, and wishing also that life had not become so
"Now, this afternoon, why should you not take Maud for a long ride
in your car?"
Reggie grew more cheerful. At least he had an answer for that.
"Can't be done, I'm afraid. I've got to motor into town to meet
Percy. He's arriving from Oxford this morning. I promised to meet
him in town and tool him back in the car."
"I see. Well, then, why couldn't you--?"
"I say, mater, dear old soul," said Reggie hastily, "I think you'd
better tear yourself away and what not. If you're catching the
twelve-fifteen, you ought to be staggering round to see you haven't
forgotten anything. There's the car coming round now."
"I wish now I had decided to go by a later train."
"No, no, mustn't miss the twelve-fifteen. Good, fruity train.
Everybody speaks well of it. Well, see you anon, mater. I think
you'd better run like a hare."
"You will remember what I said?"
"Good-bye, then. I shall be back tomorrow."
Reggie returned slowly to his stone seat. He breathed a little
heavily as he felt for his cigarette case. He felt like a hunted
Maud came out of the house as the car disappeared down the long
avenue of elms. She crossed the terrace to where Reggie sat
brooding on life and its problem.
"Hullo, Maud, dear old thing. Take a seat."
Maud sat down beside him. There was a flush on her pretty face, and
when she spoke her voice quivered with suppressed excitement.
"Reggie," she said, laying a small hand on his arm. "We're friends,
Reggie patted her back paternally. There were few people he liked
better than Maud.
"Always have been since the dear old days of childhood, what!"
"I can trust you, can't !?"
"There's something I want you to do for me, Reggie. You'll have to
keep it a dead secret of course."
"The strong, silent man. That's me. What is it?"
"You're driving into town in your car this afternoon, aren't you,
to meet Percy?"
"That was the idea."
"Could you go this morning instead--and take me?"
Maud shook her head.
"You don't know what you are letting yourself in for, Reggie, or
I'm sure you wouldn't agree so lightly. I'm not allowed to leave
the castle, you know, because of what I was telling you about."
"Yes. So there would be terrible scenes if anybody found out."
"Never mind, dear old soul. I'll risk it. None shall learn your
secret from these lips."
"You're a darling, Reggie."
"But what's the idea? Why do you want to go today particularly?"
Maud looked over her shoulder.
"Because--" She lowered her voice, though there was no one near.
"Because he is back in London! He's a sort of secretary, you know,
Reggie, to his uncle, and I saw in the paper this morning that the
uncle returned yesterday after a long voyage in his yacht. So--he
must have come back, too. He has to go everywhere his uncle goes."
"And everywhere the uncle went, the chappie was sure to go!"
murmured Reggie. "Sorry. Didn't mean to interrupt."
"I must see him. I haven't seen him since last summer--nearly a
whole year! And he hasn't written to me, and I haven't dared to
write to him, for fear of the letter going wrong. So, you see, I
must go. Today's my only chance. Aunt Caroline has gone away.
Father will be busy in the garden, and won't notice whether I'm
here or not. And, besides, tomorrow it will be too late, because
Percy will be here. He was more furious about the thing than
"Rather the proud aristocrat, Percy," agreed Reggie. "I understand
absolutely. Tell me just what you want me to do."
"I want you to pick me up in the car about half a mile down the
road. You can drop me somewhere in Piccadilly. That will be near
enough to where I want to go. But the most important thing is about
Percy. You must persuade him to stay and dine in town and come back
here after dinner. Then I shall be able to get back by an afternoon
train, and no one will know I've been gone."
"That's simple enough, what? Consider it done. When do you want to
"I'll toddle round to the garage and fetch the car." Reggie
chuckled amusedly. "Rum thing! The mater's just been telling me I
ought to take you for a drive."
"You are a darling, Reggie, really!"
Reggie gave her back another paternal pat.
"I know what it means to be in love, dear old soul. I say, Maud,
old thing, do you find love puts you off your stroke? What I mean
is, does it make you slice your approach-shots?"
"No. It hasn't had any effect on my game so far. I went round in
eighty-six the other day."
Reggie sighed enviously.
"Women are wonderful!" he said. "Well, I'll be legging it and
fetching the car. When you're ready, stroll along down the road and
wait for me."
* * *
When he had gone Maud pulled a small newspaper clipping from her
pocket. She had extracted it from yesterday's copy of the Morning
Post's society column. It contained only a few words:
"Mr. Wilbur Raymond has returned to his residence at
No. 11a Belgrave Square from a prolonged voyage in his
yacht, the Siren."
Maud did not know Mr. Wilbur Raymond, and yet that paragraph had
sent the blood tingling through every vein in her body. For as she
had indicated to Reggie, when the Wilbur Raymonds of this world
return to their town residences, they bring with them their nephew
and secretary, Geoffrey Raymond. And Geoffrey Raymond was the man
Maud had loved ever since the day when she had met him in Wales.
The sun that had shone so brightly on Belpher Castle at noon, when
Maud and Reggie Byng set out on their journey, shone on the
West-End of London with equal pleasantness at two o'clock. In
Little Gooch Street all the children of all the small shopkeepers
who support life in that backwater by selling each other vegetables
and singing canaries were out and about playing curious games of
their own invention. Cats washed themselves on doorsteps,
preparatory to looking in for lunch at one of the numerous garbage
cans which dotted the sidewalk. Waiters peered austerely from the
windows of the two Italian restaurants which carry on the Lucretia
Borgia tradition by means of one shilling and sixpenny table d'hote
luncheons. The proprietor of the grocery store on the corner was
bidding a silent farewell to a tomato which even he, though a
dauntless optimist, had been compelled to recognize as having
outlived its utility. On all these things the sun shone with a
genial smile. Round the corner, in Shaftesbury Avenue, an east wind
was doing its best to pierce the hardened hides of the citizenry;
but it did not penetrate into Little Gooch Street, which, facing
south and being narrow and sheltered, was enabled practically to
Mac, the stout guardian of the stage door of the Regal Theatre,
whose gilded front entrance is on the Avenue, emerged from the
little glass case in which the management kept him, and came out to
observe life and its phenomena with an indulgent eye. Mac was
feeling happy this morning. His job was a permanent one, not
influenced by the success or failure of the productions which
followed one another at the theatre throughout the year; but he
felt, nevertheless, a sort of proprietary interest in these
ventures, and was pleased when they secured the approval of the
public. Last night's opening, a musical piece by an American
author and composer, had undoubtedly made a big hit, and Mac was
glad, because he liked what he had seen of the company, and, in the
brief time in which he had known him, had come to entertain a warm
regard for George Bevan, the composer, who had travelled over from
New York to help with the London production.
George Bevan turned the corner now, walking slowly, and, it seemed
to Mac, gloomily towards the stage door. He was a young man of
about twenty-seven, tall and well knit, with an agreeable,
clean-cut face, of which a pair of good and honest eyes were the
most noticeable feature. His sensitive mouth was drawn down a
little at the corners, and he looked tired.
"Good morning, sir."
"Anything for me?"
"Yes, sir. Some telegrams. I'll get 'em. Oh, I'll GET 'em," said
Mac, as if reassuring some doubting friend and supporter as to his
ability to carry through a labour of Hercules.
He disappeared into his glass case. George Bevan remained outside
in the street surveying the frisking children with a sombre glance.
They seemed to him very noisy, very dirty and very young.
Disgustingly young. Theirs was joyous, exuberant youth which made a
fellow feel at least sixty. Something was wrong with George today,
for normally he was fond of children. Indeed, normally he was fond
of most things. He was a good-natured and cheerful young man, who
liked life and the great majority of those who lived it
contemporaneously with himself. He had no enemies and many
But today he had noticed from the moment he had got out of bed that
something was amiss with the world. Either he was in the grip of
some divine discontent due to the highly developed condition of his
soul, or else he had a grouch. One of the two. Or it might have
been the reaction from the emotions of the previous night. On the
morning after an opening your sensitive artist is always apt to
feel as if he had been dried over a barrel.
Besides, last night there had been a supper party after the
performance at the flat which the comedian of the troupe had rented
in Jermyn Street, a forced, rowdy supper party where a number of
tired people with over-strained nerves had seemed to feel it a duty
to be artificially vivacious. It had lasted till four o'clock when
the morning papers with the notices arrived, and George had not got
to bed till four-thirty. These things colour the mental outlook.
"Here you are, sir."
George put the telegrams in his pocket. A cat, on its way back from
lunch, paused beside him in order to use his leg as a serviette.
George tickled it under the ear abstractedly. He was always
courteous to cats, but today he went through the movements
perfunctorily and without enthusiasm.
The cat moved on. Mac became conversational.
"They tell me the piece was a hit last night, sir."
"It seemed to go very well."
"My Missus saw it from the gallery, and all the first-nighters was
speaking very 'ighly of it. There's a regular click, you know, sir,
over here in London, that goes to all the first nights in the
gallery. 'Ighly critical they are always. Specially if it's an
American piece like this one. If they don't like it, they precious
soon let you know. My missus ses they was all speakin' very 'ighly
of it. My missus says she ain't seen a livelier show for a long
time, and she's a great theatregoer. My missus says they was all
specially pleased with the music."
"The Morning Leader give it a fine write-up. How was the rest of
"Splendid, all of them. I haven't seen the evening papers yet. I
came out to get them."
Mac looked down the street.
"There'll be a rehearsal this afternoon, I suppose, sir? Here's
Miss Dore coming along."
George followed his glance. A tall girl in a tailor-made suit of
blue was coming towards them. Even at a distance one caught the
genial personality of the new arrival. It seemed to go before her
like a heartening breeze. She picked her way carefully through the
children crawling on the side walk. She stopped for a moment and
said something to one of them. The child grinned. Even the
proprietor of the grocery store appeared to brighten up at the
sight of her, as at the sight of some old friend.
"How's business, Bill?" she called to him as she passed the spot
where he stood brooding on the mortality of tomatoes. And, though
he replied "Rotten", a faint, grim smile did nevertheless flicker
across his tragic mask.
Billie Dore, who was one of the chorus of George Bevan's musical
comedy, had an attractive face, a mouth that laughed readily,
rather bright golden hair (which, she was fond of insisting with
perfect truth, was genuine though appearances were against it), and
steady blue eyes. The latter were frequently employed by her in
quelling admirers who were encouraged by the former to become too
ardent. Billie's views on the opposite sex who forgot themselves
were as rigid as those of Lord Marshmoreton concerning thrips. She
liked men, and she would signify this liking in a practical manner
by lunching and dining with them, but she was entirely
self-supporting, and when men overlooked that fact she reminded
them of it in no uncertain voice; for she was a girl of ready speech
"'Morning, George. 'Morning, Mac. Any mail?"
"I'll see, miss."
"How did your better four-fifths like the show, Mac?"
"I was just telling Mr. Bevan, miss, that the missus said she
'adn't seen a livelier show for a long time."
"Fine. I knew I'd be a hit. Well, George, how's the boy this bright
"Limp and pessimistic."
"That comes of sitting up till four in the morning with festive
"You were up as late as I was, and you look like Little Eva after a
night of sweet, childish slumber."
"Yes, but I drank ginger ale, and didn't smoke eighteen cigars. And
yet, I don't know. I think I must be getting old, George. All-night
parties seem to have lost their charm. I was ready to quit at one
o'clock, but it didn't seem matey. I think I'll marry a farmer and
George was amazed. He had not expected to find his present view of
life shared in this quarter.
"I was just thinking myself," he said, feeling not for the first
time how different Billie was from the majority of those with whom
his profession brought him in contact, "how flat it all was. The
show business I mean, and these darned first nights, and the party
after the show which you can't sidestep. Something tells me I'm
Billie Dore nodded.
"Anybody with any sense is always about through with the show
business. I know I am. If you think I'm wedded to my art, let me
tell you I'm going to get a divorce the first chance that comes
along. It's funny about the show business. The way one drifts into
it and sticks, I mean. Take me, for example. Nature had it all
doped out for me to be the Belle of Hicks Corners. What I ought to
have done was to buy a gingham bonnet and milk cows. But I would
come to the great city and help brighten up the tired business
"I didn't know you were fond of the country, Billie."
"Me? I wrote the words and music. Didn't you know I was a country
kid? My dad ran a Bide a Wee Home for flowers, and I used to know
them all by their middle names. He was a nursery gardener out in
Indiana. I tell you, when I see a rose nowadays, I shake its hand
and say: 'Well, well, Cyril, how's everything with you? And how are
Joe and Jack and Jimmy and all the rest of the boys at home?' Do
you know how I used to put in my time the first few nights I was
over here in London? I used to hang around Covent Garden with my
head back, sniffing. The boys that mess about with the flowers
there used to stub their toes on me so often that they got to look
on me as part of the scenery."
"That's where we ought to have been last night."
"We'd have had a better time. Say, George, did you see the awful
mistake on Nature's part that Babe Sinclair showed up with towards
the middle of the proceedings? You must have noticed him, because
he took up more room than any one man was entitled to. His name was
George recalled having been introduced to a fat man of his own age
who answered to that name.
"It's a darned shame," said Billie indignantly. "Babe is only a
kid. This is the first show she's been in. And I happen to know
there's an awfully nice boy over in New York crazy to marry her.
And I'm certain this gink is giving her a raw deal. He tried to
get hold of me about a week ago, but I turned him down hard; and I
suppose he thinks Babe is easier. And it's no good talking to her;
she thinks he's wonderful. That's another kick I have against the
show business. It seems to make girls such darned chumps. Well, I
wonder how much longer Mr. Arbuckle is going to be retrieving my
mail. What ho, within there, Fatty!"
Mac came out, apologetic, carrying letters.
"Sorry, miss. By an oversight I put you among the G's."
"All's well that ends well. 'Put me among the G's.' There's a good
title for a song for you, George. Excuse me while I grapple with
the correspondence. I'll bet half of these are mash notes. I got
three between the first and second acts last night. Why the
nobility and gentry of this burg should think that I'm their
affinity just because I've got golden hair--which is perfectly
genuine, Mac; I can show you the pedigree--and because I earn an
honest living singing off the key, is more than I can understand."
Mac leaned his massive shoulders comfortably against the building,
and resumed his chat.
"I expect you're feeling very 'appy today, sir?"
George pondered. He was certainly feeling better since he had seen
Billie Dore, but he was far from being himself.
"I ought to be, I suppose. But I'm not."
"Ah, you're getting blarzy, sir, that's what it is. You've 'ad too
much of the fat, you 'ave. This piece was a big 'it in America,
"Yes. It ran over a year in New York, and there are three companies
of it out now."
"That's 'ow it is, you see. You've gone and got blarzy. Too big a
'elping of success, you've 'ad." Mac wagged a head like a harvest
moon. "You aren't a married man, are you, sir?"
Billie Dore finished skimming through her mail, and crumpled the
letters up into a large ball, which she handed to Mac.
"Here's something for you to read in your spare moments, Mac.
Glance through them any time you have a suspicion you may be a
chump, and you'll have the comfort of knowing that there are
others. What were you saying about being married?"
"Mr. Bevan and I was 'aving a talk about 'im being blarzy, miss."
"Are you blarzy, George?"
"So Mac says."
"And why is he blarzy, miss?" demanded Mac rhetorically.
"Don't ask me," said Billie. "It's not my fault."
"It's because, as I was saying, 'e's 'ad too big a 'elping of
success, and because 'e ain't a married man. You did say you wasn't
a married man, didn't you, sir?"
"I didn't. But I'm not."
"That's 'ow it is, you see. You pretty soon gets sick of pulling
off good things, if you ain't got nobody to pat you on the back for
doing of it. Why, when I was single, if I got 'old of a sure thing
for the three o'clock race and picked up a couple of quid, the
thrill of it didn't seem to linger somehow. But now, if some of the
gentlemen that come 'ere put me on to something safe and I make a
bit, 'arf the fascination of it is taking the stuff 'ome and
rolling it on to the kitchen table and 'aving 'er pat me on the
"How about when you lose?"
"I don't tell 'er," said Mac simply.
"You seem to understand the art of being happy, Mac."
"It ain't an art, sir. It's just gettin' 'old of the right little
woman, and 'aving a nice little 'ome of your own to go back to at
"Mac," said Billie admiringly, "you talk like a Tin Pan Alley song
hit, except that you've left out the scent of honeysuckle and Old
Mister Moon climbing up over the trees. Well, you're quite right.
I'm all for the simple and domestic myself. If I could find the
right man, and he didn't see me coming and duck, I'd become one of
the Mendelssohn's March Daughters right away. Are you going,
George? There's a rehearsal at two-thirty for cuts."
"I want to get the evening papers and send off a cable or two. See
"We shall meet at Philippi."
Mac eyed George's retreating back till he had turned the corner.
"A nice pleasant gentleman, Mr. Bevan," he said. "Too bad 'e's got
the pip the way 'e 'as, just after 'avin' a big success like this
'ere. Comes of bein' a artist, I suppose."
Miss Dore dived into her vanity case and produced a puff with which
she proceeded to powder her nose.
"All composers are nuts, Mac. I was in a show once where the
manager was panning the composer because there wasn't a number in
the score that had a tune to it. The poor geek admitted they
weren't very tuney, but said the thing about his music was that it
had such a wonderful aroma. They all get that way. The jazz seems
to go to their heads. George is all right, though, and don't let
anyone tell you different."
"Have you know him long, miss?"
"About five years. I was a stenographer in the house that published
his songs when I first met him. And there's another thing you've
got to hand it to George for. He hasn't let success give him a
swelled head. The money that boy makes is sinful, Mac. He wears
thousand dollar bills next to his skin winter and summer. But he's
just the same as he was when I first knew him, when he was just
hanging around Broadway, looking out for a chance to be allowed to
slip a couple of interpolated numbers into any old show that came
along. Yes. Put it in your diary, Mac, and write it on your cuff,
George Bevan's all right. He's an ace."
Unconscious of these eulogies, which, coming from one whose
judgment he respected, might have cheered him up, George wandered
down Shaftesbury Avenue feeling more depressed than ever. The sun
had gone in for the time being, and the east wind was frolicking
round him like a playful puppy, patting him with a cold paw,
nuzzling his ankles, bounding away and bounding back again, and
behaving generally as east winds do when they discover a victim who
has come out without his spring overcoat. It was plain to George
now that the sun and the wind were a couple of confidence
tricksters working together as a team. The sun had disarmed him
with specious promises and an air of cheery goodfellowship, and had
delivered him into the hands of the wind, which was now going
through him with the swift thoroughness of the professional hold-up
artist. He quickened his steps, and began to wonder if he was so
sunk in senile decay as to have acquired a liver.
He discarded the theory as repellent. And yet there must be a
reason for his depression. Today of all days, as Mac had pointed
out, he had everything to make him happy. Popular as he was in
America, this was the first piece of his to be produced in London,
and there was no doubt that it was a success of unusual dimensions.
And yet he felt no elation.
He reached Piccadilly and turned westwards. And then, as he passed
the gates of the In and Out Club, he had a moment of clear vision
and understood everything. He was depressed because he was bored,
and he was bored because he was lonely. Mac, that solid thinker,
had been right. The solution of the problem of life was to get hold
of the right girl and have a home to go back to at night. He was
mildly surprised that he had tried in any other direction for an
explanation of his gloom. It was all the more inexplicable in that
fully 80 per cent of the lyrics which he had set in the course of
his musical comedy career had had that thought at the back of them.
George gave himself up to an orgy of sentimentality. He seemed to
be alone in the world which had paired itself off into a sort of
seething welter of happy couples. Taxicabs full of happy couples
rolled by every minute. Passing omnibuses creaked beneath the
weight of happy couples. The very policeman across the Street had
just grinned at a flitting shop girl, and she had smiled back at
him. The only female in London who did not appear to be attached
was a girl in brown who was coming along the sidewalk at a
leisurely pace, looking about her in a manner that suggested that
she found Piccadilly a new and stimulating spectacle.
As far as George could see she was an extremely pretty girl, small
and dainty, with a proud little tilt to her head and the jaunty
walk that spoke of perfect health. She was, in fact, precisely the
sort of girl that George felt he could love with all the stored-up
devotion of an old buffer of twenty-seven who had squandered none
of his rich nature in foolish flirtations. He had just begun to
weave a rose-tinted romance about their two selves, when a cold
reaction set in. Even as he paused to watch the girl threading her
way through the crowd, the east wind jabbed an icy finger down the
back of his neck, and the chill of it sobered him. After all, he
reflected bitterly, this girl was only alone because she was on her
way somewhere to meet some confounded man. Besides there was no
earthly chance of getting to know her. You can't rush up to pretty
girls in the street and tell them you are lonely. At least, you
can, but it doesn't get you anywhere except the police station.
George's gloom deepened--a thing he would not have believed
possible a moment before. He felt that he had been born too late.
The restraints of modern civilization irked him. It was not, he
told himself, like this in the good old days.
In the Middle Ages, for example, this girl would have been a
Damsel; and in that happy time practically everybody whose
technical rating was that of Damsel was in distress and only too
willing to waive the formalities in return for services rendered by
the casual passer-by. But the twentieth century is a prosaic age,
when girls are merely girls and have no troubles at all. Were he
to stop this girl in brown and assure her that his aid and comfort
were at her disposal, she would undoubtedly call that large
policeman from across the way, and the romance would begin and end
within the space of thirty seconds, or, if the policeman were a
quick mover, rather less.
Better to dismiss dreams and return to the practical side of life
by buying the evening papers from the shabby individual beside him,
who had just thrust an early edition in his face. After all notices
are notices, even when the heart is aching. George felt in his
pocket for the necessary money, found emptiness, and remembered
that he had left all his ready funds at his hotel. It was just one
of the things he might have expected on a day like this.
The man with the papers had the air of one whose business is
conducted on purely cash principles. There was only one thing to be
done, return to the hotel, retrieve his money, and try to forget
the weight of the world and its cares in lunch. And from the hotel
he could despatch the two or three cables which he wanted to send
to New York.
The girl in brown was quite close now, and George was enabled to
get a clearer glimpse of her. She more than fulfilled the promise
she had given at a distance. Had she been constructed to his own
specifications, she would not have been more acceptable in George's
sight. And now she was going out of his life for ever. With an
overwhelming sense of pathos, for there is no pathos more bitter
than that of parting from someone we have never met, George hailed
a taxicab which crawled at the side of the road; and, with all the
refrains of all the sentimental song hits he had ever composed
ringing in his ears, he got in and passed away.
"A rotten world," he mused, as the cab, after proceeding a couple
of yards, came to a standstill in a block of the traffic. "A dull,
flat bore of a world, in which nothing happens or ever will happen.
Even when you take a cab it just sticks and doesn't move."
At this point the door of the cab opened, and the girl in brown
"I'm so sorry," she said breathlessly, "but would you mind hiding
George hid her. He did it, too, without wasting precious time by
asking questions. In a situation which might well have thrown the
quickest-wined of men off his balance, he acted with promptitude,
intelligence and despatch. The fact is, George had for years been
an assiduous golfer; and there is no finer school for teaching
concentration and a strict attention to the matter in hand. Few
crises, however unexpected, have the power to disturb a man who has
so conquered the weakness of the flesh as to have trained himself
to bend his left knee, raise his left heel, swing his arms well out
from the body, twist himself into the shape of a corkscrew and use
the muscle of the wrist, at the same time keeping his head still
and his eye on the ball. It is estimated that there are
twenty-three important points to be borne in mind simultaneously
while making a drive at golf; and to the man who has mastered the
art of remembering them all the task of hiding girls in taxicabs is
mere child's play. To pull down the blinds on the side of the
vehicle nearest the kerb was with George the work of a moment. Then
he leaned out of the centre window in such a manner as completely
to screen the interior of the cab from public view.
"Thank you so much," murmured a voice behind him. It seemed to come
from the floor.
"Not at all," said George, trying a sort of vocal chip-shot out of
the corner of his mouth, designed to lift his voice backwards and
lay it dead inside the cab.
He gazed upon Piccadilly with eyes from which the scales had
fallen. Reason told him that he was still in Piccadilly. Otherwise
it would have seemed incredible to him that this could be the same
street which a moment before he had passed judgment upon and found
flat and uninteresting. True, in its salient features it had
altered little. The same number of stodgy-looking people moved up
and down. The buildings retained their air of not having had a bath
since the days of the Tudors. The east wind still blew. But,
though superficially the same, in reality Piccadilly had altered
completely. Before it had been just Piccadilly. Now it was a golden
street in the City of Romance, a main thoroughfare of Bagdad, one
of the principal arteries of the capital of Fairyland. A
rose-coloured mist swam before George's eyes. His spirits, so low
but a few moments back, soared like a good niblick shot out of the
bunker of Gloom. The years fell away from him till, in an instant,
from being a rather poorly preserved, liverish greybeard of
sixty-five or so, he became a sprightly lad of twenty-one in a
world of springtime and flowers and laughing brooks. In other
words, taking it by and large, George felt pretty good. The
impossible had happened; Heaven had sent him an adventure, and he
didn't care if it snowed.
It was possibly the rose-coloured mist before his eyes that
prevented him from observing the hurried approach of a faultlessly
attired young man, aged about twenty-one, who during George's
preparations for ensuring privacy in his cab had been galloping in
pursuit in a resolute manner that suggested a well-dressed
bloodhound somewhat overfed and out of condition. Only when this
person stopped and began to pant within a few inches of his face
did he become aware of his existence.
"You, sir!" said the bloodhound, removing a gleaming silk hat,
mopping a pink forehead, and replacing the luminous superstructure
once more in position. "You, sir!"
Whatever may be said of the possibility of love at first sight, in
which theory George was now a confirmed believer, there can be no
doubt that an exactly opposite phenomenon is of frequent
occurrence. After one look at some people even friendship is
impossible. Such a one, in George's opinion, was this gurgling
excrescence underneath the silk hat. He comprised in his single
person practically all the qualities which George disliked most. He
was, for a young man, extraordinarily obese. Already a second
edition of his chin had been published, and the perfectly-cut
morning coat which encased his upper section bulged out in an
opulent semi-circle. He wore a little moustache, which to George's
prejudiced eye seemed more a complaint than a moustache. His face
was red, his manner dictatorial, and he was touched in the wind.
Take him for all in all he looked like a bit of bad news.
George had been educated at Lawrenceville and Harvard, and had
subsequently had the privilege of mixing socially with many of New
York's most prominent theatrical managers; so he knew how to behave
himself. No Vere de Vere could have exhibited greater repose of
"And what," he inquired suavely, leaning a little further out of
the cab, "is eating you, Bill?"
A messenger boy, two shabby men engaged in non-essential
industries, and a shop girl paused to observe the scene. Time was
not of the essence to these confirmed sightseers. The shop girl was
late already, so it didn't matter if she was any later; the
messenger boy had nothing on hand except a message marked
"Important: Rush"; and as for the two shabby men, their only
immediate plans consisted of a vague intention of getting to some
public house and leaning against the wall; so George's time was
their time. One of the pair put his head on one side and said:
"What ho!"; the other picked up a cigar stub from the gutter and
began to smoke.
"A young lady just got into your cab," said the stout young man.
"Surely not?" said George.
"What the devil do you mean--surely not?"
"I've been in the cab all the time, and I should have noticed it."
At this juncture the block in the traffic was relieved, and the cab
bowled smartly on for some fifty yards when it was again halted.
George, protruding from the window like a snail, was entertained by
the spectacle of the pursuit. The hunt was up. Short of throwing
his head up and baying, the stout young man behaved exactly as a
bloodhound in similar circumstances would have conducted itself. He
broke into a jerky gallop, attended by his self-appointed
associates; and, considering that the young man was so stout, that
the messenger boy considered it unprofessional to hurry, that the
shop girl had doubts as to whether sprinting was quite ladylike,
and that the two Bohemians were moving at a quicker gait than a
shuffle for the first occasion in eleven years, the cavalcade made
good time. The cab was still stationary when they arrived in a
"Here he is, guv'nor," said the messenger boy, removing a bead of
perspiration with the rush message.
"Here he is, guv'nor," said the non-smoking Bohemian. "What oh!"
"Here I am!" agreed George affably. "And what can I do for you?"
The smoker spat appreciatively at a passing dog. The point seemed
to him well taken. Not for many a day had he so enjoyed himself. In
an arid world containing too few goes of gin and too many
policemen, a world in which the poor were oppressed and could
seldom even enjoy a quiet cigar without having their fingers
trodden upon, he found himself for the moment contented, happy, and
expectant. This looked like a row between toffs, and of all things
which most intrigued him a row between toffs ranked highest.
"R!" he said approvingly. "Now you're torkin'!"
The shop girl had espied an acquaintance in the crowd. She gave
"Mordee! Cummere! Cummere quick! Sumfin' hap'nin'!" Maudie,
accompanied by perhaps a dozen more of London's millions, added
herself to the audience. These all belonged to the class which will
gather round and watch silently while a motorist mends a tyre. They
are not impatient. They do not call for rapid and continuous
action. A mere hole in the ground, which of all sights is perhaps
the least vivid and dramatic, is enough to grip their attention for
hours at a time. They stared at George and George's cab with
unblinking gaze. They did not know what would happen or when it
would happen, but they intended to wait till something did happen.
It might be for years or it might be for ever, but they meant to be
there when things began to occur.
Speculations became audible.
"Wot is it? 'Naccident?"
"Nah! Gent 'ad 'is pocket picked!"
"Two toffs 'ad a scrap!"
"Feller bilked the cabman!"
A sceptic made a cynical suggestion.
"They're doin' of it for the pictures."
The idea gained instant popularity.
"Jear that? It's a fillum!"
"Wot o', Charlie!"
"The kemerer's 'idden in the keb."
"Wot'll they be up to next!"
A red-nosed spectator with a tray of collar-studs harnessed to his
stomach started another school of thought. He spoke with decision
as one having authority.
"Nothin' of the blinkin' kind! The fat 'un's bin 'avin' one or two
around the corner, and it's gorn and got into 'is 'ead!"
The driver of the cab, who till now had been ostentatiously unaware
that there was any sort of disturbance among the lower orders,
suddenly became humanly inquisitive.
"What's it all about?" he asked, swinging around and addressing
"Exactly what I want to know," said George. He indicated the
collar-stud merchant. "The gentleman over there with the portable
Woolworth-bargain-counter seems to me to have the best theory."
The stout young man, whose peculiar behaviour had drawn all this
flattering attention from the many-headed and who appeared
considerably ruffled by the publicity, had been puffing noisily
during the foregoing conversation. Now, having recovered sufficient
breath to resume the attack, he addressed himself to George once
"Damn you, sir, will you let me look inside that cab?"
"Leave me," said George, "I would be alone."
"There is a young lady in that cab. I saw her get in, and I have
been watching ever since, and she has not got out, so she is there
George nodded approval of this close reasoning.
"Your argument seems to be without a flaw. But what then? We
applaud the Man of Logic, but what of the Man of Action? What are
you going to do about it?"
"Get out of my way!"
"Then I'll force my way in!"
"If you try it, I shall infallibly bust you one on the jaw."
The stout young man drew back a pace.
"You can't do that sort of thing, you know."
"I know I can't," said George, "but I shall. In this life, my dear
sir, we must be prepared for every emergency. We must distinguish
between the unusual and the impossible. It would be unusual for a
comparative stranger to lean out of a cab window and sock you one,
but you appear to have laid your plans on the assumption that it
would be impossible. Let this be a lesson to you!"
"I tell you what it is--"
"The advice I give to every young man starting life is 'Never
confuse the unusual with the impossible!' Take the present case,
for instance. If you had only realized the possibility of somebody
some day busting you on the jaw when you tried to get into a cab,
you might have thought out dozens of crafty schemes for dealing
with the matter. As it is, you are unprepared. The thing comes on
you as a surprise. The whisper flies around the clubs: 'Poor old
What's-his-name has been taken unawares. He cannot cope with the
The man with the collar-studs made another diagnosis. He was seeing
clearer and clearer into the thing every minute.
"Looney!" he decided. "This 'ere one's bin moppin' of it up, and
the one in the keb's orf 'is bloomin' onion. That's why 'e 's
standin' up instead of settin'. 'E won't set down 'cept you bring
'im a bit o' toast, 'cos he thinks 'e 's a poached egg."
George beamed upon the intelligent fellow.
"Your reasoning is admirable, but--"
He broke off here, not because he had not more to say, but for the
reason that the stout young man, now in quite a Berserk frame of
mind, made a sudden spring at the cab door and clutched the handle,
which he was about to wrench when George acted with all the
promptitude and decision which had marked his behaviour from the
It was a situation which called for the nicest judgment. To allow
the assailant free play with the handle or even to wrestle with him
for its possession entailed the risk that the door might open and
reveal the girl. To bust the young man on the jaw, as promised, on
the other hand, was not in George's eyes a practical policy.
Excellent a deterrent as the threat of such a proceeding might be,
its actual accomplishment was not to be thought of. Gaols yawn and
actions for assault lie in wait for those who go about the place
busting their fellows on the jaw. No. Something swift, something
decided and immediate was indicated, but something that stopped
short of technical battery.
George brought his hand round with a sweep and knocked the stout
young man's silk hat off.
The effect was magical. We all of us have our Achilles heel,
and--paradoxically enough--in the case of the stout young man that
heel was his hat. Superbly built by the only hatter in London who
can construct a silk hat that is a silk hat, and freshly ironed by
loving hands but a brief hour before at the only shaving-parlour in
London where ironing is ironing and not a brutal attack, it was his
pride and joy. To lose it was like losing his trousers. It made him
feel insufficiently clad. With a passionate cry like that of some
wild creature deprived of its young, the erstwhile Berserk released
the handle and sprang in pursuit. At the same moment the traffic
moved on again.
The last George saw was a group scene with the stout young man in
the middle of it. The hat had been popped up into the infield,
where it had been caught by the messenger boy. The stout young man
was bending over it and stroking it with soothing fingers. It was
too far off for anything to be audible, but he seemed to George to
be murmuring words of endearment to it. Then, placing it on his
head, he darted out into the road and George saw him no more. The
audience remained motionless, staring at the spot where the
incident had happened. They would continue to do this till the next
policeman came along and moved them on.
With a pleasant wave of farewell, in case any of them might be
glancing in his direction, George drew in his body and sat down.
The girl in brown had risen from the floor, if she had ever been
there, and was now seated composedly at the further end of the cab.
"Well, that's that!" said George.
"I'm so much obliged," said the girl.
"It was a pleasure," said George.
He was enabled now to get a closer, more leisurely and much more
satisfactory view of this distressed damsel than had been his good
fortune up to the present. Small details which, when he had first
caught sight of her, distance had hidden from his view, now
presented themselves. Her eyes, he discovered, which he had
supposed brown, were only brown in their general colour-scheme.
They were shot with attractive little flecks of gold, matching
perfectly the little streaks gold which the sun, coming out again
on one of his flying visits and now shining benignantly once more on
the world, revealed in her hair. Her chin was square and
determined, but its resoluteness was contradicted by a dimple and
by the pleasant good-humour of the mouth; and a further softening
of the face was effected by the nose, which seemed to have started
out with the intention of being dignified and aristocratic but had
defeated its purpose by tilting very slightly at the tip. This was
a girl who would take chances, but would take them with a smile and
laugh when she lost.
George was but an amateur physiognomist, but he could read what was
obvious in the faces he encountered; and the more he looked at this
girl, the less he was able to understand the scene which had just
occurred. The thing mystified him completely. For all her
good-humour, there was an air, a manner, a something capable and
defensive, about this girl with which he could not imagine any man
venturing to take liberties. The gold-brown eyes, as they met his
now, were friendly and smiling, but he could imagine them freezing
into a stare baleful enough and haughty enough to quell such a
person as the silk-hatted young man with a single glance. Why,
then, had that super-fatted individual been able to demoralize her
to the extent of flying to the shelter of strange cabs? She was
composed enough now, it was true, but it had been quite plain that
at the moment when she entered the taxi her nerve had momentarily
forsaken her. There were mysteries here, beyond George.
The girl looked steadily at George and George looked steadily at
her for the space of perhaps ten seconds. She seemed to George to
be summing him up, weighing him. That the inspection proved
satisfactory was shown by the fact that at the end of this period
she smiled. Then she laughed, a clear pealing laugh which to George
was far more musical than the most popular song-hit he had ever
"I suppose you are wondering what it's all about?" she said.
This was precisely what George was wondering most consumedly.
"No, no," he said. "Not at all. It's not my business."
"And of course you're much too well bred to be inquisitive about
other people's business?"
"Of course I am. What was it all about?"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you."
"But what am I to say to the cabman?"
"I don't know. What do men usually say to cabmen?"
"I mean he will feel very hurt if I don't give him a full
explanation of all this. He stooped from his pedestal to make
enquiries just now. Condescension like that deserves some
"Give him a nice big tip."
George was reminded of his reason for being in the cab.
"I ought to have asked before," he said. "Where can I drive you?"
"Oh, I mustn't steal your cab. Where were you going?"
"I was going back to my hotel. I came out without any money, so I
shall have to go there first to get some."
The girl started.
"What's the matter?" asked George.
"I've lost my purse!"
"Good Lord! Had it much in it?"
"Not very much. But enough to buy a ticket home."
"Any use asking where that is?"
"None, I'm afraid."
"I wasn't going to, of course."
"Of course not. That's what I admire so much in you. You aren't
"There's only one thing to be done. You will have to wait in the
cab at the hotel, while I go and get some money. Then, if you'll
let me, I can lend you what you require."
"It's much too kind of you. Could you manage eleven shillings?"
"Easily. I've just had a legacy."
"Of course, if you think I ought to be economical, I'll go
third-class. That would only be five shillings. Ten-and-six is the
first-class fare. So you see the place I want to get to is two
hours from London."
"Well, that's something to know."
"But not much, is it?"
"I think I had better lend you a sovereign. Then you'll be able to
buy a lunch-basket."
"You think of everything. And you're perfectly right. I shall be
starving. But how do you know you will get the money back?"
"I'll risk it."
"Well, then, I shall have to be inquisitive and ask your name.
Otherwise I shan't know where to send the money."
"Oh, there's no mystery about me. I'm an open book."
"You needn't be horrid about it. I can't help being mysterious."
"I didn't mean that."
"It sounded as if you did. Well, who is my benefactor?"
"My name is George Bevan. I am staying at the Carlton at present."
The taxi moved slowly down the Haymarket. The girl laughed.
"Yes?" said George.
"I was only thinking of back there. You know, I haven't thanked you
nearly enough for all you did. You were wonderful."
"I'm very glad I was able to be of any help."
"What did happen? You must remember I couldn't see a thing except
your back, and I could only hear indistinctly."
"Well, it started by a man galloping up and insisting that you had
got into the cab. He was a fellow with the appearance of a
before-using advertisement of an anti-fat medicine and the manners
of a ring-tailed chimpanzee."
The girl nodded.
"Then it was Percy! I knew I wasn't mistaken."
"That is his name."
"It would be! I could have betted on it."
"What happened then?"
"I reasoned with the man, but didn't seem to soothe him, and
finally he made a grab for the door-handle, so I knocked off his
hat, and while he was retrieving it we moved on and escaped."
The girl gave another silver peal of laughter.
"Oh, what a shame I couldn't see it. But how resourceful of you!
How did you happen to think of it?"
"It just came to me," said George modestly.
A serious look came into the girl's face. The smile died out of her
eyes. She shivered.
"When I think how some men might have behaved in your place!"
"Oh, no. Any man would have done just what I did. Surely, knocking
off Percy's hat was an act of simple courtesy which anyone would
have performed automatically!"
"You might have been some awful bounder. Or, what would have been
almost worse, a slow-witted idiot who would have stopped to ask
questions before doing anything. To think I should have had the
luck to pick you out of all London!"
"I've been looking on it as a piece of luck--but entirely from my
She put a small hand on his arm, and spoke earnestly.
"Mr. Bevan, you mustn't think that, because I've been laughing a
good deal and have seemed to treat all this as a joke, you haven't
saved me from real trouble. If you hadn't been there and hadn't
acted with such presence of mind, it would have been terrible!"
"But surely, if that fellow was annoying you, you could have called
"Oh, it wasn't anything like that. It was much, much worse. But I
mustn't go on like this. It isn't fair on you." Her eyes lit up
again with the old shining smile. "I know you have no curiosity
about me, but still there's no knowing whether I might not arouse
some if I went on piling up the mystery. And the silly part is that
really there's no mystery at all. It's just that I can't tell
anyone about it."
"That very fact seems to me to constitute the makings of a pretty
"Well, what I mean is, I'm not a princess in disguise trying to
escape from anarchists, or anything like those things you read
about in books. I'm just in a perfectly simple piece of trouble.
You would be bored to death if I told you about it."
She shook her head.
"No. Besides, here we are." The cab had stopped at the hotel, and a
commissionaire was already opening the door. "Now, if you haven't
repented of your rash offer and really are going to be so awfully
kind as to let me have that money, would you mind rushing off and
getting it, because I must hurry. I can just catch a good train,
and it's hours to the next."
"Will you wait here? I'll be back in a moment."
The last George saw of her was another of those exhilarating smiles
of hers. It was literally the last he saw of her, for, when he
returned not more than two minutes later, the cab had gone, the
girl had gone, and the world was empty.
To him, gaping at this wholly unforeseen calamity the commissionaire
"The young lady took the cab on, sir."
"Took the cab on?"
"Almost immediately after you had gone, sir, she got in again and
told the man to drive to Waterloo."
George could make nothing of it. He stood there in silent
perplexity, and might have continued to stand indefinitely, had not
his mind been distracted by a dictatorial voice at his elbow.
"You, sir! Dammit!"
A second taxi-cab had pulled up, and from it a stout, scarlet-
faced young man had sprung. One glance told George all. The hunt
was up once more. The bloodhound had picked up the trail. Percy was
For the first time since he had become aware of her flight, George
was thankful that the girl had disappeared. He perceived that he
had too quickly eliminated Percy from the list of the Things That
Matter. Engrossed with his own affairs, and having regarded their
late skirmish as a decisive battle from which there would be no
rallying, he had overlooked the possibility of this annoying and
unnecessary person following them in another cab--a task which, in
the congested, slow-moving traffic, must have been a perfectly
simple one. Well, here he was, his soul manifestly all stirred up
and his blood-pressure at a far higher figure than his doctor would
have approved of, and the matter would have to be opened all over
"Now then!" said the stout young man.
George regarded him with a critical and unfriendly eye. He disliked
this fatty degeneration excessively. Looking him up and down, he
could find no point about him that gave him the least pleasure,
with the single exception of the state of his hat, in the side of
which he was rejoiced to perceive there was a large and unshapely
"You thought you had shaken me off! You thought you'd given me the
slip! Well, you're wrong!"
George eyed him coldly.
"I know what's the matter with you," he said. "Someone's been
feeding you meat."
The young man bubbled with fury. His face turned a deeper scarlet.
"You blackguard! Where's my sister?"
At this extraordinary remark the world rocked about George dizzily.
The words upset his entire diagnosis of the situation. Until that
moment he had looked upon this man as a Lothario, a pursuer of
damsels. That the other could possibly have any right on his side
had never occurred to him. He felt unmanned by the shock. It seemed
to cut the ground from under his feet.
"You heard what I said. Where is she?"
George was still endeavouring to adjust his scattered faculties.
He felt foolish and apologetic. He had imagined himself unassailably
in the right, and it now appeared that he was in the wrong.
For a moment he was about to become conciliatory. Then the
recollection of the girl's panic and her hints at some trouble
which threatened her--presumably through the medium of this man,
brother or no brother--checked him. He did not know what it was all
about, but the one thing that did stand out clearly in the welter
of confused happenings was the girl's need for his assistance.
Whatever might be the rights of the case, he was her accomplice,
and must behave as such.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he said.
The young man shook a large, gloved fist in his face.
A rich, deep, soft, soothing voice slid into the heated scene like
the Holy Grail sliding athwart a sunbeam.
"What's all this?"
A vast policeman had materialized from nowhere. He stood beside
them, a living statue of Vigilant Authority. One thumb rested
easily on his broad belt. The fingers of the other hand caressed
lightly a moustache that had caused more heart-burnings among the
gentler sex than any other two moustaches in the C-division. The
eyes above the moustache were stern and questioning.
"What's all this?"
George liked policemen. He knew the way to treat them. His voice,
when he replied, had precisely the correct note of respectful
deference which the Force likes to hear.
"I really couldn't say, officer," he said, with just that air of
having in a time of trouble found a kind elder brother to help him
out of his difficulties which made the constable his ally on the
spot. "I was standing here, when this man suddenly made his
extraordinary attack on me. I wish you would ask him to go away."
The policeman tapped the stout young man on the shoulder.
"This won't do, you know!" he said austerely. "This sort o' thing
won't do, 'ere, you know!"
"Take your hands off me!" snorted Percy.
A frown appeared on the Olympian brow. Jove reached for his
"'Ullo! 'Ullo! 'Ullo!" he said in a shocked voice, as of a god
defied by a mortal. "'Ullo! 'Ullo! 'Ul-lo!"
His fingers fell on Percy's shoulder again, but this time not in a
mere warning tap. They rested where they fell--in an iron clutch.
"It won't do, you know," he said. "This sort o' thing won't do!"
Madness came upon the stout young man. Common prudence and the
lessons of a carefully-taught youth fell from him like a garment.
With an incoherent howl he wriggled round and punched the policeman
smartly in the stomach.
"Ho!" quoth the outraged officer, suddenly becoming human. His
left hand removed itself from the belt, and he got a businesslike
grip on his adversary's collar. "Will you come along with me!"
It was amazing. The thing had happened in such an incredibly brief
space of time. One moment, it seemed to George, he was the centre
of a nasty row in one of the most public spots in London; the next,
the focus had shifted; he had ceased to matter; and the entire
attention of the metropolis was focused on his late assailant, as,
urged by the arm of the Law, he made that journey to Vine Street
Police Station which so many a better man than he had trod.
George watched the pair as they moved up the Haymarket, followed by
a growing and increasingly absorbed crowd; then he turned into the
"This," he said to himself; "is the middle of a perfect day! And I
thought London dull!"
George awoke next morning with a misty sense that somehow the world
had changed. As the last remnants of sleep left him, he was aware
of a vague excitement. Then he sat up in bed with a jerk. He had
remembered that he was in love.
There was no doubt about it. A curious happiness pervaded his
entire being. He felt young and active. Everything was emphatically
for the best in this best of all possible worlds. The sun was
shining. Even the sound of someone in the street below whistling
one of his old compositions, of which he had heartily sickened
twelve months before, was pleasant to his ears, and this in spite
of the fact that the unseen whistler only touched the key in odd
spots and had a poor memory for tunes. George sprang lightly out of
bed, and turned on the cold tap in the bathroom. While he lathered
his face for its morning shave he beamed at himself in the mirror.
It had come at last. The Real Thing.
George had never been in love before. Not really in love. True,
from the age of fifteen, he had been in varying degrees of
intensity attracted sentimentally by the opposite sex. Indeed, at
that period of life of which Mr. Booth Tarkington has written so
searchingly--the age of seventeen--he had been in love with
practically every female he met and with dozens whom he had only
seen in the distance; but ripening years had mellowed his taste and
robbed him of that fine romantic catholicity. During the last five
years women had found him more or less cold. It was the nature of
his profession that had largely brought about this cooling of the
emotions. To a man who, like George, has worked year in and year
out at the composition of musical comedies, woman comes to lose
many of those attractive qualities which ensnare the ordinary male.
To George, of late years, it had begun to seem that the salient
feature of woman as a sex was her disposition to kick. For five
years he had been wandering in a world of women, many of them
beautiful, all of them superficially attractive, who had left no
other impress on his memory except the vigour and frequency with
which they had kicked. Some had kicked about their musical
numbers, some about their love-scenes; some had grumbled about
their exit lines, others about the lines of their second-act
frocks. They had kicked in a myriad differing ways--wrathfully,
sweetly, noisily, softly, smilingly, tearfully, pathetically and
patronizingly; but they had all kicked; with the result that woman
had now become to George not so much a flaming inspiration or a
tender goddess as something to be dodged--tactfully, if possible;
but, if not possible, by open flight. For years he had dreaded to
be left alone with a woman, and had developed a habit of gliding
swiftly away when he saw one bearing down on him.
The psychological effect of such a state of things is not difficult
to realize. Take a man of naturally quixotic temperament, a man of
chivalrous instincts and a feeling for romance, and cut him off for
five years from the exercise of those qualities, and you get an
accumulated store of foolishness only comparable to an escape of
gas in a sealed room or a cellarful of dynamite. A flicker of a
match, and there is an explosion.
This girl's tempestuous irruption into his life had supplied flame
for George. Her bright eyes, looking into his, had touched off the
spiritual trinitrotoluol which he had been storing up for so long.
Up in the air in a million pieces had gone the prudence and
self-restraint of a lifetime. And here he was, as desperately in
love as any troubadour of the Middle Ages.
It was not till he had finished shaving and was testing the
temperature of his bath with a shrinking toe that the realization
came over him in a wave that, though he might be in love, the
fairway of love was dotted with more bunkers than any golf course
he had ever played on in his life. In the first place, he did not
know the girl's name. In the second place, it seemed practically
impossible that he would ever see her again. Even in the midst of
his optimism George could not deny that these facts might
reasonably be considered in the nature of obstacles. He went back
into his bedroom, and sat on the bed. This thing wanted thinking
He was not depressed--only a little thoughtful. His faith in his
luck sustained him. He was, he realized, in the position of a man
who has made a supreme drive from the tee, and finds his ball near
the green but in a cuppy lie. He had gained much; it now remained
for him to push his success to the happy conclusion. The driver of
Luck must be replaced by the spoon--or, possibly, the niblick--of
Ingenuity. To fail now, to allow this girl to pass out of his life
merely because he did not know who she was or where she was, would
stamp him a feeble adventurer. A fellow could not expect Luck to
do everything for him. He must supplement its assistance with his
What had he to go on? Well, nothing much, if it came to that,
except the knowledge that she lived some two hours by train out of
London, and that her journey started from Waterloo Station. What
would Sherlock Holmes have done? Concentrated thought supplied no
answer to the question; and it was at this point that the cheery
optimism with which he had begun the day left George and gave place
to a grey gloom. A dreadful phrase, haunting in its pathos, crept
into his mind. "Ships that pass in the night!" It might easily turn
out that way. Indeed, thinking over the affair in all its aspects
as he dried himself after his tub, George could not see how it
could possibly turn out any other way.
He dressed moodily, and left the room to go down to breakfast.
Breakfast would at least alleviate this sinking feeling which was
unmanning him. And he could think more briskly after a cup or two
He opened the door. On a mat outside lay a letter.
The handwriting was feminine. It was also in pencil, and strange to
him. He opened the envelope.
"Dear Mr. Bevan" (it began).
With a sudden leap of the heart he looked at the signature.
The letter was signed "The Girl in the Cab."
"DEAR MR. BEVAN,
"I hope you won't think me very rude, running off
without waiting to say good-bye. I had to. I saw Percy
driving up in a cab, and knew that he must have followed us.
He did not see me, so I got away all right. I managed
splendidly about the money, for I remembered that I was
wearing a nice brooch, and stopped on the way to the
station to pawn it.
"Thank you ever so much again for all your wonderful
THE GIRL IN THE CAB."
George read the note twice on the way down to the breakfast room,
and three times more during the meal; then, having committed its
contents to memory down to the last comma, he gave himself up to
What a girl! He had never in his life before met a woman who could
write a letter without a postscript, and this was but the smallest
of her unusual gifts. The resource of her, to think of pawning that
brooch! The sweetness of her to bother to send him a note! More
than ever before was he convinced that he had met his ideal, and
more than ever before was he determined that a triviality like
being unaware of her name and address should not keep him from her.
It was not as if he had no clue to go upon. He knew that she lived
two hours from London and started home from Waterloo. It narrowed
the thing down absurdly. There were only about three counties in
which she could possibly live; and a man must be a poor fellow who
is incapable of searching through a few small counties for the girl
he loves. Especially a man with luck like his.
Luck is a goddess not to be coerced and forcibly wooed by those who
seek her favours. From such masterful spirits she turns away. But
it happens sometimes that, if we put our hand in hers with the
humble trust of a little child, she will have pity on us, and not
fail us in our hour of need. On George, hopefully watching for
something to turn up, she smiled almost immediately.
It was George's practice, when he lunched alone, to relieve the
tedium of the meal with the assistance of reading matter in the
shape of one or more of the evening papers. Today, sitting down to
a solitary repast at the Piccadilly grill-room, he had brought with
him an early edition of the Evening News. And one of the first
items which met his eye was the following, embodied in a column
on one of the inner pages devoted to humorous comments in prose and
verse on the happenings of the day. This particular happening the
writer had apparently considered worthy of being dignified by
rhyme. It was headed:
"THE PEER AND THE POLICEMAN."
"Outside the 'Carlton,' 'tis averred, these stirring
happenings occurred. The hour, 'tis said (and no one
doubts) was half-past two, or thereabouts. The day was
fair, the sky was blue, and everything was peaceful too,
when suddenly a well-dressed gent engaged in heated
argument and roundly to abuse began another well-dressed
gentleman. His suede-gloved fist he raised on high to dot
the other in the eye. Who knows what horrors might have
been, had there not come upon the scene old London city's
favourite son, Policeman C. 231. 'What means this conduct?
Prithee stop!' exclaimed that admirable slop. With which he
placed a warning hand upon the brawler's collarband. We
simply hate to tell the rest. No subject here for flippant
jest. The mere remembrance of the tale has made our ink
turn deadly pale. Let us be brief. Some demon sent stark
madness on the well-dressed gent. He gave the constable a
punch just where the latter kept his lunch. The constable
said 'Well! Well! Well!' and marched him to a dungeon cell.
At Vine Street Station out it came--Lord Belpher was the
culprit's name. But British Justice is severe alike on
pauper and on peer; with even hand she holds the scale; a
thumping fine, in lieu of gaol, induced Lord B. to feel
remorse and learn he mustn't punch the Force."
George's mutton chop congealed on the plate, untouched. The French
fried potatoes cooled off, unnoticed. This was no time for food.
Rightly indeed had he relied upon his luck. It had stood by him
nobly. With this clue, all was over except getting to the nearest
Free Library and consulting Burke's Peerage. He paid his bill and
left the restaurant.
Ten minutes later he was drinking in the pregnant information that
Belpher was the family name of the Earl of Marshmoreton, and that
the present earl had one son, Percy Wilbraham Marsh, educ. Eton and
Christ Church, Oxford, and what the book with its customary
curtness called "one d."--Patricia Maud. The family seat, said
Burke, was Belpher Castle, Belpher, Hants.
Some hours later, seated in a first-class compartment of a train
that moved slowly out of Waterloo Station, George watched London
vanish behind him. In the pocket closest to his throbbing heart
was a single ticket to Belpher.
At about the time that George Bevan's train was leaving Waterloo, a
grey racing car drew up with a grinding of brakes and a sputter of
gravel in front of the main entrance of Belpher Castle. The slim
and elegant young man at the wheel removed his goggles, pulled out
a watch, and addressed the stout young man at his side.
"Two hours and eighteen minutes from Hyde Park Corner, Boots. Not
so dusty, what?"
His companion made no reply. He appeared to be plunged in thought.
He, too, removed his goggles, revealing a florid and gloomy face,
equipped, in addition to the usual features, with a small moustache
and an extra chin. He scowled forbiddingly at the charming scene
which the goggles had hidden from him.
Before him, a symmetrical mass of grey stone and green ivy, Belpher
Castle towered against a light blue sky. On either side rolling
park land spread as far as the eye could see, carpeted here and
there with violets, dotted with great oaks and ashes and Spanish
chestnuts, orderly, peaceful and English. Nearer, on his left, were
rose-gardens, in the centre of which, tilted at a sharp angle,
appeared the seat of a pair of corduroy trousers, whose wearer
seemed to be engaged in hunting for snails. Thrushes sang in the
green shrubberies; rooks cawed in the elms. Somewhere in the
distance sounded the tinkle of sheep bells and the lowing of cows.
It was, in fact, a scene which, lit by the evening sun of a perfect
spring day and fanned by a gentle westerly wind, should have
brought balm and soothing meditations to one who was the sole
heir to all this Paradise.
But Percy, Lord Belpher, remained uncomforted by the notable
co-operation of Man and Nature, and drew no solace from the
reflection that all these pleasant things would one day be his own.
His mind was occupied at the moment, to the exclusion of all other
thoughts, by the recollection of that painful scene in Bow Street
Police Court. The magistrate's remarks, which had been tactless and
unsympathetic, still echoed in his ears. And that infernal night in
Vine Street police station . . . The darkness . . . The hard bed. . .
The discordant vocalising of the drunk and disorderly in the
next cell. . . . Time might soften these memories, might lessen the
sharp agony of them; but nothing could remove them altogether.
Percy had been shaken to the core of his being. Physically, he was
still stiff and sore from the plank bed. Mentally, he was a
volcano. He had been marched up the Haymarket in the full sight of
all London by a bounder of a policeman. He had been talked to like
an erring child by a magistrate whom nothing could convince that he
had not been under the influence of alcohol at the moment of his
arrest. (The man had said things about his liver, kindly
be-warned-in-time-and-pull-up-before-it-is-too-late things, which
would have seemed to Percy indecently frank if spoken by his
medical adviser in the privacy of the sick chamber.) It is perhaps
not to be wondered at that Belpher Castle, for all its beauty of
scenery and architecture, should have left Lord Belpher a little
cold. He was seething with a fury which the conversation of Reggie
Byng had done nothing to allay in the course of the journey from
London. Reggie was the last person he would willingly have chosen
as a companion in his hour of darkness. Reggie was not soothing. He
would insist on addressing him by his old Eton nickname of Boots
which Percy detested. And all the way down he had been breaking out
at intervals into ribald comments on the recent unfortunate
occurrence which were very hard to bear.
He resumed this vein as they alighted and rang the bell.
"This," said Reggie, "is rather like a bit out of a melodrama.
Convict son totters up the steps of the old home and punches the
bell. What awaits him beyond? Forgiveness? Or the raspberry? True,
the white-haired butler who knew him as a child will sob on his
neck, but what of the old dad? How will dad take the blot of the
Lord Belpher's scowl deepened.
"It's not a joking matter," he said coldly.
"Great Heavens, I'm not joking. How could I have the heart to joke
at a moment like this, when the friend of my youth has suddenly
become a social leper?"
"I wish to goodness you would stop."
"Do you think it is any pleasure to me to be seen about with a man
who is now known in criminal circles as Percy, the Piccadilly
Policeman-Puncher? I keep a brave face before the world, but
inwardly I burn with shame and agony and what not."
The great door of the castle swung open, revealing Keggs, the
butler. He was a man of reverend years, portly and dignified, with
a respectfully benevolent face that beamed gravely on the young
master and Mr. Byng, as if their coming had filled his cup of
pleasure. His light, slightly protruding eyes expressed reverential
good will. He gave just that touch of cosy humanity to the scene
which the hall with its half lights and massive furniture needed to
make it perfect to the returned wanderer. He seemed to be
intimating that this was a moment to which he had looked forward
long, and that from now on quiet happiness would reign supreme. It
is distressing to have to reveal the jarring fact that, in his
hours of privacy when off duty, this apparently ideal servitor was
so far from being a respecter of persons that he was accustomed to
speak of Lord Belpher as "Percy", and even as "His Nibs". It was,
indeed, an open secret among the upper servants at the castle, and
a fact hinted at with awe among the lower, that Keggs was at heart
"Good evening, your lordship. Good evening, sir."
Lord Belpher acknowledged the salutation with a grunt, but Reggie
was more affable.
"How are you, Keggs? Now's your time, if you're going to do it." He
stepped a little to one side and indicated Lord Belpher's crimson
neck with an inviting gesture.
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
"Ah. You'd rather wait till you can do it a little more privately.
Perhaps you're right."
The butler smiled indulgently. He did not understand what Reggie
was talking about, but that did not worry him. He had long since
come to the conclusion that Reggie was slightly mad, a theory
supported by the latter's valet, who was of the same opinion. Keggs
did not dislike Reggie, but intellectually he considered him
"Send something to drink into the library, Keggs," said Lord
"Very good, your lordship."
"A topping idea," said Reggie. "I'll just take the old car round to
the garage, and then I'll be with you."
He climbed to the steering wheel, and started the engine. Lord
Belpher proceeded to the library, while Keggs melted away through
the green baize door at the end of the hail which divided the
servants' quarters from the rest of the house.
Reggie had hardly driven a dozen yards when he perceived his
stepmother and Lord Marshmoreton coming towards him from the
direction of the rose-garden. He drew up to greet them.
"Hullo, mater. What ho, uncle! Back again at the old homestead,
Beneath Lady Caroline's aristocratic front agitation seemed to
"Reggie, where is Percy?"
"Old Boots? I think he's gone to the library. I just decanted him
out of the car."
Lady Caroline turned to her brother.
"Let us go to the library, John."
"All right. All right. All right," said Lord Marshmoreton
irritably. Something appeared to have ruffled his calm.
Reggie drove on. As he was strolling back after putting the car
away he met Maud.
"Hullo, Maud, dear old thing."
"Why, hullo, Reggie. I was expecting you back last night."
"Couldn't get back last night. Had to stick in town and rally round
old Boots. Couldn't desert the old boy in his hour of trial."
Reggie chuckled amusedly. "'Hour of trial,' is rather good, what?
What I mean to say is, that's just what it was, don't you know."
"Why, what happened to Percy?"
"Do you mean to say you haven't heard? Of course not. It wouldn't
have been in the morning papers. Why, Percy punched a policeman."
"Percy did what?"
"Slugged a slop. Most dramatic thing. Sloshed him in the midriff.
Absolutely. The cross marks the spot where the tragedy occurred."
Maud caught her breath. Somehow, though she could not trace the
connection, she felt that this extraordinary happening must be
linked up with her escapade. Then her sense of humour got the
better of apprehension. Her eyes twinkled delightedly.
"You don't mean to say Percy did that?"
"Absolutely. The human tiger, and what not. Menace to Society and
all that sort of thing. No holding him. For some unexplained reason
the generous blood of the Belphers boiled over, and then--zing.
They jerked him off to Vine Street. Like the poem, don't you know.
'And poor old Percy walked between with gyves upon his wrists.' And
this morning, bright and early, the beak parted him from ten quid.
You know, Maud, old thing, our duty stares us plainly in the
eyeball. We've got to train old Boots down to a reasonable weight
and spring him on the National Sporting Club. We've been letting a
champion middleweight blush unseen under our very roof tree."
Maud hesitated a moment.
"I suppose you don't know," she asked carelessly, "why he did it? I
mean, did he tell you anything?"
"Couldn't get a word out of him. Oysters garrulous and tombs chatty
in comparison. Absolutely. All I know is that he popped one into
the officer's waistband. What led up to it is more than I can tell
you. How would it be to stagger to the library and join the
"Well, I met the mater and his lordship on their way to the
library, and it looked to me very much as if the mater must have
got hold of an evening paper on her journey from town? When did she
"Only a short while ago."
"Then that's what's happened. She would have bought an evening
paper to read in the train. By Jove, I wonder if she got hold of
the one that had the poem about it. One chappie was so carried away
by the beauty of the episode that he treated it in verse. I think
we ought to look in and see what's happening."
Maud hesitated again. But she was a girl of spirit. And she had an
intuition that her best defence would be attack. Bluff was what was
needed. Wide-eyed, innocent wonder . . . After all, Percy couldn't
be certain he had seen her in Piccadilly.
"By the way, dear old girl," inquired Reggie, "did your little
business come out satisfactorily? I forgot to ask."
"Not very. But it was awfully sweet of you to take me into town."
"How would it be," said Reggie nervously, "not to dwell too much on
that part of it? What I mean to say is, for heaven's sake don't let
the mater know I rallied round."
"Don't worry," said Maud with a laugh. "I'm not going to talk about
the thing at all."
Lord Belpher, meanwhile, in the library, had begun with the aid of
a whisky and soda to feel a little better. There was something
about the library with its sombre half tones that soothed his
bruised spirit. The room held something of the peace of a deserted
city. The world, with its violent adventures and tall policemen,
did not enter here. There was balm in those rows and rows of books
which nobody ever read, those vast writing tables at which nobody
ever wrote. From the broad mantel-piece the bust of some unnamed
ancient looked down almost sympathetically. Something remotely
resembling peace had begun to steal into Percy's soul, when it was
expelled by the abrupt opening of the door and the entry of Lady
Caroline Byng and his father. One glance at the face of the former
was enough to tell Lord Belpher that she knew all.
He rose defensively.
"Let me explain."
Lady Caroline quivered with repressed emotion. This masterly woman
had not lost control of herself, but her aristocratic calm had
seldom been so severely tested. As Reggie had surmised, she had
read the report of the proceedings in the evening paper in the
train, and her world had been reeling ever since. Caesar, stabbed
by Brutus, could scarcely have experienced a greater shock. The
other members of her family had disappointed her often. She had
become inured to the spectacle of her brother working in the garden
in corduroy trousers and in other ways behaving in a manner beneath
the dignity of an Earl of Marshmoreton. She had resigned herself to
the innate flaw in the character of Maud which had allowed her to
fall in love with a nobody whom she had met without an
introduction. Even Reggie had exhibited at times democratic traits
of which she thoroughly disapproved. But of her nephew Percy she
had always been sure. He was solid rock. He, at least, she had
always felt, would never do anything to injure the family prestige.
And now, so to speak, "Lo, Ben Adhem's name led all the rest." In
other words, Percy was the worst of the lot. Whatever indiscretions
the rest had committed, at least they had never got the family into
the comic columns of the evening papers. Lord Marshmoreton might
wear corduroy trousers and refuse to entertain the County at garden
parties and go to bed with a book when it was his duty to act as
host at a formal ball; Maud might give her heart to an impossible
person whom nobody had ever heard of; and Reggie might be seen at
fashionable restaurants with pugilists; but at any rate evening
paper poets had never written facetious verses about their
exploits. This crowning degradation had been reserved for the
hitherto blameless Percy, who, of all the young men of Lady
Caroline's acquaintance, had till now appeared to have the most
scrupulous sense of his position, the most rigid regard for the
dignity of his great name. Yet, here he was, if the carefully
considered reports in the daily press were to be believed, spending
his time in the very spring-tide of his life running about London
like a frenzied Hottentot, brutally assaulting the police. Lady
Caroline felt as a bishop might feel if he suddenly discovered that
some favourite curate had gone over to the worship of Mumbo Jumbo.
"Explain?" she cried. "How can you explain? You--my nephew, the
heir to the title, behaving like a common rowdy in the streets of
London . . . your name in the papers . . .
"If you knew the circumstances."
"The circumstances? They are in the evening paper. They are in
"In verse," added Lord Marshmoreton. He chuckled amiably at the
recollection. He was an easily amused man. "You ought to read it,
my boy. Some of it was capital . . ."
"But deplorable, of course," added Lord Marshmoreton hastily. "Very
deplorable." He endeavoured to regain his sister's esteem by a show
of righteous indignation. "What do you mean by it, damn it? You're
my only son. I have watched you grow from child to boy, from boy to
man, with tender solicitude. I have wanted to be proud of you. And
all the time, dash it, you are prowling about London like a lion,
seeking whom you may devour, terrorising the metropolis, putting
harmless policemen in fear of their lives. . ."
"Will you listen to me for a moment?" shouted Percy. He began to
speak rapidly, as one conscious of the necessity of saying his say
while the saying was good. "The facts are these. I was walking
along Piccadilly on my way to lunch at the club, when, near
Burlington Arcade, I was amazed to see Maud."
Lady Caroline uttered an exclamation.
"Maud? But Maud was here."
"I can't understand it," went on Lord Marshmoreton, pursuing his
remarks. Righteous indignation had, he felt, gone well. It might be
judicious to continue in that vein, though privately he held the
opinion that nothing in Percy's life so became him as this assault
on the Force. Lord Marshmoreton, who in his time had committed all
the follies of youth, had come to look on his blameless son as
scarcely human. "It's not as if you were wild. You've never got
into any scrapes at Oxford. You've spent your time collecting old
china and prayer rugs. You wear flannel next your skin . . ."
"Will you please be quiet," said Lady Caroline impatiently. "Go
"Oh, very well," said Lord Marshmoreton. "I only spoke. I merely
made a remark."
"You say you saw Maud in Piccadilly, Percy?"
"Precisely. I was on the point of putting it down to an extraordinary
resemblance, when suddenly she got into a cab. Then I knew."
Lord Marshmoreton could not permit this to pass in silence. He was
a fair-minded man.
"Why shouldn't the girl have got into a cab? Why must a girl
walking along Piccadilly be my daughter Maud just because she got
into a cab. London," he proceeded, warming to the argument and
thrilled by the clearness and coherence of his reasoning, "is full
of girls who take cabs."
"She didn't take a cab."
"You just said she did," said Lord Marshmoreton cleverly.
"I said she got into a cab. There was somebody else already in the
cab. A man. Aunt Caroline, it was the man."
"Good gracious," ejaculated Lady Caroline, falling into a chair as
if she had been hamstrung.
"I am absolutely convinced of it," proceeded Lord Belpher solemnly.
"His behaviour was enough to confirm my suspicions. The cab had
stopped in a block of the traffic, and I went up and requested him
in a perfectly civil manner to allow me to look at the lady who had
just got in. He denied that there was a lady in the cab. And I had
seen her jump in with my own eyes. Throughout the conversation he
was leaning out of the window with the obvious intention of
screening whoever was inside from my view. I followed him along
Piccadilly in another cab, and tracked him to the Carlton. When I
arrived there he was standing on the pavement outside. There were
no signs of Maud. I demanded that he tell me her whereabouts. . ."
"That reminds me," said Lord Marshmoreton cheerfully, "of a story I
read in one of the papers. I daresay it's old. Stop me if you've
heard it. A woman says to the maid: 'Do you know anything of my
husband's whereabouts?' And the maid replies--"
"Do be quiet," snapped Lady Caroline. "I should have thought that
you would be interested in a matter affecting the vital welfare of
your only daughter."
"I am. I am," said Lord Marshmoreton hastily. "The maid replied:
'They're at the wash.' Of course I am. Go on, Percy. Good God, boy,
don't take all day telling us your story."
"At that moment the fool of a policeman came up and wanted to know
what the matter was. I lost my head. I admit it freely. The
policeman grasped my shoulder, and I struck him."
"Where?" asked Lord Marshmoreton, a stickler for detail.
"What does that matter?" demanded Lady Caroline. "You did quite
right, Percy. These insolent jacks in office ought not to be
allowed to manhandle people. Tell me, what this man was like?"
"Extremely ordinary-looking. In fact, all I can remember about him
was that he was clean-shaven. I cannot understand how Maud could
have come to lose her head over such a man. He seemed to me to
have no attraction whatever," said Lord Belpher, a little
unreasonably, for Apollo himself would hardly appear attractive
when knocking one's best hat off.
"It must have been the same man."
"Precisely. If we wanted further proof, he was an American. You
recollect that we heard that the man in Wales was American."
There was a portentous silence. Percy stared at the floor. Lady
Caroline breathed deeply. Lord Marshmoreton, feeling that something
was expected of him, said "Good Gad!" and gazed seriously at a
stuffed owl on a bracket. Maud and Reggie Byng came in.
"What ho, what ho, what ho!" said Reggie breezily. He always
believed in starting a conversation well, and putting people at
their ease. "What ho! What ho!"
Maud braced herself for the encounter.
"Hullo, Percy, dear," she said, meeting her brother's accusing eye
with the perfect composure that comes only from a thoroughly guilty
conscience. "What's all this I hear about your being the Scourge of
London? Reggie says that policemen dive down manholes when they see
The chill in the air would have daunted a less courageous girl.
Lady Caroline had risen, and was staring sternly. Percy was pulling
the puffs of an overwrought soul. Lord Marshmoreton, whose thoughts
had wandered off to the rose garden, pulled himself together and
tried to look menacing. Maud went on without waiting for a reply.
She was all bubbling gaiety and insouciance, a charming picture of
young English girlhood that nearly made her brother foam at the
"Father dear," she said, attaching herself affectionately to his
buttonhole, "I went round the links in eighty-three this morning.
I did the long hole in four. One under par, a thing I've never done
before in my life." ("Bless my soul," said Lord Marshmoreton
weakly, as, with an apprehensive eye on his sister, he patted his
daughter's shoulder.) "First, I sent a screecher of a drive right
down the middle of the fairway. Then I took my brassey and put the
ball just on the edge of the green. A hundred and eighty yards if
it was an inch. My approach putt--"
Lady Caroline, who was no devotee of the royal and ancient game,
interrupted the recital.
"Never mind what you did this morning. What did you do yesterday
"Yes," said Lord Belpher. "Where were you yesterday afternoon?"
Maud's gaze was the gaze of a young child who has never even
attempted to put anything over in all its little life.
"Whatever do you mean?"
"What were you doing in Piccadilly yesterday afternoon?" said Lady
"Piccadilly? The place where Percy fights policemen? I don't
Lady Caroline was no sportsman. She put one of those direct
questions, capable of being answered only by "Yes" or "No", which
ought not to be allowed in controversy. They are the verbal
equivalent of shooting a sitting bird.
"Did you or did you not go to London yesterday, Maud?"
The monstrous unfairness of this method of attack pained Maud. From
childhood up she had held the customary feminine views upon the Lie
Direct. As long as it was a question of suppression of the true or
suggestion of the false she had no scruples. But she had a
distaste for deliberate falsehood. Faced now with a choice between
two evils, she chose the one which would at least leave her
"Yes, I did."
Lady Caroline looked at Lord Belpher. Lord Belpher looked at
"You went to meet that American of yours?"
Reggie Byng slid softly from the room. He felt that he would be
happier elsewhere. He had been an acutely embarrassed spectator of
this distressing scene, and had been passing the time by shuffling
his feet, playing with his coat buttons and perspiring.
"Don't go, Reggie," said Lord Belpher.
"Well, what I mean to say is--family row and what not--if you see
what I mean--I've one or two things I ought to do--"
He vanished. Lord Belpher frowned a sombre frown. "Then it was
that man who knocked my hat off?"
"What do you mean?" said Lady Caroline. "Knocked your hat off? You
never told me he knocked your hat off."
"It was when I was asking him to let me look inside the cab. I had
grasped the handle of the door, when he suddenly struck my hat,
causing it to fly off. And, while I was picking it up, he drove
"C'k," exploded Lord Marshmoreton. "C'k, c'k, c'k." He twisted his
face by a supreme exertion of will power into a mask of
indignation. "You ought to have had the scoundrel arrested," he
said vehemently. "It was a technical assault."
"The man who knocked your hat off, Percy," said Maud, "was
not . . . He was a different man altogether. A stranger."
"As if you would be in a cab with a stranger," said Lady Caroline
caustically. "There are limits, I hope, to even your indiscretions."
Lord Marshmoreton cleared his throat. He was sorry for Maud, whom
"Now, looking at the matter broadly--"
"Be quiet," said Lady Caroline.
Lord Marshmoreton subsided.
"I wanted to avoid you," said Maud, "so I jumped into the first cab
"I don't believe it," said Percy.
"It's the truth."
"You are simply trying to put us off the scent."
Lady Caroline turned to Maud. Her manner was plaintive. She looked
like a martyr at the stake who deprecatingly lodges a timid
complaint, fearful the while lest she may be hurting the feelings
of her persecutors by appearing even for a moment out of sympathy
with their activities.
"My dear child, why will you not be reasonable in this matter? Why
will you not let yourself be guided by those who are older and
wiser than you?"
"Exactly," said Lord Belpher.
"The whole thing is too absurd."
"Precisely," said Lord Belpher.
Lady Caroline turned on him irritably.
"Please do not interrupt, Percy. Now, you've made me forget what I
was going to say."
"To my mind," said Lord Marshmoreton, coming to the surface once
more, "the proper attitude to adopt on occasions like the present--"
"Please," said Lady Caroline.
Lord Marshmoreton stopped, and resumed his silent communion with the
"You can't stop yourself being in love, Aunt Caroline," said Maud.
"You can be stopped if you've somebody with a level head looking
Lord Marshmoreton tore himself away from the bird.
"Why, when I was at Oxford in the year '87," he said chattily, "I
fancied myself in love with the female assistant at a tobacconist
shop. Desperately in love, dammit. Wanted to marry her. I recollect
my poor father took me away from Oxford and kept me here at Belpher
under lock and key. Lock and key, dammit. I was deucedly upset at
the time, I remember." His mind wandered off into the glorious
past. "I wonder what that girl's name was. Odd one can't remember
names. She had chestnut hair and a mole on the side of her chin. I
used to kiss it, I recollect--"
Lady Caroline, usually such an advocate of her brother's researches
into the family history, cut the reminiscences short.
"Never mind that now."
"I don't. I got over it. That's the moral."
"Well," said Lady Caroline, "at any rate poor father acted with
great good sense on that occasion. There seems nothing to do but to
treat Maud in just the same way. You shall not stir a step from the
castle till you have got over this dreadful infatuation. You will
"I shall watch you," said Lord Belpher solemnly, "I shall watch
your every movement."
A dreamy look came into Maud's brown eyes.
"Stone walls do not a prison make nor iron bars a cage," she said
"That wasn't your experience, Percy, my boy," said Lord
"They make a very good imitation," said Lady Caroline coldly,
ignoring the interruption.
Maud faced her defiantly. She looked like a princess in captivity
facing her gaolers.
"I don't care. I love him, and I always shall love him, and nothing
is ever going to stop me loving him--because I love him," she
concluded a little lamely.
"Nonsense," said Lady Caroline. "In a year from now you will have
forgotten his name. Don't you agree with me, Percy?"
"Quite," said Lord Belpher.
"Deuced hard things to remember, names," said Lord Marshmoreton.
"If I've tried once to remember that tobacconist girl's name, I've
tried a hundred times. I have an idea it began with an 'L.' Muriel
or Hilda or something."
"Within a year," said Lady Caroline, "you will be wondering how you
ever came to be so foolish. Don't you think so, Percy?"
"Quite," said Lord Belpher.
Lord Marshmoreton turned on him irritably.
"Good God, boy, can't you answer a simple question with a plain
affirmative? What do you mean--quite? If somebody came to me and
pointed you out and said, 'Is that your son?' do you suppose I
should say 'Quite?' I wish the devil you didn't collect prayer
rugs. It's sapped your brain."
"They say prison life often weakens the intellect, father," said
Maud. She moved towards the door and turned the handle. Albert,
the page boy, who had been courting earache by listening at the
keyhole, straightened his small body and scuttled away. "Well, is
that all, Aunt Caroline? May I go now?"
"Certainly. I have said all I wished to say."
"Very well. I'm sorry to disobey you, but I can't help it."
"You'll find you can help it after you've been cooped up here for a
few more months," said Percy.
A gentle smile played over Maud's face.
"Love laughs at locksmiths," she murmured softly, and passed from
"What did she say?" asked Lord Marshmoreton, interested.
"Something about somebody laughing at a locksmith? I don't
understand. Why should anyone laugh at locksmiths? Most respectable
men. Had one up here only the day before yesterday, forcing open
the drawer of my desk. Watched him do it. Most interesting. He
smelt rather strongly of a damned bad brand of tobacco. Fellow must
have a throat of leather to be able to smoke the stuff. But he
didn't strike me as an object of derision. From first to last, I
was never tempted to laugh once."
Lord Belpher wandered moodily to the window and looked out into the
"And this has to happen," he said bitterly, "on the eve of my
The first requisite of an invading army is a base. George, having
entered Belpher village and thus accomplished the first stage in
his foreward movement on the castle, selected as his base the
Marshmoreton Arms. Selected is perhaps hardly the right word, as it
implies choice, and in George's case there was no choice. There are
two inns at Belpher, but the Marshmoreton Arms is the only one that
offers accommodation for man and beast, assuming--that is to
say--that the man and beast desire to spend the night. The other
house, the Blue Boar, is a mere beerhouse, where the lower strata
of Belpher society gather of a night to quench their thirst and to
tell one another interminable stories without any point whatsoever.
But the Marshmoreton Arms is a comfortable, respectable hostelry,
catering for the village plutocrats. There of an evening you will
find the local veterinary surgeon smoking a pipe with the grocer,
the baker, and the butcher, with perhaps a sprinkling of
neighbouring farmers to help the conversation along. There is a
"shilling ordinary"--which is rural English for a cut off the joint
and a boiled potato, followed by hunks of the sort of cheese which
believes that it pays to advertise, and this is usually well
attended. On the other days of the week, until late in the evening,
however, the visitor to the Marshmoreton Arms has the place almost
entirely to himself.
It is to be questioned whether in the whole length and breadth of
the world there is a more admirable spot for a man in love to pass
a day or two than the typical English village. The Rocky Mountains,
that traditional stamping-ground for the heartbroken, may be well
enough in their way; but a lover has to be cast in a pretty stem
mould to be able to be introspective when at any moment he may meet
an annoyed cinnamon bear. In the English village there are no such
obstacles to meditation. It combines the comforts of civilization
with the restfulness of solitude in a manner equalled by no other
spot except the New York Public Library. Here your lover may wander
to and fro unmolested, speaking to nobody, by nobody addressed, and
have the satisfaction at the end of the day of sitting down to a
capitally cooked chop and chips, lubricated by golden English ale.
Belpher, in addition to all the advantages of the usual village,
has a quiet charm all its own, due to the fact that it has seen
better days. In a sense, it is a ruin, and ruins are always
soothing to the bruised soul. Ten years before, Belpher had been a
flourishing centre of the South of England oyster trade. It is
situated by the shore, where Hayling Island, lying athwart the
mouth of the bay, forms the waters into a sort of brackish lagoon,
in much the same way as Fire Island shuts off the Great South Bay
of Long Island from the waves of the Atlantic. The water of Belpher
Creek is shallow even at high tide, and when the tide runs out it
leaves glistening mud flats, which it is the peculiar taste of the
oyster to prefer to any other habitation. For years Belpher oysters
had been the mainstay of gay supper parties at the Savoy, the
Carlton and Romano's. Dukes doted on them; chorus girls wept if
they were not on the bill of fare. And then, in an evil hour,
somebody discovered that what made the Belpher Oyster so
particularly plump and succulent was the fact that it breakfasted,
lunched and dined almost entirely on the local sewage. There is but
a thin line ever between popular homage and execration. We see it
in the case of politicians, generals and prize-fighters; and
oysters are no exception to the rule. There was a typhoid
scare--quite a passing and unjustified scare, but strong enough to
do its deadly work; and almost overnight Belpher passed from a
place of flourishing industry to the sleepy, by-the-world-forgotten
spot which it was when George Bevan discovered it. The shallow
water is still there; the mud is still there; even the oyster-beds
are still there; but not the oysters nor the little world of
activity which had sprung up around them. The glory of Belpher is
dead; and over its gates Ichabod is written. But, if it has lost in
importance, it has gained in charm; and George, for one, had no
regrets. To him, in his present state of mental upheaval, Belpher
was the ideal spot.
It was not at first that George roused himself to the point of
asking why he was here and what--now that he was here--he proposed
to do. For two languorous days he loafed, sufficiently occupied
with his thoughts. He smoked long, peaceful pipes in the
stable-yard, watching the ostlers as they groomed the horses; he
played with the Inn puppy, bestowed respectful caresses on the Inn
cat. He walked down the quaint cobbled street to the harbour,
sauntered along the shore, and lay on his back on the little beach
at the other side of the lagoon, from where he could see the red
roofs of the village, while the imitation waves splashed busily on
the stones, trying to conceal with bustle and energy the fact that
the water even two hundred yards from the shore was only eighteen
inches deep. For it is the abiding hope of Belpher Creek that it
may be able to deceive the occasional visitor into mistaking it for
the open sea.
And presently the tide would ebb. The waste of waters became a sea
of mud, cheerfully covered as to much of its surface with green
grasses. The evening sun struck rainbow colours from the moist
softness. Birds sang in the thickets. And George, heaving himself
up, walked back to the friendly cosiness of the Marshmoreton Arms.
And the remarkable part of it was that everything seemed perfectly
natural and sensible to him, nor had he any particular feeling that
in falling in love with Lady Maud Marsh and pursuing her to Belpher
he had set himself anything in the nature of a hopeless task. Like
one kissed by a goddess in a dream, he walked on air; and, while
one is walking on air, it is easy to overlook the boulders in the
Consider his position, you faint-hearted and self-pitying young men
who think you have a tough row to hoe just because, when you pay
your evening visit with the pound box of candy under your arm, you
see the handsome sophomore from Yale sitting beside her on the
porch, playing the ukulele. If ever the world has turned black to
you in such a situation and the moon gone in behind a cloud, think
of George Bevan and what he was up against. You are at least on the
spot. You can at least put up a fight. If there are ukuleles in the
world, there are also guitars, and tomorrow it may be you and not
he who sits on the moonlit porch; it may be he and not you who
arrives late. Who knows? Tomorrow he may not show up till you have
finished the Bedouin's Love Song and are annoying the local birds,
roosting in the trees, with Poor Butterfly.
What I mean to say is, you are on the map. You have a sporting
chance. Whereas George... Well, just go over to England and try
wooing an earl's daughter whom you have only met once--and then
without an introduction; whose brother's hat you have smashed
beyond repair; whose family wishes her to marry some other man: who
wants to marry some other man herself--and not the same other man,
but another other man; who is closely immured in a mediaeval castle
. . . Well, all I say is--try it. And then go back to your porch
with a chastened spirit and admit that you might be a whole lot
George, as I say, had not envisaged the peculiar difficulties of
his position. Nor did he until the evening of his second day at the
Marshmoreton Arms. Until then, as I have indicated, he roamed in a
golden mist of dreamy meditation among the soothing by-ways of the
village of Belpher. But after lunch on the second day it came upon
him that all this sort of thing was pleasant but not practical.
Action was what was needed. Action.
The first, the obvious move was to locate the castle. Inquiries at
the Marshmoreton Arms elicited the fact that it was "a step" up the
road that ran past the front door of the inn. But this wasn't the
day of the week when the general public was admitted. The
sightseer could invade Belpher Castle on Thursdays only, between
the hours of two and four. On other days of the week all he could
do was to stand like Moses on Pisgah and take in the general effect
from a distance. As this was all that George had hoped to be able
to do, he set forth.
It speedily became evident to George that "a step" was a euphemism.
Five miles did he tramp before, trudging wearily up a winding lane,
he came out on a breeze-swept hill-top, and saw below him, nestling
in its trees, what was now for him the centre of the world. He sat
on a stone wail and lit a pipe. Belpher Castle. Maud's home. There
it was. And now what?
The first thought that came to him was practical, even prosaic--
the thought that he couldn't possibly do this five-miles-there
and-five-miles-back walk, every time he wanted to see the place.
He must shift his base nearer the scene of operations. One of those
trim, thatched cottages down there in the valley would be just the
thing, if he could arrange to take possession of it. They sat there
all round the castle, singly and in groups, like small dogs round
their master. They looked as if they had been there for centuries.
Probably they had, as they were made of stone as solid as that of
the castle. There must have been a time, thought George, when the
castle was the central rallying-point for all those scattered
homes; when rumour of danger from marauders had sent all that
little community scuttling for safety to the sheltering walls.
For the first time since he had set out on his expedition, a
certain chill, a discomforting sinking of the heart, afflicted
George as he gazed down at the grim grey fortress which he had
undertaken to storm. So must have felt those marauders of old when
they climbed to the top of this very hill to spy out the land. And
George's case was even worse than theirs. They could at least hope
that a strong arm and a stout heart would carry them past those
solid walls; they had not to think of social etiquette. Whereas
George was so situated that an unsympathetic butler could put him to
rout by refusing him admittance.
The evening was drawing in. Already, in the brief time he had spent
on the hill-top, the sky had turned from blue to saffron and from
saffron to grey. The plaintive voices of homing cows floated up to
him from the valley below. A bat had left its shelter and was
wheeling around him, a sinister blot against the sky. A sickle moon
gleamed over the trees. George felt cold. He turned. The shadows
of night wrapped him round, and little things in the hedgerows
chirped and chittered mockery at him as he stumbled down the lane.
George's request for a lonely furnished cottage somewhere in the
neighbourhood of the castle did not, as he had feared, strike the
Belpher house-agent as the demand of a lunatic. Every well-dressed
stranger who comes to Belpher is automatically set down by the
natives as an artist, for the picturesqueness of the place has
caused it to be much infested by the brothers and sisters of the
brush. In asking for a cottage, indeed, George did precisely as
Belpher society expected him to do; and the agent was reaching for
his list almost before the words were out of his mouth. In less
than half an hour George was out in the street again, the owner for
the season of what the agent described as a "gem" and the employer
of a farmer's wife who lived near-by and would, as was her custom
with artists, come in the morning and evening to "do" for him. The
interview would have taken but a few minutes, had it not been
prolonged by the chattiness of the agent on the subject of the
occupants of the castle, to which George listened attentively. He
was not greatly encouraged by what he heard of Lord Marshmoreton.
The earl had made himself notably unpopular in the village recently
by his firm--the house-agent said "pig-headed"--attitude in respect
to a certain dispute about a right-of-way. It was Lady Caroline,
and not the easy-going peer, who was really to blame in the matter;
but the impression that George got from the house-agent's
description of Lord Marshmoreton was that the latter was a sort of
Nero, possessing, in addition to the qualities of a Roman tyrant,
many of the least lovable traits of the ghila monster of Arizona.
Hearing this about her father, and having already had the privilege
of meeting her brother and studying him at first hand, his heart
bled for Maud. It seemed to him that existence at the castle in
such society must be little short of torture.
"I must do something," he muttered. "I must do something quick."
"Beg pardon," said the house-agent.
"Nothing," said George. "Well, I'll take that cottage. I'd better
write you a cheque for the first month's rent now."
So George took up his abode, full of strenuous--if vague--purpose,
in the plainly-furnished but not uncomfortable cottage known
locally as "the one down by Platt's." He might have found a worse
billet. It was a two-storied building of stained red brick, not one
of the thatched nests on which he had looked down from the hill.
Those were not for rent, being occupied by families whose ancestors
had occupied them for generations back. The one down by Platt's
was a more modern structure--a speculation, in fact, of the farmer
whose wife came to "do" for George, and designed especially to
accommodate the stranger who had the desire and the money to rent
it. It so departed from type that it possessed a small but
undeniable bath-room. Besides this miracle, there was a cosy
sitting-room, a larger bedroom on the floor above and next to this
an empty room facing north, which had evidently served artist
occupants as a studio. The remainder of the ground floor was taken
up by kitchen and scullery. The furniture had been constructed by
somebody who would probably have done very well if he had taken up
some other line of industry; but it was mitigated by a very fine
and comfortable wicker easy chair, left there by one of last year's
artists; and other artists had helped along the good work by
relieving the plainness of the walls with a landscape or two. In
fact, when George had removed from the room two antimacassars,
three group photographs of the farmer's relations, an illuminated
text, and a china statuette of the Infant Samuel, and stacked them
in a corner of the empty studio, the place became almost a home
Solitude can be very unsolitary if a man is in love. George never
even began to be bored. The only thing that in any way troubled his
peace was the thought that he was not accomplishing a great deal in
the matter of helping Maud out of whatever trouble it was that had
befallen her. The most he could do was to prowl about roads near
the castle in the hope of an accidental meeting. And such was his
good fortune that, on the fourth day of his vigil, the accidental
Taking his morning prowl along the lanes, he was rewarded by the
sight of a grey racing-car at the side of the road. It was empty,
but from underneath it protruded a pair of long legs, while beside
it stood a girl, at the sight of whom George's heart began to thump
so violently that the long-legged one might have been pardoned had
he supposed that his engine had started again of its own volition.
Until he spoke the soft grass had kept her from hearing his
approach. He stopped close behind her, and cleared his throat. She
started and turned, and their eyes met.
For a moment hers were empty of any recognition. Then they lit up.
She caught her breath quickly, and a faint flush came into her
"Can I help you?" asked George.
The long legs wriggled out into the road followed by a long body.
The young man under the car sat up, turning a grease-streaked and
pleasant face to George.
"Can I help you? I know how to fix a car."
The young man beamed in friendly fashion.
"It's awfully good of you, old chap, but so do I. It's the only
thing I can do well. Thanks very much and so forth all the same."
George fastened his eyes on the girl's. She had not spoken.
"If there is anything in the world I can possibly do for you," he
said slowly, "I hope you will let me know. I should like above all
things to help you."
The girl spoke.
"Thank you," she said in a low voice almost inaudible.
George walked away. The grease-streaked young man followed him with
"Civil cove, that," he said. "Rather gushing though, what?
American, wasn't he?"
"Yes. I think he was."
"Americans are the civillest coves I ever struck. I remember asking
the way of a chappie at Baltimore a couple of years ago when I was
there in my yacht, and he followed me for miles, shrieking advice
and encouragement. I thought it deuced civil of him."
"I wish you would hurry up and get the car right, Reggie. We shall
be awfully late for lunch."
Reggie Byng began to slide backwards under the car.
"All right, dear heart. Rely on me. It's something quite simple."
"Well, do be quick."
"Imitation of greased lightning--very difficult," said Reggie
encouragingly. "Be patient. Try and amuse yourself somehow. Ask
yourself a riddle. Tell yourself a few anecdotes. I'll be with you
in a moment. I say, I wonder what the cove is doing at Belpher?
Deuced civil cove," said Reggie approvingly. "I liked him. And now,
business of repairing breakdown."
His smiling face vanished under the car like the Cheshire cat.
Maud stood looking thoughtfully down the road in the direction in
which George had disappeared.
The following day was a Thursday and on Thursdays, as has been
stated, Belpher Castle was thrown open to the general public
between the hours of two and four. It was a tradition of long
standing, this periodical lowering of the barriers, and had always
been faithfully observed by Lord Marshmoreton ever since his
accession to the title. By the permanent occupants of the castle
the day was regarded with mixed feelings. Lord Belpher, while
approving of it in theory, as he did of all the family
traditions--for he was a great supporter of all things feudal, and
took his position as one of the hereditary aristocracy of Great
Britain extremely seriously--heartily disliked it in practice. More
than once he had been obliged to exit hastily by a further door in
order to keep from being discovered by a drove of tourists intent
on inspecting the library or the great drawing-room; and now it was
his custom to retire to his bedroom immediately after lunch and not
to emerge until the tide of invasion had ebbed away.
Keggs, the butler, always looked forward to Thursdays with
pleasurable anticipation. He enjoyed the sense of authority which
it gave him to herd these poor outcasts to and fro among the
surroundings which were an every-day commonplace to himself. Also
he liked hearing the sound of his own voice as it lectured in
rolling periods on the objects of interest by the way-side. But
even to Keggs there was a bitter mixed with the sweet. No one was
better aware than himself that the nobility of his manner,
excellent as a means of impressing the mob, worked against him when
it came to a question of tips. Again and again had he been harrowed
by the spectacle of tourists, huddled together like sheep, debating
among themselves in nervous whispers as to whether they could offer
this personage anything so contemptible as half a crown for himself
and deciding that such an insult was out of the question. It was
his endeavour, especially towards the end of the proceedings, to
cultivate a manner blending a dignity fitting his position with a
sunny geniality which would allay the timid doubts of the tourist
and indicate to him that, bizarre as the idea might seem, there was
nothing to prevent him placing his poor silver in more worthy
Possibly the only member of the castle community who was absolutely
indifferent to these public visits was Lord Marshmoreton. He made
no difference between Thursday and any other day. Precisely as
usual he donned his stained corduroys and pottered about his
beloved garden; and when, as happened on an average once a quarter,
some visitor, strayed from the main herd, came upon him as he
worked and mistook him for one of the gardeners, he accepted the
error without any attempt at explanation, sometimes going so far as
to encourage it by adopting a rustic accent in keeping with his
appearance. This sort thing tickled the simple-minded peer.
George joined the procession punctually at two o'clock, just as
Keggs was clearing his throat preparatory to saying, "We are now in
the main 'all, and before going any further I would like to call
your attention to Sir Peter Lely's portrait of--" It was his custom
to begin his Thursday lectures with this remark, but today it was
postponed; for, no sooner had George appeared, than a breezy voice
on the outskirts of the throng spoke in a tone that made
"For goodness' sake, George."
And Billie Dore detached herself from the group, a trim vision in
blue. She wore a dust-coat and a motor veil, and her eyes and
cheeks were glowing from the fresh air.
"For goodness' sake, George, what are you doing here?"
"I was just going to ask you the same thing."
"Oh, I motored down with a boy I know. We had a breakdown just
outside the gates. We were on our way to Brighton for lunch. He
suggested I should pass the time seeing the sights while he fixed
up the sprockets or the differential gear or whatever it was. He's
coming to pick me up when he's through. But, on the level, George,
how do you get this way? You sneak out of town and leave the show
flat, and nobody has a notion where you are. Why, we were thinking
of advertising for you, or going to the police or something. For
all anybody knew, you might have been sandbagged or dropped in the
This aspect of the matter had not occurred to George till now. His
sudden descent on Belpher had seemed to him the only natural course
to pursue. He had not realized that he would be missed, and that
his absence might have caused grave inconvenience to a large number
"I never thought of that. I--well, I just happened to come here."
"You aren't living in this old castle?"
"Not quite. I've a cottage down the road. I wanted a few days in
the country so I rented it."
"But what made you choose this place?"
Keggs, who had been regarding these disturbers of the peace with
dignified disapproval, coughed.
"If you would not mind, madam. We are waiting."
"Eh? How's that?" Miss Dore looked up with a bright smile. "I'm
sorry. Come along, George. Get in the game." She nodded cheerfully
to the butler. "All right. All set now. You may fire when ready,
Keggs bowed austerely, and cleared his throat again.
"We are now in the main 'all, and before going any further I would
like to call your attention to Sir Peter Lely's portrait of the
fifth countess. Said by experts to be in his best manner."
There was an almost soundless murmur from the mob, expressive of
wonder and awe, like a gentle breeze rustling leaves. Billie Dore
resumed her conversation in a whisper.
"Yes, there was an awful lot of excitement when they found that you
had disappeared. They were phoning the Carlton every ten minutes
trying to get you. You see, the summertime number flopped on the
second night, and they hadn't anything to put in its place. But
it's all right. They took it out and sewed up the wound, and now
you'd never know there had been anything wrong. The show was ten
minutes too long, anyway."
"How's the show going?"
"It's a riot. They think it will run two years in London. As far
as I can make it out you don't call it a success in London unless
you can take your grandchildren to see the thousandth night."
"That's splendid. And how is everybody? All right?"
"Fine. That fellow Gray is still hanging round Babe. It beats me
what she sees in him. Anybody but an infant could see the man
wasn't on the level. Well, I don't blame you for quitting London,
George. This sort of thing is worth fifty Londons."
The procession had reached one of the upper rooms, and they were
looking down from a window that commanded a sweep of miles of the
countryside, rolling and green and wooded. Far away beyond the last
covert Belpher Bay gleamed like a streak of silver. Billie Dore
gave a little sigh.
"There's nothing like this in the world. I'd like to stand here for
the rest of my life, just lapping it up."
"I will call your attention," boomed Keggs at their elbow, "to this
window, known in the fem'ly tredition as Leonard's Leap. It was in
the year seventeen 'undred and eighty-seven that Lord Leonard
Forth, eldest son of 'Is Grace the Dook of Lochlane, 'urled 'imself
out of this window in order to avoid compromising the beautiful
Countess of Marshmoreton, with oom 'e is related to 'ave 'ad a
ninnocent romance. Surprised at an advanced hour by 'is lordship
the earl in 'er ladyship's boudoir, as this room then was, 'e
leaped through the open window into the boughs of the cedar tree
which stands below, and was fortunate enough to escape with a few
A murmur of admiration greeted the recital of the ready tact of
this eighteenth-century Steve Brodie.
"There," said Billie enthusiastically, "that's exactly what I mean
about this country. It's just a mass of Leonard's Leaps and things.
I'd like to settle down in this sort of place and spend the rest of
my life milking cows and taking forkfuls of soup to the deserving
"We will now," said Keggs, herding the mob with a gesture, "proceed
to the Amber Drawing-Room, containing some Gobelin Tapestries
'ighly spoken of by connoozers."
The obedient mob began to drift out in his wake.
"What do you say, George," asked Billie in an undertone, "if we
side-step the Amber Drawing-Room? I'm wild to get into that garden.
There's a man working among those roses. Maybe he would show us
George followed her pointing finger. Just below them a sturdy,
brown-faced man in corduroys was pausing to light a stubby pipe.
"Just as you like."
They made their way down the great staircase. The voice of Keggs,
saying complimentary things about the Gobelin Tapestry, came to
their ears like the roll of distant drums. They wandered out
towards the rose-garden. The man in corduroys had lit his pipe and
was bending once more to his task.
"Well, dadda," said Billie amiably, "how are the crops?"
The man straightened himself. He was a nice-looking man of middle
age, with the kind eyes of a friendly dog. He smiled genially, and
started to put his pipe away.
Billie stopped him.
"Don't stop smoking on my account," she said. "I like it. Well,
you've got the right sort of a job, haven't you! If I was a man,
there's nothing I'd like better than to put in my eight hours in a
rose-garden." She looked about her. "And this," she said with
approval, "is just what a rose-garden ought to be."
"Are you fond of roses--missy?"
"You bet I am! You must have every kind here that was ever
invented. All the fifty-seven varieties."
"There are nearly three thousand varieties," said the man in
"I was speaking colloquially, dadda. You can't teach me anything
about roses. I'm the guy that invented them. Got any Ayrshires?"
The man in corduroys seemed to have come to the conclusion that
Billie was the only thing on earth that mattered. This revelation
of a kindred spirit had captured him completely. George was merely
among those present.
"Those--them--over there are Ayrshires, missy."
"We don't get Ayrshires in America. At least, I never ran across
them. I suppose they do have them."
"You want the right soil."
"Clay and lots of rain."
There was an earnest expression on Billie Dore's face that George
had never seen there before.
"Say, listen, dadda, in this matter of rose-beetles, what would you
George moved away. The conversation was becoming too technical for
him, and he had an idea that he would not be missed. There had come
to him, moreover, in a flash one of those sudden inspirations which
great generals get. He had visited the castle this afternoon
without any settled plan other than a vague hope that he might
somehow see Maud. He now perceived that there was no chance of
doing this. Evidently, on Thursdays, the family went to earth and
remained hidden until the sightseers had gone. But there was
another avenue of communication open to him. This gardener seemed
an exceptionally intelligent man. He could be trusted to deliver a
note to Maud.
In his late rambles about Belpher Castle in the company of Keggs
and his followers, George had been privileged to inspect the
library. It was an easily accessible room, opening off the main
hail. He left Billie and her new friend deep in a discussion of
slugs and plant-lice, and walked quickly back to the house. The
library was unoccupied.
George was a thorough young man. He believed in leaving nothing to
chance. The gardener had seemed a trustworthy soul, but you never
knew. It was possible that he drank. He might forget or lose the
precious note. So, with a wary eye on the door, George hastily
scribbled it in duplicate. This took him but a few minutes. He went
out into the garden again to find Billie Dore on the point of
stepping into a blue automobile.
"Oh, there you are, George. I wondered where you had got to. Say, I
made quite a hit with dadda. I've given him my address, and he's
promised to send me a whole lot of roses. By the way, shake hands
with Mr. Forsyth. This is George Bevan, Freddie, who wrote the
music of our show."
The solemn youth at the wheel extended a hand.
"Topping show. Topping music. Topping all round."
"Well, good-bye, George. See you soon, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes. Give my love to everybody."
"All right. Let her rip, Freddie. Good-bye."
The blue car gathered speed and vanished down the drive. George
returned to the man in corduroys, who had bent himself double in
pursuit of a slug.
"Just a minute," said George hurriedly. He pulled out the first of
the notes. "Give this to Lady Maud the first chance you get. It's
important. Here's a sovereign for your trouble."
He hastened away. He noticed that gratification had turned the
other nearly purple in the face, and was anxious to leave him. He
was a modest young man, and effusive thanks always embarrassed him.
There now remained the disposal of the duplicate note. It was
hardly worth while, perhaps, taking such a precaution, but George
knew that victories are won by those who take no chances. He had
wandered perhaps a hundred yards from the rose-garden when he
encountered a small boy in the many-buttoned uniform of a page. The
boy had appeared from behind a big cedar, where, as a matter of
fact, he had been smoking a stolen cigarette.
"Do you want to earn half a crown?" asked George.
The market value of messengers had slumped.
The stripling held his hand out.
"Give this note to Lady Maud."
"See that it reaches her at once."
George walked off with the consciousness of a good day's work done.
Albert the page, having bitten his half-crown, placed it in his
pocket. Then he hurried away, a look of excitement and
gratification in his deep blue eyes.
While George and Billie Dore wandered to the rose garden to
interview the man in corduroys, Maud had been seated not a hundred
yards away--in a very special haunt of her own, a cracked stucco
temple set up in the days of the Regency on the shores of a little
lily-covered pond. She was reading poetry to Albert the page.
Albert the page was a recent addition to Maud's inner circle. She
had interested herself in him some two months back in much the same
spirit as the prisoner in his dungeon cell tames and pets the
conventional mouse. To educate Albert, to raise him above his
groove in life and develop his soul, appealed to her romantic
nature as a worthy task, and as a good way of filling in the time.
It is an exceedingly moot point--and one which his associates of
the servants' hall would have combated hotly--whether Albert
possessed a soul. The most one could say for certain is that he
looked as if he possessed one. To one who saw his deep blue eyes
and their sweet, pensive expression as they searched the middle
distance he seemed like a young angel. How was the watcher to know
that the thought behind that far-off gaze was simply a speculation
as to whether the bird on the cedar tree was or was not within
range of his catapult? Certainly Maud had no such suspicion. She
worked hopefully day by day to rouse Albert to an appreciation of
the nobler things of life.
Not but what it was tough going. Even she admitted that. Albert's
soul did not soar readily. It refused to leap from the earth. His
reception of the poem she was reading could scarcely have been
called encouraging. Maud finished it in a hushed voice, and looked
pensively across the dappled water of the pool. A gentle breeze
stirred the water-lilies, so that they seemed to sigh.
"Isn't that beautiful, Albert?" she said.
Albert's blue eyes lit up. His lips parted eagerly,
"That's the first hornet I seen this year," he said pointing.
Maud felt a little damped.
"Haven't you been listening, Albert?"
"Oh, yes, m'lady! Ain't he a wopper, too?"
"Never mind the hornet, Albert."
"Very good, m'lady."
"I wish you wouldn't say 'Very good, m'lady'. It's like--like--"
She paused. She had been about to say that it was like a butler,
but, she reflected regretfully, it was probably Albert's dearest
ambition to be like a butler. "It doesn't sound right. Just say
Maud was not enthusiastic about the 'M'lady', but she let it go.
After all, she had not quite settled in her own mind what exactly
she wished Albert's attitude towards herself to be. Broadly
speaking, she wanted him to be as like as he could to a medieval
page, one of those silk-and-satined little treasures she had read
about in the Ingoldsby Legends. And, of course, they presumably
said 'my lady'. And yet--she felt--not for the first time--that it
is not easy, to revive the Middle Ages in these curious days. Pages
like other things, seem to have changed since then.
"That poem was written by a very clever man who married one of my
ancestresses. He ran away with her from this very castle in the
"Lor'", said Albert as a concession, but he was still interested n
"He was far below her in the eyes of the world, but she knew what a
wonderful man he was, so she didn't mind what people said about her
marrying beneath her."
"Like Susan when she married the pleeceman."
"Who was Susan?"
"Red-'eaded gel that used to be cook 'ere. Mr. Keggs says to 'er,
'e says, 'You're marrying beneath you, Susan', 'e says. I 'eard
'im. I was listenin' at the door. And she says to 'im, she says,
'Oh, go and boil your fat 'ead', she says."
This translation of a favourite romance into terms of the servants'
hall chilled Maud like a cold shower. She recoiled from it.
"Wouldn't you like to get a good education, Albert," she said
perseveringly, "and become a great poet and write wonderful poems?"
Albert considered the point, and shook his head.
It was discouraging. But Maud was a girl of pluck. You cannot leap
into strange cabs in Piccadilly unless you have pluck. She picked
up another book from the stone seat.
"Read me some of this," she said, "and then tell me if it doesn't
make you feel you want to do big things."
Albert took the book cautiously. He was getting a little fed up
with all this sort of thing. True, 'er ladyship gave him chocolates
to eat during these sessions, but for all that it was too much like
school for his taste. He regarded the open page with disfavour.
"Go on," said Maud, closing her eyes. "It's very beautiful."
Albert began. He had a husky voice, due, it is to be feared,
to precocious cigarette smoking, and his enunciation was not as
good as it might have been.
"Wiv' blekest morss the flower-ports
Was-I mean were-crusted one and orl;
Ther rusted niles fell from the knorts
That 'eld the pear to the garden-worll.
Ther broken sheds looked sed and stringe;
Unlifted was the clinking latch;
Weeded and worn their ancient thatch
Er-pon ther lownely moated gringe,
She only said 'Me life is dreary,
'E cometh not,' she said."
Albert rather liked this part. He was never happy in narrative
unless it could be sprinkled with a plentiful supply of "he said's"
and "she said's." He finished with some gusto.
"She said - I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I was dead."
Maud had listened to this rendition of one of her most adored poems
with much the same feeling which a composer with an over-sensitive
ear would suffer on hearing his pet opus assassinated by a
schoolgirl. Albert, who was a willing lad and prepared, if such
should be her desire, to plough his way through the entire seven
stanzas, began the second verse, but Maud gently took the book away
from him. Enough was sufficient.
"Now, wouldn't you like to be able to write a wonderful thing like
"Not me, m'lady."
"You wouldn't like to be a poet when you grow up?"
Albert shook his golden head.
"I want to be a butcher when I grow up, m'lady."
Maud uttered a little cry.
"Yus, m'lady. Butchers earn good money," he said, a light of
enthusiasm in his blue eyes, for he was now on his favourite
subject. "You've got to 'ave meat, yer see, m'lady. It ain't like
poetry, m'lady, which no one wants."
"But, Albert," cried Maud faintly. "Killing poor animals. Surely
you wouldn't like that?"
Albert's eyes glowed softly, as might an acolyte's at the sight of
"Mr. Widgeon down at the 'ome farm," he murmured reverently, "he
says, if I'm a good boy, 'e'll let me watch 'im kill a pig
He gazed out over the water-lilies, his thoughts far away. Maud
shuddered. She wondered if medieval pages were ever quite as earthy
"Perhaps you had better go now, Albert. They may be needing you in
"Very good, m'lady."
Albert rose, not unwilling to call it a day. He was conscious of
the need for a quiet cigarette. He was fond of Maud, but a man
can't spend all his time with the women.
"Pigs squeal like billy-o, m'lady!" he observed by way of adding a
parting treasure to Maud's stock of general knowledge. "Oo! 'Ear
'em a mile orf, you can!"
Maud remained where she was, thinking, a wistful figure.
Tennyson's "Mariana" always made her wistful even when rendered by
Albert. In the occasional moods of sentimental depression which
came to vary her normal cheerfulness, it seemed to her that the
poem might have been written with a prophetic eye to her special
case, so nearly did it crystallize in magic words her own story.
"With blackest moss the flower-pots
Were thickly crusted, one and all."
Well, no, not that particular part, perhaps. If he had found so
much as one flower-pot of his even thinly crusted with any foreign
substance, Lord Marshmoreton would have gone through the place like
an east wind, dismissing gardeners and under-gardeners with every
"She only said 'My life is dreary,
He cometh not,' she said.
She said 'I am aweary, aweary.
I would that I were dead!"
How exactly--at these moments when she was not out on the links
picking them off the turf with a midiron or engaged in one of those
other healthful sports which tend to take the mind off its
troubles--those words summed up her case.
Why didn't Geoffrey come? Or at least write? She could not write to
him. Letters from the castle left only by way of the castle
post-bag, which Rogers, the chauffeur, took down to the village
every evening. Impossible to entrust the kind of letter she wished
to write to any mode of delivery so public--especially now, when
her movements were watched. To open and read another's letters is a
low and dastardly act, but she believed that Lady Caroline would do
it like a shot. She longed to pour out her heart to Geoffrey in a
long, intimate letter, but she did not dare to take the risk of
writing for a wider public. Things were bad enough as it was, after
that disastrous sortie to London.
At this point a soothing vision came to her--the vision of George
Bevan knocking off her brother Percy's hat. It was the only
pleasant thing that had happened almost as far back as she could
remember. And then, for the first time, her mind condescended to
dwell for a moment on the author of that act, George Bevan, the
friend in need, whom she had met only the day before in the lane.
What was George doing at Belpher? His presence there was
significant, and his words even more so. He had stated explicitly
that he wished to help her.
She found herself oppressed by the irony of things. A knight had
come to the rescue--but the wrong knight. Why could it not have
been Geoffrey who waited in ambush outside the castle, and not a
pleasant but negligible stranger? Whether, deep down in her
consciousness, she was aware of a fleeting sense of disappointment
in Geoffrey, a swiftly passing thought that he had failed her, she
could hardly have said, so quickly did she crush it down.
She pondered on the arrival of George. What was the use of his
being somewhere in the neighbourhood if she had no means of knowing
where she could find him? Situated as she was, she could not wander
at will about the countryside, looking for him. And, even if she
found him, what then? There was not much that any stranger, however
pleasant, could do.
She flushed at a sudden thought. Of course there was something
George could do for her if he were willing. He could receive,
despatch and deliver letters. If only she could get in touch with
him, she could--through him--get in touch with Geoffrey.
The whole world changed for her. The sun was setting and chill
little winds had begun to stir the lily-pads, giving a depressing
air to the scene, but to Maud it seemed as if all Nature smiled.
With the egotism of love, she did not perceive that what she
proposed to ask George to do was practically to fulfil the humble
role of the hollow tree in which lovers dump letters, to be
extracted later; she did not consider George's feelings at all. He
had offered to help her, and this was his job. The world is full of
Georges whose task it is to hang about in the background and make
themselves unobtrusively useful.
She had reached this conclusion when Albert, who had taken a short
cut the more rapidly to accomplish his errand, burst upon her
dramatically from the heart of a rhododendron thicket.
"M'lady! Gentleman give me this to give yer!"
Maud read the note. It was brief, and to the point.
"I am staying near the castle at a cottage they call 'the
one down by Platt's'. It is a rather new, red-brick place.
You can easily find it. I shall be waiting there if you want
It was signed "The Man in the Cab".
"Do you know a cottage called 'the one down by Platt's', Albert?"
"Yes, m'lady. It's down by Platt's farm. I see a chicken killed
there Wednesday week. Do you know, m'lady, after a chicken's 'ead
is cut orf, it goes running licketty-split?"
Maud shivered slightly. Albert's fresh young enthusiasms frequently
jarred upon her.
"I find a friend of mine is staying there. I want you to take a
note to him from me."
"Very good, m'lady."
"Perhaps it would be as well if you said nothing about this to any
of your friends."
In Lord Marshmoreton's study a council of three was sitting in
debate. The subject under discussion was that other note which
George had written and so ill-advisedly entrusted to one whom he
had taken for a guileless gardener. The council consisted of Lord
Marshmoreton, looking rather shamefaced, his son Percy looking
swollen and serious, and Lady Caroline Byng, looking like a tragedy
"This", Lord Belpher was saying in a determined voice, "settles it.
From now on Maud must not be allowed out of our sight."
Lord Marshmoreton spoke.
"I rather wish", he said regretfully, "I hadn't spoken about the
note. I only mentioned it because I thought you might think it
"Amusing!" Lady Caroline's voice shook the furniture.
"Amusing that the fellow should have handed me of all people a
letter for Maud," explained her brother. "I don't want to get Maud
"You are criminally weak," said Lady Caroline severely. "I really
honestly believe that you were capable of giving the note to that
poor, misguided girl, and saying nothing about it." She flushed.
"The insolence of the man, coming here and settling down at the
very gates of the castle! If it was anybody but this man Platt who
was giving him shelter I should insist on his being turned out. But
that man Platt would be only too glad to know that he is causing us
"Quite!" said Lord Belpher.
"You must go to this man as soon as possible," continued Lady
Caroline, fixing her brother with a commanding stare, "and do your
best to make him see how abominable his behaviour is."
"Oh, I couldn't!" pleaded the earl. "I don't know the fellow. He'd
throw me out."
"Nonsense. Go at the very earliest opportunity."
"Oh, all right, all right, all right. Well, I think I'll be
slipping out to the rose garden again now. There's a clear hour
There was a tap at the door. Alice Faraday entered bearing papers,
a smile of sweet helpfulness on her pretty face.
"I hoped I should find you here, Lord Marshmoreton. You promised to
go over these notes with me, the ones about the Essex branch--"
The hunted peer looked as if he were about to dive through the
"Some other time, some other time. I--I have important matters--"
"Oh, if you're busy--"
"Of course, Lord Marshmoreton will be delighted to work on your
notes, Miss Faraday," said Lady Caroline crisply. "Take this
chair. We are just going."
Lord Marshmoreton gave one wistful glance through the open window.
Then he sat down with a sigh, and felt for his reading-glasses.
Your true golfer is a man who, knowing that life is short and
perfection hard to attain, neglects no opportunity of practising
his chosen sport, allowing neither wind nor weather nor any
external influence to keep him from it. There is a story, with an
excellent moral lesson, of a golfer whose wife had determined to
leave him for ever. "Will nothing alter your decision?" he says.
"Will nothing induce you to stay? Well, then, while you're packing,
I think I'll go out on the lawn and rub up my putting a bit."
George Bevan was of this turn of mind. He might be in love; romance
might have sealed him for her own; but that was no reason for
blinding himself to the fact that his long game was bound to suffer
if he neglected to keep himself up to the mark. His first act on
arriving at Belpher village had been to ascertain whether there was
a links in the neighbourhood; and thither, on the morning after his
visit to the castle and the delivery of the two notes, he repaired.
At the hour of the day which he had selected the club-house was
empty, and he had just resigned himself to a solitary game, when,
with a whirr and a rattle, a grey racing-car drove up, and from it
emerged the same long young man whom, a couple of days earlier, he
had seen wriggle out from underneath the same machine. It was
Reggie Byng's habit also not to allow anything, even love, to
interfere with golf; and not even the prospect of hanging about the
castle grounds in the hope of catching a glimpse of Alice Faraday
and exchanging timorous words with her had been enough to keep him
from the links.
Reggie surveyed George with a friendly eye. He had a dim
recollection of having seen him before somewhere at some time or
other, and Reggie had the pleasing disposition which caused him to
rank anybody whom he had seen somewhere at some time or other as a
"Hullo! Hullo! Hullo!" he observed.
"Good morning," said George.
"Waiting for somebody?"
"How about it, then? Shall we stagger forth?"
George found himself speculating upon Reggie. He was unable to
place him. That he was a friend of Maud he knew, and guessed that
he was also a resident of the castle. He would have liked to
question Reggie, to probe him, to collect from him inside
information as to the progress of events within the castle walls;
but it is a peculiarity of golf, as of love, that it temporarily
changes the natures of its victims; and Reggie, a confirmed babbler
off the links, became while in action a stern, silent, intent
person, his whole being centred on the game. With the exception of
a casual remark of a technical nature when he met George on the
various tees, and an occasional expletive when things went wrong
with his ball, he eschewed conversation. It was not till the end of
the round that he became himself again.
"If I'd known you were such hot stuff," he declared generously, as
George holed his eighteenth putt from a distance of ten feet, "I'd
have got you to give me a stroke or two."
"I was on my game today," said George modestly. "Some times I slice
as if I were cutting bread and can't putt to hit a haystack."
"Let me know when one of those times comes along, and I'll take you
on again. I don't know when I've seen anything fruitier than the
way you got out of the bunker at the fifteenth. It reminded me of
a match I saw between--" Reggie became technical. At the end of his
observations he climbed into the grey car.
"Can I drop you anywhere?"
"Thanks," said George. "If it's not taking you out your way."
"I'm staying at Belpher Castle."
"I live quite near there. Perhaps you'd care to come in and have a
drink on your way?"
"A ripe scheme," agreed Reggie
Ten minutes in the grey car ate up the distance between the links
and George's cottage. Reggie Byng passed these minutes, in the
intervals of eluding carts and foiling the apparently suicidal
intentions of some stray fowls, in jerky conversation on the
subject of his iron-shots, with which he expressed a deep
"Topping little place! Absolutely!" was the verdict he pronounced
on the exterior of the cottage as he followed George in. "I've
often thought it would be a rather sound scheme to settle down in
this sort of shanty and keep chickens and grow a honey coloured
beard, and have soup and jelly brought to you by the vicar's wife
and so forth. Nothing to worry you then. Do you live all alone
George was busy squirting seltzer into his guest's glass.
"Yes. Mrs. Platt comes in and cooks for me. The farmer's wife next
An exclamation from the other caused him to look up. Reggie Byng
was staring at him, wide-eyed.
"Great Scott! Mrs. Platt! Then you're the Chappie?"
George found himself unequal to the intellectual pressure of the
"The Chappie there's all the row about. The mater was telling me
only this morning that you lived here."
"Is there a row about me?"
"Is there what!" Reggie's manner became solicitous. "I say, my dear
old sportsman, I don't want to be the bearer of bad tidings and
what not, if you know what I mean, but didn't you know there was a
certain amount of angry passion rising and so forth because of you?
At the castle, I mean. I don't want to seem to be discussing your
private affairs, and all that sort of thing, but what I mean is...
Well, you don't expect you can come charging in the way you have
without touching the family on the raw a bit. The daughter of the
house falls in love with you; the son of the house languishes in
chokey because he has a row with you in Piccadilly; and on top of
all that you come here and camp out at the castle gates! Naturally
the family are a bit peeved. Only natural, eh? I mean to say,
George listened to this address in bewilderment. Maud in love with
him! It sounded incredible. That he should love her after their one
meeting was a different thing altogether. That was perfectly
natural and in order. But that he should have had the incredible
luck to win her affection. The thing struck him as grotesque and
"In love with me?" he cried. "What on earth do you mean?"
Reggie's bewilderment equalled his own.
"Well, dash it all, old top, it surely isn't news to you? She must
have told you. Why, she told me!"
"Told you? Am I going mad?"
"Absolutely! I mean absolutely not! Look here." Reggie hesitated.
The subject was delicate. But, once started, it might as well be
proceeded with to some conclusion. A fellow couldn't go on talking
about his iron-shots after this just as if nothing had happened.
This was the time for the laying down of cards, the opening of
hearts. "I say, you know," he went on, feeling his way, "you'll
probably think it deuced rummy of me talking like this. Perfect
stranger and what not. Don't even know each other's names."
"Mine's Bevan, if that'll be any help."
"Thanks very much, old chap. Great help! Mine's Byng. Reggie Byng.
Well, as we're all pals here and the meeting's tiled and so forth,
I'll start by saying that the mater is most deucedly set on my
marrying Lady Maud. Been pals all our lives, you know. Children
together, and all that sort of rot. Now there's nobody I think a
more corking sportsman than Maud, if you know what I mean,
but--this is where the catch comes in--I'm most frightfully in love
with somebody else. Hopeless, and all that sort of thing, but
still there it is. And all the while the mater behind me with a
bradawl, sicking me on to propose to Maud who wouldn't have me if I
were the only fellow on earth. You can't imagine, my dear old chap,
what a relief it was to both of us when she told me the other day
that she was in love with you, and wouldn't dream of looking at
anybody else. I tell you, I went singing about the place."
George felt inclined to imitate his excellent example. A burst of
song was the only adequate expression of the mood of heavenly
happiness which this young man's revelations had brought upon him.
The whole world seemed different. Wings seemed to sprout from
Reggie's shapely shoulders. The air was filled with soft music.
Even the wallpaper seemed moderately attractive.
He mixed himself a second whisky and soda. It was the next best
thing to singing.
"I see," he said. It was difficult to say anything. Reggie was
regarding him enviously.
"I wish I knew how the deuce fellows set about making a girl fall
in love with them. Other chappies seem to do it, but I can't even
start. She seems to sort of gaze through me, don't you know. She
kind of looks at me as if I were more to be pitied than censured,
but as if she thought I really ought to do something about it. Of
course, she's a devilish brainy girl, and I'm a fearful chump.
Makes it kind of hopeless, what?"
George, in his new-born happiness, found a pleasure in encouraging
a less lucky mortal.
"Not a bit. What you ought to do is to--"
"Yes?" said Reggie eagerly.
George shook his head.
"No, I don't know," he said.
"Nor do I, dash it!" said Reggie.
"It seems to me it's purely a question of luck. Either you're lucky
or you're not. Look at me, for instance. What is there about me to
make a wonderful girl love me?"
"Nothing! I see what you mean. At least, what I mean to say is--"
"No. You were right the first time. It's all a question of luck.
There's nothing anyone can do."
"I hang about a good deal and get in her way," said Reggie. "She's
always tripping over me. I thought that might help a bit."
"It might, of course."
"But on the other hand, when we do meet, I can't think of anything
"Deuced funny thing. I'm not what you'd call a silent sort of
chappie by nature. But, when I'm with her--I don't know. It's
rum!" He drained his glass and rose. "Well, I suppose I may as well
be staggering. Don't get up. Have another game one of these days,
"Splendid. Any time you like."
"Well, so long."
George gave himself up to glowing thoughts. For the first time in
his life he seemed to be vividly aware of his own existence. It
was as if he were some newly-created thing. Everything around him
and everything he did had taken on a strange and novel interest. He
seemed to notice the ticking of the clock for the first time. When
he raised his glass the action had a curious air of newness. All
his senses were oddly alert. He could even--
"How would it be," enquired Reggie, appearing in the doorway like
part of a conjuring trick. "If I gave her a flower or two every now
and then? Just thought of it as I was starting the car. She's fond
"Fine!" said George heartily. He had not heard a word. The
alertness of sense which had come to him was accompanied by a
strange inability to attend to other people's speech. This would no
doubt pass, but meanwhile it made him a poor listener.
"Well, it's worth trying," said Reggie. "I'll give it a whirl.
Reggie withdrew, and presently came the noise of the car starting.
George returned to his thoughts.
Time, as we understand it, ceases to exist for a man in such
circumstances. Whether it was a minute later or several hours,
George did not know; but presently he was aware of a small boy
standing beside him--a golden-haired boy with blue eyes, who wore
the uniform of a page. He came out of his trance. This, he
recognized, was the boy to whom he had given the note for Maud. He
was different from any other intruder. He meant something in
George's scheme of things.
"'Ullo!" said the youth.
"Hullo, Alphonso!" said George.
"My name's not Alphonso."
"Well, you be very careful or it soon may be."
"Got a note for yer. From Lidy Mord."
"You'll find some cake and ginger-ale in the kitchen," said the
grateful George. "Give it a trial."
"Not 'arf!" said the stripling.
George opened the letter with trembling and reverent fingers.
"DEAR MR. BEVAN,
"Thank you ever so much for your note, which Albert gave
to me. How very, very kind. . ."
George looked up testily. The boy Albert had reappeared.
"What's the matter? Can't you find the cake?"
"I've found the kike," rejoined Albert, adducing proof of the
statement in the shape of a massive slice, from which he took a
substantial bite to assist thought. "But I can't find the ginger
George waved him away. This interruption at such a moment was
"Look for it, child, look for it! Sniff after it! Bay on its trail!
It's somewhere about."
"Wri'!" mumbled Albert through the cake. He flicked a crumb off his
cheek with a tongue which would have excited the friendly interest
of an ant-eater. "I like ginger-ile."
"Well, go and bathe in it."
George returned to his letter.
"DEAR MR. BEVAN,
"Thank you ever so much for your note, which Albert gave
to me. How very, very kind of you to come here like this and
to say . . .
"Good Heavens!" George glared. "What's the matter now? Haven't you
found that ginger-ale yet?"
"I've found the ginger-ile right enough, but I can't find the
"The thing? What thing?"
"The thing. The thing wot you open ginger-ile with."
"Oh, you mean the thing? It's in the middle drawer of the dresser.
Use your eyes, my boy!"
George gave an overwrought sigh and began the letter again.
"DEAR MR. BEVAN,
"Thank you ever so much for your note which Albert gave
to me. How very, very kind of you to come here like this and
to say that you would help me. And how clever of you to
find me after I was so secretive that day in the cab! You
really can help me, if you are willing. It's too long to
explain in a note, but I am in great trouble, and there is
nobody except you to help me. I will explain everything
when I see you. The difficulty will be to slip away from
home. They are watching me every moment, I'm afraid. But I
will try my hardest to see you very soon.
Just for a moment it must be confessed, the tone of the letter
damped George. He could not have said just what he had expected,
but certainly Reggie's revelations had prepared him for something
rather warmer, something more in the style in which a girl would
write to the man she loved. The next moment, however, he saw how
foolish any such expectation had been. How on earth could any
reasonable man expect a girl to let herself go at this stage of the
proceedings? It was for him to make the first move. Naturally she
wasn't going to reveal her feelings until he had revealed his.
George raised the letter to his lips and kissed it vigorously.
George started guiltily. The blush of shame overspread his cheeks.
The room seemed to echo with the sound of that fatuous kiss.
"Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!" he called, snapping his fingers, and
repeating the incriminating noise. "I was just calling my cat," he
explained with dignity. "You didn't see her in there, did you?"
Albert's blue eyes met his in a derisive stare. The lid of the left
one fluttered. It was but too plain that Albert was not convinced.
"A little black cat with white shirt-front," babbled George
perseveringly. "She's usually either here or there, or--or
somewhere. Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!"
The cupid's bow of Albert's mouth parted. He uttered one word.
There was a tense silence. What Albert was thinking one cannot say.
The thoughts of Youth are long, long thoughts. What George was
thinking was that the late King Herod had been unjustly blamed for
a policy which had been both statesmanlike and in the interests of
the public. He was blaming mawkish sentimentality of the modem
legal system which ranks the evisceration and secret burial of
small boys as a crime.
"What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean."
"I've a good mind to--"
Albert waved a deprecating hand.
"It's all right, mister. I'm yer friend."
"You are, are you? Well, don't let it about. I've got a reputation
to keep up."
"I'm yer friend, I tell you. I can help yer. I want to help yer!"
George's views on infanticide underwent a slight modification.
After all, he felt, much must be excused to Youth. Youth thinks it
funny to see a man kissing a letter. It is not funny, of course; it
is beautiful; but it's no good arguing the point. Let Youth have
its snigger, provided, after it has finished sniggering, it intends
to buckle to and be of practical assistance. Albert, as an ally,
was not to be despised. George did not know what Albert's duties as
a page-boy were, but they seemed to be of a nature that gave him
plenty of leisure and freedom; and a friendly resident of the
castle with leisure and freedom was just what he needed.
"That's very good of you," he said, twisting his reluctant
features into a fairly benevolent smile.
"I can 'elp!" persisted Albert. "Got a cigaroot?"
"Do you smoke, child?"
"When I get 'old of a cigaroot I do."
"I'm sorry I can't oblige you. I don't smoke cigarettes."
"Then I'll 'ave to 'ave one of my own," said Albert moodily.
He reached into the mysteries of his pocket and produced a piece of
string, a knife, the wishbone of a fowl, two marbles, a crushed
cigarette, and a match. Replacing the string, the knife, the
wishbone and the marbles, he ignited the match against the tightest
part of his person and lit the cigarette.
"I can help yer. I know the ropes."
"And smoke them," said George, wincing.
Albert took an enjoyable whiff.
"I know all about yer."
"You and Lidy Mord."
"Oh, you do, do you?"
"I was listening at the key-'ole while the row was goin' on."
"There was a row, was there?"
A faint smile of retrospective enjoyment lit up Albert's face. "An
orful row! Shoutin' and yellin' and cussin' all over the shop.
About you and Lidy Maud."
"And you drank it in, eh?"
"I say, you listened?"
"Not 'arf I listened. Seeing I'd just drawn you in the sweepstike,
of course, I listened--not 'arf!"
George did not follow him here.
"The sweepstike? What's a sweepstike?"
"Why, a thing you puts names in 'ats and draw 'em and the
one that gets the winning name wins the money."
"Oh, you mean a sweepstake!"
"That's wot I said--a sweepstike."
George was still puzzled.
"But I don't understand. How do you mean you drew me in a
sweepstike--I mean a sweepstake? What sweepstake?"
"Down in the servants' 'all. Keggs, the butler, started it. I
'eard 'im say he always 'ad one every place 'e was in as a butler--
leastways, whenever there was any dorters of the 'ouse. There's
always a chance, when there's a 'ouse-party, of one of the dorters
of the 'ouse gettin' married to one of the gents in the party, so
Keggs 'e puts all of the gents' names in an 'at, and you pay five
shillings for a chance, and the one that draws the winning name
gets the money. And if the dorter of the 'ouse don't get married
that time, the money's put away and added to the pool for the next
George gasped. This revelation of life below stairs in the stately
homes of England took his breath away. Then astonishment gave way to
"Do you mean to tell me that you--you worms--made Lady Maud
the--the prize of a sweepstake!"
Albert was hurt.
"Who're yer calling worms?"
George perceived the need of diplomacy. After all much depended on
this child's goodwill.
"I was referring to the butler--what's his name--Keggs."
"'E ain't a worm. 'E's a serpint." Albert drew at his cigarette.
His brow darkened. "'E does the drawing, Keggs does, and I'd like
to know 'ow it is 'e always manages to cop the fav'rit!"
"But this time I done him proper. 'E didn't want me in the thing at
all. Said I was too young. Tried to do the drawin' without me.
'Clip that boy one side of the 'ead!' 'e says, 'and turn 'im out!'
'e says. I says, 'Yus, you will!' I says. 'And wot price me goin'
to 'is lordship and blowing the gaff?' I says. 'E says, 'Oh, orl
right!' 'e says. 'Ave it yer own way!' 'e says.
'Where's yer five shillings?' 'e says. "Ere yer are!' I says.
'Oh, very well,' 'e says. 'But you'll 'ave to draw last,' 'e says,
'bein' the youngest.' Well, they started drawing the names,
and of course Keggs 'as to draw Mr. Byng."
"Oh, he drew Mr. Byng, did he?"
"Yus. And everyone knew Reggie was the fav'rit. Smiled all over his
fat face, the old serpint did! And when it come to my turn, 'e says
to me, 'Sorry, Elbert!' 'e says, 'but there ain't no more names.
They've give out!' 'Oh, they 'ave, 'ave they?' I says, 'Well, wot's
the matter with giving a fellow a sporting chance?' I says. "Ow do
you mean?' 'e says. 'Why, write me out a ticket marked "Mr. X.",' I
says. 'Then, if 'er lidyship marries anyone not in the 'ouse-party,
I cop!' 'Orl right,' 'e says, 'but you know the conditions of this
'ere sweep. Nothin' don't count only wot tikes plice during the two
weeks of the 'ouse-party,' 'e says. 'Orl right,' I says. 'Write me
ticket. It's a fair sportin' venture.' So 'e writes me out me
ticket, with 'Mr. X.' on it, and I says to them all, I says, 'I'd
like to 'ave witnesses', I says, 'to this 'ere thing. Do all you
gents agree that if anyone not in the 'ouse-party and 'oo's name
ain't on one of the other tickets marries 'er lidyship, I get the
pool?' I says. They all says that's right, and then I says to 'em
all straight out, I says, 'I 'appen to know', I says, 'that 'er
lidyship is in love with a gent that's not in the party at all. An
American gent,' I says. They wouldn't believe it at first, but,
when Keggs 'ad put two and two together, and thought of one or two
things that 'ad 'appened, 'e turned as white as a sheet and said it
was a swindle and wanted the drawin' done over again, but the
others says 'No', they says, 'it's quite fair,' they says, and one
of 'em offered me ten bob slap out for my ticket. But I stuck to
it, I did. And that," concluded Albert throwing the cigarette into
the fire-place just in time to prevent a scorched finger, "that's
why I'm going to 'elp yer!"
There is probably no attitude of mind harder for the average man to
maintain than that of aloof disapproval. George was an average man,
and during the degrading recital just concluded he had found
himself slipping. At first he had been revolted, then, in spite of
himself, amused, and now, when all the facts were before him, he
could induce his mind to think of nothing else than his good
fortune in securing as an ally one who appeared to combine a
precocious intelligence with a helpful lack of scruple. War is war,
and love is love, and in each the practical man inclines to demand
from his fellow-workers the punch rather than a lofty soul. A page
boy replete with the finer feelings would have been useless in this
crisis. Albert, who seemed on the evidence of a short but
sufficient acquaintance, to be a lad who would not recognize the
finer feelings if they were handed to him on a plate with
watercress round them, promised to be invaluable. Something in his
manner told George that the child was bursting with schemes for his
"Have some more cake, Albert," he said ingratiatingly.
The boy shook his head.
"Do," urged George. "Just a little slice."
"There ain't no little slice," replied Albert with regret.
"I've ate it all." He sighed and resumed. "I gotta scheme!"
"Fine! What is it?"
Albert knitted his brows.
"It's like this. You want to see 'er lidyship, but you can't come
to the castle, and she can't come to you--not with 'er fat brother
dogging of 'er footsteps. That's it, ain't it? Or am I a liar?"
George hastened to reassure him.
"That is exactly it. What's the answer?"
"I'll tell yer wot you can do. There's the big ball tonight 'cos of
its bein' 'Is Nibs' comin'-of-age tomorrow. All the county'll be
"You think I could slip in and be taken for a guest?"
Albert snorted contempt.
"No, I don't think nothin' of the kind, not bein' a fat-head."
George apologized. "But wot you could do's this. I 'eard Keggs
torkin to the 'ouse-keeper about 'avin' to get in a lot of temp'y
waiters to 'elp out for the night--"
George reached forward and patted Albert on the head.
"Don't mess my 'air, now," warned that youth coldly.
"Albert, you're one of the great thinkers of the age. I could get
into the castle as a waiter, and you could tell Lady Maud I was
there, and we could arrange a meeting. Machiavelli couldn't have
thought of anything smoother."
"One of your ancestors. Great schemer in his day. But, one moment."
"How am I to get engaged? How do I get the job?"
"That's orl right. I'll tell the 'ousekeeper you're my cousin--
been a waiter in America at the best restaurongs--'ome for a
'oliday, but'll come in for one night to oblige. They'll pay yer a
"I'll hand it over to you."
"Just," said Albert approvingly, "wot I was goin' to suggest
"Then I'll leave all the arrangements to you."
"You'd better, if you don't want to mike a mess of everything. All
you've got to do is to come to the servants' entrance at eight
sharp tonight and say you're my cousin."
"That's an awful thing to ask anyone to say."
"Nothing!" said George.
The great ball in honour of Lord Belpher's coming-of-age was at its
height. The reporter of the Belpher Intelligencer and Farmers'
Guide, who was present in his official capacity, and had been
allowed by butler Keggs to take a peep at the scene through a
side-door, justly observed in his account of the proceedings next
day that the 'tout ensemble was fairylike', and described the
company as 'a galaxy of fair women and brave men'. The floor was
crowded with all that was best and noblest in the county; so that a
half-brick, hurled at any given moment, must infallibly have spilt
blue blood. Peers stepped on the toes of knights; honorables bumped
into the spines of baronets. Probably the only titled person in the
whole of the surrounding country who was not playing his part in
the glittering scene was Lord Marshmoreton; who, on discovering
that his private study had been converted into a cloakroom, had
retired to bed with a pipe and a copy of Roses Red and Roses White,
by Emily Ann Mackintosh (Popgood, Crooly & Co.), which he was to
discover--after he was between the sheets, and it was too late to
repair the error--was not, as he had supposed, a treatise on his
favourite hobby, but a novel of stearine sentimentality dealing
with the adventures of a pure young English girl and an artist
George, from the shaded seclusion of a gallery, looked down upon
the brilliant throng with impatience. It seemed to him that he had
been doing this all his life. The novelty of the experience had
long since ceased to divert him. It was all just like the second
act of an old-fashioned musical comedy (Act Two: The Ballroom,
Grantchester Towers: One Week Later)--a resemblance which was
heightened for him by the fact that the band had more than once
played dead and buried melodies of his own composition, of which he
had wearied a full eighteen months back.
A complete absence of obstacles had attended his intrusion into the
castle. A brief interview with a motherly old lady, whom even
Albert seemed to treat with respect, and who, it appeared was Mrs.
Digby, the house-keeper; followed by an even briefer encounter with
Keggs (fussy and irritable with responsibility, and, even while
talking to George carrying on two other conversations on topics of
the moment), and he was past the censors and free for one night
only to add his presence to the chosen inside the walls of Belpher.
His duties were to stand in this gallery, and with the assistance
of one of the maids to minister to the comfort of such of the
dancers as should use it as a sitting-out place. None had so far
made their appearance, the superior attractions of the main floor
having exercised a great appeal; and for the past hour George had
been alone with the maid and his thoughts. The maid, having asked
George if he knew her cousin Frank, who had been in America nearly
a year, and having received a reply in the negative, seemed to be
disappointed in him, and to lose interest, and had not spoken for
George scanned the approaches to the balcony for a sight of Albert
as the shipwrecked mariner scans the horizon for the passing sail.
It was inevitable, he supposed, this waiting. It would be difficult
for Maud to slip away even for a moment on such a night.
"I say, laddie, would you mind getting me a lemonade?"
George was gazing over the balcony when the voice spoke behind him,
and the muscles of his back stiffened as he recognized its genial
note. This was one of the things he had prepared himself for, but,
now that it had happened, he felt a wave of stage-fright such as he
had only once experienced before in his life--on the occasion when
he had been young enough and inexperienced enough to take a
curtain-call on a first night. Reggie Byng was friendly, and would
not wilfully betray him; but Reggie was also a babbler, who could
not be trusted to keep things to himself. It was necessary, he
perceived, to take a strong line from the start, and convince
Reggie that any likeness which the latter might suppose that he
detected between his companion of that afternoon and the waiter of
tonight existed only in his heated imagination.
As George turned, Reggie's pleasant face, pink with healthful
exercise and Lord Marshmoreton's finest Bollinger, lost most of its
colour. His eyes and mouth opened wider. The fact is Reggie was
shaken. All through the earlier part of the evening he had been
sedulously priming himself with stimulants with a view to amassing
enough nerve to propose to Alice Faraday: and, now that he had
drawn her away from the throng to this secluded nook and was about
to put his fortune to the test, a horrible fear swept over him that
he had overdone it. He was having optical illusions.
Reggie loosened his collar, and pulled himself together.
"Would you mind taking a glass of lemonade to the lady in blue
sitting on the settee over there by the statue," he said carefully.
He brightened up a little.
"Pretty good that! Not absolutely a test sentence, perhaps, like
'Truly rural' or 'The intricacies of the British Constitution'.
But nevertheless no mean feat."
"I say!" he continued, after a pause.
"You haven't ever seen me before by any chance, if you know what I
mean, have you?"
"You haven't a brother, or anything of that shape or order, have
"No, sir. I have often wished I had. I ought to have spoken to
father about it. Father could never deny me anything."
Reggie blinked. His misgiving returned. Either his ears, like his
eyes, were playing him tricks, or else this waiter-chappie was
talking pure drivel.
"What did you say?"
"I said, 'No, sir, I have no brother'."
"Didn't you say something else?"
Reggie's worst suspicions were confirmed.
"Good God!" he muttered. "Then I am!"
Miss Faraday, when he joined her on the settee, wanted an
"What were you talking to that man about, Mr. Byng? You seemed to
be having a very interesting conversation."
"I was asking him if he had a brother."
Miss Faraday glanced quickly at him. She had had a feeling for some
time during the evening that his manner had been strange.
"A brother? What made you ask him that?"
"He--I mean--that is to say--what I mean is, he looked the sort of
chap who might have a brother. Lots of those fellows have!"
Alice Faraday's face took on a motherly look. She was fonder of
Reggie than that love-sick youth supposed, and by sheer accident he
had stumbled on the right road to her consideration. Alice Faraday
was one of those girls whose dream it is to be a ministering angel
to some chosen man, to be a good influence to him and raise him to
an appreciation of nobler things. Hitherto, Reggie's personality
had seemed to her agreeable, but negative. A positive vice like
over-indulgence in alcohol altered him completely. It gave him a
"I told him to get you a lemonade," said Reggie. "He seems to be
taking his time about it. Hi!"
George approached deferentially.
"Where's that lemonade?"
"Didn't I ask you to bring this lady a glass of lemonade?"
"I did not understand you to do so, sir."
"But, Great Scott! What were we chatting about, then?"
"You were telling me a diverting story about an Irishman who landed
in New York looking for work, sir. You would like a glass of
lemonade, sir? Very good, sir."
Alice placed a hand gently on Reggie's arm.
"Don't you think you had better lie down for a little and rest, Mr.
Byng? I'm sure it would do you good."
The solicitous note in her voice made Reggie quiver like a jelly.
He had never known her speak like that before. For a moment he was
inclined to lay bare his soul; but his nerve was broken. He did not
want her to mistake the outpouring of a strong man's heart for the
irresponsible ravings of a too hearty diner. It was one of Life's
ironies. Here he was for the first time all keyed up to go right
ahead, and he couldn't do it.
"It's the heat of the room," said Alice. "Shall we go and sit
outside on the terrace? Never mind about the lemonade. I'm not
Reggie followed her like a lamb. The prospect of the cool night air
"That," murmured George, as he watched them depart, "ought to hold
you for a while!"
He perceived Albert hastening towards him.
Albert was in a hurry. He skimmed over the carpet like a
"Quick!" he said.
He cast a glance at the maid, George's co-worker. She was reading a
novelette with her back turned.
"Tell 'er you'll be back in five minutes," said Albert, jerking a
"Unnecessary. She won't notice my absence. Ever since she
discovered that I had never met her cousin Frank in America, I have
meant nothing in her life."
"Then come on."
"I'll show you."
That it was not the nearest and most direct route which they took
to the trysting-place George became aware after he had followed his
young guide through doors and up stairs and down stairs and had at
last come to a halt in a room to which the sound of the music
penetrated but faintly. He recognized the room. He had been in it
before. It was the same room where he and Billie Dore had listened
to Keggs telling the story of Lord Leonard and his leap. That
window there, he remembered now, opened on to the very balcony from
which the historic Leonard had done his spectacular dive. That it
should be the scene of this other secret meeting struck George as
appropriate. The coincidence appealed to him.
Albert vanished. George took a deep breath. Now that the moment had
arrived for which he had waited so long he was aware of a return of
that feeling of stage-fright which had come upon him when he heard
Reggie Byng's voice. This sort of thing, it must be remembered, was
not in George's usual line. His had been a quiet and uneventful
life, and the only exciting thing which, in his recollection, had
ever happened to him previous to the dramatic entry of Lady Maud
into his taxi-cab that day in Piccadilly, had occurred at college
nearly ten years before, when a festive room-mate--no doubt with the
best motives--had placed a Mexican horned toad in his bed on the
night of the Yale football game.
A light footstep sounded outside, and the room whirled round George
in a manner which, if it had happened to Reggie Byng, would have
caused that injudicious drinker to abandon the habits of a
lifetime. When the furniture had returned to its place and the rug
had ceased to spin, Maud was standing before him.
Nothing is harder to remember than a once-seen face. It had caused
George a good deal of distress and inconvenience that, try as he
might, he could not conjure up anything more than a vague vision of
what the only girl in the world really looked like. He had carried
away with him from their meeting in the cab only a confused
recollection of eyes that shone and a mouth that curved in a smile;
and the brief moment in which he was able to refresh his memory,
when he found her in the lane with Reggie Byng and the broken-down
car, had not been enough to add definiteness. The consequence was
that Maud came upon him now with the stunning effect of beauty seen
for the first time. He gasped. In that dazzling ball-dress, with
the flush of dancing on her cheeks and the light of dancing in her
eyes, she was so much more wonderful than any picture of her which
memory had been able to produce for his inspection that it was as
if he had never seen her before.
Even her brother, Percy, a stern critic where his nearest and
dearest were concerned, had admitted on meeting her in the
drawing-room before dinner that that particular dress suited Maud.
It was a shimmering dream-thing of rose-leaves and moon-beams. That,
at least, was how it struck George; a dressmaker would have found a
longer and less romantic description for it. But that does not
matter. Whoever wishes for a cold and technical catalogue of the
stuffs which went to make up the picture that deprived George of
speech may consult the files of the Belpher Intelligencer and
Farmers' Guide, and read the report of the editor's wife, who
"does" the dresses for the Intelligencer under the pen-name of
"Birdie Bright-Eye". As far as George was concerned, the thing was
made of rose-leaves and moon-beams.
George, as I say, was deprived of speech. That any girl could
possibly look so beautiful was enough to paralyse his faculties;
but that this ethereal being straight from Fairyland could have
stooped to love him--him--an earthy brute who wore sock-suspenders
and drank coffee for breakfast . . . that was what robbed George of
the power to articulate. He could do nothing but look at her.
From the Hills of Fairyland soft music came. Or, if we must be
exact, Maud spoke.
"I couldn't get away before!" Then she stopped short and darted to
the door listening. "Was that somebody coming? I had to cut a
dance with Mr. Plummer to get here, and I'm so afraid he may. . ."
He had. A moment later it was only too evident that this was
precisely what Mr. Plummer had done. There was a footstep on the
stairs, a heavy footstep this time, and from outside the voice of
the pursuer made itself heard.
"Oh, there you are, Lady Maud! I was looking for you. This is our
George did not know who Mr. Plummer was. He did not want to know.
His only thought regarding Mr. Plummer was a passionate realization
of the superfluity of his existence. It is the presence on the
globe of these Plummers that delays the coming of the Millennium.
His stunned mind leaped into sudden activity. He must not be found
here, that was certain. Waiters who ramble at large about a feudal
castle and are discovered in conversation with the daughter of the
house excite comment. And, conversely, daughters of the house who
talk in secluded rooms with waiters also find explanations
necessary. He must withdraw. He must withdraw quickly. And, as a
gesture from Maud indicated, the withdrawal must be effected
through the french window opening on the balcony. Estimating the
distance that separated him from the approaching Plummer at three
stairs--the voice had come from below--and a landing, the space of
time allotted to him by a hustling Fate for disappearing was some
four seconds. Inside two and half, the french window had opened
and closed, and George was out under the stars, with the cool winds
of the night playing on his heated forehead.
He had now time for meditation. There are few situations which
provide more scope for meditation than that of the man penned up on
a small balcony a considerable distance from the ground, with his
only avenue of retreat cut off behind him. So George meditated.
First, he mused on Plummer. He thought some hard thoughts about
Plummer. Then he brooded on the unkindness of a fortune which had
granted him the opportunity of this meeting with Maud, only to
snatch it away almost before it had begun. He wondered how long the
late Lord Leonard had been permitted to talk on that occasion
before he, too, had had to retire through these same windows. There
was no doubt about one thing. Lovers who chose that room for their
interviews seemed to have very little luck.
It had not occurred to George at first that there could be any
further disadvantage attached to his position other than the
obvious drawbacks which had already come to his notice. He was now
to perceive that he had been mistaken. A voice was speaking in the
room he had left, a plainly audible voice, deep and throaty; and
within a minute George had become aware that he was to suffer the
additional discomfort of being obliged to listen to a fellow
man--one could call Plummer that by stretching the facts a
little--proposing marriage. The gruesomeness of the situation became
intensified. Of all moments when a man--and justice compelled George
to admit that Plummer was technically human--of all moments when a
man may by all the laws of decency demand to be alone without an
audience of his own sex, the chiefest is the moment when he is
asking a girl to marry him. George's was a sensitive nature, and he
writhed at the thought of playing the eavesdropper at such a time.
He looked frantically about him for a means of escape. Plummer had
now reached the stage of saying at great length that he was not
worthy of Maud. He said it over and over, again in different ways.
George was in hearty agreement with him, but he did not want to
hear it. He wanted to get away. But how? Lord Leonard on a similar
occasion had leaped. Some might argue therefore on the principle
that what man has done, man can do, that George should have
imitated him. But men differ. There was a man attached to a circus
who used to dive off the roof of Madison Square Garden on to a
sloping board, strike it with his chest, turn a couple of
somersaults, reach the ground, bow six times and go off to lunch.
That sort of thing is a gift. Some of us have it, some have not.
George had not. Painful as it was to hear Plummer floundering
through his proposal of marriage, instinct told him that it would
be far more painful to hurl himself out into mid-air on the
sporting chance of having his downward progress arrested by the
branches of the big tree that had upheld Lord Leonard. No, there
seemed nothing for it but to remain where he was.
Inside the room Plummer was now saying how much the marriage would
please his mother.
George looked about him. It seemed to him that he had heard a
voice. He listened. No. Except for the barking of a distant dog,
the faint wailing of a waltz, the rustle of a roosting bird, and
the sound of Plummer saying that if her refusal was due to anything
she might have heard about that breach-of-promise case of his a
couple of years ago he would like to state that he was more sinned
against than sinning and that the girl had absolutely misunderstood
him, all was still.
"Psst! Hey, mister!"
It was a voice. It came from above. Was it an angel's voice? Not
altogether. It was Albert's. The boy was leaning out of a window
some six feet higher up the castle wall. George, his eyes by now
grown used to the darkness, perceived that the stripling
gesticulated as one having some message to impart. Then, glancing
to one side, he saw what looked like some kind of a rope swayed
against the wall. He reached for it. The thing was not a rope: it
was a knotted sheet.
From above came Albert's hoarse whisper.
This was precisely what George wanted to do for at least another
fifty years or so; and it seemed to him as he stood there in the
starlight, gingerly fingering this flimsy linen thing, that if he
were to suspend his hundred and eighty pounds of bone and sinew at
the end of it over the black gulf outside the balcony he would look
alive for about five seconds, and after that goodness only knew how
he would look. He knew all about knotted sheets. He had read a
hundred stories in which heroes, heroines, low comedy friends and
even villains did all sorts of reckless things with their
assistance. There was not much comfort to be derived from that. It
was one thing to read about people doing silly things like that,
quite another to do them yourself. He gave Albert's sheet a
tentative shake. In all his experience he thought he had never come
across anything so supremely unstable. (One calls it Albert's sheet
for the sake of convenience. It was really Reggie Byng's sheet.
And when Reggie got to his room in the small hours of the morning
and found the thing a mass of knots he jumped to the conclusion--
being a simple-hearted young man--that his bosom friend Jack Ferris,
who had come up from London to see Lord Belpher through the trying
experience of a coming-of-age party, had done it as a practical
joke, and went and poured a jug of water over Jack's bed. That is
Life. Just one long succession of misunderstandings and rash acts
and what not. Absolutely!)
Albert was becoming impatient. He was in the position of a great
general who thinks out some wonderful piece of strategy and can't
get his army to carry it out. Many boys, seeing Plummer enter the
room below and listening at the keyhole and realizing that George
must have hidden somewhere and deducing that he must be out on the
balcony, would have been baffled as to how to proceed. Not so
Albert. To dash up to Reggie Byng's room and strip his sheet off
the bed and tie it to the bed-post and fashion a series of knots in
it and lower it out of the window took Albert about three minutes.
His part in the business had been performed without a hitch. And
now George, who had nothing in the world to do but the childish
task of climbing up the sheet, was jeopardizing the success of the
whole scheme by delay. Albert gave the sheet an irritable jerk.
It was the worst thing he could have done. George had almost made
up his mind to take a chance when the sheet was snatched from his
grasp as if it had been some live thing deliberately eluding his
clutch. The thought of what would have happened had this occurred
when he was in mid-air caused him to break out in a cold
perspiration. He retired a pace and perched himself on the rail of
"Psst!" said Albert.
"It's no good saying, 'Psst!'" rejoined George in an annoyed
undertone. "I could say "Psst!" Any fool could say 'Psst!'"
Albert, he considered in leaning out of the window and saying
"Psst!" was merely touching the fringe of the subject.
It is probable that he would have remained seated on the balcony
rail regarding the sheet with cold aversion, indefinitely, had not
his hand been forced by the man Plummer. Plummer, during these last
minutes, had shot his bolt. He had said everything that a man could
say, much of it twice over; and now he was through. All was ended.
The verdict was in. No wedding-bells for Plummer.
"I think," said Plummer gloomily, and the words smote on George's
ear like a knell, "I think I'd like a little air."
George leaped from his rail like a hunted grasshopper. If Plummer
was looking for air, it meant that he was going to come out on the
balcony. There was only one thing to be done. It probably meant the
abrupt conclusion of a promising career, but he could hesitate no
George grasped the sheet--it felt like a rope of cobwebs--and swung
Maud looked out on to the balcony. Her heart which had stood still
when the rejected one opened the window and stepped forth to
commune with the soothing stars, beat again. There was no one
there, only emptiness and Plummer.
"This," said Plummer sombrely, gazing over the rail into the
darkness, "is the place where that fellow what's-his-name jumped
off in the reign of thingummy, isn't it?"
Maud understood now, and a thrill of the purest admiration for
George's heroism swept over her. So rather than compromise her, he
had done Leonard's leap! How splendid of him! If George, now
sitting on Reggie Byng's bed taking a rueful census of the bits of
skin remaining on his hands and knees after his climb could read
her thoughts, he would have felt well rewarded for his abrasions.
"I've a jolly good mind," said Plummer, "to do it myself!" He
uttered a short, mirthless laugh. "Well, anyway," he said
recklessly, "I'll jolly well go downstairs and have a
Albert finished untying the sheet from the bedpost, and stuffed it
under the pillow.
"And now," said Albert, "for a quiet smoke in the scullery."
These massive minds require their moments of relaxation.
George's idea was to get home. Quick. There was no possible chance
of a second meeting with Maud that night. They had met and had
been whirled asunder. No use to struggle with Fate. Best to give in
and hope that another time Fate would be kinder. What George wanted
now was to be away from all the gay glitter and the fairylike tout
ensemble and the galaxy of fair women and brave men, safe in his
own easy-chair, where nothing could happen to him. A nice sense of
duty would no doubt have taken him back to his post in order fully
to earn the sovereign which had been paid to him for his services
as temporary waiter; but the voice of Duty called to him in vain.
If the British aristocracy desired refreshments let them get them
for themselves--and like it! He was through.
But if George had for the time being done with the British
aristocracy, the British aristocracy had not done with him. Hardly
had he reached the hall when he encountered the one member of the
order whom he would most gladly have avoided.
Lord Belpher was not in genial mood. Late hours always made his
head ache, and he was not a dancing man; so that he was by now
fully as weary of the fairylike tout ensemble as was George. But,
being the centre and cause of the night's proceedings, he was
compelled to be present to the finish. He was in the position of
captains who must be last to leave their ships, and of boys who
stand on burning decks whence all but they had fled. He had spent
several hours shaking hands with total strangers and receiving with
a frozen smile their felicitations on the attainment of his
majority, and he could not have been called upon to meet a larger
horde of relations than had surged round him that night if he had
been a rabbit. The Belpher connection was wide, straggling over
most of England; and first cousins, second cousins and even third
and fourth cousins had debouched from practically every county on
the map and marched upon the home of their ancestors. The effort of
having to be civil to all of these had told upon Percy. Like the
heroine of his sister Maud's favourite poem he was "aweary,
aweary," and he wanted a drink. He regarded George's appearance as
"Get me a small bottle of champagne, and bring it to the library."
The two words sound innocent enough, but, wishing as he did to
efface himself and avoid publicity, they were the most unfortunate
which George could have chosen. If he had merely bowed acquiescence
and departed, it is probable that Lord Belpher would not have taken
a second look at him. Percy was in no condition to subject everyone
he met to a minute scrutiny. But, when you have been addressed for
an entire lifetime as "your lordship", it startles you when a
waiter calls you "Sir". Lord Belpher gave George a glance in which
reproof and pain were nicely mingled emotions quickly supplanted by
amazement. A gurgle escaped him.
"Stop!" he cried as George turned away.
Percy was rattled. The crisis found him in two minds. On the one
hand, he would have been prepared to take oath that this man before
him was the man who had knocked off his hat in Piccadilly. The
likeness had struck him like a blow the moment he had taken a good
look at the fellow. On the other hand, there is nothing which is
more likely to lead one astray than a resemblance. He had never
forgotten the horror and humiliation of the occasion, which had
happened in his fourteenth year, when a motherly woman at
Paddington Station had called him "dearie" and publicly embraced
him, on the erroneous supposition that he was her nephew, Philip.
He must proceed cautiously. A brawl with an innocent waiter, coming
on the heels of that infernal episode with the policeman, would
give people the impression that assailing the lower orders had
become a hobby of his.
"Sir?" said George politely.
His brazen front shook Lord Belpher's confidence.
"I haven't seen you before here, have I?" was all he could find
"No, sir," replied George smoothly. "I am only temporarily attached
to the castle staff."
"Where do you come from?"
Lord Belpher started. "America!"
"Yes, sir. I am in England on a vacation. My cousin, Albert, is
page boy at the castle, and he told me there were a few vacancies
for extra help tonight, so I applied and was given the job."
Lord Belpher frowned perplexedly. It all sounded entirely
plausible. And, what was satisfactory, the statement could be
checked by application to Keggs, the butler. And yet there was a
lingering doubt. However, there seemed nothing to be gained by
continuing the conversation.
"I see," he said at last. "Well, bring that champagne to the
library as quick as you can."
"Very good, sir."
Lord Belpher remained where he stood, brooding. Reason told him he
ought to be satisfied, but he was not satisfied. It would have been
different had he not known that this fellow with whom Maud had
become entangled was in the neighbourhood. And if that scoundrel
had had the audacity to come and take a cottage at the castle
gates, why not the audacity to invade the castle itself?
The appearance of one of the footmen, on his way through the hall
with a tray, gave him the opportunity for further investigation.
"Send Keggs to me!"
"Very good, your lordship."
An interval and the butler arrived. Unlike Lord Belpher late hours
were no hardship to Keggs. He was essentially a night-blooming
flower. His brow was as free from wrinkles as his shirt-front. He
bore himself with the conscious dignity of one who, while he would
have freely admitted he did not actually own the castle, was
nevertheless aware that he was one of its most conspicuous
"You wished to see me, your lordship?"
"Yes. Keggs, there are a number of outside men helping here
tonight, aren't there?"
"Indubitably, your lordship. The unprecedented scale of the
entertainment necessitated the engagement of a certain number of
supernumeraries," replied Keggs with an easy fluency which Reggie
Byng, now cooling his head on the lower terrace, would have
bitterly envied. "In the circumstances, such an arrangement was
"You engaged all these men yourself?"
"In a manner of speaking, your lordship, and for all practical
purposes, yes. Mrs. Digby, the 'ouse-keeper conducted the actual
negotiations in many cases, but the arrangement was in no instance
considered complete until I had passed each applicant."
"Do you know anything of an American who says he is the cousin of
"The boy Albert did introduce a nominee whom he stated to be 'is
cousin 'ome from New York on a visit and anxious to oblige. I trust
he 'as given no dissatisfaction, your lordship? He seemed a
respectable young man."
"No, no, not at all. I merely wished to know if you knew him. One
can't be too careful."
"No, indeed, your lordship."
"That's all, then."
"Thank you, your lordship."
Lord Belpher was satisfied. He was also relieved. He felt that
prudence and a steady head had kept him from making himself
ridiculous. When George presently returned with the life-saving
fluid, he thanked him and turned his thoughts to other things.
But, if the young master was satisfied, Keggs was not. Upon Keggs a
bright light had shone. There were few men, he flattered himself,
who could more readily put two and two together and bring the sum
to a correct answer. Keggs knew of the strange American gentleman
who had taken up his abode at the cottage down by Platt's farm. His
looks, his habits, and his motives for coming there had formed food
for discussion throughout one meal in the servant's hall; a
stranger whose abstention from brush and palette showed him to be
no artist being an object of interest. And while the solution put
forward by a romantic lady's-maid, a great reader of novelettes,
that the young man had come there to cure himself of some unhappy
passion by communing with nature, had been scoffed at by the
company, Keggs had not been so sure that there might not be
something in it. Later events had deepened his suspicion, which
now, after this interview with Lord Belpher, had become certainty.
The extreme fishiness of Albert's sudden production of a cousin
from America was so manifest that only his preoccupation at the
moment when he met the young man could have prevented him seeing it
before. His knowledge of Albert told him that, if one so versed as
that youth in the art of Swank had really possessed a cousin in
America, he would long ago have been boring the servants' hall with
fictions about the man's wealth and importance. For Albert not to
lie about a thing, practically proved that thing non-existent. Such
was the simple creed of Keggs.
He accosted a passing fellow-servitor.
"Seen young blighted Albert anywhere, Freddy?"
It was in this shameful manner that that mastermind was habitually
referred to below stairs.
"Seen 'im going into the scullery not 'arf a minute ago," replied
"So long," said Freddy.
"Be good!" returned Keggs, whose mode of speech among those of his
own world differed substantially from that which he considered it
became him to employ when conversing with the titled.
The fall of great men is but too often due to the failure of their
miserable bodies to give the necessary support to their great
brains. There are some, for example, who say that Napoleon would
have won the battle of Waterloo if he had not had dyspepsia. Not
otherwise was it with Albert on that present occasion. The arrival
of Keggs found him at a disadvantage. He had been imprudent enough,
on leaving George, to endeavour to smoke a cigar, purloined from
the box which stood hospitably open on a table in the hall. But for
this, who knows with what cunning counter-attacks he might have
foiled the butler's onslaught? As it was, the battle was a
walk-over for the enemy.
"I've been looking for you, young blighted Albert!" said Keggs
Albert turned a green but defiant face to the foe.
"Go and boil yer 'ead!" he advised.
"Never mind about my 'ead. If I was to do my duty to you, I'd give
you a clip side of your 'ead, that's what I'd do."
"And then bury it in the woods," added Albert, wincing as the
consequences of his rash act swept through his small form like some
nauseous tidal wave. He shut his eyes. It upset him to see Keggs
shimmering like that. A shimmering butler is an awful sight.
Keggs laughed a hard laugh. "You and your cousins from America!"
"What about my cousins from America?"
"Yes, what about them? That's just what Lord Belpher and me have
been asking ourselves."
"I don't know wot you're talking about."
"You soon will, young blighted Albert! Who sneaked that American
fellow into the 'ouse to meet Lady Maud?"
"Think I didn't see through your little game? Why, I knew from the
"Yes, you did! Then why did you let him into the place?"
Keggs snorted triumphantly. "There! You admit it! It was that
Too late Albert saw his false move--a move which in a normal state
of health, he would have scorned to make. Just as Napoleon, minus a
stomach-ache, would have scorned the blunder that sent his
Cuirassiers plunging to destruction in the sunken road.
"I don't know what you're torkin' about," he said weakly.
"Well," said Keggs, "I haven't time to stand 'ere chatting with
you. I must be going back to 'is lordship, to tell 'im of the
'orrid trick you played on him."
A second spasm shook Albert to the core of his being. The double
assault was too much for him. Betrayed by the body, the spirit
"You wouldn't do that, Mr. Keggs!"
There was a white flag in every syllable.
"I would if I did my duty."
"But you don't care about that," urged Albert ingratiatingly.
"I'll have to think it over," mused Keggs. "I don't want to be 'and
on a young boy." He struggled silently with himself. "Ruinin' 'is
An inspiration seemed to come to him.
"All right, young blighted Albert," he said briskly. "I'll go
against my better nature this once and chance it. And now,
young feller me lad, you just 'and over that ticket of yours! You
know what I'm alloodin' to! That ticket you 'ad at the sweep,
the one with 'Mr. X' on it."
Albert's indomitable spirit triumphed for a moment over his
"That's likely, ain't it!"
Keggs sighed--the sigh of a good man who has done his best to help
a fellow-being and has been baffled by the other's perversity.
"Just as you please," he said sorrowfully. "But I did 'ope I
shouldn't 'ave to go to 'is lordship and tell 'im 'ow you've
Albert capitulated. "'Ere yer are!" A piece of paper changed hands.
"It's men like you wot lead to 'arf the crime in the country!"
"Much obliged, me lad."
"You'd walk a mile in the snow, you would," continued Albert
pursuing his train of thought, "to rob a starving beggar of a
"Who's robbing anyone? Don't you talk so quick, young man. I'm
doing the right thing by you. You can 'ave my ticket, marked
'Reggie Byng'. It's a fair exchange, and no one the worse!"
"Fat lot of good that is!"
"That's as it may be. Anyhow, there it is." Keggs prepared to
withdraw. "You're too young to 'ave all that money, Albert. You
wouldn't know what to do with it. It wouldn't make you 'appy.
There's other things in the world besides winning sweepstakes. And,
properly speaking, you ought never to have been allowed to draw at
all, being so young."
Albert groaned hollowly. "When you've finished torkin', I wish
you'd kindly have the goodness to leave me alone. I'm not meself."
"That," said Keggs cordially, "is a bit of luck for you, my boy.
Accept my 'eartiest felicitations!"
Defeat is the test of the great man. Your true general is not he
who rides to triumph on the tide of an easy victory, but the one
who, when crushed to earth, can bend himself to the task of
planning methods of rising again. Such a one was Albert, the
page-boy. Observe Albert in his attic bedroom scarcely more than an
hour later. His body has practically ceased to trouble him, and his
soaring spirit has come into its own again. With the exception of
a now very occasional spasm, his physical anguish has passed, and
he is thinking, thinking hard. On the chest of drawers is a grubby
envelope, addressed in an ill-formed hand to:
R. Byng, Esq.
On a sheet of paper, soon to be placed in the envelope, are written
in the same hand these words:
"Do not dispare! Remember! Fante hart never won
fair lady. I shall watch your futur progres with
The last sentence is not original. Albert's Sunday-school teacher
said it to Albert on the occasion of his taking up his duties at
the castle, and it stuck in his memory. Fortunately, for it
expressed exactly what Albert wished to say. From now on Reggie
Byng's progress with Lady Maud Marsh was to be the thing nearest to
And George meanwhile? Little knowing how Fate has changed in a
flash an ally into an opponent he is standing at the edge of the
shrubbery near the castle gate. The night is very beautiful; the
banked spots on his hands and knees are hurting much less now; and
he is full of long, sweet thoughts. He has just discovered the
extraordinary resemblance, which had not struck him as he was
climbing up the knotted sheet, between his own position and that of
the hero of Tennyson's Maud, a poem to which he has always been
particularly addicted--and never more so than during the days since
he learned the name of the only possible girl. When he has not been
playing golf, Tennyson's Maud has been his constant companion.
"Queen rose of the rosebud garden of girls
Come hither, the dances are done,
In glass of satin and glimmer of pearls.
Queen lily and rose in one;
Shine out, little head, sunning over with curls
To the flowers, and be their sun."
The music from the ballroom flows out to him through the motionless
air. The smell of sweet earth and growing things is everywhere.
"Come into the garden, Maud,
For the black bat, night, hath flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
I am here at the gate alone;
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
And the musk of the rose is blown."
He draws a deep breath, misled young man. The night is very
beautiful. It is near to the dawn now and in the bushes live things
are beginning to stir and whisper.
Surely she can hear him?
The silver stars looked down dispassionately. This sort of thing
had no novelty for them.
Lord Belpher's twenty-first birthday dawned brightly, heralded in
by much twittering of sparrows in the ivy outside his bedroom. These
Percy did not hear, for he was sound asleep and had had a late
night. The first sound that was able to penetrate his heavy slumber
and rouse him to a realization that his birthday had arrived was
the piercing cry of Reggie Byng on his way to the bath-room across
the corridor. It was Reggie's disturbing custom to urge himself on
to a cold bath with encouraging yells; and the noise of this
performance, followed by violent splashing and a series of sharp
howls as the sponge played upon the Byng spine, made sleep an
impossibility within a radius of many yards. Percy sat up in bed,
and cursed Reggie silently. He discovered that he had a headache.
Presently the door flew open, and the vocalist entered in person,
clad in a pink bathrobe and very tousled and rosy from the tub.
"Many happy returns of the day, Boots, old thing!"
Reggie burst rollickingly into song.
"I'm twenty-one today!
I've got the key of the door!
Never been twenty-one before!
And father says I can do what I like!
So shout Hip-hip-hooray!
I'm a jolly good fellow,
Lord Belpher scowled morosely.
"I wish you wouldn't make that infernal noise!"
"What infernal noise?"
"My God! This man has wounded me!" said Reggie.
"I've a headache."
"I thought you would have, laddie, when I saw you getting away with
the liquid last night. An X-ray photograph of your liver would show
something that looked like a crumpled oak-leaf studded with
hob-nails. You ought to take more exercise, dear heart. Except for
sloshing that policeman, you haven't done anything athletic for
"I wish you wouldn't harp on that affair!"
Reggie sat down on the bed.
"Between ourselves, old man," he said confidentially, "I also--I
myself--Reginald Byng, in person--was perhaps a shade polluted
during the evening. I give you my honest word that just after
dinner I saw three versions of your uncle, the bishop, standing in
a row side by side. I tell you, laddie, that for a moment I thought
I had strayed into a Bishop's Beano at Exeter Hall or the Athenaeum
or wherever it is those chappies collect in gangs. Then the three
bishops sort of congealed into one bishop, a trifle blurred about
the outlines, and I felt relieved. But what convinced me that I
had emptied a flagon or so too many was a rather rummy thing that
occurred later on. Have you ever happened, during one of these
feasts of reason and flows of soul, when you were bubbling over
with joie-de-vivre--have you ever happened to see things? What I
mean to say is, I had a deuced odd experience last night. I could
have sworn that one of the waiter-chappies was that fellow who
knocked off your hat in Piccadilly."
Lord Belpher, who had sunk back on to the pillows at Reggie's
entrance and had been listening to his talk with only intermittent
attention, shot up in bed.
"Absolutely! My mistake, of course, but there it was. The fellow
might have been his double."
"But you've never seen the man."
"Oh yes, I have. I forgot to tell you. I met him on the links
yesterday. I'd gone out there alone, rather expecting to have a
round with the pro., but, finding this lad there, I suggested that
we might go round together. We did eighteen holes, and he licked
the boots off me. Very hot stuff he was. And after the game he took
me off to his cottage and gave me a drink. He lives at the cottage
next door to Platt's farm, so, you see, it was the identical
chappie. We got extremely matey. Like brothers. Absolutely! So you
can understand what a shock it gave me when I found what I took to
be the same man serving bracers to the multitude the same evening.
One of those nasty jars that cause a fellow's head to swim a bit,
don't you know, and make him lose confidence in himself."
Lord Belpher did not reply. His brain was whirling. So he had been
right after all!
"You know," pursued Reggie seriously, "I think you are making the
bloomer of a lifetime over this hat-swatting chappie. You've
misjudged him. He's a first-rate sort. Take it from me! Nobody
could have got out of the bunker at the fifteenth hole better than
he did. If you'll take my advice, you'll conciliate the feller. A
really first-class golfer is what you need in the family. Besides,
even leaving out of the question the fact that he can do things
with a niblick that I didn't think anybody except the pro. could
do, he's a corking good sort. A stout fellow in every respect. I
took to the chappie. He's all right. Grab him, Boots, before he
gets away. That's my tip to you. You'll never regret it! From first
to last this lad didn't foozle a single drive, and his
approach-putting has to be seen to be believed. Well, got to
dress, I suppose. Mustn't waste life's springtime sitting here
talking to you. Toodle-oo, laddie! We shall meet anon!"
Lord Belpher leaped from his bed. He was feeling worse than ever
now, and a glance into the mirror told him that he looked rather
worse than he felt. Late nights and insufficient sleep, added to
the need of a shave, always made him look like something that
should have been swept up and taken away to the ash-bin. And as for
his physical condition, talking to Reggie Byng never tended to make
you feel better when you had a headache. Reggie's manner was not
soothing, and on this particular morning his choice of a topic had
been unusually irritating. Lord Belpher told himself that he could
not understand Reggie. He had never been able to make his mind
quite clear as to the exact relations between the latter and his
sister Maud, but he had always been under the impression that, if
they were not actually engaged, they were on the verge of becoming
so; and it was maddening to have to listen to Reggie advocating the
claims of a rival as if he had no personal interest in the affair
at all. Percy felt for his complaisant friend something of the
annoyance which a householder feels for the watchdog whom he finds
fraternizing with the burglar. Why, Reggie, more than anyone else,
ought to be foaming with rage at the insolence of this American
fellow in coming down to Belpher and planting himself at the castle
gates. Instead of which, on his own showing, he appeared to have
adopted an attitude towards him which would have excited remark
if adopted by David towards Jonathan. He seemed to spend all his
spare time frolicking with the man on the golf-links and hobnobbing
with him in his house.
Lord Belpber was thoroughly upset. It was impossible to prove it or
to do anything about it now, but he was convinced that the fellow
had wormed his way into the castle in the guise of a waiter. He had
probably met Maud and plotted further meetings with her. This thing
was becoming unendurable.
One thing was certain. The family honour was in his hands.
Anything that was to be done to keep Maud away from the intruder
must be done by himself. Reggie was hopeless: he was capable, as
far as Percy could see, of escorting Maud to the fellow's door in
his own car and leaving her on the threshold with his blessing. As
for Lord Marshmoreton, roses and the family history took up so much
of his time that he could not be counted on for anything but moral
support. He, Percy, must do the active work.
He had just come to this decision, when, approaching the window and
gazing down into the grounds, he perceived his sister Maud walking
rapidly--and, so it seemed to him, with a furtive air--down the
east drive. And it was to the east that Platt's farm and the
cottage next door to it lay.
At the moment of this discovery, Percy was in a costume ill adapted
for the taking of country walks. Reggie's remarks about his liver
had struck home, and it had been his intention, by way of a
corrective to his headache and a general feeling of swollen
ill-health, to do a little work before his bath with a pair of
Indian clubs. He had arrayed himself for this purpose in an old
sweater, a pair of grey flannel trousers, and patent leather
evening shoes. It was not the garb he would have chosen himself
for a ramble, but time was flying: even to put on a pair of boots
is a matter of minutes: and in another moment or two Maud would be
out of sight. Percy ran downstairs, snatched up a soft
shooting-hat, which proved, too late, to belong to a person with a
head two sizes smaller than his own; and raced out into the
grounds. He was just in time to see Maud disappearing round the
corner of the drive.
Lord Belpher had never belonged to that virile class of the
community which considers running a pleasure and a pastime. At
Oxford, on those occasions when the members of his college had
turned out on raw afternoons to trot along the river-bank
encouraging the college eight with yelling and the swinging of
police-rattles, Percy had always stayed prudently in his rooms with
tea and buttered toast, thereby avoiding who knows what colds and
coughs. When he ran, he ran reluctantly and with a definite object
in view, such as the catching of a train. He was consequently not
in the best of condition, and the sharp sprint which was imperative
at this juncture if he was to keep his sister in view left him
spent and panting. But he had the reward of reaching the gates of
the drive not many seconds after Maud, and of seeing her
walking--more slowly now--down the road that led to Platt's. This
confirmation of his suspicions enabled him momentarily to forget
the blister which was forming on the heel of his left foot. He set
out after her at a good pace.
The road, after the habit of country roads, wound and twisted. The
quarry was frequently out of sight. And Percy's anxiety was such
that, every time Maud vanished, he broke into a gallop. Another
hundred yards, and the blister no longer consented to be ignored.
It cried for attention like a little child, and was rapidly
insinuating itself into a position in the scheme of things where it
threatened to become the centre of the world. By the time the third
bend in the road was reached, it seemed to Percy that this blister
had become the one great Fact in an unreal nightmare-like universe.
He hobbled painfully: and when he stopped suddenly and darted back
into the shelter of the hedge his foot seemed aflame. The only
reason why the blister on his left heel did not at this juncture
attract his entire attention was that he had become aware that
there was another of equal proportions forming on his right heel.
Percy had stopped and sought cover in the hedge because, as he
rounded the bend in the road, he perceived, before he had time to
check his gallop, that Maud had also stopped. She was standing in
the middle of the road, looking over her shoulder, not ten yards
away. Had she seen him? It was a point that time alone could solve.
No! She walked on again. She had not seen him. Lord Belpher, by
means of a notable triumph of mind over matter, forgot the blisters
and hurried after her.
They had now reached that point in the road where three choices
offer themselves to the wayfarer. By going straight on he may win
through to the village of Moresby-in-the-Vale, a charming little
place with a Norman church; by turning to the left he may visit the
equally seductive hamlet of Little Weeting; by turning to the right
off the main road and going down a leafy lane he may find himself
at the door of Platt's farm. When Maud, reaching the cross-roads,
suddenly swung down the one to the left, Lord Belpher was for the
moment completely baffled. Reason reasserted its way the next
minute, telling him that this was but a ruse. Whether or no she had
caught sight of him, there was no doubt that Maud intended to shake
off any possible pursuit by taking this speciously innocent turning
and making a detour. She could have no possible motive in going to
Little Weeting. He had never been to Little Weeting in his life,
and there was no reason to suppose that Maud had either.
The sign-post informed him--a statement strenuously denied by the
twin-blisters--that the distance to Little Weeting was one and a
half miles. Lord Belpher's view of it was that it was nearer fifty.
He dragged himself along wearily. It was simpler now to keep Maud
in sight, for the road ran straight: but, there being a catch in
everything in this world, the process was also messier. In order
to avoid being seen, it was necessary for Percy to leave the road
and tramp along in the deep ditch which ran parallel to it. There
is nothing half-hearted about these ditches which accompany English
country roads. They know they are intended to be ditches, not mere
furrows, and they behave as such. The one that sheltered Lord
Belpher was so deep that only his head and neck protruded above the
level of the road, and so dirty that a bare twenty yards of travel
was sufficient to coat him with mud. Rain, once fallen, is
reluctant to leave the English ditch. It nestles inside it for
weeks, forming a rich, oatmeal-like substance which has to be
stirred to be believed. Percy stirred it. He churned it. He
ploughed and sloshed through it. The mud stuck to him like a
Nevertheless, being a determined young man, he did not give in.
Once he lost a shoe, but a little searching recovered that. On
another occasion, a passing dog, seeing things going on in the
ditch which in his opinion should not have been going on--he was a
high-strung dog, unused to coming upon heads moving along the road
without bodies attached--accompanied Percy for over a quarter of a
mile, causing him exquisite discomfort by making sudden runs at his
face. A well-aimed stone settled this little misunderstanding, and
Percy proceeded on his journey alone. He had Maud well in view
when, to his surprise she left the road and turned into the gate of
a house which stood not far from the church.
Lord Belpher regained the road, and remained there, a puzzled man.
A dreadful thought came to him that he might have had all this
trouble and anguish for no reason. This house bore the unmistakable
stamp of a vicarage. Maud could have no reason that was not
innocent for going there. Had he gone through all this, merely to
see his sister paying a visit to a clergyman? Too late it occurred
to him that she might quite easily be on visiting terms with the
clergy of Little Weeting. He had forgotten that he had been away at
Oxford for many weeks, a period of time in which Maud, finding life
in the country weigh upon her, might easily have interested herself
charitably in the life of this village. He paused irresolutely. He
Maud, meanwhile, had rung the bell. Ever since, looking over her
shoulder, she had perceived her brother Percy dodging about in the
background, her active young mind had been busying itself with
schemes for throwing him off the trail. She must see George that
morning. She could not wait another day before establishing
communication between herself and Geoffrey. But it was not till she
reached Little Weeting that there occurred to her any plan that
A trim maid opened the door.
"Is the vicar in?"
"No, miss. He went out half an hour back."
Maud was as baffled for the moment as her brother Percy, now
leaning against the vicarage wall in a state of advanced
"Oh, dear!" she said.
The maid was sympathetic.
"Mr. Ferguson, the curate, miss, he's here, if he would do."
"He would do splendidly. Will you ask him if I can see him for a
"Very well, miss. What name, please?"
"He won't know my name. Will you please tell him that a lady wishes
to see him?"
"Yes, miss. Won't you step in?"
The front door closed behind Maud. She followed the maid into the
drawing-room. Presently a young small curate entered. He had a
willing, benevolent face. He looked alert and helpful.
"You wished to see me?"
"I am so sorry to trouble you," said Maud, rocking the young man in
his tracks with a smile of dazzling brilliancy--("No trouble, I
assure you," said the curate dizzily)--"but there is a man following
The curate clicked his tongue indignantly.
"A rough sort of a tramp kind of man. He has been following me for
miles, and I'm frightened."
"I think he's outside now. I can't think what he wants. Would
you--would you mind being kind enough to go and send him away?"
The eyes that had settled George's fate for all eternity flashed
upon the curate, who blinked. He squared his shoulders and drew
himself up. He was perfectly willing to die for her.
"If you will wait here," he said, "I will go and send him about his
business. It is disgraceful that the public highways should be
rendered unsafe in this manner."
"Thank you ever so much," said Maud gratefully. "I can't help
thinking the poor fellow may be a little crazy. It seems so odd of
him to follow me all that way. Walking in the ditch too!"
"Walking in the ditch!"
"Yes. He walked most of the way in the ditch at the side of the
road. He seemed to prefer it. I can't think why."
Lord Belpher, leaning against the wall and trying to decide whether
his right or left foot hurt him the more excruciatingly, became
aware that a curate was standing before him, regarding him through
a pair of gold-rimmed pince-nez with a disapproving and hostile
expression. Lord Belpher returned his gaze. Neither was favourably
impressed by the other. Percy thought he had seen nicer-looking
curates, and the curate thought he had seen more prepossessing
"Come, come!" said the curate. "This won't do, my man!" A few hours
earlier Lord Belpher had been startled when addressed by George as
"sir". To be called "my man" took his breath away completely.
The gift of seeing ourselves as others see us is, as the poet
indicates, vouchsafed to few men. Lord Belpher, not being one of
these fortunates, had not the slightest conception how intensely
revolting his personal appearance was at that moment. The
red-rimmed eyes, the growth of stubble on the cheeks, and the thick
coating of mud which had resulted from his rambles in the ditch
combined to render him a horrifying object.
"How dare you follow that young lady? I've a good mind to give you
Percy was outraged.
"I'm her brother!" He was about to substantiate the statement by
giving his name, but stopped himself. He had had enough of letting
his name come out on occasions like the present. When the
policeman had arrested him in the Haymarket, his first act had been
to thunder his identity at the man: and the policeman, without
saying in so many words that he disbelieved him, had hinted
scepticism by replying that he himself was the king of Brixton.
"I'm her brother!" he repeated thickly.
The curate's disapproval deepened. In a sense, we are all brothers;
but that did not prevent him from considering that this mud-stained
derelict had made an impudent and abominable mis-statement of fact.
Not unnaturally he came to the conclusion that he had to do with a
victim of the Demon Rum.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," he said severely. "Sad
piece of human wreckage as you are, you speak like an educated man.
Have you no self-respect? Do you never search your heart and
shudder at the horrible degradation which you have brought on
yourself by sheer weakness of will?"
He raise his voice. The subject of Temperance was one very near to
the curate's heart. The vicar himself had complimented him only
yesterday on the good his sermons against the drink evil were doing
in the village, and the landlord of the Three Pigeons down the road
had on several occasions spoken bitter things about blighters who
came taking the living away from honest folks.
"It is easy enough to stop if you will but use a little resolution.
You say to yourself, 'Just one won't hurt me!' Perhaps not. But
can you be content with just one? Ah! No, my man, there is no
middle way for such as you. It must be all or nothing. Stop it
now--now, while you still retain some semblance of humanity. Soon it
will be too late! Kill that craving! Stifle it! Strangle it! Make
up your mind now--now, that not another drop of the accursed stuff
shall pass your lips... ."
The curate paused. He perceived that enthusiasm was leading him
away from the main issue. "A little perseverance," he concluded
rapidly, "and you will soon find that cocoa gives you exactly the
same pleasure. And now will you please be getting along. You have
frightened the young lady, and she cannot continue her walk unless
I assure her that you have gone away."
Fatigue, pain and the annoyance of having to listen to this man's
well-meant but ill-judged utterances had combined to induce in
Percy a condition bordering on hysteria. He stamped his foot, and
uttered a howl as the blister warned him with a sharp twinge that
this sort of behaviour could not be permitted.
"Stop talking!" he bellowed. "Stop talking like an idiot! I'm going
to stay here till that girl comes out, if have to wait all day!"
The curate regarded Percy thoughtfully. Percy was no Hercules: but
then, neither was the curate. And in any case, though no Hercules,
Percy was undeniably an ugly-looking brute. Strategy, rather than
force, seemed to the curate to be indicated. He paused a while, as
one who weighs pros and cons, then spoke briskly, with the air of
the man who has decided to yield a point with a good grace.
"Dear, dear!" he said. "That won't do! You say you are this young
"Yes, I do!"
"Then perhaps you had better come with me into the house and we
will speak to her."
Percy followed him. Down the trim gravel walk they passed, and up
the neat stone steps. Maud, peeping through the curtains, thought
herself the victim of a monstrous betrayal or equally monstrous
blunder. But she did not know the Rev. Cyril Ferguson. No general,
adroitly leading the enemy on by strategic retreat, ever had a
situation more thoroughly in hand. Passing with his companion
through the open door, he crossed the hall to another door,
"Wait in here," he said. Lord Belpher moved unsuspectingly forward.
A hand pressed sharply against the small of his back. Behind him a
door slammed and a key clicked. He was trapped. Groping in
Egyptian darkness, his hands met a coat, then a hat, then an
umbrella. Then he stumbled over a golf-club and fell against a
wall. It was too dark to see anything, but his sense of touch told
him all he needed to know. He had been added to the vicar's
collection of odds and ends in the closet reserved for that
He groped his way to the door and kicked it. He did not repeat the
performance. His feet were in no shape for kicking things.
Percy's gallant soul abandoned the struggle. With a feeble oath, he
sat down on a box containing croquet implements, and gave himself
up to thought.
"You'll be quite safe now," the curate was saying in the adjoining
room, not without a touch of complacent self-approval such as
becomes the victor in a battle of wits. "I have locked him in the
cupboard. He will be quite happy there." An incorrect statement
this. "You may now continue your walk in perfect safety."
"Thank you ever so much," said Maud. "But I do hope he won't be
violent when you let him out."
"I shall not let him out," replied the curate, who, though brave,
was not rash. "I shall depute the task to a worthy fellow named
Willis, in whom I shall have every confidence. He--he is, in fact,
our local blacksmith!"
And so it came about that when, after a vigil that seemed to last
for a lifetime, Percy heard the key turn in the lock and burst
forth seeking whom he might devour, he experienced an almost
instant quieting of his excited nervous system. Confronting him was
a vast man whose muscles, like those of that other and more
celebrated village blacksmith, were plainly as strong as iron
This man eyed Percy with a chilly eye.
"Well," he said. "What's troublin' you?"
Percy gulped. The man's mere appearance was a sedative.
"Er--nothing!" he replied. "Nothing!"
"There better hadn't be!" said the man darkly. "Mr. Ferguson give
me this to give to you. Take it!"
Percy took it. It was a shilling.
The second gift was a small paper pamphlet. It was entitled "Now's
the Time!" and seemed to be a story of some kind. At any rate,
Percy's eyes, before they began to swim in a manner that prevented
steady reading, caught the words "Job Roberts had always been a
hard-drinking man, but one day, as he was coming out of the
bar-parlour . . ." He was about to hurl it from him, when he met
the other's eye and desisted. Rarely had Lord Belpher encountered a
man with a more speaking eye.
"And now you get along," said the man. "You pop off. And I'm going
to watch you do it, too. And, if I find you sneakin' off to the
Three Pigeons . . ."
His pause was more eloquent than his speech and nearly as eloquent
as his eye. Lord Belpher tucked the tract into his sweater,
pocketed the shilling, and left the house. For nearly a mile down
the well-remembered highway he was aware of a Presence in his rear,
but he continued on his way without a glance behind.
"Like one that on a lonely road
Doth walk in fear and dread;
And, having once looked back, walks on
And turns no more his head!
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread!"
Maud made her way across the fields to the cottage down by Platt's.
Her heart was as light as the breeze that ruffled the green hedges.
Gaily she tripped towards the cottage door. Her hand was just
raised to knock, when from within came the sound of a well-known
She had reached her goal, but her father had anticipated her. Lord
Marshmoreton had selected the same moment as herself for paying a
call upon George Bevan.
Maud tiptoed away, and hurried back to the castle. Never before had
she so clearly realized what a handicap an adhesive family can be
to a young girl.
At the moment of Lord Marshmoreton's arrival, George was reading a
letter from Billie Dore, which had come by that morning's post. It
dealt mainly with the vicissitudes experienced by Miss Dore's
friend, Miss Sinclair, in her relations with the man Spenser Gray.
Spenser Gray, it seemed, had been behaving oddly. Ardent towards
Miss Sinclair almost to an embarrassing point in the early stages of
their acquaintance, he had suddenly cooled; at a recent lunch had
behaved with a strange aloofness; and now, at this writing, had
vanished altogether, leaving nothing behind him but an abrupt note
to the effect that he had been compelled to go abroad and that,
much as it was to be regretted, he and she would probably never
"And if," wrote Miss Dore, justifiably annoyed, "after saying all
those things to the poor kid and telling her she was the only thing
in sight, he thinks he can just slide off with a 'Good-bye! Good
luck! and God bless you!' he's got another guess coming. And
that's not all. He hasn't gone abroad! I saw him in Piccadilly this
afternoon. He saw me, too, and what do you think he did? Ducked
down a side-street, if you please. He must have run like a rabbit,
at that, because, when I got there, he was nowhere to be seen. I
tell you, George, there's something funny about all this."
Having been made once or twice before the confidant of the
tempestuous romances of Billie's friends, which always seemed to go
wrong somewhere in the middle and to die a natural death before
arriving at any definite point, George was not particularly
interested, except in so far as the letter afforded rather
comforting evidence that he was not the only person in the world who
was having trouble of the kind. He skimmed through the rest of it,
and had just finished when there was a sharp rap at the front door.
"Come in!" called George.
There entered a sturdy little man of middle age whom at first sight
George could not place. And yet he had the impression that he had
seen him before. Then he recognized him as the gardener to whom he
had given the note for Maud that day at the castle. The alteration
in the man's costume was what had momentarily baffled George. When
they had met in the rose-garden, the other had been arrayed in
untidy gardening clothes. Now, presumably in his Sunday suit, it
was amusing to observe how almost dapper he had become. Really, you
might have passed him in the lane and taken him for some
George's heart raced. Your lover is ever optimistic, and he could
conceive of no errand that could have brought this man to his
cottage unless he was charged with the delivery of a note from
Maud. He spared a moment from his happiness to congratulate himself
on having picked such an admirable go-between. Here evidently, was
one of those trusty old retainers you read about, faithful,
willing, discreet, ready to do anything for "the little missy"
(bless her heart!). Probably he had danced Maud on his knee in her
infancy, and with a dog-like affection had watched her at her
childish sports. George beamed at the honest fellow, and felt in
his pocket to make sure that a suitable tip lay safely therein.
"Good morning," he said.
"Good morning," replied the man.
A purist might have said he spoke gruffly and without geniality.
But that is the beauty of these old retainers. They make a point of
deliberately trying to deceive strangers as to the goldenness of
their hearts by adopting a forbidding manner. And "Good morning!"
Not "Good morning, sir!" Sturdy independence, you observe, as befits
a free man. George closed the door carefully. He glanced into the
kitchen. Mrs. Platt was not there. All was well.
"You have brought a note from Lady Maud?"
The honest fellow's rather dour expression seemed to grow a shade
"If you are alluding to Lady Maud Marsh, my daughter," he replied
frostily, "I have not!"
For the past few days George had been no stranger to shocks, and
had indeed come almost to regard them as part of the normal
everyday life; but this latest one had a stumbling effect.
"I beg your pardon?" he said.
"So you ought to," replied the earl.
George swallowed once or twice to relieve a curious dryness of the
"Are you Lord Marshmoreton?"
"You seem surprised."
"It's nothing!" muttered George. "At least, you--I mean to say . . .
It's only that there's a curious resemblance between you and one
of your gardeners at the castle. I--I daresay you have noticed it
"My hobby is gardening."
Light broke upon George. "Then was it really you--?"
George sat down. "This opens up a new line of thought!" he said.
Lord Marshmoreton remained standing. He shook his head sternly.
"It won't do, Mr. . . . I have never heard your name."
"Bevan," replied George, rather relieved at being able to remember
it in the midst of his mental turmoil.
"It won't do, Mr. Bevan. It must stop. I allude to this absurd
entanglement between yourself and my daughter. It must stop at
It seemed to George that such an entanglement could hardly be said
to have begun, but he did not say so.
Lord Marshmoreton resumed his remarks. Lady Caroline had sent him
to the cottage to be stern, and his firm resolve to be stern lent
his style of speech something of the measured solemnity and careful
phrasing of his occasional orations in the House of Lords.
"I have no wish to be unduly hard upon the indiscretions of Youth.
Youth is the period of Romance, when the heart rules the head. I
myself was once a young man."
"Well, you're practically that now," said George.
"Eh?" cried Lord Marshmoreton, forgetting the thread of his
discourse in the shock of pleased surprise.
"You don't look a day over forty."
"Oh, come, come, my boy! . . . I mean, Mr. Bevan."
"You don't honestly."
"The Prime of Life."
"And you don't think I look it?"
"You certainly don't."
"Well, well, well! By the way, have you tobacco, my boy. I came
without my pouch."
"Just at your elbow. Pretty good stuff. I bought it in the village."
"The same I smoke myself."
"Quite a coincidence."
"Thank you, I have one."
George filled his own pipe. The thing was becoming a love-feast.
"What was I saying?" said Lord Marshmoreton, blowing a comfortable
cloud. "Oh, yes." He removed his pipe from his mouth with a touch of
embarrassment. "Yes, yes, to be sure!"
There was an awkward silence.
"You must see for yourself," said the earl, "how impossible it is."
George shook his head.
"I may be slow at grasping a thing, but I'm bound to say I can't
Lord Marshmoreton recalled some of the things his sister had told
him to say. "For one thing, what do we know of you? You are a
"Well, we're all getting acquainted pretty quick, don't you think?
I met your son in Piccadilly and had a long talk with him, and now
you are paying me a neighbourly visit."
"This was not intended to be a social call."
"But it has become one."
"And then, that is one point I wish to make, you know. Ours is an
old family, I would like to remind you that there were
Marshmoretons in Belpher before the War of the Roses."
"There were Bevans in Brooklyn before the B.R.T."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I was only pointing out that I can trace my ancestry a long way.
You have to trace things a long way in Brooklyn, if you want to
"I have never heard of Brooklyn."
"You've heard of New York?"
"New York's one of the outlying suburbs."
Lord Marshmoreton relit his pipe. He had a feeling that they were
wandering from the point.
"It is quite impossible."
"I can't see it."
"Maud is so young."
"Your daughter could be nothing else."
"Too young to know her own mind," pursued Lord Marshmoreton,
resolutely crushing down a flutter of pleasure. There was no doubt
that this singularly agreeable man was making things very difficult
for him. It was disarming to discover that he was really capital
company--the best, indeed, that the earl could remember to have
discovered in the more recent period of his rather lonely life. "At
present, of course, she fancies that she is very much in love with
you . . . It is absurd!"
"You needn't tell me that," said George. Really, it was only the
fact that people seemed to go out of their way to call at his
cottage and tell him that Maud loved him that kept him from feeling
his cause perfectly hopeless. "It's incredible. It's a miracle."
"You are a romantic young man, and you no doubt for the moment
suppose that you are in love with her."
"No!" George was not going to allow a remark like that to pass
unchallenged. "You are wrong there. As far as I am concerned, there
is no question of its being momentary or supposititious or anything
of that kind. I am in love with your daughter. I was from the first
moment I saw her. I always shall be. She is the only girl in the
"Stuff and nonsense!"
"Not at all. Absolute, cold fact."
"You have known her so little time."
Lord Marshmoreton sighed. "You are upsetting things terribly."
"Things are upsetting me terribly."
"You are causing a great deal of trouble and annoyance."
"So did Romeo."
"I said--So did Romeo."
"I don't know anything about Romeo."
"As far as love is concerned, I begin where he left off."
"I wish I could persuade you to be sensible."
"That's just what I think I am."
"I wish I could get you to see my point of view."
"I do see your point of view. But dimly. You see, my own takes up
such a lot of the foreground."
There was a pause.
"Then I am afraid," said Lord Marshmoreton, "that we must leave
matters as they stand."
"Until they can be altered for the better."
"We will say no more about it now."
"But I must ask you to understand clearly that I shall have to do
everything in my power to stop what I look on as an unfortunate
Lord Marshmoreton coughed. George looked at him with some surprise.
He had supposed the interview to be at an end, but the other made
no move to go. There seemed to be something on the earl's mind.
"There is--ah--just one other thing," said Lord Marshmoreton. He
coughed again. He felt embarrassed. "Just--just one other thing,"
The reason for Lord Marshmoreton's visit to George had been
twofold. In the first place, Lady Caroline had told him to go.
That would have been reason enough. But what made the visit
imperative was an unfortunate accident of which he had only that
morning been made aware.
It will be remembered that Billie Dore had told George that the
gardener with whom she had become so friendly had taken her name
and address with a view later on to send her some of his roses. The
scrap of paper on which this information had been written was now
lost. Lord Marshmoreton had been hunting for it since breakfast
Billie Dore had made a decided impression upon Lord Marshmoreton.
She belonged to a type which he had never before encountered, and
it was one which he had found more than agreeable. Her knowledge of
roses and the proper feeling which she manifested towards
rose-growing as a life-work consolidated the earl's liking for her.
Never, in his memory, had he come across so sensible and charming a
girl; and he had looked forward with a singular intensity to
meeting her again. And now some too zealous housemaid, tidying up
after the irritating manner of her species, had destroyed the only
clue to her identity.
It was not for some time after this discovery that hope dawned
again for Lord Marshmoreton. Only after he had given up the search
for the missing paper as fruitless did he recall that it was in
George's company that Billie had first come into his life. Between
her, then, and himself George was the only link.
It was primarily for the purpose of getting Billie's name and
address from George that he had come to the cottage. And now that
the moment had arrived for touching upon the subject, he felt a
"When you visited the castle," he said, "when you visited the
castle . . ."
"Last Thursday," said George helpfully.
"Exactly. When you visited the castle last Thursday, there was a
young lady with you."
Not realizing that the subject had been changed, George was under
the impression that the other had shifted his front and was about
to attack him from another angle. He countered what seemed to him
an insinuation stoutly.
"We merely happened to meet at the castle. She came there quite
independently of me."
Lord Marshmoreton looked alarmed. "You didn't know her?" he said
"Certainly I knew her. She is an old friend of mine. But if you are
hinting . . ."
"Not at all," rejoined the earl, profoundly relieved. "Not at all.
I ask merely because this young lady, with whom I had some
conversation, was good enough to give me her name and address. She,
too, happened to mistake me for a gardener."
"It's those corduroy trousers," murmured George in extenuation.
"I have unfortunately lost them."
"You can always get another pair."
"I say you can always get another pair of corduroy trousers."
"I have not lost my trousers. I have lost the young lady's name and
"I promised to send her some roses. She will be expecting them."
"That's odd. I was just reading a letter from her when you came in.
That must be what she's referring to when she says, 'If you see
dadda, the old dear, tell him not to forget my roses.' I read it
three times and couldn't make any sense out of it. Are you Dadda?"
The earl smirked. "She did address me in the course of our
conversation as dadda."
"Then the message is for you."
"A very quaint and charming girl. What is her name? And where can I
"Her name's Billie Dore."
"Billie!" said Lord Marshmoreton softly. "I had better write it
down. And her address?"
"I don't know her private address. But you could always reach her
at the Regal Theatre."
"Ah! She is on the stage?"
"Yes. She's in my piece, 'Follow the Girl'."
"Indeed! Are you a playwright, Mr. Bevan?"
"Good Lord, no!" said George, shocked. "I'm a composer."
"Very interesting. And you met Miss Dore through her being in this
play of yours?"
"Oh, no. I knew her before she went on the stage. She was a
stenographer in a music-publisher's office when we first met."
"Good gracious! Was she really a stenographer?"
"Oh--ah--nothing, nothing. Something just happened to come to my
What happened to come into Lord Marshmoreton's mind was a fleeting
vision of Billie installed in Miss Alice Faraday's place as his
secretary. With such a helper it would be a pleasure to work on
that infernal Family History which was now such a bitter toil. But
the day-dream passed. He knew perfectly well that he had not the
courage to dismiss Alice. In the hands of that calm-eyed girl he
was as putty. She exercised over him the hypnotic spell a
lion-tamer exercises over his little playmates.
"We have been pals for years," said George "Billie is one of the
best fellows in the world."
"A charming girl."
"She would give her last nickel to anyone that asked for it."
"And as straight as a string. No one ever said a word against
"She may go out to lunch and supper and all that kind of thing, but
there's nothing to that."
"Nothing!" agreed the earl warmly. "Girls must eat!"
"They do. You ought to see them."
"A little harmless relaxation after the fatigue of the day!"
"Exactly. Nothing more."
Lord Marshmoreton felt more drawn than ever to this sensible young
man--sensible, at least, on all points but one. It was a pity they
could not see eye to eye on what was and what was not suitable in
the matter of the love-affairs of the aristocracy.
"So you are a composer, Mr. Bevan?" he said affably.
Lord Marshmoreton gave a little sigh. "It's a long time since I
went to see a musical performance. More than twenty years. When I
was up at Oxford, and for some years afterwards, I was a great
theatre-goer. Never used to miss a first night at the Gaiety. Those
were the days of Nellie Farren and Kate Vaughan. Florence St.
John, too. How excellent she was in Faust Up To Date! But we missed
Nellie Farren. Meyer Lutz was the Gaiety composer then. But a good
deal of water has flowed under the bridge since those days. I don't
suppose you have ever heard of Meyer Lutz?"
"I don't think I have."
"Johnnie Toole was playing a piece called Partners. Not a good
play. And the Yeoman of the Guard had just been produced at the
Savoy. That makes it seem a long time ago, doesn't it? Well, I
mustn't take up all your time. Good-bye, Mr. Bevan. I am glad to
have had the opportunity of this little talk. The Regal Theatre, I
think you said, is where your piece is playing? I shall probably be
going to London shortly. I hope to see it." Lord Marshmoreton rose.
"As regards the other matter, there is no hope of inducing you to
see the matter in the right light?"
"We seem to disagree as to which is the right light."
"Then there is nothing more to be said. I will be perfectly frank
with you, Mr. Bevan. I like you . . ."
"The feeling is quite mutual."
"But I don't want you as a son-in-law. And, dammit," exploded Lord
Marshmoreton, "I won't have you as a son-in-law! Good God! do you
think that you can harry and assault my son Percy in the heart of
Piccadilly and generally make yourself a damned nuisance and then
settle down here without an invitation at my very gates and expect
to be welcomed into the bosom of the family? If I were a young
man . . ."
"I thought we had agreed that you were a young man."
"Don't interrupt me!"
"I only said . . ."
"I heard what you said. Flattery!"
"Nothing of the kind. Truth."
Lord Marshmoreton melted. He smiled. "Young idiot!"
"We agree there all right."
Lord Marshmoreton hesitated. Then with a rush he unbosomed himself,
and made his own position on the matter clear.
"I know what you'll be saying to yourself the moment my back is
turned. You'll be calling me a stage heavy father and an old snob
and a number of other things. Don't interrupt me, dammit! You will,
I tell you! And you'll be wrong. I don't think the Marshmoretons
are fenced off from the rest of the world by some sort of divinity.
My sister does. Percy does. But Percy's an ass! If ever you find
yourself thinking differently from my son Percy, on any subject,
congratulate yourself. You'll be right."
"But . . ."
"I know what you're going to say. Let me finish. If I were the only
person concerned, I wouldn't stand in Maud's way, whoever she
wanted to marry, provided he was a good fellow and likely to make
her happy. But I'm not. There's my sister Caroline. There's a whole
crowd of silly, cackling fools--my sisters--my sons-in-law--all the
whole pack of them! If I didn't oppose Maud in this damned
infatuation she's got for you--if I stood by and let her marry
you--what do you think would happen to me?--I'd never have a moment's
peace! The whole gabbling pack of them would be at me, saying I was
to blame. There would be arguments, discussions, family councils!
I hate arguments! I loathe discussions! Family councils make me
sick! I'm a peaceable man, and I like a quiet life! And, damme,
I'm going to have it. So there's the thing for you in letters of
one syllable. I don't object to you personally, but I'm not going
to have you bothering me like this. I'll admit freely that, since I
have made your acquaintance, I have altered the unfavourable
opinion I had formed of you from-from hearsay. . ."
"Exactly the same with me," said George. "You ought never to
believe what people tell you. Everyone told me your middle name was
Nero, and that. . ."
"Don't interrupt me!"
"I wasn't. I was just pointing out . . ."
"Be quiet! I say I have changed my opinion of you to a great
extent. I mention this unofficially, as a matter that has no
bearing on the main issue; for, as regards any idea you may have of
inducing me to agree to your marrying my daughter, let me tell you
that I am unalterably opposed to any such thing!"
"Don't say that."
"What the devil do you mean--don't say that! I do say that! It is
out of the question. Do you understand? Very well, then. Good
The door closed. Lord Marshmoreton walked away feeling that he had
been commendably stern. George filled his pipe and sat smoking
thoughtfully. He wondered what Maud was doing at that moment.
Maud at that moment was greeting her brother with a bright smile,
as he limped downstairs after a belated shave and change of
"Oh, Percy, dear," she was saying, "I had quite an adventure this
morning. An awful tramp followed me for miles! Such a
horrible-looking brute. I was so frightened that I had to ask a
curate in the next village to drive him away. I did wish I had had
you there to protect me. Why don't you come out with me sometimes
when I take a country walk? It really isn't safe for me to be
The gift of hiding private emotion and keeping up appearances
before strangers is not, as many suppose, entirely a product of our
modern civilization. Centuries before we were born or thought of
there was a widely press-agented boy in Sparta who even went so far
as to let a fox gnaw his tender young stomach without permitting
the discomfort inseparable from such a proceeding to interfere with
either his facial expression or his flow of small talk. Historians
have handed it down that, even in the later stages of the meal, the
polite lad continued to be the life and soul of the party. But,
while this feat may be said to have established a record never
subsequently lowered, there is no doubt that almost every day in
modem times men and women are performing similar and scarcely less
impressive miracles of self-restraint. Of all the qualities which
belong exclusively to Man and are not shared by the lower animals,
this surely is the one which marks him off most sharply from the
beasts of the field. Animals care nothing about keeping up
appearances. Observe Bertram the Bull when things are not going just
as he could wish. He stamps. He snorts. He paws the ground. He
throws back his head and bellows. He is upset, and he doesn't care
who knows it. Instances could be readily multiplied. Deposit a
charge of shot in some outlying section of Thomas the Tiger, and
note the effect. Irritate Wilfred the Wasp, or stand behind Maud
the Mule and prod her with a pin. There is not an animal on the
list who has even a rudimentary sense of the social amenities; and
it is this more than anything else which should make us proud that
we are human beings on a loftier plane of development.
In the days which followed Lord Marshmoreton's visit to George at
the cottage, not a few of the occupants of Belpher Castle had their
mettle sternly tested in this respect; and it is a pleasure to be
able to record that not one of them failed to come through the
ordeal with success. The general public, as represented by the
uncles, cousins, and aunts who had descended on the place to help
Lord Belpher celebrate his coming-of-age, had not a notion that
turmoil lurked behind the smooth fronts of at least half a dozen of
those whom they met in the course of the daily round.
Lord Belpher, for example, though he limped rather painfully,
showed nothing of the baffled fury which was reducing his weight at
the rate of ounces a day. His uncle Francis, the Bishop, when he
tackled him in the garden on the subject of Intemperance--for Uncle
Francis, like thousands of others, had taken it for granted, on
reading the report of the encounter with the policeman and Percy's
subsequent arrest, that the affair had been the result of a drunken
outburst--had no inkling of the volcanic emotions that seethed in
his nephew's bosom. He came away from the interview, indeed,
feeling that the boy had listened attentively and with a becoming
regret, and that there was hope for him after all, provided that he
fought the impulse. He little knew that, but for the conventions
(which frown on the practice of murdering bishops), Percy would
gladly have strangled him with his bare hands and jumped upon the
Lord Belpher's case, inasmuch as he took himself extremely
seriously and was not one of those who can extract humour even from
their own misfortunes, was perhaps the hardest which comes under
our notice; but his sister Maud was also experiencing mental
disquietude of no mean order. Everything had gone wrong with Maud.
Barely a mile separated her from George, that essential link in her
chain of communication with Geoffrey Raymond; but so thickly did it
bristle with obstacles and dangers that it might have been a mile
of No Man's Land. Twice, since the occasion when the discovery of
Lord Marshmoreton at the cottage had caused her to abandon her
purpose of going in and explaining everything to George, had she
attempted to make the journey; and each time some trifling,
maddening accident had brought about failure. Once, just as she was
starting, her aunt Augusta had insisted on joining her for what she
described as "a nice long walk"; and the second time, when she was
within a bare hundred yards of her objective, some sort of a cousin
popped out from nowhere and forced his loathsome company on her.
Foiled in this fashion, she had fallen back in desperation on her
second line of attack. She had written a note to George, explaining
the whole situation in good, clear phrases and begging him as a man
of proved chivalry to help her. It had taken up much of one
afternoon, this note, for it was not easy to write; and it had
resulted in nothing. She had given it to Albert to deliver and
Albert had returned empty-handed.
"The gentleman said there was no answer, m'lady!"
"No answer! But there must be an answer!"
"No answer, m'lady. Those was his very words," stoutly maintained
the black-souled boy, who had destroyed the letter within two
minutes after it had been handed to him. He had not even bothered
to read it. A deep, dangerous, dastardly stripling this, who fought
to win and only to win. The ticket marked "R. Byng" was in his
pocket, and in his ruthless heart a firm resolve that R. Byng and
no other should have the benefit of his assistance.
Maud could not understand it. That is to say, she resolutely kept
herself from accepting the only explanation of the episode that
seemed possible. In black and white she had asked George to go to
London and see Geoffrey and arrange for the passage--through
himself as a sort of clearing-house--of letters between Geoffrey
and herself. She had felt from the first that such a request should
be made by her in person and not through the medium of writing, but
surely it was incredible that a man like George, who had been
through so much for her and whose only reason for being in the
neighbourhood was to help her, could have coldly refused without
even a word. And yet what else was she to think? Now, more than
ever, she felt alone in a hostile world.
Yet, to her guests she was bright and entertaining. Not one of them
had a suspicion that her life was not one of pure sunshine.
Albert, I am happy to say, was thoroughly miserable. The little
brute was suffering torments. He was showering anonymous Advice to
the Lovelorn on Reggie Byng--excellent stuff, culled from the pages
of weekly papers, of which there was a pile in the housekeeper's
room, the property of a sentimental lady's maid--and nothing seemed
to come of it. Every day, sometimes twice and thrice a day, he
would leave on Reggie's dressing-table significant notes similar in
tone to the one which he had placed there on the night of the ball;
but, for all the effect they appeared to exercise on their
recipient, they might have been blank pages.
The choicest quotations from the works of such established writers
as "Aunt Charlotte" of Forget-Me-Not and "Doctor Cupid", the
heart-expert of Home Chat, expended themselves fruitlessly on
Reggie. As far as Albert could ascertain--and he was one of those
boys who ascertain practically everything within a radius of
miles--Reggie positively avoided Maud's society.
And this after reading "Doctor Cupid's" invaluable tip about
"Seeking her company on all occasions" and the dictum of "Aunt
Charlotte" to the effect that "Many a wooer has won his lady by
being persistent"--Albert spelled it "persistuent" but the effect
is the same--"and rendering himself indispensable by constant
little attentions". So far from rendering himself indispensable to
Maud by constant little attentions, Reggie, to the disgust of his
backer and supporter, seemed to spend most of his time with Alice
Faraday. On three separate occasions had Albert been revolted by
the sight of his protege in close association with the Faraday
girl--once in a boat on the lake and twice in his grey car. It was
enough to break a boy's heart; and it completely spoiled Albert's
appetite--a phenomenon attributed, I am glad to say, in the
Servants' Hall to reaction from recent excesses. The moment when
Keggs, the butler, called him a greedy little pig and hoped it
would be a lesson to him not to stuff himself at all hours with
stolen cakes was a bitter moment for Albert.
It is a relief to turn from the contemplation of these tortured
souls to the pleasanter picture presented by Lord Marshmoreton.
Here, undeniably, we have a man without a secret sorrow, a man at
peace with this best of all possible worlds. Since his visit to
George a second youth seems to have come upon Lord Marshmoreton. He
works in his rose-garden with a new vim, whistling or even singing
to himself stray gay snatches of melodies popular in the 'eighties.
Hear him now as he toils. He has a long garden-implement in his
hand, and he is sending up the death-rate in slug circles with a
And the boom is a death-knell. As it rings softly out on the
pleasant spring air, another stout slug has made the Great Change.
It is peculiar, this gaiety. It gives one to think. Others have
noticed it, his lordship's valet amongst them.
"I give you my honest word, Mr. Keggs," says the valet, awed, "this
very morning I 'eard the old devil a-singing in 'is barth!
Chirruping away like a blooming linnet!"
"Lor!" says Keggs, properly impressed.
"And only last night 'e gave me 'arf a box of cigars and said I was
a good, faithful feller! I tell you, there's somethin' happened to
the old buster--you mark my words!"
Over this complex situation the mind of Keggs, the butler, played
like a searchlight. Keggs was a man of discernment and sagacity. He
had instinct and reasoning power. Instinct told him that Maud, all
unsuspecting the change that had taken place in Albert's attitude
toward her romance, would have continued to use the boy as a link
between herself and George: and reason, added to an intimate
knowledge of Albert, enabled him to see that the latter must
inevitably have betrayed her trust. He was prepared to bet a
hundred pounds that Albert had been given letters to deliver and
had destroyed them. So much was clear to Keggs. It only remained to
settle on some plan of action which would re-establish the broken
connection. Keggs did not conceal a tender heart beneath a rugged
exterior: he did not mourn over the picture of two loving fellow
human beings separated by a misunderstanding; but he did want to
win that sweepstake.
His position, of course, was delicate. He could not got to Maud and
beg her to confide in him. Maud would not understand his motives,
and might leap to the not unjustifiable conclusion that he had been
at the sherry. No! Men were easier to handle than women. As soon as
his duties would permit--and in the present crowded condition of
the house they were arduous--he set out for George's cottage.
"I trust I do not disturb or interrupt you, sir," he said, beaming
in the doorway like a benevolent high priest. He had doffed his
professional manner of austere disapproval, as was his Custom in
moments of leisure.
"Not at all," replied George, puzzled. "Was there anything . . .?"
"There was, sir."
"Come along in and sit down."
"I would not take the liberty, if it is all the same to you, sir. I
would prefer to remain standing."
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. Uncomfortable, that is
to say, on the part of George, who was wondering if the butler
remembered having engaged him as a waiter only a few nights back.
Keggs himself was at his ease. Few things ruffled this man.
"Fine day," said George.
"Extremely, sir, but for the rain."
"Oh, is it raining?"
"Sharp downpour, sir."
"Good for the crops," said George.
"So one would be disposed to imagine, sir."
Silence fell again. The rain dripped from the eaves.
"If I might speak freely, sir.. .?" said Keggs.
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
"I mean, yes. Go ahead!"
The butler cleared his throat.
"Might I begin by remarking that your little affair of the 'eart,
if I may use the expression, is no secret in the Servants' 'All? I
'ave no wish to seem to be taking a liberty or presuming, but I
should like to intimate that the Servants' 'All is aware of the
"You don't have to tell me that," said George coldly. "I know all
about the sweepstake."
A flicker of embarrassment passed over the butler's large, smooth
face--passed, and was gone.
"I did not know that you 'ad been apprised of that little matter,
sir. But you will doubtless understand and appreciate our point of
view. A little sporting flutter--nothing more--designed to
halleviate the monotony of life in the country."
"Oh, don't apologize," said George, and was reminded of a point
which had exercised him a little from time to time since his vigil
on the balcony. "By the way, if it isn't giving away secrets, who
"Which of you drew a man named Plummer in the sweep?"
"I rather fancy, sir," Keggs' brow wrinkled in thought, "I rather
fancy it was one of the visiting gentlemen's gentlemen. I gave the
point but slight attention at the time. I did not fancy Mr.
Plummer's chances. It seemed to me that Mr. Plummer was a
"Your knowledge of form was sound. Plummer's out!"
"Indeed, sir! An amiable young gentleman, but lacking in many of
the essential qualities. Perhaps he struck you that way, sir?"
"I never met him. Nearly, but not quite!"
"It entered my mind that you might possibly have encountered Mr.
Plummer on the night of the ball, sir."
"Ah, I was wondering if you remembered me!"
"I remember you perfectly, sir, and it was the fact that we had
already met in what one might almost term a social way that
emboldened me to come 'ere today and offer you my services as a
hintermediary, should you feel disposed to avail yourself of them."
George was puzzled.
"Precisely, sir. I fancy I am in a position to lend you what might
be termed an 'elping 'and."
"But that's remarkably altruistic of you, isn't it?"
"I say that is very generous of you. Aren't you forgetting that you
drew Mr. Byng?"
The butler smiled indulgently.
"You are not quite abreast of the progress of events, sir. Since
the original drawing of names, there 'as been a trifling
hadjustment. The boy Albert now 'as Mr. Byng and I 'ave you, sir. A
little amicable arrangement informally conducted in the scullery on
the night of the ball."
"On my part, entirely so."
George began to understand certain things that had been perplexing
"Then all this while. . .?"
"Precisely, sir. All this while 'er ladyship, under the impression
that the boy Albert was devoted to 'er cause, has no doubt been
placing a misguided confidence in 'im . . . The little blighter!"
said Keggs, abandoning for a moment his company manners and
permitting vehemence to take the place of polish. "I beg your
pardon for the expression, sir," he added gracefully. "It escaped
"You think that Lady Maud gave Albert a letter to give to me, and
that he destroyed it?"
"Such, I should imagine, must undoubtedly have been the case. The
boy 'as no scruples, no scruples whatsoever."
"I appreciate your consternation, sir."
"That must be exactly what has happened."
"To my way of thinking there is no doubt of it. It was for that
reason that I ventured to come 'ere. In the 'ope that I might be
hinstrumental in arranging a meeting."
The strong distaste which George had had for plotting with this
overfed menial began to wane. It might be undignified, he told
himself but it was undeniably practical. And, after all, a man who
has plotted with page-boys has little dignity to lose by plotting
with butlers. He brightened up. If it meant seeing Maud again he
was prepared to waive the decencies.
"What do you suggest?" he said.
"It being a rainy evening and everyone indoors playing games and
what not,"--Keggs was amiably tolerant of the recreations of the
aristocracy--"you would experience little chance of a
hinterruption, were you to proceed to the lane outside the heast
entrance of the castle grounds and wait there. You will find in the
field at the roadside a small disused barn only a short way from
the gates, where you would be sheltered from the rain. In the
meantime, I would hinform 'er ladyship of your movements, and no
doubt it would be possible for 'er to slip off."
"It sounds all right."
"It is all right, sir. The chances of a hinterruption may be said
to be reduced to a minimum. Shall we say in one hour's time?"
"Then I will wish you good evening, sir. Thank you, sir. I am glad
to 'ave been of assistance."
He withdrew as he had come, with a large impressiveness. The room
seemed very empty without him. George, with trembling fingers,
began to put on a pair of thick boots.
For some minutes after he had set foot outside the door of the
cottage, George was inclined to revile the weather for having
played him false. On this evening of all evenings, he felt, the
elements should, so to speak, have rallied round and done their
bit. The air should have been soft and clear and scented: there
should have been an afterglow of sunset in the sky to light him on
his way. Instead, the air was full of that peculiar smell of
hopeless dampness which comes at the end of a wet English day. The
sky was leaden. The rain hissed down in a steady flow, whispering
of mud and desolation, making a dreary morass of the lane through
which he tramped. A curious sense of foreboding came upon George.
It was as if some voice of the night had murmured maliciously in
his ear a hint of troubles to come. He felt oddly nervous, as he
entered the barn.
The barn was both dark and dismal. In one of the dark corners an
intermittent dripping betrayed the presence of a gap in its ancient
roof. A rat scurried across the floor. The dripping stopped and
began again. George struck a match and looked at his watch. He was
early. Another ten minutes must elapse before he could hope for her
arrival. He sat down on a broken wagon which lay on its side
against one of the walls.
Depression returned. It was impossible to fight against it in this
beast of a barn. The place was like a sepulchre. No one but a fool
of a butler would have suggested it as a trysting-place. He
wondered irritably why places like this were allowed to get into
this condition. If people wanted a barn earnestly enough to take
the trouble of building one, why was it not worth while to keep the
thing in proper repair? Waste and futility! That was what it was.
That was what everything was, if you came down to it. Sitting here,
for instance, was a futile waste of time. She wouldn't come. There
were a dozen reasons why she should not come. So what was the use
of his courting rheumatism by waiting in this morgue of dead
agricultural ambitions? None whatever--George went on waiting.
And what an awful place to expect her to come to, if by some
miracle she did come--where she would be stifled by the smell of
mouldy hay, damped by raindrops and--reflected George gloomily as
there was another scurry and scutter along the unseen
floor--gnawed by rats. You could not expect a delicately-nurtured
girl, accustomed to all the comforts of a home, to be bright and
sunny with a platoon of rats crawling all over her....
The grey oblong that was the doorway suddenly darkened.
George sprang up. At the sound of her voice every nerve in his body
danced in mad exhilaration. He was another man. Depression fell
from him like a garment. He perceived that he had misjudged all
sorts of things. The evening, for instance, was a splendid
evening--not one of those awful dry, baking evenings which make you
feel you can't breathe, but pleasantly moist and full of a
delightfully musical patter of rain. And the barn! He had been all
wrong about the barn. It was a great little place, comfortable,
airy, and cheerful. What could be more invigorating than that smell
of hay? Even the rats, he felt, must be pretty decent rats, when
you came to know them.
Maud advanced quickly. His eyes had grown accustomed to the murk,
and he could see her dimly. The smell of her damp raincoat came to
him like a breath of ozone. He could even see her eyes shining in
the darkness, so close was she to him.
"I hope you've not been waiting long?"
George's heart was thundering against his ribs. He could scarcely
speak. He contrived to emit a No.
"I didn't think at first I could get away. I had to . . ." She
broke off with a cry. The rat, fond of exercise like all rats, had
made another of its excitable sprints across the floor.
A hand clutched nervously at George's arm, found it and held it.
And at the touch the last small fragment of George's self-control
fled from him. The world became vague and unreal. There remained
of it but one solid fact--the fact that Maud was in his arms and
that he was saying a number of things very rapidly in a voice that
seemed to belong to somebody he had never met before.
With a shock of dismay so abrupt and overwhelming that it was like
a physical injury, George became aware that something was wrong.
Even as he gripped her, Maud had stiffened with a sharp cry; and
now she was struggling, trying to wrench herself free. She broke
away from him. He could hear her breathing hard.
"You--you----" She gulped.
"How dare you!"
There was a pause that seemed to George to stretch on and on
endlessly. The rain pattered on the leafy roof. Somewhere in the
distance a dog howled dismally. The darkness pressed down like a
blanket, stifling thought.
"Good night, Mr. Bevan." Her voice was ice. "I didn't think you
were--that kind of man."
She was moving toward the door; and, as she reached it, George's
stupor left him. He came back to life with a jerk, shaking from
head to foot. All his varied emotions had become one emotion--a
Maud stopped. Her chin was tilted, and she was wasting a baleful
glare on the darkness.
"Well, what is it?"
Her tone increased George's wrath. The injustice of it made him
dizzy. At that moment he hated her. He was the injured party. It
was he, not she, that had been deceived and made a fool of.
"I want to say something before you go."
"I think we had better say no more about it!"
By the exercise of supreme self-control George kept himself from
speaking until he could choose milder words than those that rushed
to his lips.
"I think we will!" he said between his teeth.
Maud's anger became tinged with surprise. Now that the first shock
of the wretched episode was over, the calmer half of her mind was
endeavouring to soothe the infuriated half by urging that George's
behaviour had been but a momentary lapse, and that a man may lose
his head for one wild instant, and yet remain fundamentally a
gentleman and a friend. She had begun to remind herself that this
man had helped her once in trouble, and only a day or two before
had actually risked his life to save her from embarrassment. When
she heard him call to her to stop, she supposed that his better
feelings had reasserted themselves; and she had prepared herself to
receive with dignity a broken, stammered apology. But the voice
that had just spoken with a crisp, biting intensity was not the
voice of remorse. It was a very angry man, not a penitent one, who
was commanding--not begging--her to stop and listen to him.
"Well?" she said again, more coldly this time. She was quite unable
to understand this attitude of his. She was the injured party. It
was she, not he who had trusted and been betrayed.
"I should like to explain."
"Please do not apologize."
George ground his teeth in the gloom.
"I haven't the slightest intention of apologizing. I said I would
like to explain. When I have finished explaining, you can go."
"I shall go when I please," flared Maud.
This man was intolerable.
"There is nothing to be afraid of. There will be no repetition of
Maud was outraged by this monstrous misinterpretation of her words.
"I am not afraid!"
"Then, perhaps, you will be kind enough to listen. I won't detain
you long. My explanation is quite simple. I have been made a fool
of. I seem to be in the position of the tinker in the play whom
everybody conspired to delude into the belief that he was a king.
First a friend of yours, Mr. Byng, came to me and told me that you
had confided to him that you loved me."
Maud gasped. Either this man was mad, or Reggie Byng was. She
choose the politer solution.
"Reggie Byng must have lost his senses."
"So I supposed. At least, I imagined that he must be mistaken. But a
man in love is an optimistic fool, of course, and I had loved you
ever since you got into my cab that morning . . ."
"So after a while," proceeded George, ignoring the interruption, "I
almost persuaded myself that miracles could still happen, and that
what Byng said was true. And when your father called on me and told
me the very same thing I was convinced. It seemed incredible, but I
had to believe it. Now it seems that, for some inscrutable reason,
both Byng and your father were making a fool of me. That's all.
Maud's reply was the last which George or any man would have
expected. There was a moment's silence, and then she burst into a
peal of laughter. It was the laughter of over-strained nerves, but
to George's ears it had the ring of genuine amusement.
"I'm glad you find my story entertaining," he said dryly. He was
convinced now that he loathed this girl, and that all he desired
was to see her go out of his life for ever. "Later, no doubt, the
funny side of it will hit me. Just at present my sense of humour is
Maud gave a little cry.
"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry, Mr. Bevan. It wasn't that. It wasn't that
at all. Oh, I am so sorry. I don't know why I laughed. It certainly
wasn't because I thought it funny. It's tragic. There's been a
"I noticed that," said George bitterly. The darkness began to
afflict his nerves. "I wish to God we had some light."
The glare of a pocket-torch smote upon him.
"I brought it to see my way back with," said Maud in a curious,
small voice. "It's very dark across the fields. I didn't light it
before, because I was afraid somebody might see."
She came towards him, holding the torch over her head. The beam
showed her face, troubled and sympathetic, and at the sight all
George's resentment left him. There were mysteries here beyond his
unravelling, but of one thing he was certain: this girl was not to
blame. She was a thoroughbred, as straight as a wand. She was pure
"I came here to tell you everything," she said. She placed the
torch on the wagon-wheel so that its ray fell in a pool of light on
the ground between them. "I'll do it now. Only--only it isn't so
easy now. Mr. Bevan, there's a man--there's a man that father and
Reggie Byng mistook--they thought . . . You see, they knew it was
you that I was with that day in the cab, and so they naturally
thought, when you came down here, that you were the man I had gone
to meet that day--the man I--I--"
"The man you love."
"Yes," said Maud in a small voice; and there was silence again.
George could feel nothing but sympathy. It mastered other emotion
in him, even the grey despair that had come her words. He could
feel all that she was feeling.
"Tell me all about it," he said.
"I met him in Wales last year." Maud's voice was a whisper. "The
family found out, and I was hurried back here, and have been here
ever since. That day when I met you I had managed to slip away from
home. I had found out that he was in London, and I was going to
meet him. Then I saw Percy, and got into your cab. It's all been a
horrible mistake. I'm sorry."
"I see," said George thoughtfully. "I see."
His heart ached like a living wound. She had told so and he could
guess so much. This unknown man who triumphed seemed to sneer
scornfully at him from shadows.
"I'm sorry," said Maud again.
"You mustn't feel like that. How can I help you? That's the point.
What is it you want me to do?"
"But I can't ask you now."
"Of course you can. Why not?"
"Why--oh, I couldn't!"
George managed to laugh. It was a laugh that did not sound
convincing even to himself, but it served.
"That's morbid," he said. "Be sensible. You need help, and I may be
able to give it. Surely a man isn't barred for ever from doing you
a service just because he happens to love you? Suppose you were
drowning and Mr. Plummer was the only swimmer within call, wouldn't
you let him rescue you?"
"Mr. Plummer? What do you mean?"
"You've not forgotten that I was a reluctant ear-witness to his
recent proposal of marriage?"
Maud uttered an exclamation.
"I never asked! How terrible of me. Were you much hurt?"
"Hurt?" George could not follow her.
"That night. When you were on the balcony, and--"
"Oh!" George understood. "Oh, no, hardly at all. A few scratches. I
scraped my hands a little."
"It was a wonderful thing to do," said Maud, her admiration glowing
for a man who could treat such a leap so lightly. She had always
had a private theory that Lord Leonard, after performing the same
feat, had bragged about it for the rest of his life.
"No, no, nothing," said George, who had since wondered why he had
ever made such a to-do about climbing up a perfectly stout sheet.
"It was splendid!"
"We are wandering from the main theme," he said. "I want to help
you. I came here at enormous expense to help you. How can I do
"I think you may be offended at my asking such a thing."
"You see, the whole trouble is that I can't get in touch with
Geoffrey. He's in London, and I'm here. And any chance I might have
of getting to London vanished that day I met you, when Percy saw me
"How did your people find out it was you?"
"They asked me--straight out."
"And you owned up?"
"I had to. I couldn't tell them a direct lie."
George thrilled. This was the girl he had had doubts of.
"So then it was worse then ever," continued Maud. "I daren't risk
writing to Geoffrey and having the letter intercepted. I was
wondering--I had the idea almost as soon as I found that you had
"You want me to take a letter from you and see that it reaches him.
And then he can write back to my address, and I can smuggle the
letter to you?"
"That's exactly what I do want. But I almost didn't like to ask."
"Why not? I'll be delighted to do it."
"I'm so grateful."
"Why, it's nothing. I thought you were going to ask me to look in
on your brother and smash another of his hats."
Maud laughed delightedly. The whole tension of the situation had
been eased for her. More and more she found herself liking George.
Yet, deep down in her, she realized with a pang that for him there
had been no easing of the situation. She was sad for George. The
Plummers of this world she had consigned to what they declared
would be perpetual sorrow with scarcely a twinge of regret. But
George was different.
"Poor Percy!" she said. "I don't suppose he'll ever get over it. He
will have other hats, but it won't be the same." She came back to
the subject nearest her heart. "Mr. Bevan, I wonder if you would do
just a little more for me?"
"If it isn't criminal. Or, for that matter, if it is."
"Could you go to Geoffrey, and see him, and tell him all about me
and--and come back and tell me how he looks, and what he said
and--and so on?"
"Certainly. What is his name, and where do I find him?"
"I never told you. How stupid of me. His name is Geoffrey Raymond,
and he lives with his uncle, Mr. Wilbur Raymond, at 11a, Belgrave
"I'll go to him tomorrow."
"Thank you ever so much."
George got up. The movement seemed to put him in touch with the
outer world. He noticed that the rain had stopped, and that stars
had climbed into the oblong of the doorway. He had an impression
that he had been in the barn a very long time; and confirmed this
with a glance at his watch, though the watch, he felt, understated
the facts by the length of several centuries. He was abstaining
from too close an examination of his emotions from a prudent
feeling that he was going to suffer soon enough without assistance
"I think you had better be going back," he said. "It's rather late.
They may be missing you."
Maud laughed happily.
"I don't mind now what they do. But I suppose dinners must be
dressed for, whatever happens." They moved together to the door.
"What a lovely night after all! I never thought the rain would stop
in this world. It's like when you're unhappy and think it's going
on for ever."
"Yes," said George.
Maud held out her hand.
"Good night, Mr. Bevan."
He wondered if there would be any allusion to the earlier passages
of their interview. There was none. Maud was of the class whose
education consists mainly of a training in the delicate ignoring of
"Then you will go and see Geoffrey?"
"Thank you ever so much."
"Not at all."
George admired her. The little touch of formality which she had
contrived to impart to the conversation struck just the right note,
created just the atmosphere which would enable them to part without
weighing too heavily on the deeper aspect of that parting.
"You're a real friend, Mr. Bevan."
"Watch me prove it."
"Well, I must rush, I suppose. Good night!"
She moved off quickly across the field. Darkness covered her. The
dog in the distance had begun to howl again. He had his troubles,
Trouble sharpens the vision. In our moments of distress we can see
clearly that what is wrong with this world of ours is the fact that
Misery loves company and seldom gets it. Toothache is an unpleasant
ailment; but, if toothache were a natural condition of life, if all
mankind were afflicted with toothache at birth, we should not
notice it. It is the freedom from aching teeth of all those with
whom we come in contact that emphasizes the agony. And, as with
toothache, so with trouble. Until our private affairs go wrong, we
never realize how bubbling over with happiness the bulk of mankind
seems to be. Our aching heart is apparently nothing but a desert
island in an ocean of joy.
George, waking next morning with a heavy heart, made this discovery
before the day was an hour old. The sun was shining, and birds sang
merrily, but this did not disturb him. Nature is ever callous to
human woes, laughing while we weep; and we grow to take her
callousness for granted. What jarred upon George was the infernal
cheerfulness of his fellow men. They seemed to be doing it on
purpose--triumphing over him--glorying in the fact, that, however
Fate might have shattered him, they were all right.
People were happy who had never been happy before. Mrs. Platt, for
instance. A grey, depressed woman of middle age, she had seemed
hitherto to have few pleasures beyond breaking dishes and relating
the symptoms of sick neighbours who were not expected to live
through the week. She now sang. George could hear her as she
prepared his breakfast in the kitchen. At first he had had a hope
that she was moaning with pain; but this was dispelled when he had
finished his toilet and proceeded downstairs. The sounds she
emitted suggested anguish, but the words, when he was able to
distinguish them, told another story. Incredible as it might seem,
on this particular morning Mrs. Platt had elected to be
light-hearted. What she was singing sounded like a dirge, but
actually it was "Stop your tickling, Jock!" And. later, when she
brought George his coffee and eggs, she spent a full ten minutes
prattling as he tried to read his paper, pointing out to him a
number of merry murders and sprightly suicides which otherwise he
might have missed. The woman went out of her way to show him that
for her, if not for less fortunate people, God this morning was in
His heaven and all was right in the world.
Two tramps of supernatural exuberance called at the cottage shortly
after breakfast to ask George, whom they had never even consulted
about their marriages, to help support their wives and children.
Nothing could have been more care-free and debonnaire than the
demeanour of these men.
And then Reggie Byng arrived in his grey racing car, more cheerful
than any of them.
Fate could not have mocked George more subtly. A sorrow's crown of
sorrow is remembering happier things, and the sight of Reggie in
that room reminded him that on the last occasion when they had
talked together across this same table it was he who had been in a
Fool's Paradise and Reggie who had borne a weight of care. Reggie
this morning was brighter than the shining sun and gayer than the
"Hullo-ullo-ullo-ullo-ullo-ullo-ul-Lo! Topping morning, isn't it!"
observed Reggie. "The sunshine! The birds! The absolute
what-do-you-call-it of everything and so forth, and all that sort
of thing, if you know what I mean! I feel like a two-year-old!"
George, who felt older than this by some ninety-eight years,
groaned in spirit. This was more than man was meant to bear.
"I say," continued Reggie, absently reaching out for a slice of
bread and smearing it with marmalade, "this business of marriage,
now, and all that species of rot! What I mean to say is, what about
it? Not a bad scheme, taking it big and large? Or don't you think
George writhed. The knife twisted in the wound. Surely it was bad
enough to see a happy man eating bread and marmalade without having
to listen to him talking about marriage.
"Well, anyhow, be that as it may," said Reggie, biting jovially and
speaking in a thick but joyous voice. "I'm getting married today,
and chance it. This morning, this very morning, I leap off the
George was startled out of his despondency.
George remembered the conventions.
"I congratulate you."
"Thanks, old man. And not without reason. I'm the luckiest fellow
alive. I hardly knew I was alive till now."
"Isn't this rather sudden?"
Reggie looked a trifle furtive. His manner became that of a
"I should jolly well say it is sudden! It's got to be sudden.
Dashed sudden and deuced secret! If the mater were to hear of it,
there's no doubt whatever she would form a flying wedge and bust up
the proceedings with no uncertain voice. You see, laddie, it's Miss
Faraday I'm marrying, and the mater--dear old soul--has other ideas
for Reginald. Life's a rummy thing, isn't it! What I mean to say
is, it's rummy, don't you know, and all that."
"Very," agreed George.
"Who'd have thought, a week ago, that I'd be sitting in this jolly
old chair asking you to be my best man? Why, a week ago I didn't
know you, and, if anybody had told me Alice Faraday was going to
marry me, I'd have given one of those hollow, mirthless laughs."
"Do you want me to be your best man?"
"Absolutely, if you don't mind. You see," said Reggie
confidentially, "it's like this. I've got lots of pals, of course,
buzzing about all over London and its outskirts, who'd be glad
enough to rally round and join the execution-squad; but you know
how it is. Their maters are all pals of my mater, and I don't want
to get them into trouble for aiding and abetting my little show, if
you understand what I mean. Now, you're different. You don't know
the mater, so it doesn't matter to you if she rolls around and puts
the Curse of the Byngs on you, and all that sort of thing. Besides,
I don't know." Reggie mused. "Of course, this is the happiest day
of my life," he proceeded, "and I'm not saying it isn't, but you
know how it is--there's absolutely no doubt that a chappie does not
show at his best when he's being married. What I mean to say is,
he's more or less bound to look a fearful ass. And I'm perfectly
certain it would put me right off my stroke if I felt that some
chump like Jack Ferris or Ronnie Fitzgerald was trying not to
giggle in the background. So, if you will be a sportsman and come
and hold my hand till the thing's over, I shall be eternally
"Where are you going to be married?"
"In London. Alice sneaked off there last night. It was easy, as it
happened, because by a bit of luck old Marshmoreton had gone to
town yesterday morning--nobody knows why: he doesn't go up to
London more than a couple of times a year. She's going to meet me
at the Savoy, and then the scheme was to toddle round to the
nearest registrar and request the lad to unleash the marriage
service. I'm whizzing up in the car, and I'm hoping to be able to
persuade you to come with me. Say the word, laddie!"
George reflected. He liked Reggie, and there was no particular
reason in the world why he should not give him aid and comfort in
this crisis. True, in his present frame of mind, it would be
torture to witness a wedding ceremony; but he ought not to let that
stand in the way of helping a friend.
"All right," he said.
"Stout fellow! I don't know how to thank you. It isn't putting you
out or upsetting your plans, I hope, or anything on those lines?"
"Not at all. I had to go up to London today, anyway."
"Well, you can't get there quicker than in my car. She's a hummer.
By the way, I forgot to ask. How is your little affair coming
along? Everything going all right?"
"In a way," said George. He was not equal to confiding his troubles
"Of course, your trouble isn't like mine was. What I mean is, Maud
loves you, and all that, and all you've got to think out is a
scheme for laying the jolly old family a stymie. It's a
pity--almost--that yours isn't a case of having to win the girl,
like me; because by Jove, laddie," said Reggie with solemn
emphasis, "I could help you there. I've got the thing down fine.
I've got the infallible dope."
George smiled bleakly.
"You have? You're a useful fellow to have around. I wish you would
tell me what it is."
"But you don't need it."
"No, of course not. I was forgetting."
Reggie looked at his watch.
"We ought to be shifting in a quarter of an hour or so. I don't
want to be late. It appears that there's a catch of some sort in
this business of getting married. As far as I can make out, if you
roll in after a certain hour, the Johnnie in charge of the
proceedings gives you the miss-in-baulk, and you have to turn up
again next day. However, we shall be all right unless we have a
breakdown, and there's not much chance of that. I've been tuning up
the old car since seven this morning, and she's sound in wind and
limb, absolutely. Oil--petrol--water--air--nuts--bolts--sprockets--
carburetter--all present and correct. I've been looking after them
like a lot of baby sisters. Well, as I was saying, I've got the
dope. A week ago I was just one of the mugs--didn't know a thing
about it--but now! Gaze on me, laddie! You see before you old
Colonel Romeo, the Man who Knows! It all started on the night of
the ball. There was the dickens of a big ball, you know, to
celebrate old Boots' coming-of-age--to which, poor devil, he
contributed nothing but the sunshine of his smile, never having
learned to dance. On that occasion a most rummy and extraordinary
thing happened. I got pickled to the eyebrows!" He laughed happily.
"I don't mean that that was a unique occurrence and so forth,
because, when I was a bachelor, it was rather a habit of mine to
get a trifle submerged every now and again on occasions of decent
mirth and festivity. But the rummy thing that night was that I
showed it. Up till then, I've been told by experts, I was a
chappie in whom it was absolutely impossible to detect the
symptoms. You might get a bit suspicious if you found I couldn't
move, but you could never be certain. On the night of the ball,
however, I suppose I had been filling the radiator a trifle too
enthusiastically. You see, I had deliberately tried to shove
myself more or less below the surface in order to get enough nerve
to propose to Alice. I don't know what your experience has been,
but mine is that proposing's a thing that simply isn't within the
scope of a man who isn't moderately woozled. I've often wondered
how marriages ever occur in the dry States of America. Well, as I
was saying, on the night of the ball a most rummy thing happened.
I thought one of the waiters was you?"
He paused impressively to allow this startling statement to sink
"And was he?" said George.
"Absolutely not! That was the rummy part of it. He looked as like
you as your twin brother."
"I haven't a twin brother."
"No, I know what you mean, but what I mean to say is he looked just
like your twin brother would have looked if you had had a twin
brother. Well, I had a word or two with this chappie, and after a
brief conversation it was borne in upon me that I was up to the
gills. Alice was with me at the time, and noticed it too. Now you'd
have thought that that would have put a girl off a fellow, and all
that. But no. Nobody could have been more sympathetic. And she has
confided to me since that it was seeing me in my oiled condition
that really turned the scale. What I mean is, she made up her mind
to save me from myself. You know how some girls are. Angels
absolutely! Always on the look out to pluck brands from the
burning, and what not. You may take it from me that the good seed
was definitely sown that night."
"Is that your recipe, then? You would advise the would-be
bridegroom to buy a case of champagne and a wedding licence and get
to work? After that it would be all over except sending out the
Reggie shook his head.
"Not at all. You need a lot more than that. That's only the start.
You've got to follow up the good work, you see. That's where a
number of chappies would slip up, and I'm pretty certain I should
have slipped up myself, but for another singularly rummy
occurrence. Have you ever had a what-do-you-call it? What's the
word I want? One of those things fellows get sometimes."
"Headaches?" hazarded George.
"No, no. Nothing like that. I don't mean anything you get--I mean
something you get, if you know what I mean."
"Anonymous letter. That's what I was trying to say. It's a most
extraordinary thing, and I can't understand even now where the
deuce they came from, but just about then I started to get a whole
bunch of anonymous letters from some chappie unknown who didn't
sign his name."
"What you mean is that the letters were anonymous," said George.
"Absolutely. I used to get two or three a day sometimes. Whenever
I went up to my room, I'd find another waiting for me on the
"Were the letters offensive? Anonymous letters usually are."
"These weren't. Not at all, and quite the reverse. They
contained a series of perfectly topping tips on how a fellow should
proceed who wants to get hold of a girl."
"It sounds as though somebody had been teaching you ju-jitsu by
"They were great! Real red-hot stuff straight from the stable.
Priceless tips like 'Make yourself indispensable to her in little
ways', 'Study her tastes', and so on and so forth. I tell you,
laddie, I pretty soon stopped worrying about who was sending them
to me, and concentrated the old bean on acting on them. They
worked like magic. The last one came yesterday morning, and it was
a topper! It was all about how a chappie who was nervous should
proceed. Technical stuff, you know, about holding her hand and
telling her you're lonely and being sincere and straightforward and
letting your heart dictate the rest. Have you ever asked for one
card when you wanted to fill a royal flush and happened to pick out
the necessary ace? I did once, when I was up at Oxford, and, by
Jove, this letter gave me just the same thrill. I didn't hesitate.
I just sailed in. I was cold sober, but I didn't worry about that.
Something told me I couldn't lose. It was like having to hole out a
three-inch putt. And--well, there you are, don't you know." Reggie
became thoughtful. "Dash it all! I'd like to know who the fellow
was who sent me those letters. I'd like to send him a
wedding-present or a bit of the cake or something. Though I suppose
there won't be any cake, seeing the thing's taking place at a
"You could buy a bun," suggested George.
"Well, I shall never know, I suppose. And now how about trickling
forth? I say, laddie, you don't object if I sing slightly from time
to time during the journey? I'm so dashed happy, you know."
"Not at all, if it's not against the traffic regulations."
Reggie wandered aimlessly about the room in an ecstasy.
"It's a rummy thing," he said meditatively, "I've just remembered
that, when I was at school, I used to sing a thing called the
what's-it's-name's wedding song. At house-suppers, don't you know,
and what not. Jolly little thing. I daresay you know it. It starts
'Ding dong! Ding dong!' or words to that effect, 'Hurry along! For
it is my wedding-morning!' I remember you had to stretch out the
'mor' a bit. Deuced awkward, if you hadn't laid in enough breath.
'The Yeoman's Wedding-Song.' That was it. I knew it was some
chappie or other's. And it went on 'And the bride in something or
other is doing something I can't recollect.' Well, what I mean is,
now it's my wedding-morning! Rummy, when you come to think of it,
what? Well, as it's getting tolerable late, what about it? Shift
"I'm ready. Would you like me to bring some rice?"
"Thank you, laddie, no. Dashed dangerous stuff, rice! Worse than
shrapnel. Got your hat? All set?"
"Then let the revels commence," said Reggie. "Ding dong! Ding
Dong! Hurry along! For it is my wedding-morning! And the bride--
Dash it, I wish I could remember what the bride was doing!"
"Probably writing you a note to say that she's changed her mind,
and it's all off."
"Oh, my God!" exclaimed Reggie. "Come on!"
Mr. and Mrs. Reginald Byng, seated at a table in the corner of the
Regent Grill-Room, gazed fondly into each other's eyes. George,
seated at the same table, but feeling many miles away, watched them
moodily, fighting to hold off a depression which, cured for a while
by the exhilaration of the ride in Reggie's racing-car (it had
beaten its previous record for the trip to London by nearly twenty
minutes), now threatened to return. The gay scene, the ecstasy of
Reggie, the more restrained but equally manifest happiness of his
bride--these things induced melancholy in George. He had not wished
to attend the wedding-lunch, but the happy pair seemed to be
revolted at the idea that he should stroll off and get a bite to
eat somewhere else.
"Stick by us, laddie," Reggie had said pleadingly, "for there is
much to discuss, and we need the counsel of a man of the world. We
are married all right--"
"Though it didn't seem legal in that little registrar's office,"
put in Alice.
"--But that, as the blighters say in books, is but a beginning, not
an end. We have now to think out the most tactful way of letting
the news seep through, as it were, to the mater."
"And Lord Marshmoreton," said Alice. "Don't forget he has lost his
"And Lord Marshmoreton," amended Reggie. "And about a million other
people who'll be most frightfully peeved at my doing the Wedding
Glide without consulting them. Stick by us, old top. Join our
simple meal. And over the old coronas we will discuss many things."
The arrival of a waiter with dishes broke up the silent communion
between husband and wife, and lowered Reggie to a more earthly
plane. He refilled the glasses from the stout bottle that nestled
in the ice-bucket-(" Only this one, dear!" murmured the bride in a
warning undertone, and "All right darling!" replied the dutiful
groom)-and raised his own to his lips.
"Cheerio! Here's to us all! Maddest, merriest day of all the glad
New year and so forth. And now," he continued, becoming sternly
practical, "about the good old sequel and aftermath, so to speak,
of this little binge of ours. What's to be done. You're a brainy
sort of feller, Bevan, old man, and we look to you for suggestions.
How would you set about breaking the news to mother?"
"Write her a letter," said George.
Reggie was profoundly impressed.
"Didn't I tell you he would have some devilish shrewd scheme?" he
said enthusiastically to Alice. "Write her a letter! What could be
better? Poetry, by Gad!" His face clouded. "But what would you say
in it? That's a pretty knotty point."
"Not at all. Be perfectly frank and straightforward. Say you are
sorry to go against her wishes--"
"Wishes," murmured Reggie, scribbling industrially on the back of
the marriage licence.
"--But you know that all she wants is your happiness--"
Reggie looked doubtful.
"I'm not sure about that last bit, old thing. You don't know the
"Never mind, Reggie," put in Alice. "Say it, anyhow. Mr. Bevan is
"Right ho, darling! All right, laddie--'happiness'. And then?"
"Point out in a few well-chosen sentences how charming Mrs. Byng
is . . ."
"Mrs. Byng!" Reggie smiled fatuously. "I don't think I ever heard
anything that sounded so indescribably ripping. That part'll be
easy enough. Besides, the mater knows Alice."
"Lady Caroline has seen me at the castle," said his bride
doubtfully, "but I shouldn't say she knows me. She has hardly
spoken a dozen words to me."
"There," said Reggie, earnestly, "you're in luck, dear heart! The
mater's a great speaker, especially in moments of excitement. I'm
not looking forward to the time when she starts on me. Between
ourselves, laddie, and meaning no disrespect to the dear soul, when
the mater is moved and begins to talk, she uses up most of the
"Outspoken, is she?"
"I should hate to meet the person who could out-speak her," said
George sought information on a delicate point.
"And financially? Does she exercise any authority over you in that
"You mean has the mater the first call on the family doubloons?"
said Reggie. "Oh, absolutely not! You see, when I call her the
mater, it's using the word in a loose sense, so to speak. She's my
step-mother really. She has her own little collection of pieces of
eight, and I have mine. That part's simple enough."
"Then the whole thing is simple. I don't see what you've been
"Just what I keep telling him, Mr. Bevan," said Alice.
"You're a perfectly free agent. She has no hold on you of any
Reggie Byng blinked dizzily.
"Why, now you put it like that," he exclaimed, "I can see that I
jolly well am! It's an amazing thing, you know, habit and all that.
I've been so accustomed for years to jumping through hoops and
shamming dead when the mater lifted a little finger, that it
absolutely never occurred to me that I had a soul of my Own. I give
you my honest word I never saw it till this moment."
"And now it's too late!"
George indicated Alice with a gesture. The newly-made Mrs. Byng
"Mr. Bevan means that now you've got to jump through hoops and sham
dead when I lift a little finger!"
Reggie raised her hand to his lips, and nibbled at it gently.
"Blessums 'ittle finger! It shall lift it and have 'ums Reggie
jumping through. . . ." He broke off and tendered George a manly
apology. "Sorry, old top! Forgot myself for the moment. Shan't
occur again! Have another chicken or an eclair or some soup or
Over the cigars Reggie became expansive.
"Now that you've lifted the frightful weight of the mater off my
mind, dear old lad," he said, puffing luxuriously, "I find myself
surveying the future in a calmer spirit. It seems to me that the
best thing to do, as regards the mater and everybody else, is
simply to prolong the merry wedding-trip till Time the Great Healer
has had a chance to cure the wound. Alice wants to put in a week or
so in Paris. . . ."
"Paris!" murmured the bride ecstatically.
"Then I would like to trickle southwards to the Riviera. . ."
"If you mean Monte Carlo, dear," said his wife with gentle
"No, no, not Monte Carlo," said Reggie hastily, "though it's a
great place. Air--scenery--and what not! But Nice and Bordighera
and Mentone and other fairly ripe resorts. You'd enjoy them. And
after that . . . I had a scheme for buying back my yacht, the jolly
old Siren, and cruising about the Mediterranean for a month or so. I
sold her to a local sportsman when I was in America a couple of
years ago. But I saw in the paper yesterday that the poor old
buffer had died suddenly, so I suppose it would be difficult to get
hold of her for the time being." Reggie broke off with a sharp
"My sainted aunt!"
"What's the matter?"
Both his companions were looking past him, wide-eyed. George
occupied the chair that had its back to the door, and was unable to
see what it was that had caused their consternation; but he deduced
that someone known to both of them must have entered the
restaurant; and his first thought, perhaps naturally, was that it
must be Reggie's "mater". Reggie dived behind a menu, which he held
before him like a shield, and his bride, after one quick look, had
turned away so that her face was hidden. George swung around, but
the newcomer, whoever he or she was, was now seated and
indistinguishable from the rest of the lunchers.
"Who is it?"
Reggie laid down the menu with the air of one who after a momentary
"Don't know what I'm making such a fuss about," he said stoutly. "I
keep forgetting that none of these blighters really matter in the
scheme of things. I've a good mind to go over and pass the time of
"Don't!" pleaded his wife. "I feel so guilty."
"Who is it?" asked George again. "Your step-mother?"
"Great Scott, no!" said Reggie. "Nothing so bad as that. It's old
"Absolutely! And looking positively festive."
"I feel so awful, Mr. Bevan," said Alice. "You know, I left the
castle without a word to anyone, and he doesn't know yet that there
won't be any secretary waiting for him when he gets back."
Reggie took another look over George's shoulder and chuckled.
"It's all right, darling. Don't worry. We can nip off secretly by
the other door. He's not going to stop us. He's got a girl with
him! The old boy has come to life--absolutely! He's gassing away
sixteen to the dozen to a frightfully pretty girl with gold hair.
If you slew the old bean round at an angle of about forty-five,
Bevan, old top, you can see her. Take a look. He won't see you.
He's got his back to us."
"Do you call her pretty?" asked Alice disparagingly.
"Now that I take a good look, precious," replied Reggie with
alacrity, "no! Absolutely not! Not my style at all!"
His wife crumbled bread.
"I think she must know you, Reggie dear," she said softly. "She's
waving to you."
"She's waving to ME," said George, bringing back the sunshine to
Reggie's life, and causing the latter's face to lose its hunted
look. "I know her very well. Her name's Dore. Billie Dore."
"Old man," said Reggie, "be a good fellow and slide over to their
table and cover our retreat. I know there's nothing to be afraid of
really, but I simply can't face the old boy."
"And break the news to him that I've gone, Mr. Bevan," added Alice.
"Very well, I'll say good-bye, then."
"Good-bye, Mr. Bevan, and thank you ever so much."
Reggie shook George's hand warmly.
"Good-bye, Bevan old thing, you're a ripper. I can't tell you how
bucked up I am at the sportsmanlike way you've rallied round. I'll
do the same for you one of these days. Just hold the old boy in
play for a minute or two while we leg it. And, if he wants us, tell
him our address till further notice is Paris. What ho! What ho!
What ho! Toodle-oo, laddie, toodle-oo!"
George threaded his way across the room. Billie Dore welcomed him
with a friendly smile. The earl, who had turned to observe his
progress, seemed less delighted to see him. His weather-beaten face
wore an almost furtive look. He reminded George of a schoolboy who
has been caught in some breach of the law.
"Fancy seeing you here, George!" said Billie. "We're always
meeting, aren't we? How did you come to separate yourself from the
pigs and chickens? I thought you were never going to leave them."
"I had to run up on business," explained George. "How are you, Lord
The earl nodded briefly.
"So you're on to him, too?" said Billie. "When did you get wise?"
"Lord Marshmoreton was kind enough to call on me the other morning
and drop the incognito."
"Isn't dadda the foxiest old thing!" said Billie delightedly.
"Imagine him standing there that day in the garden, kidding us
along like that! I tell you, when they brought me his card last
night after the first act and I went down to take a slant at this
Lord Marshmoreton and found dadda hanging round the stage door, you
could have knocked me over with a whisk-broom."
"I have not stood at the stage-door for twenty-five years," said
Lord Marshmoreton sadly.
"Now, it's no use your pulling that Henry W. Methuselah stuff,"
said Billie affectionately. "You can't get away with it. Anyone
can see you're just a kid. Can't they, George?" She indicated the
blushing earl with a wave of the hand. "Isn't dadda the youngest
thing that ever happened?"
"Exactly what I told him myself."
Lord Marshmoreton giggled. There is no other verb that describes
the sound that proceeded from him.
"I feel young," he admitted.
"I wish some of the juveniles in the shows I've been in," said
Billie, "were as young as you. It's getting so nowadays that one's
thankful if a juvenile has teeth." She glanced across the room.
"Your pals are walking out on you, George. The people you were
lunching with," she explained. "They're leaving."
"That's all right. I said good-bye to them." He looked at Lord
Marshmoreton. It seemed a suitable opportunity to break the news.
"I was lunching with Mr. and Mrs. Byng," he said.
Nothing appeared to stir beneath Lord Marshmoreton's tanned
"Reggie Byng and his wife, Lord Marshmoreton," added George.
This time he secured the earl's interest. Lord Marshmoreton
"They are just off to Paris," said George.
"Reggie Byng is not married!"
"Married this morning. I was best man."
"Busy little creature!" interjected Billie.
"You know his wife," said George casually. "She was a Miss Faraday.
I think she was your secretary."
It would have been impossible to deny that Lord Marshmoreton showed
emotion. His mouth opened, and he clutched the tablecloth. But
just what the emotion was George was unable to say till, with a
sigh that seemed to come from his innermost being, the other
exclaimed "Thank Heaven!"
George was surprised.
"Of course I'm glad!"
"It's a pity they didn't know how you were going to feel. It would
have saved them a lot of anxiety. I rather gathered they supposed
that the shock was apt to darken your whole life."
"That girl," said Lord Marshmoreton vehemently, "was driving me
crazy. Always bothering me to come and work on that damned family
history. Never gave me a moment's peace . . ."
"I liked her," said George.
"Nice enough girl," admitted his lordship grudgingly. "But a damned
nuisance about the house; always at me to go on with the family
history. As if there weren't better things to do with one's time
than writing all day about my infernal fools of ancestors!"
"Isn't dadda fractious today?" said Billie reprovingly, giving the
Earl's hand a pat. "Quit knocking your ancestors! You're very lucky
to have ancestors. I wish I had. The Dore family seems to go back
about as far as the presidency of Willard Filmore, and then it kind
of gets discouraged and quite cold. Gee! I'd like to feel that my
great-great-great-grandmother had helped Queen Elizabeth with the
rent. I'm strong for the fine old stately families of England."
"Stately old fiddlesticks!" snapped the earl.
"Did you see his eyes flash then, George? That's what they call
aristocratic rage. It's the fine old spirit of the Marshmoretons
"I noticed it," said George. "Just like lightning."
"It's no use trying to fool us, dadda," said Billie. "You know just
as well as I do that it makes you feel good to think that, every
time you cut yourself with your safety-razor, you bleed blue!"
"A lot of silly nonsense!" grumbled the earl.
"This foolery of titles and aristocracy. Silly fetish-worship!
One man's as good as another. . . ."
"This is the spirit of '76!" said George approvingly.
"Regular I.W.W. stuff," agreed Billie. "Shake hands the President
of the Bolsheviki!"
Lord Marshmoreton ignored the interruption. There was a strange
look in his eyes. It was evident to George, watching him with close
interest, that here was a revelation of the man's soul; that
thoughts, locked away for years in the other's bosom were crying
"Damned silly nonsense! When I was a boy, I wanted to be
an engine-driver. When I was a young man, I was a Socialist
and hadn't any idea except to work for my living and make a
name for myself. I was going to the colonies. Canada. The
fruit farm was actually bought. Bought and paid for!" He
brooded a moment on that long-lost fruit farm. "My father was
a younger son. And then my uncle must go and break his neck
hunting, and the baby, poor little chap, got croup or something
. . . And there I was, saddled with the title, and all my plans
gone up in smoke . . . Silly nonsense! Silly nonsense!"
He bit the end of a cigar. "And you can't stand up against it," he
went on ruefully. "It saps you. It's like some damned drug. I
fought against it as long as I could, but it was no use. I'm as big
a snob as any of them now. I'm afraid to do what I want to do.
Always thinking of the family dignity. I haven't taken a free step
for twenty-five years."
George and Billie exchanged glances. Each had the uncomfortable
feeling that they were eavesdropping and hearing things not meant
to be heard. George rose.
"I must be getting along now," he said. "I've one or two
things to do. Glad to have seen you again, Billie. Is the show
going all right?"
"Fine. Making money for you right along."
"Good-bye, Lord Marshmoreton."
The earl nodded without speaking. It was not often now that he
rebelled even in thoughts against the lot which fate had thrust
upon him, and never in his life before had he done so in words. He
was still in the grip of the strange discontent which had come upon
him so abruptly.
There was a silence after George had gone.
"I'm glad we met George," said Billie. "He's a good boy." She spoke
soberly. She was conscious of a curious feeling of affection for
the sturdy, weather-tanned little man opposite her. The glimpse
she had been given of his inner self had somehow made him come
alive for her.
"He wants to marry my daughter," said Lord Marshmoreton. A few
moments before, Billie would undoubtedly have replied to such a
statement with some jocular remark expressing disbelief that the
earl could have a daughter old enough to be married. But now she
felt oddly serious and unlike her usual flippant self.
"Oh?" was all she could find to say.
"She wants to marry him."
Not for years had Billie Dore felt embarrassed, but she felt so
now. She judged herself unworthy to be the recipient of these very
"Oh?" she said again.
"He's a good fellow. I like him. I liked him the moment we met. He
knew it, too. And I knew he liked me."
A group of men and girls from a neighbouring table passed on their
way to the door. One of the girls nodded to Billie. She returned
the nod absently. The party moved on. Billie frowned down at the
tablecloth and drew a pattern on it with a fork.
"Why don't you let George marry your daughter, Lord Marshmoreton?"
The earl drew at his cigar in silence.
"I know it's not my business," said Billie apologetically,
interpreting the silence as a rebuff.
"Because I'm the Earl of Marshmoreton."
"No you don't," snapped the earl. "You think I mean by that that I
think your friend isn't good enough to marry my daughter. You think
that I'm an incurable snob. And I've no doubt he thinks so, too,
though I took the trouble to explain my attitude to him when we
last met. You're wrong. It isn't that at all. When I say 'I'm the
Earl of Marshmoreton', I mean that I'm a poor spineless fool who's
afraid to do the right thing because he daren't go in the teeth of
"I don't understand. What have your family got to do with it?"
"They'd worry the life out of me. I wish you could meet my sister
Caroline! That's what they've got to do with it. Girls in my
daughter's unfortunate position have got to marry position or
"Well, I don't know about position, but when it comes to
money--why, George is the fellow that made the dollar-bill famous.
He and Rockefeller have got all there is, except the little bit
they have let Andy Carnegie have for car-fare."
"What do you mean? He told me he worked for a living." Billie was
becoming herself again. Embarrassment Red.
"If you call it work. He's a composer."
"I know. Writes tunes and things."
Billie regarded him compassionately.
"And I suppose, living out in the woods the way that you do that
you haven't a notion that they pay him for it."
"Pay him? Yes, but how much? Composers were not men in my day."
"I wish you wouldn't talk of 'your day' as if you telling the boys
down at the corner store about the good they all had before the
Flood. You're one of the Younger Set and don't let me have to tell
you again. Say, listen! You know that show you saw last night. The
one where I was supported by a few underlings. Well, George wrote
the music for that."
"I know. He told me so."
"Well, did he tell you that he draws three per cent of the gross
receipts? You saw the house we had last night. It was a fair
average house. We are playing to over fourteen thousand dollars a
week. George's little bit of that is--I can't do it in my head, but
it's a round four hundred dollars. That's eighty pounds of your
money. And did he tell you that this same show ran over a year in
New York to big business all the time, and that there are three
companies on the road now? And did he mention that this is the
ninth show he's done, and that seven of the others were just as big
hits as this one? And did he remark in passing that he gets
royalties on every copy of his music that's sold, and that at least
ten of his things have sold over half a million? No, he didn't,
because he isn't the sort of fellow who stands around blowing about
his income. But you know it now."
"Why, he's a rich man!"
"I don't know what you call rich, but, keeping on the safe side, I
should say that George pulls down in a good year, during the
season--around five thousand dollars a week."
Lord Marshmoreton was frankly staggered.
"A thousand pounds a week! I had no idea!"
"I thought you hadn't. And, while I'm boosting George, let me tell
you another thing. He's one of the whitest men that ever happened.
I know him. You can take it from me, if there's anything rotten in
a fellow, the show-business will bring it out, and it hasn't come
out in George yet, so I guess it isn't there. George is all
"He has at least an excellent advocate."
"Oh, I'm strong for George. I wish there were more like him . . .
Well, if you think I've butted in on your private affairs
sufficiently, I suppose I ought to be moving. We've a rehearsal
"Let it go!" said Lord Marshmoreton boyishly.
"Yes, and how quick do you think they would let me go, if I did?
I'm an honest working-girl, and I can't afford to lose jobs."
Lord Marshmoreton fiddled with his cigar-butt.
"I could offer you an alternative position, if you cared to accept
Billie looked at him keenly. Other men in similar circumstances had
made much the same remark to her. She was conscious of feeling a
little disappointed in her new friend.
"Well?" she said dryly. "Shoot."
"You gathered, no doubt, from Mr. Bevan's conversation, that my
secretary has left me and run away and got married? Would you like
to take her place?"
It was not easy to disconcert Billie Dore, but she was taken aback.
She had been expecting something different.
"You're a shriek, dadda!"
"I'm perfectly serious."
"Can you see me at a castle?"
"I can see you perfectly." Lord Marshmoreton's rather formal manner
left him. "Do please accept, my dear child. I've got to finish
this damned family history some time or other. The family expect
me to. Only yesterday my sister Caroline got me in a corner and
bored me for half an hour about it. I simply can't face the
prospect of getting another from an agency. Charming girl, charming
girl, of course, but . . . but . . . well, I'll be damned if I do
it, and that's the long and short of it!"
Billie bubbled over with laughter.
"Of all the impulsive kids!" she gurgled. "I never met anyone like
you, dadda! You don't even know that I can use a typewriter."
"I do. Mr. Bevan told me you were an excellent stenographer."
"So George has been boosting me, too, has he?" She mused. "I must
say, I'd love to come. That old place got me when saw it that day."
"That's settled, then," said Lord Marshmoreton masterfully. "Go to
the theatre and tell them--tell whatever is usual in these cases.
And then go home and pack, and meet me at Waterloo at six o'clock.
The train leaves at six-fifteen."
"Return of the wanderer, accompanied by dizzy blonde! You've
certainly got it all fixed, haven't you! Do you think the family
will stand for me?"
"Damn the family!" said Lord Marshmoreton, stoutly.
"There's one thing," said Billie complacently, eyeing her
reflection in the mirror of her vanity-case, "I may glitter in the
fighting-top, but it is genuine. When I was a kid, I was a regular
"I never supposed for a moment that it was anything but
"Then you've got a fine, unsuspicious nature, dadda, and I admire
you for it."
"Six o'clock at Waterloo," said the earl. "I will be waiting for
Billie regarded him with affectionate admiration.
"Boys will be boys," she said. "All right. I'll be there."
"Young blighted Albert," said Keggs the butler, shifting his weight
so that it distributed itself more comfortably over the creaking
chair in which he reclined, "let this be a lesson to you, young
feller me lad."
The day was a week after Lord Marshmoreton's visit to London, the
hour six o'clock. The housekeeper's room, in which the upper
servants took their meals, had emptied. Of the gay company which
had just finished dinner only Keggs remained, placidly digesting.
Albert, whose duty it was to wait on the upper servants, was moving
to and fro, morosely collecting the plates and glasses. The boy was
in no happy frame of mind. Throughout dinner the conversation at
table had dealt almost exclusively with the now celebrated
elopement of Reggie Byng and his bride, and few subjects could have
made more painful listening to Albert.
"What's been the result and what I might call the upshot," said
Keggs, continuing his homily, "of all your making yourself so busy
and thrusting of yourself forward and meddling in the affairs of
your elders and betters? The upshot and issue of it 'as been that
you are out five shillings and nothing to show for it. Five
shillings what you might have spent on some good book and improved
your mind! And goodness knows it wants all the improving it can
get, for of all the worthless, idle little messers it's ever been
my misfortune to have dealings with, you are the champion. Be
careful of them plates, young man, and don't breathe so hard. You
'aven't got hasthma or something, 'ave you?"
"I can't breathe now!" complained the stricken child.
"Not like a grampus you can't, and don't you forget it." Keggs
wagged his head reprovingly. "Well, so your Reggie Byng's gone and
eloped, has he! That ought to teach you to be more careful another
time 'ow you go gambling and plunging into sweepstakes. The idea of
a child of your age 'aving the audacity to thrust 'isself forward
"Don't call him my Reggie Byng! I didn't draw 'im!"
"There's no need to go into all that again, young feller. You
accepted 'im freely and without prejudice when the fair exchange
was suggested, so for all practical intents and purposes he is your
Reggie Byng. I 'ope you're going to send him a wedding-present."
"Well, you ain't any better off than me, with all your 'ighway
"You 'eard what I said."
"Well, don't let me 'ear it again. The idea! If you 'ad any
objections to parting with that ticket, you should have stated them
clearly at the time. And what do you mean by saying I ain't any
better off than you are?"
"I 'ave my reasons."
"You think you 'ave, which is a very different thing. I suppose you
imagine that you've put a stopper on a certain little affair by
surreptitiously destroying letters entrusted to you."
"I never!" exclaimed Albert with a convulsive start that nearly
sent eleven plates dashing to destruction.
"'Ow many times have I got to tell you to be careful of them
plates?" said Keggs sternly. "Who do you think you are--a juggler
on the 'Alls, 'urling them about like that? Yes, I know all about
that letter. You thought you was very clever, I've no doubt. But
let me tell you, young blighted Albert, that only the other evening
'er ladyship and Mr. Bevan 'ad a long and extended interview in
spite of all your hefforts. I saw through your little game, and I
proceeded and went and arranged the meeting."
In spite of himself Albert was awed. He was oppressed by the sense
of struggling with a superior intellect.
"Yes, you did!" he managed to say with the proper note of
incredulity, but in his heart he was not incredulous. Dimly, Albert
had begun to perceive that years must elapse before he could become
capable of matching himself in battles of wits with this
"Yes, I certainly did!" said Keggs. "I don't know what 'appened at
the interview--not being present in person. But I've no doubt that
everything proceeded satisfactorily."
"And a fat lot of good that's going to do you, when 'e ain't
allowed to come inside the 'ouse!"
A bland smile irradiated the butler's moon-like face.
"If by 'e you're alloodin' to Mr. Bevan, young blighted Albert, let
me tell you that it won't be long before 'e becomes a regular duly
invited guest at the castle!"
"A lot of chance!"
"Would you care to 'ave another five shillings even money on it?"
Albert recoiled. He had had enough of speculation where the butler
was concerned. Where that schemer was allowed to get within reach
of it, hard cash melted away.
"What are you going to do?"
"Never you mind what I'm going to do. I 'ave my methods. All I
'ave to say to you is that tomorrow or the day after Mr. Bevan
will be seated in our dining-'all with 'is feet under our table,
replying according to his personal taste and preference, when I ask
'im if 'e'll 'ave 'ock or sherry. Brush all them crumbs carefully
off the tablecloth, young blighted Albert--don't shuffle your
feet--breathe softly through your nose--and close the door be'ind
you when you've finished!"
"Oh, go and eat cake!" said Albert bitterly. But he said
it to his immortal soul, not aloud. The lad's spirit was broken.
Keggs, the processes of digestion completed, presented himself
before Lord Belpher in the billiard-room. Percy was alone. The
house-party, so numerous on the night of the ball and on his
birthday, had melted down now to reasonable proportions. The
second and third cousins had retired, flushed and gratified, to
obscure dens from which they had emerged, and the castle housed
only the more prominent members of the family, always harder to
dislodge than the small fry. The Bishop still remained, and the
Colonel. Besides these, there were perhaps half a dozen more of the
closer relations: to Lord Belpher's way of thinking, half a dozen
too many. He was not fond of his family.
"Might I have a word with your lordship?"
"What is it, Keggs?"
Keggs was a self-possessed man, but he found it a little hard to
begin. Then he remembered that once in the misty past he had seen
Lord Belpher spanked for stealing jam, he himself having acted on
that occasion as prosecuting attorney; and the memory nerved him.
"I earnestly 'ope that your lordship will not think that I am
taking a liberty. I 'ave been in his lordship your father's service
many years now, and the family honour is, if I may be pardoned for
saying so, extremely near my 'eart. I 'ave known your lordship
since you were a mere boy, and . . ."
Lord Belpher had listened with growing impatience to this preamble.
His temper was seldom at its best these days, and the rolling
periods annoyed him.
"Yes, yes, of course," he said. "What is it?"
Keggs was himself now. In his opening remarks he had simply been,
as it were, winding up. He was now prepared to begin.
"Your lordship will recall inquiring of me on the night of the ball
as to the bona fides of one of the temporary waiters? The one that
stated that 'e was the cousin of young bli--of the boy Albert, the
page? I have been making inquiries, your lordship, and I regret to
say I find that the man was a impostor. He informed me that 'e was
Albert's cousin, but Albert now informs me that 'e 'as no cousin in
America. I am extremely sorry this should have occurred, your
lordship, and I 'ope you attribute it to the bustle and haste
inseparable from duties as mine on such a occasion."
"I know the fellow was an impostor. He was probably after the
"If I might be allowed to take a further liberty, your lordship,
might I suggest that I am aware of the man's identity and of his
motive for visiting the castle."
He waited a little apprehensively. This was the crucial point in
the interview. If Lord Belpher did not now freeze him with a glance
and order him from the room, the danger would be past, and he could
speak freely. His light blue eyes were expressionless as they met
Percy's, but inwardly he was feeling much the same sensation as he
was wont to experience when the family was in town and he had
managed to slip off to Kempton Park or some other race-course and
put some of his savings on a horse. As he felt when the racing
steeds thundered down the straight, so did he feel now.
Astonishment showed in Lord Belpher's round face. Just as it was
about to be succeeded by indignation, the butler spoke again.
"I am aware, your lordship, that it is not my place to offer
suggestions as to the private and intimate affairs of the family I
'ave the honour to serve, but, if your lordship would consent to
overlook the liberty, I think I could be of 'elp and assistance in
a matter which is causing annoyance and unpleasantness to all."
He invigorated himself with another dip into the waters of memory.
Yes. The young man before him might be Lord Belpher, son of his
employer and heir to all these great estates, but once he had seen
Perhaps Percy also remembered this. Perhaps he merely felt that
Keggs was a faithful old servant and, as such, entitled to thrust
himself into the family affairs. Whatever his reasons, he now
definitely lowered the barrier.
"Well," he said, with a glance at the door to make sure that there
were no witnesses to an act of which the aristocrat in him
disapproved, "go on!"
Keggs breathed freely. The danger-point was past.
"'Aving a natural interest, your lordship," he said, "we of the
Servants' 'All generally manage to become respectfully aware of
whatever 'appens to be transpirin' above stairs. May I say that I
became acquainted at an early stage with the trouble which your
lordship is unfortunately 'aving with a certain party?"
Lord Belpher, although his whole being revolted against what
practically amounted to hobnobbing with a butler, perceived that he
had committed himself to the discussion. It revolted him to think
that these delicate family secrets were the subject of conversation
in menial circles, but it was too late to do anything now. And
such was the whole-heartedness with which he had declared war upon
George Bevan that, at this stage in the proceedings, his chief
emotion was a hope that Keggs might have something sensible to
"I think, begging your lordship's pardon for making the remark,
that you are acting injudicious. I 'ave been in service a great
number of years, startin' as steward's room boy and rising to my
present position, and I may say I 'ave 'ad experience during those
years of several cases where the daughter or son of the 'ouse
contemplated a misalliance, and all but one of the cases ended
disastrously, your lordship, on account of the family trying
opposition. It is my experience that opposition in matters of the
'eart is useless, feedin', as it, so to speak, does the flame.
Young people, your lordship, if I may be pardoned for employing the
expression in the present case, are naturally romantic and if you
keep 'em away from a thing they sit and pity themselves and want it
all the more. And in the end you may be sure they get it. There's
no way of stoppin' them. I was not on sufficiently easy terms with
the late Lord Worlingham to give 'im the benefit of my experience
on the occasion when the Honourable Aubrey Pershore fell in love
with the young person at the Gaiety Theatre. Otherwise I could
'ave told 'im he was not acting judicious. His lordship opposed
the match in every way, and the young couple ran off and got
married at a registrar's. It was the same when a young man who was
tutor to 'er ladyship's brother attracted Lady Evelyn Walls, the
only daughter of the Earl of Ackleton. In fact, your lordship, the
only entanglement of the kind that came to a satisfactory
conclusion in the whole of my personal experience was the affair of
Lady Catherine Duseby, Lord Bridgefield's daughter, who
injudiciously became infatuated with a roller-skating instructor."
Lord Belpher had ceased to feel distantly superior to his companion.
The butler's powerful personality hypnotized him. Long ere the
harangue was ended, he was as a little child drinking in the
utterances of a master. He bent forward eagerly. Keggs had broken
off his remarks at the most interesting point.
"What happened?" inquired Percy.
"The young man," proceeded Keggs, "was a young man of considerable
personal attractions, 'aving large brown eyes and a athletic
lissome figure, brought about by roller-skating. It was no wonder,
in the opinion of the Servants' 'All, that 'er ladyship should have
found 'erself fascinated by him, particularly as I myself 'ad 'eard
her observe at a full luncheon-table that roller-skating was in
her opinion the only thing except her toy Pomeranian that made life
worth living. But when she announced that she had become engaged to
this young man, there was the greatest consternation. I was not, of
course, privileged to be a participant at the many councils and
discussions that ensued and took place, but I was aware that such
transpired with great frequency. Eventually 'is lordship took the
shrewd step of assuming acquiescence and inviting the young man to
visit us in Scotland. And within ten days of his arrival, your
lordship, the match was broken off. He went back to 'is
roller-skating, and 'er ladyship took up visiting the poor and
eventually contracted an altogether suitable alliance by marrying
Lord Ronald Spofforth, the second son of his Grace the Duke of
Gorbals and Strathbungo."
"How did it happen?"
"Seein' the young man in the surroundings of 'er own 'ome, 'er
ladyship soon began to see that she had taken too romantic a view
of 'im previous, your lordship. 'E was one of the lower middle
class, what is sometimes termed the bourjoisy, and 'is 'abits were
not the 'abits of the class to which 'er ladyship belonged. 'E 'ad
nothing in common with the rest of the 'ouse-party, and was
injudicious in 'is choice of forks. The very first night at dinner
'e took a steel knife to the ontray, and I see 'er ladyship look at
him very sharp, as much as to say that scales had fallen from 'er
eyes. It didn't take 'er long after that to become convinced that
'er 'eart 'ad led 'er astray."
"Then you think--?"
"It is not for me to presume to offer anything but the most
respectful advice, your lordship, but I should most certainly
advocate a similar procedure in the present instance."
Lord Belpher reflected. Recent events had brought home to him the
magnitude of the task he had assumed when he had appointed himself
the watcher of his sister's movements. The affair of the curate and
the village blacksmith had shaken him both physically and
spiritually. His feet were still sore, and his confidence in
himself had waned considerably. The thought of having to continue
his espionage indefinitely was not a pleasant one. How much simpler
and more effective it would be to adopt the suggestion which had
been offered to him.
"--I'm not sure you aren't right, Keggs."
"Thank you, your lordship. I feel convinced of it."
"I will speak to my father tonight."
"Very good, your lordship. I am glad to have been of service."
"Young blighted Albert," said Keggs crisply, shortly after
breakfast on the following morning, "you're to take this note to
Mr. Bevan at the cottage down by Platt's farm, and you're to
deliver it without playing any of your monkey-tricks, and you're to
wait for an answer, and you're to bring that answer back to me,
too, and to Lord Marshmoreton. And I may tell you, to save you the
trouble of opening it with steam from the kitchen kettle, that I
'ave already done so. It's an invitation to dine with us tonight.
So now you know. Look slippy!"
Albert capitulated. For the first time in his life he felt humble.
He perceived how misguided he had been ever to suppose that he
could pit his pigmy wits against this smooth-faced worker of
"Crikey!" he ejaculated.
It was all that he could say.
"And there's one more thing, young feller me lad," added Keggs
earnestly, "don't you ever grow up to be such a fat'ead as our
friend Percy. Don't forget I warned you."
Life is like some crazy machine that is always going either too
slow or too fast. From the cradle to the grave we alternate between
the Sargasso Sea and the rapids--forever either becalmed or
storm-tossed. It seemed to Maud, as she looked across the
dinner-table in order to make sure for the twentieth time that it
really was George Bevan who sat opposite her, that, after months in
which nothing whatever had happened, she was now living through a
period when everything was happening at once. Life, from being a
broken-down machine, had suddenly begun to race.
To the orderly routine that stretched back to the time when she had
been hurried home in disgrace from Wales there had succeeded a mad
whirl of events, to which the miracle of tonight had come as a
fitting climax. She had not begun to dress for dinner till somewhat
late, and had consequently entered the drawing-room just as Keggs
was announcing that the meal was ready. She had received her first
shock when the love-sick Plummer, emerging from a mixed crowd of
relatives and friends, had informed her that he was to take her in.
She had not expected Plummer to be there, though he lived in the
neighbourhood. Plummer, at their last meeting, had stated his
intention of going abroad for a bit to mend his bruised heart: and
it was a little disconcerting to a sensitive girl to find her
victim popping up again like this. She did not know that, as far as
Plummer was concerned, the whole affair was to be considered opened
again. To Plummer, analysing the girl's motives in refusing him,
there had come the idea that there was Another, and that this other
must be Reggie Byng. From the first he had always looked upon
Reggie as his worst rival. And now Reggie had bolted with the
Faraday girl, leaving Maud in excellent condition, so it seemed to
Plummer, to console herself with a worthier man. Plummer knew all
about the Rebound and the part it plays in the affairs of the
heart. His own breach-of-promise case two years earlier had been
entirely due to the fact that the refusal of the youngest Devenish
girl to marry him had caused him to rebound into the dangerous
society of the second girl from the O.P. end of the first row in
the "Summertime is Kissing-time" number in the Alhambra revue. He
had come to the castle tonight gloomy, but not without hope.
Maud's second shock eclipsed the first entirely. No notification
had been given to her either by her father or by Percy of the
proposed extension of the hand of hospitality to George, and the
sight of him standing there talking to her aunt Caroline made her
momentarily dizzy. Life, which for several days had had all the
properties now of a dream, now of a nightmare, became more unreal
than ever. She could conceive no explanation of George's presence.
He could not be there--that was all there was to it; yet there
undoubtedly he was. Her manner, as she accompanied Plummer down the
stairs, took on such a dazed sweetness that her escort felt that in
coming there that night he had done the wisest act of a lifetime
studded but sparsely with wise acts. It seemed to Plummer that this
girl had softened towards him. Certainly something had changed her.
He could not know that she was merely wondering if she was awake.
George, meanwhile, across the table, was also having a little
difficulty in adjusting his faculties to the progress of events. He
had given up trying to imagine why he had been invited to this
dinner, and was now endeavouring to find some theory which would
square with the fact of Billie Dore being at the castle. At
precisely this hour Billie, by rights, should have been putting the
finishing touches on her make-up in a second-floor dressing-room at
the Regal. Yet there she sat, very much at her ease in this
aristocratic company, so quietly and unobtrusively dressed in some
black stuff that at first he had scarcely recognized her. She was
talking to the Bishop. . .
The voice of Keggs at his elbow broke in on his reverie.
"Sherry or 'ock, sir?"
George could not have explained why this reminder of the butler's
presence should have made him feel better, but it did. There was
something solid and tranquilizing about Keggs. He had noticed it
before. For the first time the sensation of having been smitten
over the head with some blunt instrument began to abate. It was as
if Keggs by the mere intonation of his voice had said, "All this no
doubt seems very strange and unusual to you, but feel no alarm! Jam
George began to sit up and take notice. A cloud seemed to have
cleared from his brain. He found himself looking on his
fellow-diners as individuals rather than as a confused mass. The
prophet Daniel, after the initial embarrassment of finding himself
in the society of the lions had passed away, must have experienced
a somewhat similar sensation.
He began to sort these people out and label them. There had been
introductions in the drawing-room, but they had left him with a
bewildered sense of having heard somebody recite a page from
Burke's peerage. Not since that day in the free library in London,
when he had dived into that fascinating volume in order to discover
Maud's identity, had he undergone such a rain of titles. He now
took stock, to ascertain how many of these people he could
The stock-taking was an absolute failure. Of all those present the
only individuals he could swear to were his own personal little
playmates with whom he had sported in other surroundings. There was
Lord Belpher, for instance, eyeing him with a hostility that could
hardly be called veiled. There was Lord Marshmoreton at the head of
the table, listening glumly to the conversation of a stout woman
with a pearl necklace, but who was that woman? Was it Lady Jane
Allenby or Lady Edith Wade-Beverly or Lady Patricia Fowles? And
who, above all, was the pie-faced fellow with the moustache talking
He sought assistance from the girl he had taken in to dinner. She
appeared, as far as he could ascertain from a short acquaintance,
to be an amiable little thing. She was small and young and fluffy,
and he had caught enough of her name at the moment of introduction
to gather that she was plain "Miss" Something--a fact which seemed
to him to draw them together.
"I wish you would tell me who some of these people are," he said,
as she turned from talking to the man on her other-side. "Who is
the man over there?"
"The one talking to Lady Maud. The fellow whose face ought to be
shuffled and dealt again."
"That's my brother."
That held George during the soup.
"I'm sorry about your brother," he said rallying with the fish.
"That's very sweet of you."
"It was the light that deceived me. Now that I look again, I see
that his face has great charm."
The girl giggled. George began to feel better.
"Who are some of the others? I didn't get your name, for instance.
They shot it at me so quick that it had whizzed by before I could
"My name is Plummer."
George was electrified. He looked across the table with more vivid
interest. The amorous Plummer had been just a Voice to him till
now. It was exciting to see him in the flesh.
"And who are the rest of them?"
"They are all members of the family. I thought you knew them."
"I know Lord Marshmoreton. And Lady Maud. And, of course, Lord
Belpher." He caught Percy's eye as it surveyed him coldly from the
other side of the table, and nodded cheerfully. "Great pal of
mine, Lord Belpher."
The fluffy Miss Plummer twisted her pretty face into a grimace of
"I don't like Percy."
"I think he's conceited."
"Surely not? 'What could he have to be conceited about?"
"Yes, of course, that's how he strikes people at first. The first
time I met him, I thought he was an awful stiff. But you should see
him in his moments of relaxation. He's one of those fellows you
have to get to know. He grows on you."
"Yes, but look at that affair with the policeman in London.
Everybody in the county is talking about it."
"Young blood!" sighed George. "Young blood! Of course, Percy is
"He must have been intoxicated."
"Oh, undoubtedly," said George.
Miss Plummer glanced across the table.
"Do look at Edwin!"
"Which is Edwin?"
"My brother, I mean. Look at the way he keeps staring Maud. Edwin's
awfully in love with Maud," she rattled on with engaging frankness.
"At least, he thinks he is. He's been in love with a different girl
every season since I came out. And now that Reggie Byng has gone
and married Alice Faraday, he thinks he has a chance. You heard
about that, I suppose?"
"Yes, I did hear something about it."
"Of course, Edwin's wasting his time, really. I happen to
know"--Miss Plummer sank her voice to a whisper--"I happen to know
that Maud's awfully in love with some man she met in Wales last
year, but the family won't hear of it."
"Families are like that," agreed George.
"Nobody knows who he is, but everybody in the county knows all
about it. Those things get about, you know. Of course, out of the
question. Maud will have to marry somebody awfully rich or with a
title. Her family's one of the oldest in England you know."
"So I understand."
"It isn't as if she were the daughter of Lord Peebles, somebody
"Why Lord Peebles?"
"Well, what I mean to say is," said Miss Plummer, with silvery echo
of Reggie Byng, "he made his money in whisky."
"That's better than spending it that way," argued George.
Miss Plummer looked puzzled. "I see what you mean," she said a
little vaguely. "Lord Marshmoreton is so different."
"Haughty nobleman stuff, eh?"
"So you think this mysterious man in Wales hasn't a chance?"
"Not unless he and Maud elope like Reggie Byng and Alice. Wasn't
that exciting? Who would ever have suspected Reggie had the dash to
do a thing like that? Lord Marshmoreton's new secretary is very
pretty, don't you think?"
"Which is she?"
"The girl in black with the golden hair."
"Is she Lord Marshmoreton's secretary?"
"Yes. She's an American girl. I think she's much nicer than Alice
Faraday. I was talking to her before dinner. Her name is Dore. Her
father was a captain in the American army, who died without leaving
her a penny. He was the younger son of a very distinguished family,
but his family disowned him because he married against their
"Something ought to be done to stop these families," said George.
"They're always up to something."
"So Miss Dore had to go out and earn her own living. It must have
been awful for her, mustn't it, having to give up society."
"Did she give up society?"
"Oh, yes. She used to go everywhere in New York before her father
died. I think American girls are wonderful. They have so much
George at the moment was thinking that it was in imagination that
"I wish I could go out and earn my living," said Miss Plummer.
"But the family won't dream of it."
"The family again!" said George sympathetically. "They're a perfect
"I want to go on the stage. Are you fond of the theatre?"
"I love it. Have you see Hubert Broadleigh in "'Twas Once in
"I'm afraid I haven't."
"He's wonderful. Have you see Cynthia Dane in 'A Woman's No'?"
"I missed that one too."
"Perhaps you prefer musical pieces? I saw an awfully good musical
comedy before I left town. It's called 'Follow the Girl'. It's at
the Regal Theatre. Have you see it?"
"I wrote it."
"That is to say, I wrote the music."
"But the music's lovely," gasped little Miss Plummer, as if the
fact made his claim ridiculous. "I've been humming it ever since."
"I can't help that. I still stick to it that I wrote it."
"You aren't George Bevan!"
"But--" Miss Plummer's voice almost failed here--"But I've been
dancing to your music for years! I've got about fifty of your
records on the Victrola at home."
George blushed. However successful a man may be he can never get
used to Fame at close range.
"Why, that tricky thing--you know, in the second act--is the
darlingest thing I ever heard. I'm mad about it."
"Do you mean the one that goes lumty-lumty-tum, tumty-tumty-tum?"
"No the one that goes ta-rumty-tum-tum, ta-rumty-tum.
You know! The one about Granny dancing the shimmy."
"I'm not responsible for the words, you know," urged George
hastily. "Those are wished on me by the lyrist."
"I think the words are splendid. Although poor popper thinks its
improper, Granny's always doing it and nobody can stop her! I loved
it." Miss Plummer leaned forward excitedly. She was an impulsive
girl. "Lady Caroline."
Conversation stopped. Lady Caroline turned.
"Did you know that Mr. Bevan was THE Mr. Bevan?"
Everybody was listening now. George huddled pinkly in his chair. He
had not foreseen this bally-hooing. Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego
combined had never felt a tithe of the warmth that consumed him. He
was essentially a modest young man.
"THE Mr. Bevan?" echoed Lady Caroline coldly. It was painful to her
to have to recognize George's existence on the same planet as
herself. To admire him, as Miss Plummer apparently expected her to
do, was a loathsome task. She cast one glance, fresh from the
refrigerator, at the shrinking George, and elevated her
Miss Plummer was not damped. She was at the hero-worshipping age,
and George shared with the Messrs. Fairbanks, Francis X. Bushman,
and one or two tennis champions an imposing pedestal in her Hall of
"You know! George Bevan, who wrote the music of 'Follow the Girl'."
Lady Caroline showed no signs of thawing. She had not heard of
'Follow the Girl'. Her attitude suggested that, while she admitted
the possibility of George having disgraced himself in the manner
indicated, it was nothing to her.
"And all those other things," pursued Miss Plummer indefatigably.
"You must have heard his music on the Victrola."
"Why, of course!"
It was not Lady Caroline who spoke, but a man further down the
table. He spoke with enthusiasm.
"Of course, by Jove!" he said. "The Schenectady Shimmy, by Jove,
and all that! Ripping!"
Everybody seemed pleased and interested. Everybody, that is to say,
except Lady Caroline and Lord Belpher. Percy was feeling that he
had been tricked. He cursed the imbecility of Keggs in suggesting
that this man should be invited to dinner. Everything had gone
wrong. George was an undoubted success. The majority of the
company were solid for him. As far as exposing his unworthiness in
the eyes of Maud was concerned, the dinner had been a ghastly
failure. Much better to have left him to lurk in his infernal
cottage. Lord Belpher drained his glass moodily. He was seriously
But his discomfort at that moment was as nothing to the agony which
rent his tortured soul a moment later. Lord Marshmoreton, who had
been listening with growing excitement to the chorus of approval,
rose from his seat. He cleared his throat. It was plain that Lord
Marshmoreton had something on his mind.
"Er. . . ." he said.
The clatter of conversation ceased once more--stunned, as it always
is at dinner parties when one of the gathering is seen to have
assumed an upright position. Lord Marshmoreton cleared his throat
again. His tanned face had taken on a deeper hue, and there was a
look in his eyes which seemed to suggest that he was defying
something or somebody. It was the look which Ajax had in his eyes
when he defied the lightning, the look which nervous husbands have
when they announce their intention of going round the corner to bowl
a few games with the boys. One could not say definitely that Lord
Marshmoreton looked pop-eyed. On the other hand, one could not
assert truthfully that he did not. At any rate, he was manifestly
embarrassed. He had made up his mind to a certain course of action
on the spur of the moment, taking advantage, as others have done,
of the trend of popular enthusiasm: and his state of mind was
nervous but resolute, like that of a soldier going over the top.
He cleared his throat for the third time, took one swift glance at
his sister Caroline, then gazed glassily into the emptiness above
"Take this opportunity," he said rapidly, clutching at the
table-cloth for support, "take this opportunity of announcing the
engagement of my daughter Maud to Mr. Bevan. And," he concluded
with a rush, pouring back into his chair, "I should like you all to
drink their health!"
There was a silence that hurt. It was broken by two sounds,
occurring simultaneously in different parts of the room. One was a
gasp from Lady Caroline. The other was a crash of glass.
For the first time in a long unblemished career Keggs the butler
had dropped a tray.
Out on the terrace the night was very still. From a steel-blue sky
the stars looked down as calmly as they had looked on the night of
the ball, when George had waited by the shrubbery listening to the
wailing of the music and thinking long thoughts. From the dark
meadows by the brook came the cry of a corncrake, its harsh note
softened by distance.
"What shall we do?" said Maud. She was sitting on the stone seat
where Reggie Byng had sat and meditated on his love for Alice
Faraday and his unfortunate habit of slicing his approach-shots. To
George, as he stood beside her, she was a white blur in the
darkness. He could not see her face.
"I don't know!" he said frankly.
Nor did he. Like Lady Caroline and Lord Belpher and Keggs, the
butler, he had been completely overwhelmed by Lord Marshmoreton's
dramatic announcement. The situation had come upon him unheralded
by any warning, and had found him unequal to it.
A choking sound suddenly proceeded from the whiteness that was
Maud. In the stillness it sounded like some loud noise. It jarred
on George's disturbed nerves.
"I c-can't help it!"
"There's nothing to cry about, really! If we think long enough, we
shall find some way out all right. Please don't cry."
"I'm not crying!" The choking sound became an unmistakable ripple of
mirth. "It's so absurd! Poor father getting up like that in front
of everyone! Did you see Aunt Caroline's face?"
"It haunts me still," said George. "I shall never forget it. Your
brother didn't seem any too pleased, either."
Maud stopped laughing.
"It's an awful position," she said soberly. "The announcement will
be in the Morning Post the day after tomorrow. And then the letters
of congratulation will begin to pour in. And after that the
presents. And I simply can't see how we can convince them all that
there has been a mistake." Another aspect of the matter struck her.
"It's so hard on you, too."
"Don't think about me," urged George. "Heaven knows I'd give the
whole world if we could just let the thing go on, but there's no
use discussing impossibilities." He lowered his voice. "There's no
use, either, in my pretending that I'm not going to have a pretty
bad time. But we won't discuss that. It was my own fault. I came
butting in on your life of my own free will, and, whatever happens,
it's been worth it to have known you and tried to be of service to
"You're the best friend I've ever had."
"I'm glad you think that."
"The best and kindest friend any girl ever had. I wish . . ."
She broke off. "Oh, well. . ."
There was a silence. In the castle somebody had begun to play the
piano. Then a man's voice began to sing.
"That's Edwin Plummer," said Maud. "How badly he sings."
George laughed. Somehow the intrusion of Plummer had removed the
tension. Plummer, whether designedly and as a sombre commentary on
the situation or because he was the sort of man who does sing that
particular song, was chanting Tosti's "Good-bye". He was giving to
its never very cheery notes a wailing melancholy all his own. A dog
in the stables began to howl in sympathy, and with the sound came a
curious soothing of George's nerves. He might feel broken-hearted
later, but for the moment, with this double accompaniment, it was
impossible for a man with humour in his soul to dwell on the deeper
emotions. Plummer and his canine duettist had brought him to
earth. He felt calm and practical.
"We'd better talk the whole thing over quietly," he said. "There's
certain to be some solution. At the worst you can always go to Lord
Marshmoreton and tell him that he spoke without a sufficient grasp
of his subject."
"I could," said Maud, "but, just at present, I feel as if I'd
rather do anything else in the world. You don't realize what it
must have cost father to defy Aunt Caroline openly like that. Ever
since I was old enough to notice anything, I've seen how she
dominated him. It was Aunt Caroline who really caused all this
trouble. If it had only been father, I could have coaxed him to let
me marry anyone I pleased. I wish, if you possibly can, you would
think of some other solution."
"I haven't had an opportunity of telling you," said George, "that I
called at Belgrave Square, as you asked me to do. I went there
directly I had seen Reggie Byng safely married."
"Did you see him married?"
"I was best man."
"Dear old Reggie! I hope he will be happy."
"He will. Don't worry about that. Well, as I was saying, I called
at Belgrave Square, and found the house shut up. I couldn't get any
answer to the bell, though I kept my thumb on it for minutes at a
time. I think they must have gone abroad again."
"No, it wasn't that. I had a letter from Geoffrey this morning. His
uncle died of apoplexy, while they were in Manchester on a business
trip." She paused. "He left Geoffrey all his money," she went on.
The silence seemed to stretch out interminably. The music from the
castle had ceased. The quiet of the summer night was unbroken. To
George the stillness had a touch of the sinister. It was the
ghastly silence of the end of the world. With a shock he realized
that even now he had been permitting himself to hope, futile as he
recognized the hope to be. Maud had told him she loved another man.
That should have been final. And yet somehow his indomitable
sub-conscious self had refused to accept it as final. But this news
ended everything. The only obstacle that had held Maud and this man
apart was removed. There was nothing to prevent them marrying.
George was conscious of a vast depression. The last strand of the
rope had parted, and he was drifting alone out into the ocean of
"Oh!" he said, and was surprised that his voice sounded very much
the same as usual. Speech was so difficult that it seemed strange
that it should show no signs of effort. "That alters everything,
"He said in his letter that he wanted me to meet him in London
and--talk things over, I suppose."
"There's nothing now to prevent your going. I mean, now that your
father has made this announcement, you are free to go where you
"Yes, I suppose I am."
There was another silence.
"Everything's so difficult," said Maud.
"In what way?"
"Oh, I don't know."
"If you are thinking of me," said George, "please don't. I know
exactly what you mean. You are hating the thought of hurting my
feelings. I wish you would look on me as having no feelings. All I
want is to see you happy. As I said just now, it's enough for me to
know that I've helped you. Do be reasonable about it. The fact that
our engagement has been officially announced makes no difference in
our relations to each other. As far as we two are concerned, we
are exactly where we were the last time we met. It's no worse for
me now than it was then to know that I'm not the man you love, and
that there's somebody else you loved before you ever knew of my
existence. For goodness' sake, a girl like you must be used to
having men tell her that they love her and having to tell them that
she can't love them in return."
"But you're so different."
"Not a bit of it. I'm just one of the crowd."
"I've never known anybody quite like you."
"Well, you've never known anybody quite like Plummer, I should
imagine. But the thought of his sufferings didn't break your
"I've known a million men exactly like Edwin Plummer," said Maud
emphatically. "All the men I ever have known have been like
him--quite nice and pleasant and negative. It never seemed to
matter refusing them. One knew that they would be just a little bit
piqued for a week or two and then wander off and fall in love with
somebody else. But you're different. You . . . matter."
"That is where we disagree. My argument is that, where your
happiness is concerned, I don't matter."
Maud rested her chin on her hand, and stared out into the velvet
"You ought to have been my brother instead of Percy," she said at
last. "What chums we should have been! And how simple that would
have made everything!"
"The best thing for you to do is to regard me as an honorary
brother. That will make everything simple."
"It's easy to talk like that . . . No, it isn't. It's horribly
hard. I know exactly how difficult it is for you to talk as you
have been doing--to try to make me feel better by pretending the
whole trouble is just a trifle . . . It's strange . . . We have
only met really for a few minutes at a time, and three weeks ago I
didn't know there was such a person as you, but somehow I seem to
know everything you're thinking. I've never felt like that before
with any man . . . Even Geoffrey. . . He always puzzled me. . . ."
She broke off. The corncrake began to call again out in the
"I wish I knew what to do," she said with a catch in her voice.
"I'll tell you in two words what to do. The whole thing is absurdly
simple. You love this man and he loves you, and all that kept you
apart before was the fact that he could not afford to marry you.
Now that he is rich, there is no obstacle at all. I simply won't
let you look on me and my feelings as an obstacle. Rule me out
altogether. Your father's mistake has made the situation a little
more complicated than it need have been, but that can easily be
remedied. Imitate the excellent example of Reggie Byng. He was in a
position where it would have been embarrassing to announce what he
intended to do, so he very sensibly went quietly off and did it and
left everybody to find out after it was done. I'm bound to say I
never looked on Reggie as a master mind, but, when it came to find
a way out of embarrassing situations, one has to admit he had the
right idea. Do what he did!"
Maud started. She half rose from the stone seat. George could hear
the quick intake of her breath.
"You mean--run away?"
"Exactly. Run away!"
An automobile swung round the corner of the castle from the
direction of the garage, and drew up, purring, at the steps. There
was a flood of light and the sound of voices, as the great door
opened. Maud rose.
"People are leaving," she said. "I didn't know it was so late." She
stood irresolutely. "I suppose I ought to go in and say good-bye.
But I don't think I can."
"Stay where you are. Nobody will see you."
More automobiles arrived. The quiet of the night was shattered by
the noise of their engines. Maud sat down again.
"I suppose they will think it very odd of me not being there."
"Never mind what people think. Reggie Byng didn't."
Maud's foot traced circles on the dry turf.
"What a lovely night," she said. "There's no dew at all."
The automobiles snorted, tooted, back-fired, and passed away.
Their clamour died in the distance, leaving the night a thing of
peace and magic once more. The door of the castle closed with a
"I suppose I ought to be going in now," said Maud.
"I suppose so. And I ought to be there, too, politely making my
farewells. But something seems to tell me that Lady Caroline and
your brother will be quite ready to dispense with the formalities.
I shall go home."
They faced each other in the darkness.
"Would you really do that?" asked Maud. "Run away, I
mean, and get married in London."
"It's the only thing to do."
"But . . . can one get married as quickly as that?"
"At a registrar's? Nothing simpler. You should have seen
Reggie Byng's wedding. It was over before one realized it had
started. A snuffy little man in a black coat with a cold in his
head asked a few questions, wrote a few words, and the thing was
"That sounds rather . . . dreadful."
"Reggie didn't seem to think so."
"Unromantic, I mean. . . . Prosaic."
"You would supply the romance."
"Of course, one ought to be sensible. It is just the same as a
"In effects, absolutely."
They moved up the terrace together. On the gravel drive by the
steps they paused.
"I'll do it!" said Maud.
George had to make an effort before he could reply. For all his
sane and convincing arguments, he could not check a pang at this
definite acceptance of them. He had begun to appreciate now the
strain under which he had been speaking.
"You must," he said. "Well . . . good-bye."
There was light on the drive. He could see her face. Her eyes were
"What will you do?" she asked.
"I mean, are you going to stay on in your cottage?"
"No, I hardly think I could do that. I shall go back to London
tomorrow, and stay at the Carlton for a few days. Then I shall sail
for America. There are a couple of pieces I've got to do for the
Fall. I ought to be starting on them."
Maud looked away.
"You've got your work," she said almost inaudibly.
George understood her.
"Yes, I've got my work."
She held out her hand.
"You've been very wonderful... Right from the beginning . . .
You've been . . . oh, what's the use of me saying anything?"
"I've had my reward. I've known you. We're friends, aren't we?"
"My best friend."
They shook hands.
"I was never so upset in my life!" said Lady Caroline.
She had been saying the same thing and many other things for the
past five minutes. Until the departure of the last guest she had
kept an icy command of herself and shown an unruffled front to the
world. She had even contrived to smile. But now, with the final
automobile whirring homewards, she had thrown off the mask. The
very furniture of Lord Marshmoreton's study seemed to shrink, seared
by the flame of her wrath. As for Lord Marshmoreton himself, he
looked quite shrivelled.
It had not been an easy matter to bring her erring brother to bay.
The hunt had been in progress full ten minutes before she and Lord
Belpher finally cornered the poor wretch. His plea, through the
keyhole of the locked door, that he was working on the family
history and could not be disturbed, was ignored; and now he was
face to face with the avengers.
"I cannot understand it," continued Lady Caroline. "You know that
for months we have all been straining every nerve to break off this
horrible entanglement, and, just as we had begun to hope that
something might be done, you announce the engagement in the most
public manner. I think you must be out of your mind. I can hardly
believe even now that this appalling thing has happened. I am
hoping that I shall wake up and find it is all a nightmare. How you
can have done such a thing, I cannot understand."
"Quite!" said Lord Belpher.
If Lady Caroline was upset, there are no words in the language that
will adequately describe the emotions of Percy.
From the very start of this lamentable episode in high life, Percy
had been in the forefront of the battle. It was Percy who had had
his best hat smitten from his head in the full view of all
Piccadilly. It was Percy who had suffered arrest and imprisonment
in the cause. It was Percy who had been crippled for days owing to
his zeal in tracking Maud across country. And now all his
sufferings were in vain. He had been betrayed by his own father.
There was, so the historians of the Middle West tell us, a man of
Chicago named Young, who once, when his nerves were unstrung, put
his mother (unseen) in the chopping-machine, and canned her and
labelled her "Tongue". It is enough to say that the glance of
disapproval which Percy cast upon his father at this juncture would
have been unduly severe if cast by the Young offspring upon their
parent at the moment of confession.
Lord Marshmoreton had rallied from his initial panic. The spirit of
revolt began to burn again in his bosom. Once the die is cast for
revolution, there can be no looking back. One must defy, not
apologize. Perhaps the inherited tendencies of a line of ancestors
who, whatever their shortcomings, had at least known how to treat
their women folk, came to his aid. Possibly there stood by his side
in this crisis ghosts of dead and buried Marshmoretons, whispering
spectral encouragement in his ear--the ghosts, let us suppose, of
that earl who, in the days of the seventh Henry, had stabbed his
wife with a dagger to cure her tendency to lecture him at night; or
of that other earl who, at a previous date in the annals of the
family, had caused two aunts and a sister to be poisoned apparently
from a mere whim. At any rate, Lord Marshmoreton produced from
some source sufficient courage to talk back.
"Silly nonsense!" he grunted. "Don't see what you're making all
this fuss about. Maud loves the fellow. I like the fellow.
Perfectly decent fellow. Nothing to make a fuss about. Why
shouldn't I announce the engagement?"
"You must be mad!" cried Lady Caroline. "Your only daughter and a
man nobody knows anything about!"
"Quite!" said Percy.
Lord Marshmoreton seized his advantage with the skill of an adroit
"That's where you're wrong. I know all about him. He's a very rich
man. You heard the way all those people at dinner behaved when they
heard his name. Very celebrated man! Makes thousands of pounds a
year. Perfectly suitable match in every way."
"It is not a suitable match," said Lady Caroline vehemently. "I
don't care whether this Mr. Bevan makes thousands of pounds a year
or twopence-ha'penny. The match is not suitable. Money is not
She broke off. A knock had come on the door. The door opened, and
Billie Dore came in. A kind-hearted girl, she had foreseen that
Lord Marshmoreton might be glad of a change of subject at about
"Would you like me to help you tonight?" she asked brightly. "I
thought I would ask if there was anything you wanted me to do."
Lady Caroline snatched hurriedly at her aristocratic calm. She
resented the interruption acutely, but her manner, when she spoke,
"Lord Marshmoreton will not require your help tonight," she said.
"He will not be working."
"Good night," said Billie.
"Good night," said Lady Caroline.
Percy scowled a valediction.
"Money," resumed Lady Caroline, "is immaterial. Maud is in no
position to be obliged to marry a rich man. What makes the thing
impossible is that Mr. Bevan is nobody. He comes from nowhere. He
has no social standing whatsoever."
"Don't see it," said Lord Marshmoreton. "The fellow's a thoroughly
decent fellow. That's all that matters."
"How can you be so pig-headed! You are talking like an imbecile.
Your secretary, Miss Dore, is a nice girl. But how would you feel
if Percy were to come to you and say that he was engaged to be
married to her?"
"Exactly!" said Percy. "Quite!"
Lord Marshmoreton rose and moved to the door. He did it with a
certain dignity, but there was a strange hunted expression in his
"That would be impossible," he said.
"Precisely," said his sister. "I am glad that you admit it."
Lord Marshmoreton had reached the door, and was standing holding
the handle. He seemed to gather strength from its support.
"I've been meaning to tell you about that," he said.
"About Miss Dore. I married her myself last Wednesday," said Lord
Marshmoreton, and disappeared like a diving duck.
At a quarter past four in the afternoon, two days after the
memorable dinner-party at which Lord Marshmoreton had behaved with
so notable a lack of judgment, Maud sat in Ye Cosy Nooke, waiting
for Geoffrey Raymond. He had said in his telegram that he would
meet her there at four-thirty: but eagerness had brought Maud to the
tryst a quarter of an hour ahead of time: and already the sadness
of her surroundings was causing her to regret this impulsiveness.
Depression had settled upon her spirit. She was aware of something
that resembled foreboding.
Ye Cosy Nooke, as its name will immediately suggest to those who
know their London, is a tea-shop in Bond Street, conducted by
distressed gentlewomen. In London, when a gentlewoman becomes
distressed--which she seems to do on the slightest provocation--she
collects about her two or three other distressed gentlewomen,
forming a quorum, and starts a tea-shop in the West-End, which she
calls Ye Oak Leaf; Ye Olde Willow-Pattern, Ye Linden-Tree, or Ye
Snug Harbour, according to personal taste. There, dressed in
Tyrolese, Japanese, Norwegian, or some other exotic costume, she
and her associates administer refreshments of an afternoon with a
proud languor calculated to knock the nonsense out of the cheeriest
customer. Here you will find none of the coarse bustle and
efficiency of the rival establishments of Lyons and Co., nor the
glitter and gaiety of Rumpelmayer's. These places have an
atmosphere of their own. They rely for their effect on an
insufficiency of light, an almost total lack of ventilation, a
property chocolate cake which you are not supposed to cut, and the
sad aloofness of their ministering angels. It is to be doubted
whether there is anything in the world more damping to the spirit
than a London tea-shop of this kind, unless it be another London
tea-shop of the same kind.
Maud sat and waited. Somewhere out of sight a kettle bubbled in an
undertone, like a whispering pessimist. Across the room two
distressed gentlewomen in fancy dress leaned against the wall.
They, too, were whispering. Their expressions suggested that they
looked on life as low and wished they were well out of it, like the
body upstairs. One assumed that there was a body upstairs. One
cannot help it at these places. One's first thought on entering is
that the lady assistant will approach one and ask in a hushed voice
"Tea or chocolate? And would you care to view the remains?"
Maud looked at her watch. It was twenty past four. She could
scarcely believe that she had only been there five minutes, but the
ticking of the watch assured her that it had not stopped. Her
depression deepened. Why had Geoffrey told her to meet him in a
cavern of gloom like this instead of at the Savoy? She would have
enjoyed the Savoy. But here she seemed to have lost beyond recovery
the first gay eagerness with which she had set out to meet the man
Suddenly she began to feel frightened. Some evil spirit, possibly
the kettle, seemed to whisper to her that she had been foolish in
coming here, to cast doubts on what she had hitherto regarded as
the one rock-solid fact in the world, her love for Geoffrey. Could
she have changed since those days in Wales? Life had been so
confusing of late. In the vividness of recent happenings those days
in Wales seemed a long way off, and she herself different from the
girl of a year ago. She found herself thinking about George Bevan.
It was a curious fact that, the moment she began to think of George
Bevan, she felt better. It was as if she had lost her way in a
wilderness and had met a friend. There was something so capable, so
soothing about George. And how well he had behaved at that last
interview. George seemed somehow to be part of her life. She could
not imagine a life in which he had no share. And he was at this
moment, probably, packing to return to America, and she would never
see him again. Something stabbed at her heart. It was as if she
were realizing now for the first time that he was really going.
She tried to rid herself of the ache at her heart by thinking of
Wales. She closed her eyes, and found that that helped her to
remember. With her eyes shut, she could bring it all back--that
rainy day, the graceful, supple figure that had come to her out of
the mist, those walks over the hills . . . If only Geoffrey would
come! It was the sight of him that she needed.
"There you are!"
Maud opened her eyes with a start. The voice had sounded like
Geoffrey's. But it was a stranger who stood by the table. And not
a particularly prepossessing stranger. In the dim light of Ye Cosy
Nooke, to which her opening eyes had not yet grown accustomed, all
she could see of the man was that he was remarkably stout. She
stiffened defensively. This was what a girl who sat about in
tea-rooms alone had to expect.
"Hope I'm not late," said the stranger, sitting down and breathing
heavily. "I thought a little exercise would do me good, so I
Every nerve in Maud's body seemed to come to life simultaneously.
She tingled from head to foot. It was Geoffrey!
He was looking over his shoulder and endeavouring by snapping his
fingers to attract the attention of the nearest distressed
gentlewoman: and this gave Maud time to recover from the frightful
shock she had received. Her dizziness left her: and, leaving, was
succeeded by a panic dismay. This couldn't be Geoffrey! It was
outrageous that it should be Geoffrey! And yet it undeniably was
Geoffrey. For a year she had prayed that Geoffrey might be given
back to her, and the gods had heard her prayer. They had given her
back Geoffrey, and with a careless generosity they had given her
twice as much of him as she had expected. She had asked for the
slim Apollo whom she had loved in Wales, and this colossal
changeling had arrived in his stead.
We all of us have our prejudices. Maud had a prejudice against fat
men. It may have been the spectacle of her Percy, bulging more and
more every year she had that had caused this kink in her character.
At any rate, and she gazed in sickened silence at Geoffrey. He had
turned again now, and she was enabled to get a full and complete
view of him. He was not merely stout. He was gross. The figure
which had haunted her for a year had spread into a sea of
waistcoat. The keen lines of his face had disappeared altogether.
His cheeks were pink jellies.
One of the distressed gentlewomen had approached with a
slow disdain, and was standing by the table, brooding on the
corpse upstairs. It seemed a shame to bother her.
"Tea or chocolate?" she inquired proudly.
"Tea, please," said Maud, finding her voice.
"One tea," sighed the mourner.
"Chocolate for me," said Geoffrey briskly, with the air of one
discoursing on a congenial topic. "I'd like plenty of whipped
cream. And please see that it's hot."
Geoffrey pondered. This was no light matter that occupied him.
"And bring some fancy cakes--I like the ones with icing on
them--and some tea-cake and buttered toast. Please see there's
plenty of butter on it."
Maud shivered. This man before her was a man in whose lexicon there
should have been no such word as butter, a man who should have
called for the police had some enemy endeavoured to thrust butter
"Well," said Geoffrey leaning forward, as the haughty ministrant
drifted away, "you haven't changed a bit. To look at, I mean."
"No?" said Maud.
"You're just the same. I think I"--he squinted down at his
waistcoat--"have put on a little weight. I don't know if you notice
Maud shivered again. He thought he had put on a little weight, and
didn't know if she had noticed it! She was oppressed by the eternal
melancholy miracle of the fat man who does not realize that he has
"It was living on the yacht that put me a little out of condition,"
said Geoffrey. "I was on the yacht nearly all the time since I saw
you last. The old boy had a Japanese cook and lived pretty high. It
was apoplexy that got him. We had a great time touring about. We
were on the Mediterranean all last winter, mostly at Nice."
"I should like to go to Nice," said Maud, for something to say. She
was feeling that it was not only externally that Geoffrey had
changed. Or had he in reality always been like this, commonplace
and prosaic, and was it merely in her imagination that he had been
"If you ever go," said Geoffrey, earnestly, "don't fail to lunch at
the Hotel Cote d'Azur. They give you the most amazing selection of
hors d'oeuvres you ever saw. Crayfish as big as baby lobsters! And
there's a fish--I've forgotten it's name, it'll come back to
me--that's just like the Florida pompano. Be careful to have it
broiled, not fried. Otherwise you lose the flavour. Tell the
waiter you must have it broiled, with melted butter and a little
parsley and some plain boiled potatoes. It's really astonishing.
It's best to stick to fish on the Continent. People can say what
they like, but I maintain that the French don't really understand
steaks or any sort of red meat. The veal isn't bad, though I prefer
our way of serving it. Of course, what the French are real geniuses
at is the omelet. I remember, when we put in at Toulon for coal, I
went ashore for a stroll, and had the most delicious omelet with
chicken livers beautifully cooked, at quite a small, unpretentious
place near the harbour. I shall always remember it."
The mourner returned, bearing a laden tray, from which she removed
the funeral bakemeats and placed them limply on the table. Geoffrey
shook his head, annoyed.
"I particularly asked for plenty of butter on my toast!" he said.
"I hate buttered toast if there isn't lots of butter. It isn't
worth eating. Get me a couple of pats, will you, and I'll spread it
myself. Do hurry, please, before the toast gets cold. It's no good
if the toast gets cold. They don't understand tea as a meal at
these places," he said to Maud, as the mourner withdrew. "You have
to go to the country to appreciate the real thing. I remember we
lay off Lyme Regis down Devonshire way, for a few days, and I went
and had tea at a farmhouse there. It was quite amazing! Thick
Devonshire cream and home-made jam and cakes of every kind. This
sort of thing here is just a farce. I do wish that woman would
make haste with that butter. It'll be too late in a minute."
Maud sipped her tea in silence. Her heart was like lead within her.
The recurrence of the butter theme as a sort of leit motif in her
companion's conversation was fraying her nerves till she felt she
could endure little more. She cast her mind's eye back over the
horrid months and had a horrid vision of Geoffrey steadily
absorbing butter, day after day, week after week--ever becoming
more and more of a human keg. She shuddered.
Indignation at the injustice of Fate in causing her to give her
heart to a man and then changing him into another and quite
different man fought with a cold terror, which grew as she realized
more and more clearly the magnitude of the mistake she had made.
She felt that she must escape. And yet how could she escape? She
had definitely pledged herself to this man. ("Ah!" cried Geoffrey
gaily, as the pats of butter arrived. "That's more like it!" He
began to smear the toast. Maud averted her eyes.) She had told him
that she loved him, that he was the whole world to her, that there
never would be anyone else. He had come to claim her. How could she
refuse him just because he was about thirty pounds overweight?
Geoffrey finished his meal. He took out a cigarette. ("No smoking,
please!" said the distressed gentlewoman.) He put the cigarette
back in its case. There was a new expression in his eyes now, a
tender expression. For the first time since they had met Maud
seemed to catch a far-off glimpse of the man she had loved in
Wales. Butter appeared to have softened Geoffrey.
"So you couldn't wait!" he said with pathos.
Maud did not understand.
"I waited over a quarter of an hour. It was you who were late."
"I don't mean that. I am referring to your engagement. I saw the
announcement in the Morning Post. Well, I hope you will let me
offer you my best wishes. This Mr. George Bevan, whoever he is, is
Maud had opened her mouth to explain, to say that it was all a
mistake. She closed it again without speaking.
"So you couldn't wait!" proceeded Geoffrey with gentle regret.
"Well, I suppose I ought not to blame you. You are at an age when
it is easy to forget. I had no right to hope that you would be
proof against a few months' separation. I expected too much. But it
is ironical, isn't it! There was I, thinking always of those days
last summer when we were everything to each other, while you had
forgotten me--Forgotten me!" sighed Geoffrey. He picked a fragment
of cake absently off the tablecloth and inserted it in his mouth.
The unfairness of the attack stung Maud to speech. She looked back
over the months, thought of all she had suffered, and ached with
"I hadn't," she cried.
"You hadn't? But you let this other man, this George Bevan, make
love to you."
"I didn't! That was all a mistake."
"Yes. It would take too long to explain, but . . ." She stopped. It
had come to her suddenly, in a flash of clear vision, that the
mistake was one which she had no desire to correct. She felt like
one who, lost in a jungle, comes out after long wandering into the
open air. For days she had been thinking confusedly, unable to
interpret her own emotions: and now everything had abruptly become
clarified. It was as if the sight of Geoffrey had been the key to a
cipher. She loved George Bevan, the man she had sent out of her
life for ever. She knew it now, and the shock of realization made
her feel faint and helpless. And, mingled with the shock of
realization, there came to her the mortification of knowing that
her aunt, Lady Caroline, and her brother, Percy, had been right
after all. What she had mistaken for the love of a lifetime had
been, as they had so often insisted, a mere infatuation, unable to
survive the spectacle of a Geoffrey who had been eating too much
butter and had put on flesh.
Geoffrey swallowed his piece of cake, and bent forward.
"Aren't you engaged to this man Bevan?"
Maud avoided his eye. She was aware that the crisis had arrived,
and that her whole future hung on her next words.
And then Fate came to her rescue. Before she could speak, there was
"Pardon me," said a voice. "One moment!"
So intent had Maud and her companion been on their own affairs that
neither of them observed the entrance of a third party. This was a
young man with mouse-coloured hair and a freckled, badly-shaven
face which seemed undecided whether to be furtive or impudent. He
had small eyes, and his costume was a blend of the flashy and the
shabby. He wore a bowler hat, tilted a little rakishly to one side,
and carried a small bag, which he rested on the table between them.
"Sorry to intrude, miss." He bowed gallantly to Maud, "but I want
to have a few words with Mr. Spenser Gray here."
Maud, looking across at Geoffrey, was surprised to see that his
florid face had lost much of its colour. His mouth was open, and
his eyes had taken a glassy expression.
"I think you have made a mistake," she said coldly. She disliked
the young man at sight. "This is Mr. Raymond."
Geoffrey found speech.
"Of course I'm Mr. Raymond!" he cried angrily. "What do you mean by
coming and annoying us like this?"
The young man was not discomposed. He appeared to be used to being
unpopular. He proceeded as though there had been no interruption.
He produced a dingy card.
"Glance at that," he said. "Messrs. Willoughby and Son, Solicitors.
I'm son. The guv'nor put this little matter into my hands. I've
been looking for you for days, Mr. Gray, to hand you this paper."
He opened the bag like a conjurer performing a trick, and brought
out a stiff document of legal aspect. "You're a witness, miss, that
I've served the papers. You know what this is, of course?" he said
to Geoffrey. "Action for breach of promise of marriage. Our client,
Miss Yvonne Sinclair, of the Regal Theatre, is suing you for ten
thousand pounds. And, if you ask me," said the young man with
genial candour, dropping the professional manner, "I don't mind
telling you, I think it's a walk-over! It's the best little action
for breach we've handled for years." He became professional again.
"Your lawyers will no doubt communicate with us in due course. And,
if you take my advice," he concluded, with another of his swift
changes of manner, "you'll get 'em to settle out of court, for,
between me and you and the lamp-post, you haven't an earthly!"
Geoffrey had started to his feet. He was puffing with outraged
"What the devil do you mean by this?" he demanded. "Can't you see
you've made a mistake? My name is not Gray. This lady has told you
that I am Geoffrey Raymond!"
"Makes it all the worse for you," said the young man imperturbably,
"making advances to our client under an assumed name. We've got
letters and witnesses and the whole bag of tricks. And how about
this photo?" He dived into the bag again. "Do you recognize that,
Maud looked at the photograph. It was unmistakably Geoffrey. And it
had evidently been taken recently, for it showed the later
Geoffrey, the man of substance. It was a full-length photograph and
across the stout legs was written in a flowing hand the legend, "To
Babe from her little Pootles". Maud gave a shudder and handed it
back to the young man, just as Geoffrey, reaching across the table,
made a grab for it.
"I recognize it," she said.
Mr. Willoughby junior packed the photograph away in his bag, and
turned to go.
"That's all for today, then, I think," he said, affably.
He bowed again in his courtly way, tilted the hat a little more to
the left, and, having greeted one of the distressed gentlewomen who
loitered limply in his path with a polite "If you please, Mabel!"
which drew upon him a freezing stare of which he seemed oblivious,
he passed out, leaving behind him strained silence.
Maud was the first to break it.
"I think I'll be going," she said.
The words seemed to rouse her companion from his stupor.
"Let me explain!"
"There's nothing to explain."
"It was just a . . . it was just a passing . . . It was nothing
. . . nothing."
"Pootles!" murmured Maud.
Geoffrey followed her as she moved to the door.
"Be reasonable!" pleaded Geoffrey. "Men aren't saints!
It was nothing! . . . Are you going to end . . . everything
. . . just because I lost my head?"
Maud looked at him with a smile. She was conscious of an
overwhelming relief. The dim interior of Ye Cosy Nooke no longer
seemed depressing. She could have kissed this unknown "Babe" whose
businesslike action had enabled her to close a regrettable chapter
in her life with a clear conscience.
"But you haven't only lost your head, Geoffrey," she said. "You've
lost your figure as well."
She went out quickly. With a convulsive bound Geoffrey started to
follow her, but was checked before he had gone a yard.
There are formalities to be observed before a patron can leave Ye
"If you please!" said a distressed gentlewomanly voice.
The lady whom Mr. Willoughby had addressed as Mabel--erroneously,
for her name was Ernestine--was standing beside him with a slip of
"Six and twopence," said Ernestine.
For a moment this appalling statement drew the unhappy man's mind
from the main issue.
"Six and twopence for a cup of chocolate and a few cakes?" he
cried, aghast. "It's robbery!"
"Six and twopence, please!" said the queen of the bandits with
undisturbed calm. She had been through this sort of thing before.
Ye Cosy Nooke did not get many customers; but it made the most of
those it did get.
"Here!" Geoffrey produced a half-sovereign. "I haven't time to
The distressed brigand showed no gratification. She had the air of
one who is aloof from worldly things. All she wanted was rest and
leisure--leisure to meditate upon the body upstairs. All flesh is
as grass. We are here today and gone tomorrow. But there, beyond
the grave, is peace.
"Your change?" she said.
"Damn the change!"
"You are forgetting your hat."
"Damn my hat!"
Geoffrey dashed from the room. He heaved his body through the door.
He lumbered down the stairs.
Out in Bond Street the traffic moved up and the traffic moved down.
Strollers strolled upon the sidewalks.
But Maud had gone.
IN his bedroom at the Carlton Hotel George Bevan was packing. That
is to say, he had begun packing; but for the last twenty minutes he
had been sitting on the side of the bed, staring into a future
which became bleaker and bleaker the more he examined it. In the
last two days he had been no stranger to these grey moods, and they
had become harder and harder to dispel. Now, with the steamer-trunk
before him gaping to receive its contents, he gave himself up
whole-heartedly to gloom.
Somehow the steamer-trunk, with all that it implied of partings and
voyagings, seemed to emphasize the fact that he was going out alone
into an empty world. Soon he would be on board the liner, every
revolution of whose engines would be taking him farther away from
where his heart would always be. There were moments when the
torment of this realization became almost physical.
It was incredible that three short weeks ago he had been a happy
man. Lonely, perhaps, but only in a vague, impersonal way. Not
lonely with this aching loneliness that tortured him now. What was
there left for him? As regards any triumphs which the future might
bring in connection with his work, he was, as Mac the stage-door
keeper had said, "blarzy". Any success he might have would be but a
stale repetition of other successes which he had achieved. He would
go on working, of course, but--. The ringing of the telephone bell
across the room jerked him back to the present. He got up with a
muttered malediction. Someone calling up again from the theatre
probably. They had been doing it all the time since he had announced
his intention of leaving for America by Saturday's boat.
"Hello?" he said wearily.
"Is that George?" asked a voice. It seemed familiar, but all female
voices sound the same over the telephone.
"This is George," he replied. "Who are you?"
"Don't you know my voice?"
"I do not."
"You'll know it quite well before long. I'm a great talker.'
"Is that Billie?"
"It is not Billie, whoever Billie may be. I am female, George."
"So is Billie."
"Well, you had better run through the list of your feminine friends
till you reach me."
"I haven't any feminine friends."
"You told me in the garden two nights ago that you looked on me as
George sat down abruptly. He felt boneless.
"Is--is that you?" he stammered. "It can't be--Maud!"
"How clever of you to guess. George, I want to ask you one or two
things. In the first place, are you fond of butter?"
George blinked. This was not a dream. He had just still hurt most
convincingly. He needed the evidence to assure himself that he was
"Butter?" he queried. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, well, if you don't even know what butter means, I expect it's
all right. What is your weight, George?"
"About a hundred and eighty pounds. But I don't understand."
"Wait a minute." There was a silence at the other end of the wire.
"About thirteen stone," said Maud's voice. "I've been doing it in
my head. And what was it this time last year?"
"About the same, I think. I always weigh about the same."
"How wonderful! George!"
"This is very important. Have you ever been in Florida?"
"I was there one winter."
"Do you know a fish called the pompano?"
"Tell me about it."
"How do you mean? It's just a fish. You eat it."
"I know. Go into details."
"There aren't any details. You just eat it."
The voice at the other end of the wire purred with approval. "I
never heard anything so splendid. The last man who mentioned
pompano to me became absolutely lyrical about sprigs of parsley and
melted butter. Well, that's that. Now, here's another very
important point. How about wall-paper?"
George pressed his unoccupied hand against his forehead.
This conversation was unnerving him.
"I didn't get that," he said.
"Didn't get what?"
"I mean, I didn't quite catch what you said that time. It
sounded to me like 'What about wall-paper?"
"It was 'What about wall-paper?' Why not?"
"But," said George weakly, "it doesn't make any sense."
"Oh, but it does. I mean, what about wall-paper for your
"Your den. You must have a den. Where do you suppose you're going
to work, if you don't? Now, my idea would be some nice quiet
grass-cloth. And, of course, you would have lots of pictures and
books. And a photograph of me. I'll go and be taken specially. Then
there would be a piano for you to work on, and two or three really
comfortable chairs. And--well, that would be about all, wouldn't
George pulled himself together.
"Hello!" he said.
"Why do you say 'Hello'?"
"I forgot I was in London. I should have said 'Are you there?"
"Yes, I'm here."
"Well, then, what does it all mean?"
"What does what mean?"
"What you've been saying--about butter and pompanos and wall-paper
and my den and all that? I don't understand."
"How stupid of you! I was asking you what sort of wall-paper you
would like in your den after we were married and settled down."
George dropped the receiver. It clashed against the side of the
table. He groped for it blindly.
"Hello!" he said.
"Don't say 'Hello!' It sounds so abrupt!"
"What did you say then?"
"I said 'Don't say Hello!"
"No, before that! Before that! You said something about getting
"Well, aren't we going to get married? Our engagement is announced
in the Morning Post."
"George!" Maud's voice shook. "Don't tell me you are going to jilt
me!" she said tragically. "Because, if you are, let me know in
time, as I shall want to bring an action for breach of promise.
I've just met such a capable young man who will look after the
whole thing for me. He wears a bowler hat on the side of his head
and calls waitresses 'Mabel'. Answer 'yes' or 'no'. Will you marry
"But--But--how about--I mean, what about--I mean how about--?"
"Make up your mind what you do mean."
"The other fellow!" gasped George.
A musical laugh was wafted to him over the wire.
"What about him?"
"Well, what about him?" said George.
"Isn't a girl allowed to change her mind?" said Maud.
George yelped excitedly. Maud gave a cry.
"Don't sing!" she said. "You nearly made me deaf."
"Have you changed your mind?"
"Certainly I have!"
"And you really think--You really want--I mean, you really
want--You really think--"
"Don't be so incoherent!"
"Will you marry me?"
"Of course I will."
"What did you say?"
"I said Gosh! And listen to me, when I say Gosh, I mean Gosh! Where
are you? I must see you. Where can we meet? I want to see you! For
Heaven's sake, tell me where you are. I want to see you! Where are
you? Where are you?"
"Where? Here at the 'Carlton'?"
"Here at the 'Carlton'!"
"You won't be long!" said George.
He hung up the receiver, and bounded across the room to where his
coat hung over the back of a chair. The edge of the steamer-trunk
caught his shin.
"Well," said George to the steamer-trunk, "and what are you butting
in for? Who wants you, I should like to know!"