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A Damsel in Distress by Pelham Grenville Wodehouse

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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.

CHAPTER 6.

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
family escutcheon?"

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
a Socialist.

"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
negligible.

"Send something to drink into the library, Keggs," said Lord
Belpher.

"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,
what?"

Beneath Lady Caroline's aristocratic front agitation seemed to
lurk.

"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
post-mortem?"

"The post-mortem?"

"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
arrive?"

"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.

"All right."

"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
print."

"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 . . ."

"John!"

"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
on, Percy."

"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
you coming."

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
mouth.

"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
afternoon?"

"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
Caroline.

"Piccadilly? The place where Percy fights policemen? I don't
understand."

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
self-respect.

"Yes, I did."

Lady Caroline looked at Lord Belpher. Lord Belpher looked at
Lady Caroline.

"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
away."

"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
he loved.

"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 saw."

"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
stuffed bird.

"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
after you."

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
be watched."

"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
softly.

"That wasn't your experience, Percy, my boy," said Lord
Marshmoreton.

"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.

"I shan't."

"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
the room.

"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
gathering darkness.

"And this has to happen," he said bitterly, "on the eve of my
twenty-first birthday."

CHAPTER 7.

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
path.

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
worse off.

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
from 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
meeting occurred.

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
face.

"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.

"Eh, what?"

"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
his gaze.

"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.

CHAPTER 8.

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
hands.

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
competition impossible.

"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
river."

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
of people.

"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,
Gridley."

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
'armless contusions."

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
villagers."

"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
round."

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
corduroys tolerantly.

"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."

"You're right."

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
do if--"

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."

"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."

"Right ho!"

"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.

CHAPTER 9.

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
'Yes'."

"Yes, m'lady."

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
seventeenth century."

"Lor'", said Albert as a concession, but he was still interested n
the hornet.

"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.

"No, m'lady."

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
that, Albert?"

"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.

"A butcher?"

"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
the censer.

"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
Toosday."

He gazed out over the water-lilies, his thoughts far away. Maud
shuddered. She wondered if medieval pages were ever quite as earthy
as this.

"Perhaps you had better go now, Albert. They may be needing you in
the house."

"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
breath. But--

"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
me."

It was signed "The Man in the Cab".

"Do you know a cottage called 'the one down by Platt's', Albert?"
asked Maud.

"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."

"And, Albert--"

"Yes, 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
queen.

"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."

"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
into trouble."

"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
annoyance."

"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
before dinner."

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
window.

"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.

CHAPTER 10.

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
bosom friend.

"Hullo! Hullo! Hullo!" he observed.

"Good morning," said George.

"Waiting for somebody?"

"No."

"How about it, then? Shall we stagger forth?"

"Delighted."

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. "Sometimes 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
satisfaction.

"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
here?"

George was busy squirting seltzer into his guest's glass.

"Yes. Mrs. Platt comes in and cooks for me. The farmer's wife next
door."

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
conversation.

"The Chappie?"

"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,
what?"

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
ridiculous.

"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.

George pondered.

"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
to say."

"That's bad."

"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,
what?"

"Splendid. Any time you like."

"Well, so long."

"Good-bye."

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