Part 1 out of 5
Etext scanned by Jim Tinsley
by Pelham Grenville Wodehouse
The sunshine of a fair Spring morning fell graciously on London
town. Out in Piccadilly its heartening warmth seemed to infuse
into traffic and pedestrians alike a novel jauntiness, so that
bus drivers jested and even the lips of chauffeurs uncurled into
not unkindly smiles. Policemen whistled at their posts--clerks,
on their way to work; beggars approached the task of trying to
persuade perfect strangers to bear the burden of their
maintenance with that optimistic vim which makes all the
difference. It was one of those happy mornings.
At nine o'clock precisely the door of Number Seven Arundell
Street, Leicester Square, opened and a young man stepped out.
Of all the spots in London which may fairly be described as
backwaters there is none that answers so completely to the
description as Arundell Street, Leicester Square. Passing along
the north sidewalk of the square, just where it joins Piccadilly,
you hardly notice the bottleneck opening of the tiny cul-de-sac.
Day and night the human flood roars past, ignoring it. Arundell
Street is less than forty yards in length; and, though there are
two hotels in it, they are not fashionable hotels. It is just a
In shape Arundell Street is exactly like one of those flat stone
jars in which Italian wine of the cheaper sort is stored. The
narrow neck that leads off Leicester Square opens abruptly into a
small court. Hotels occupy two sides of this; the third is at
present given up to rooming houses for the impecunious. These are
always just going to be pulled down in the name of progress to
make room for another hotel, but they never do meet with that
fate; and as they stand now so will they in all probability stand
for generations to come.
They provide single rooms of moderate size, the bed modestly
hidden during the day behind a battered screen. The rooms contain
a table, an easy-chair, a hard chair, a bureau, and a round tin
bath, which, like the bed, goes into hiding after its useful work
is performed. And you may rent one of these rooms, with breakfast
thrown in, for five dollars a week.
Ashe Marson had done so. He had rented the second-floor front of
Twenty-six years before this story opens there had been born to
Joseph Marson, minister, and Sarah his wife, of Hayling,
Massachusetts, in the United States of America, a son. This son,
christened Ashe after a wealthy uncle who subsequently
double-crossed them by leaving his money to charities, in due
course proceeded to Harvard to study for the ministry. So far as
can be ascertained from contemporary records, he did not study a
great deal for the ministry; but he did succeed in running the
mile in four minutes and a half and the half mile at a
correspondingly rapid speed, and his researches in the art of
long jumping won him the respect of all.
That he should be awarded, at the conclusion of his Harvard
career, one of those scholarships at Oxford University instituted
by the late Cecil Rhodes for the encouragement of the liberal
arts, was a natural sequence of events.
That was how Ashe came to be in England.
The rest of Ashe's history follows almost automatically. He won
his blue for athletics at Oxford, and gladdened thousands by
winning the mile and the half mile two years in succession
against Cambridge at Queen's Club. But owing to the pressure of
other engagements he unfortunately omitted to do any studying,
and when the hour of parting arrived he was peculiarly unfitted
for any of the learned professions. Having, however, managed to
obtain a sort of degree, enough to enable him to call himself a
Bachelor of Arts, and realizing that you can fool some of the
people some of the time, he applied for and secured a series of
A private tutor is a sort of blend of poor relation and
nursemaid, and few of the stately homes of England are without
one. He is supposed to instill learning and deportment into the
small son of the house; but what he is really there for is to
prevent the latter from being a nuisance to his parents when he
is home from school on his vacation.
Having saved a little money at this dreadful trade, Ashe came to
London and tried newspaper work. After two years of moderate
success he got in touch with the Mammoth Publishing Company.
The Mammoth Publishing Company, which controls several important
newspapers, a few weekly journals, and a number of other things,
does not disdain the pennies of the office boy and the junior
clerk. One of its many profitable ventures is a series of
paper-covered tales of crime and adventure. It was here that Ashe
found his niche. Those adventures of Gridley Quayle,
Investigator, which are so popular with a certain section of the
reading public, were his work.
Until the advent of Ashe and Mr. Quayle, the British Pluck
Library had been written by many hands and had included the
adventures of many heroes: but in Gridley Quayle the proprietors
held that the ideal had been reached, and Ashe received a
commission to conduct the entire British Pluck
Library--monthly--himself. On the meager salary paid him for
these labors he had been supporting himself ever since.
That was how Ashe came to be in Arundell Street, Leicester Square,
on this May morning.
He was a tall, well-built, fit-looking young man, with a clear
eye and a strong chin; and he was dressed, as he closed the front
door behind him, in a sweater, flannel trousers, and rubber-soled
gymnasium shoes. In one hand he bore a pair of Indian clubs, in
the other a skipping rope.
Having drawn in and expelled the morning air in a measured and
solemn fashion, which the initiated observer would have
recognized as that scientific deep breathing so popular nowadays,
he laid down his clubs, adjusted his rope and began to skip.
When he had taken the second-floor front of Number Seven, three
months before, Ashe Marson had realized that he must forego those
morning exercises which had become a second nature to him, or
else defy London's unwritten law and brave London's mockery. He
had not hesitated long. Physical fitness was his gospel. On the
subject of exercise he was confessedly a crank. He decided to
The first time he appeared in Arundell Street in his sweater and
flannels he had barely whirled his Indian clubs once around his
head before he had attracted the following audience:
a) Two cabmen--one intoxicated;
b) Four waiters from the Hotel Mathis;
c) Six waiters from the Hotel Previtali;
d) Six chambermaids from the Hotel Mathis;
e) Five chambermaids from the Hotel Previtali;
f) The proprietor of the Hotel Mathis;
g) The proprietor of the Hotel Previtali;
h) A street cleaner;
i) Eleven nondescript loafers;
j) Twenty-seven children;
k) A cat.
They all laughed--even the cat--and kept on laughing. The
intoxicated cabman called Ashe "Sunny Jim." And Ashe kept on
swinging his clubs.
A month later, such is the magic of perseverance, his audience
had narrowed down to the twenty-seven children. They still
laughed, but without that ringing conviction which the
sympathetic support of their elders had lent them.
And now, after three months, the neighborhood, having accepted
Ashe and his morning exercises as a natural phenomenon, paid him
no further attention.
On this particular morning Ashe Marson skipped with even more
than his usual vigor. This was because he wished to expel by
means of physical fatigue a small devil of discontent, of whose
presence within him he had been aware ever since getting out of
bed. It is in the Spring that the ache for the larger life comes
on us, and this was a particularly mellow Spring morning. It was
the sort of morning when the air gives us a feeling of
anticipation--a feeling that, on a day like this, things surely
cannot go jogging along in the same dull old groove; a
premonition that something romantic and exciting is about to
happen to us.
But the southwest wind of Spring brings also remorse. We catch
the vague spirit of unrest in the air and we regret our misspent
Ashe was doing this. Even as he skipped, he was conscious of a
wish that he had studied harder at college and was now in a
position to be doing something better than hack work for a
soulless publishing company. Never before had he been so
completely certain that he was sick to death of the rut into
which he had fallen.
Skipping brought no balm. He threw down his rope and took up the
Indian clubs. Indian clubs left him still unsatisfied. The
thought came to him that it was a long time since he had done his
Larsen Exercises. Perhaps they would heal him.
The Larsen Exercises, invented by a certain Lieutenant Larsen, of
the Swedish Army, have almost every sort of merit. They make a
man strong, supple, and slender. But they are not dignified.
Indeed, to one seeing them suddenly and without warning for the
first time, they are markedly humorous. The only reason why King
Henry, of England, whose son sank with the White Ship, never
smiled again, was because Lieutenant Larsen had not then invented
his admirable exercises.
So complacent, so insolently unselfconscious had Ashe become in
the course of three months, owing to his success in inducing the
populace to look on anything he did with the indulgent eye of
understanding, that it simply did not occur to him, when he
abruptly twisted his body into the shape of a corkscrew, in
accordance with the directions in the lieutenant's book for the
consummation of Exercise One, that he was doing anything funny.
And the behavior of those present seemed to justify his
confidence. The proprietor of the Hotel Mathis regarded him
without a smile. The proprietor of the Hotel Previtali might have
been in a trance, for all the interest he displayed. The hotel
employees continued their tasks impassively. The children were
blind and dumb. The cat across the way stropped its backbone
against the railings unheeding.
But, even as he unscrambled himself and resumed a normal posture,
from his immediate rear there rent the quiet morning air a clear
and musical laugh. It floated out on the breeze and hit him like
Three months ago Ashe would have accepted the laugh as
inevitable, and would have refused to allow it to embarrass him;
but long immunity from ridicule had sapped his resolution. He
spun round with a jump, flushed and self-conscious.
From the window of the first-floor front of Number Seven a girl
was leaning. The Spring sunshine played on her golden hair and
lit up her bright blue eyes, fixed on his flanneled and sweatered
person with a fascinated amusement. Even as he turned, the laugh
smote him afresh.
For the space of perhaps two seconds they stared at each other,
eye to eye. Then she vanished into the room.
Ashe was beaten. Three months ago a million girls could have
laughed at his morning exercises without turning him from his
purpose. Today this one scoffer, alone and unaided, was
sufficient for his undoing. The depression which exercise had
begun to dispel surged back on him. He had no heart to continue.
Sadly gathering up his belongings, he returned to his room, and
found a cold bath tame and uninspiring.
The breakfasts--included in the rent--provided by Mrs. Bell, the
landlady of Number Seven, were held by some authorities to be
specially designed to quell the spirits of their victims, should
they tend to soar excessively. By the time Ashe had done his best
with the disheveled fried egg, the chicory blasphemously called
coffee, and the charred bacon, misery had him firmly in its grip.
And when he forced himself to the table, and began to try to
concoct the latest of the adventures of Gridley Quayle,
Investigator, his spirit groaned within him.
This morning, as he sat and chewed his pen, his loathing for
Gridley seemed to have reached its climax. It was his habit, in
writing these stories, to think of a good title first, and then
fit an adventure to it. And overnight, in a moment of
inspiration, he had jotted down on an envelope the words: "The
Adventure of the Wand of Death."
It was with the sullen repulsion of a vegetarian who finds a
caterpillar in his salad that he now sat glaring at them.
The title had seemed so promising overnight--so full of strenuous
possibilities. It was still speciously attractive; but now that
the moment had arrived for writing the story its flaws became
What was a wand of death? It sounded good; but, coming down to
hard facts, what was it? You cannot write a story about a wand of
death without knowing what a wand of death is; and, conversely,
if you have thought of such a splendid title you cannot jettison
it offhand. Ashe rumpled his hair and gnawed his pen.
There came a knock at the door.
Ashe spun round in his chair. This was the last straw! If he had
told Mrs. Ball once that he was never to be disturbed in the
morning on any pretext whatsoever, he had told her twenty times.
It was simply too infernal to be endured if his work time was to
be cut into like this. Ashe ran over in his mind a few opening
"Come in!" he shouted, and braced himself for battle.
A girl walked in--the girl of the first-floor front; the girl
with the blue eyes, who had laughed at his Larsen Exercises.
Various circumstances contributed to the poorness of the figure
Ashe cut in the opening moments of this interview. In the first
place, he was expecting to see his landlady, whose height was
about four feet six, and the sudden entry of somebody who was
about five feet seven threw the universe temporarily out of
focus. In the second place, in anticipation of Mrs. Bell's entry,
he had twisted his face into a forbidding scowl, and it was no
slight matter to change this on the spur of the moment into a
pleasant smile. Finally, a man who has been sitting for half an
hour in front of a sheet of paper bearing the words: "The
Adventure of the Wand of Death," and trying to decide what a wand
of death might be, has not his mind under proper control.
The net result of these things was that, for perhaps half a
minute, Ashe behaved absurdly. He goggled and he yammered. An
alienist, had one been present, would have made up his mind about
him without further investigation. For an appreciable time he did
not think of rising from his seat. When he did, the combined leap
and twist he executed practically amounted to a Larsen Exercise.
Nor was the girl unembarrassed. If Ashe had been calmer he would
have observed on her cheek the flush which told that she, too,
was finding the situation trying. But, woman being ever better
equipped with poise than man, it was she who spoke first.
"I'm afraid I'm disturbing you."
"No, no!" said Ashe. "Oh, no; not at all--not at all! No. Oh,
no--not at all--no!" And would have continued to play on the
theme indefinitely had not the girl spoken again.
"I wanted to apologize," she said, "for my abominable rudeness in
laughing at you just now. It was idiotic of me and I don't know
why I did it. I'm sorry."
Science, with a thousand triumphs to her credit, has not yet
succeeded in discovering the correct reply for a young man to
make who finds himself in the appalling position of being
apologized to by a pretty girl. If he says nothing he seems
sullen and unforgiving. If he says anything he makes a fool of
himself. Ashe, hesitating between these two courses, suddenly
caught sight of the sheet of paper over which he had been poring
"What is a wand of death?" he asked.
"I beg your pardon?"
"A wand of death?"
"I don't understand."
The delirium of the conversation was too much for Ashe. He burst
out laughing. A moment later the girl did the same. And
simultaneously embarrassment ceased to be.
"I suppose you think I'm mad?" said Ashe.
"Certainly," said the girl.
"Well, I should have been if you hadn't come in."
"Why was that?"
"I was trying to write a detective story."
"I was wondering whether you were a writer."
"Do you write?"
"Yes. Do you ever read Home Gossip?"
"You are quite right to speak in that thankful tone. It's a
horrid little paper--all brown-paper patterns and advice to the
lovelorn and puzzles. I do a short story for it every week, under
various names. A duke or an earl goes with each story. I loathe
"I am sorry for your troubles," said Ashe firmly; "but we are
wandering from the point. What is a wand of death?"
"A wand of death?"
"A wand of death."
The girl frowned reflectively.
"Why, of course; it's the sacred ebony stick stolen from the
Indian temple, which is supposed to bring death to whoever
possesses it. The hero gets hold of it, and the priests dog him
and send him threatening messages. What else could it be?"
Ashe could not restrain his admiration.
"This is genius!"
"Absolute genius. I see it all. The hero calls in Gridley Quayle,
and that patronizing ass, by the aid of a series of wicked
coincidences, solves the mystery; and there am I, with another
month's work done."
She looked at him with interest.
"Are you the author of Gridley Quayle?"
"Don't tell me you read him!"
"I do not read him! But he is published by the same firm that
publishes Home Gossip, and I can't help seeing his cover
sometimes while I am waiting in the waiting room to see the
Ashe felt like one who meets a boyhood's chum on a desert island.
Here was a real bond between them.
"Does the Mammoth publish you, too? Why, we are comrades in
misfortune--fellow serfs! We should be friends. Shall we be
"I should be delighted."
"Shall we shake hands, sit down, and talk about ourselves a
"But I am keeping you from your work."
"An errand of mercy."
She sat down. It is a simple act, this of sitting down; but, like
everything else, it may be an index to character. There was
something wholly satisfactory to Ashe in the manner in which this
girl did it. She neither seated herself on the extreme edge of
the easy-chair, as one braced for instant flight; nor did she
wallow in the easy-chair, as one come to stay for the week-end.
She carried herself in an unconventional situation with an
unstudied self-confidence that he could not sufficiently admire.
Etiquette is not rigid in Arundell Street; but, nevertheless, a
girl in a first-floor front may be excused for showing surprise
and hesitation when invited to a confidential chat with a
second-floor front young man whom she has known only five
minutes. But there is a freemasonry among those who live in large
cities on small earnings.
"Shall we introduce ourselves?" said Ashe. "Or did Mrs. Bell tell
you my name? By the way, you have not been here long, have you?"
"I took my room day before yesterday. But your name, if you are
the author of Gridley Quayle, is Felix Clovelly, isn't it?"
"Good heavens, no! Surely you don't think anyone's name could
really be Felix Clovelly? That is only the cloak under which I
hide my shame. My real name is Marson--Ashe Marson. And yours?"
"Will you tell me the story of your life, or shall I tell mine
"I don't know that I have any particular story. I am an
"Because it is too extraordinary, too much like a Gridley Quayle
coincidence. I am an American!"
"Well, so are a good many other people."
"You miss the point. We are not only fellow serfs--we are fellow
exiles. You can't round the thing off by telling me you were born
in Hayling, Massachusetts, I suppose?"
"I was born in New York."
"Surely not! I didn't know anybody was."
"Why Hayling, Massachusetts?"
"That was where I was born."
"I'm afraid I never heard of it."
"Strange. I know your home town quite well. But I have not yet
made my birthplace famous; in fact, I doubt whether I ever shall.
I am beginning to realize that I am one of the failures."
"How old are you?"
"You are only twenty-six and you call yourself a failure? I think
that is a shameful thing to say."
"What would you call a man of twenty-six whose only means of
making a living was the writing of Gridley Quayle stories--an
"How do you know it's your only means of making a living? Why
don't you try something new?"
"How should I know? Anything that comes along. Good gracious, Mr.
Marson; here you are in the biggest city in the world, with
chances for adventure simply shrieking to you on every side."
"I must be deaf. The only thing I have heard shrieking to me on
every side has been Mrs. Bell--for the week's rent."
"Read the papers. Read the advertisement columns. I'm sure you
will find something sooner or later. Don't get into a groove. Be
an adventurer. Snatch at the next chance, whatever it is."
"Continue," he said. "Proceed. You are stimulating me."
"But why should you want a girl like me to stimulate you? Surely
London is enough to do it without my help? You can always find
something new, surely? Listen, Mr. Marson. I was thrown on my own
resources about five years ago--never mind how. Since then I have
worked in a shop, done typewriting, been on the stage, had a
position as governess, been a lady's maid--"
"A what! A lady's maid?"
"Why not? It was all experience; and I can assure you I would
much rather be a lady's maid than a governess."
"I think I know what you mean. I was a private tutor once. I
suppose a governess is the female equivalent. I have often
wondered what General Sherman would have said about private
tutoring if he expressed himself so breezily about mere war. Was
it fun being a lady's maid?"
"It was pretty good fun; and it gave me an opportunity of
studying the aristocracy in its native haunts, which has made me
the Gossip's established authority on dukes and earls."
Ashe drew a deep breath--not a scientific deep breath, but one of
"You are perfectly splendid!"
"I mean, you have such pluck."
"Oh, well; I keep on trying. I'm twenty-three and I haven't
achieved anything much yet; but I certainly don't feel like
sitting back and calling myself a failure."
Ashe made a grimace.
"All right," he said. "I've got it."
"I meant you to," said Joan placidly. "I hope I haven't bored you
with my autobiography, Mr. Marson. I'm not setting myself up as a
shining example; but I do like action and hate stagnation."
"You are absolutely wonderful!" said Ashe. "You are a human
correspondence course in efficiency, one of the ones you see
advertised in the back pages of the magazines, beginning, 'Young
man, are you earning enough?' with a picture showing the dead
beat gazing wistfully at the boss' chair. You would galvanize a
"If I have really stimulated you-----"
"I think that was another slam," said Ashe pensively. "Well, I
deserve it. Yes, you have stimulated me. I feel like a new man.
It's queer that you should have come to me right on top of
everything else. I don't remember when I have felt so restless
and discontented as this morning."
"It's the Spring."
"I suppose it is. I feel like doing something big and
"Well, do it then. You have a Morning Post on the table. Have you
read it yet?"
"I glanced at it."
"But you haven't read the advertisement pages? Read them. They
may contain just the opening you want."
"Well, I'll do it; but my experience of advertisement pages is
that they are monopolized by philanthropists who want to lend you
any sum from ten to a hundred thousand pounds on your note of
hand only. However, I will scan them."
Joan rose and held out her hand.
"Good-by, Mr. Marson. You've got your detective story to write,
and I have to think out something with a duke in it by to-night;
so I must be going." She smiled. "We have traveled a good way
from the point where we started, but I may as well go back to it
before I leave you. I'm sorry I laughed at you this morning."
Ashe clasped her hand in a fervent grip.
"I'm not. Come and laugh at me whenever you feel like it. I like
being laughed at. Why, when I started my morning exercises, half
of London used to come and roll about the sidewalks in
convulsions. I'm not an attraction any longer and it makes me
feel lonesome. There are twenty-nine of those Larsen Exercises
and you saw only part of the first. You have done so much for me
that if I can be of any use to you, in helping you to greet the
day with a smile, I shall be only too proud. Exercise Six is a
sure-fire mirth-provoker; I'll start with it to-morrow morning. I
can also recommend Exercise Eleven--a scream! Don't miss it."
"Very well. Well, good-by for the present."
She was gone; and Ashe, thrilling with new emotions, stared at
the door which had closed behind her. He felt as though he had
been wakened from sleep by a powerful electric shock.
Close beside the sheet of paper on which he had inscribed the now
luminous and suggestive title of his new Gridley Quayle story lay
the Morning Post, the advertisement columns of which he had
promised her to explore. The least he could do was to begin at
His spirits sank as he did so. It was the same old game. A Mr.
Brian MacNeill, though doing no business with minors, was
willing--even anxious--to part with his vast fortune to anyone
over the age of twenty-one whose means happened to be a trifle
straitened. This good man required no security whatever; nor did
his rivals in generosity, the Messrs. Angus Bruce, Duncan
Macfarlane, Wallace Mackintosh and Donald MacNab. They, too,
showed a curious distaste for dealing with minors; but anyone of
maturer years could simply come round to the office and help
Ashe threw the paper down wearily. He had known all along that it
was no good. Romance was dead and the unexpected no longer
happened. He picked up his pen and began to write "The Adventure
of the Wand of Death."
In a bedroom on the fourth floor of the Hotel Guelph in
Piccadilly, the Honorable Frederick Threepwood sat in bed, with
his knees drawn up to his chin, and glared at the day with the
glare of mental anguish. He had very little mind, but what he had
He had just remembered. It is like that in this life. You wake
up, feeling as fit as a fiddle; you look at the window and see
the sun, and thank Heaven for a fine day; you begin to plan a
perfectly corking luncheon party with some of the chappies you
met last night at the National Sporting Club; and then--you
"Oh, dash it!" said the Honorable Freddie. And after a moment's
pause: "And I was feeling so dashed happy!"
For the space of some minutes he remained plunged in sad
meditation; then, picking up the telephone from the table at his
side, he asked for a number.
"Hello!" responded a rich voice at the other end of the wire.
"Oh, I say! Is that you, Dickie?"
"Who is that?"
"This is Freddie Threepwood. I say, Dickie, old top, I want to
see you about something devilish important. Will you be in at
"Certainly. What's the trouble?"
"I can't explain over the wire; but it's deuced serious."
"Very well. By the way, Freddie, congratulations on the
"Thanks, old man. Thanks very much, and so on--but you won't
forget to be in at twelve, will you? Good-by."
He replaced the receiver quickly and sprang out of bed, for he
had heard the door handle turn. When the door opened he was
giving a correct representation of a young man wasting no time in
beginning his toilet for the day.
An elderly, thin-faced, bald-headed, amiably vacant man entered.
He regarded the Honorable Freddie with a certain disfavor.
"Are you only just getting up, Frederick?"
"Hello, gov'nor. Good morning. I shan't be two ticks now."
"You should have been out and about two hours ago. The day is
"Shan't be more than a minute, gov'nor, now. Just got to have a
tub and then chuck on a few clothes."
He disappeared into the bathroom. His father, taking a chair,
placed the tips of his fingers together and in this attitude
remained motionless, a figure of disapproval and suppressed
Like many fathers in his rank of life, the Earl of Emsworth had
suffered much through that problem which, with the exception of
Mr. Lloyd-George, is practically the only fly in the British
aristocratic amber--the problem of what to do with the younger
It is useless to try to gloss over the fact--in the aristocratic
families of Great Britain the younger son is not required.
Apart, however, from the fact that he was a younger son, and, as
such, a nuisance in any case, the honorable Freddie had always
annoyed his father in a variety of ways. The Earl of Emsworth was
so constituted that no man or thing really had the power to
trouble him deeply; but Freddie had come nearer to doing it than
anybody else in the world. There had been a consistency, a
perseverance, about his irritating performances that had acted on
the placid peer as dripping water on a stone. Isolated acts of
annoyance would have been powerless to ruffle his calm; but
Freddie had been exploding bombs under his nose since he went to
He had been expelled from Eton for breaking out at night and
roaming the streets of Windsor in a false mustache. He had been
sent down from Oxford for pouring ink from a second-story window
on the junior dean of his college. He had spent two years at an
expensive London crammer's and failed to pass into the army. He
had also accumulated an almost record series of racing debts,
besides as shady a gang of friends--for the most part vaguely
connected with the turf--as any young man of his age ever
contrived to collect.
These things try the most placid of parents; and finally Lord
Emsworth had put his foot down. It was the only occasion in his
life when he had acted with decision, and he did it with the
accumulated energy of years. He stopped his son's allowance,
haled him home to Blandings Castle, and kept him there so
relentlessly that until the previous night, when they had come up
together by an afternoon train, Freddie had not seen London for
nearly a year.
Possibly it was the reflection that, whatever his secret
troubles, he was at any rate once more in his beloved metropolis
that caused Freddie at this point to burst into discordant song.
He splashed and warbled simultaneously.
Lord Emsworth's frown deepened and he began to tap his fingers
together irritably. Then his brow cleared and a pleased smile
flickered over his face. He, too, had remembered.
What Lord Emsworth remembered was this: Late in the previous
autumn the next estate to Blandings had been rented by an
American, a Mr. Peters--a man with many millions, chronic
dyspepsia, and one fair daughter--Aline. The two families had
met. Freddie and Aline had been thrown together; and, only a few
days before, the engagement had been announced. And for Lord
Emsworth the only flaw in this best of all possible worlds had
Yes, he was glad Freddie was engaged to be married to Aline
Peters. He liked Aline. He liked Mr. Peters. Such was the relief
he experienced that he found himself feeling almost affectionate
toward Freddie, who emerged from the bathroom at this moment,
clad in a pink bathrobe, to find the paternal wrath evaporated,
and all, so to speak, right with the world.
Nevertheless, he wasted no time about his dressing. He was always
ill at ease in his father's presence and he wished to be
elsewhere with all possible speed. He sprang into his trousers
with such energy that he nearly tripped himself up. As he
disentangled himself he recollected something that had slipped
"By the way, gov'nor, I met an old pal of mine last night and
asked him down to Blandings this week. That's all right, isn't
it? He's a man named Emerson, an American. He knows Aline quite
well, he says--has known her since she was a kid."
"I do not remember any friend of yours named Emerson."
"Well, as a matter of fact, I met him last night for the first
time. But it's all right. He's a good chap, don't you know!
--and all that sort of rot."
Lord Emsworth was feeling too benevolent to raise the objections
he certainly would have raised had his mood been less sunny.
"Certainly; let him come if he wishes."
Freddie completed his toilet.
"Doing anything special this morning, gov'nor? I rather thought
of getting a bit of breakfast and then strolling round a bit.
Have you had breakfast?"
"Two hours ago. I trust that in the course of your strolling you
will find time to call at Mr. Peters' and see Aline. I shall be
going there directly after lunch. Mr. Peters wishes to show me
his collection of--I think scarabs was the word he used."
"Oh, I'll look in all right! Don't you worry! Or if I don't I'll
call the old boy up on the phone and pass the time of day. Well,
I rather think I'll be popping off and getting that bit of
Several comments on this speech suggested themselves to Lord
Emsworth. In the first place, he did not approve of Freddie's
allusion to one of America's merchant princes as "the old boy."
Second, his son's attitude did not strike him as the ideal
attitude of a young man toward his betrothed. There seemed to be
a lack of warmth. But, he reflected, possibly this was simply
another manifestation of the modern spirit; and in any case it
was not worth bothering about; so he offered no criticism.
Presently, Freddie having given his shoes a flick with a silk
handkerchief and thrust the latter carefully up his sleeve, they
passed out and down into the main lobby of the hotel, where they
parted--Freddie to his bit of breakfast; his father to potter
about the streets and kill time until luncheon. London was always
a trial to the Earl of Emsworth. His heart was in the country and
the city held no fascinations for him.
* * *
On one of the floors in one of the buildings in one of the
streets that slope precipitously from the Strand to the Thames
Embankment, there is a door that would be all the better for a
lick of paint, which bears what is perhaps the most modest and
unostentatious announcement of its kind in London. The grimy
ground-glass displays the words:
Simply that and nothing more. It is rugged in its simplicity.
You wonder, as you look at it--if you have time to look at and
wonder about these things--who this Jones may be; and what is the
business he conducts with such coy reticence.
As a matter of fact, these speculations had passed through
suspicious minds at Scotland Yard, which had for some time taken
not a little interest in R. Jones. But beyond ascertaining that
he bought and sold curios, did a certain amount of bookmaking
during the flat-racing season, and had been known to lend money,
Scotland Yard did not find out much about Mr. Jones and presently
dismissed him from its thoughts.
On the theory, given to the world by William Shakespeare, that it
is the lean and hungry-looking men who are dangerous, and that
the "fat, sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o' nights," are
harmless, R. Jones should have been above suspicion. He was
infinitely the fattest man in the west-central postal district of
London. He was a round ball of a man, who wheezed when he walked
upstairs, which was seldom, and shook like jelly if some tactless
friend, wishing to attract his attention, tapped him unexpectedly
on the shoulder. But this occurred still less frequently than his
walking upstairs; for in R. Jones' circle it was recognized that
nothing is a greater breach of etiquette and worse form than to
tap people unexpectedly on the shoulder. That, it was felt,
should be left to those who are paid by the government to do it.
R. Jones was about fifty years old, gray-haired, of a mauve
complexion, jovial among his friends, and perhaps even more
jovial with chance acquaintances. It was estimated by envious
intimates that his joviality with chance acquaintances, specially
with young men of the upper classes, with large purses and small
foreheads--was worth hundreds of pounds a year to him. There was
something about his comfortable appearance and his jolly manner
that irresistibly attracted a certain type of young man. It was
his good fortune that this type of young man should be the type
financially most worth attracting.
Freddie Threepwood had fallen under his spell during his short
but crowded life in London. They had met for the first time at
the Derby; and ever since then R. Jones had held in Freddie's
estimation that position of guide, philosopher and friend which
he held in the estimation of so many young men of Freddie's
That was why, at twelve o'clock punctually on this Spring day, he
tapped with his cane on R. Jones' ground glass, and showed such
satisfaction and relief when the door was opened by the
proprietor in person.
"Well, well, well!" said R. Jones rollickingly. "Whom have we
here? The dashing bridegroom-to-be, and no other!"
R. Jones, like Lord Emsworth, was delighted that Freddie was
about to marry a nice girl with plenty of money. The sudden
turning off of the tap from which Freddie's allowance had flowed
had hit him hard. He had other sources of income, of course; but
few so easy and unfailing as Freddie had been in the days of his
"The prodigal son, by George! Creeping back into the fold after
all this weary time! It seems years since I saw you, Freddie.
The old gov'nor put his foot down--didn't he?--and stopped the
funds. Damned shame! I take it that things have loosened up a bit
since the engagement was announced--eh?"
Freddie sat down and chewed the knob of his cane unhappily.
"Well, as a matter of fact, Dickie, old top," he said, "not so
that you could notice it, don't you know! Things are still pretty
much the same. I managed to get away from Blandings for a night,
because the gov'nor had to come to London; but I've got to go
back with him on the three-o'clock train. And, as for money, I
can't get a quid out of him. As a matter of fact, I'm in the
deuce of a hole; and that's why I've come to you."
Even fat, jovial men have their moments of depression. R. Jones'
face clouded, and jerky remarks about hardness of times and
losses on the Stock Exchange began to proceed from him. As
Scotland Yard had discovered, he lent money on occasion; but he
did not lend it to youths in Freddie's unfortunate position.
"Oh, I don't want to make a touch, you know," Freddie hastened to
explain. "It isn't that. As a matter of fact, I managed to raise
five hundred of the best this morning. That ought to be enough."
"Depends on what you want it for," said R. Jones, magically genial
The thought entered his mind, as it had so often, that the world
was full of easy marks. He wished he could meet the money-lender
who had been rash enough to advance the Honorable Freddie five
hundred pounds. Those philanthropists cross our path too seldom.
Freddie felt in his pocket, produced a cigarette case, and from
it extracted a newspaper clipping.
"Did you read about poor old Percy in the papers? The case, you
"Lord Stockheath, you know."
"Oh, the Stockheath breach-of-promise case? I did more than that.
I was in court all three days." R. Jones emitted a cozy chuckle.
"Is he a pal of yours? A cousin, eh? I wish you had seen him in
the witness box, with Jellicoe-Smith cross-examining him! The
funniest thing I ever heard! And his letters to the girl! They
read them out in court; and of all--"
"Don't, old man! Dickie, old top--please! I know all about it. I
read the reports. They made poor old Percy look like an absolute
"Well, Nature had done that already; but I'm bound to say they
improved on Nature's work. I should think your Cousin Percy must
have felt like a plucked chicken."
A spasm of pain passed over the Honorable Freddie's vacant face.
He wriggled in his chair.
"Dickie, old man, I wish you wouldn't talk like that. It makes me
"Why, is he such a pal of yours as all that?"
"It's not that. It's--the fact is, Dickie, old top, I'm in
exactly the same bally hole as poor old Percy was, myself!"
"What! You have been sued for breach of promise?"
"Not absolutely that--yet. Look here; I'll tell you the whole
thing. Do you remember a show at the Piccadilly about a year ago
called "The Baby Doll"? There was a girl in the chorus."
"Several--I remember noticing."
"No; I mean one particular girl--a girl called Joan Valentine.
The rotten part is that I never met her."
"Pull yourself together, Freddie. What exactly is the trouble?"
"Well--don't you see?--I used to go to the show every other
night, and I fell frightfully in love with this girl--"
"Without having met her?"
"Yes. You see, I was rather an ass in those days."
"No, no!" said R. Jones handsomely.
"I must have been or I shouldn't have been such an ass, don't you
know! Well, as I was saying, I used to write this girl letters,
saying how much I was in love with her; and--and--"
"Specifically proposing marriage?"
"I can't remember. I expect I did. I was awfully in love."
"How was that if you never met her?"
"She wouldn't meet me. She wouldn't even come out to luncheon.
She didn't even answer my letters--just sent word down by the
Johnny at the stage door. And then----"
Freddie's voice died away. He thrust the knob of his cane into
his mouth in a sort of frenzy.
"What then?" inquired R. Jones.
A scarlet blush manifested itself on Freddie's young face. His
eyes wandered sidewise. After a long pause a single word escaped
him, almost inaudible:
R. Jones trembled as though an electric current had been passed
through his plump frame. His little eyes sparkled with merriment.
"You wrote her poetry!"
"Yards of it, old boy--yards of it!" groaned Freddie. Panic
filled him with speech. "You see the frightful hole I'm in? This
girl is bound to have kept the letters. I don't remember whether
I actually proposed to her or not; but anyway she's got enough
material to make it worth while to have a dash at an
action--especially after poor old Percy has just got soaked for
such a pile of money and made breach-of-promise cases the
fashion, so to speak.
"And now that the announcement of my engagement is out she's
certain to get busy. Probably she has been waiting for something
of the sort. Don't you see that all the cards are in her hands?
We couldn't afford to let the thing come into court. That poetry
would dish my marriage for a certainty. I'd have to emigrate or
something! Goodness knows what would happen at home! My old
gov'nor would murder me! So you see what a frightful hole I'm in,
don't you, Dickie, old man?"
"And what do you want me to do?"
"Why, to get hold of this girl and get back the letters--don't
you see? I can't do it myself, cooped up miles away in the
country. And besides, I shouldn't know how to handle a thing
like that. It needs a chappie with a lot of sense and a
persuasive sort of way with him."
"Thanks for the compliment, Freddie; but I should imagine that
something a little more solid than a persuasive way would be
required in a case like this. You said something a while ago
about five hundred pounds?"
"Here it is, old man--in notes. I brought it on purpose. Will you
really take the thing on? Do you think you can work it for five
"I can have a try."
Freddie rose, with an expression approximating to happiness on
his face. Some men have the power of inspiring confidence in some
of their fellows, though they fill others with distrust. Scotland
Yard might look askance at R. Jones, but to Freddie he was all
that was helpful and reliable. He shook R. Jones' hand several
times in his emotion.
"That's absolutely topping of you, old man!" he said. "Then I'll
leave the whole thing to you. Write me the moment you have done
anything, won't you? Good-by, old top, and thanks ever so much!"
The door closed. R. Jones remained where he sat, his fingers
straying luxuriously among the crackling paper. A feeling of
complete happiness warmed R. Jones' bosom. He was uncertain
whether or not his mission would be successful; and to be
truthful he was not letting that worry him much. What he was
certain of was the fact that the heavens had opened unexpectedly
and dropped five hundred pounds into his lap.
The Earl of Emsworth stood in the doorway of the Senior
Conservative Club's vast diningroom, and beamed with a vague
sweetness on the two hundred or so Senior Conservatives who, with
much clattering of knives and forks, were keeping body and soul
together by means of the coffee-room luncheon. He might have been
posing for a statue of Amiability. His pale blue eyes shone with
a friendly light through their protecting glasses; the smile of a
man at peace with all men curved his weak mouth; his bald head,
reflecting the sunlight, seemed almost to wear a halo.
Nobody appeared to notice him. He so seldom came to London these
days that he was practically a stranger in the club; and in any
case your Senior Conservative, when at lunch, has little leisure
for observing anything not immediately on the table in front of
him. To attract attention in the dining-room of the Senior
Conservative Club between the hours of one and two-thirty, you
have to be a mutton chop--not an earl.
It is possible that, lacking the initiative to make his way down
the long aisle and find a table for himself, he might have stood
there indefinitely, but for the restless activity of Adams, the
head steward. It was Adams' mission in life to flit to and fro,
hauling would-be lunchers to their destinations, as a St. Bernard
dog hauls travelers out of Alpine snowdrifts. He sighted Lord
Emsworth and secured him with a genteel pounce.
"A table, your lordship? This way, your lordship." Adams
remembered him, of course. Adams remembered everybody.
Lord Emsworth followed him beamingly and presently came to anchor
at a table in the farther end of the room. Adams handed him the
bill of fare and stood brooding over him like a providence.
"Don't often see your lordship in the club," he opened chattily.
It was business to know the tastes and dispositions of all the
five thousand or so members of the Senior Conservative Club and
to suit his demeanor to them. To some he would hand the bill of
fare swiftly, silently, almost brusquely, as one who realizes
that there are moments in life too serious for talk. Others, he
knew, liked conversation; and to those he introduced the subject
of food almost as a sub-motive.
Lord Emsworth, having examined the bill of fare with a mild
curiosity, laid it down and became conversational.
"No, Adams; I seldom visit London nowadays. London does not
attract me. The country--the fields--the woods--the birds----"
Something across the room seemed to attract his attention and his
voice trailed off. He inspected this for some time with bland
interest, then turned to Adams once more.
"What was I saying, Adams?"
"The birds, your lordship."
"Birds! What birds? What about birds?"
"You were speaking of the attractions of life in the country,
your lordship. You included the birds in your remarks."
"Oh, yes, yes, yes! Oh, yes, yes! Oh, yes--to be sure. Do you
ever go to the country, Adams?"
"Generally to the seashore, your lordship--when I take my annual
Whatever was the attraction across the room once more exercised
its spell. His lordship concentrated himself on it to the
exclusion of all other mundane matters. Presently he came out of
his trance again.
"What were you saying, Adams?"
"I said that I generally went to the seashore, your lordship."
"For my annual vacation, your lordship."
"My annual vacation, your lordship."
"What about it?"
Adams never smiled during business hours--unless professionally,
as it were, when a member made a joke; but he was storing up in
the recesses of his highly respectable body a large laugh, to be
shared with his wife when he reached home that night. Mrs. Adams
never wearied of hearing of the eccentricities of the members of
the club. It occurred to Adams that he was in luck to-day. He was
expecting a little party of friends to supper that night, and he
was a man who loved an audience.
You would never have thought it, to look at him when engaged in
his professional duties, but Adams had built up a substantial
reputation as a humorist in his circle by his imitations of
certain members of the club; and it was a matter of regret to him
that he got so few opportunities nowadays of studying the
absent-minded Lord Emsworth. It was rare luck--his lordship
coming in to-day, evidently in his best form.
"Adams, who is the gentleman over by the window--the gentleman in
the brown suit?"
"That is Mr. Simmonds, your lordship. He joined us last year."
"I never saw a man take such large mouthfuls. Did you ever see a
man take such large mouthfuls, Adams?"
Adams refrained from expressing an opinion, but inwardly he was
thrilling with artistic fervor. Mr. Simmonds eating, was one of
his best imitations, though Mrs. Adams was inclined to object to
it on the score that it was a bad example for the children. To be
privileged to witness Lord Emsworth watching and criticizing Mr.
Simmonds was to collect material for a double-barreled character
study that would assuredly make the hit of the evening.
"That man," went on Lord Emsworth, "is digging his grave with his
teeth. Digging his grave with his teeth, Adams! Do you take large
"No, your lordship."
"Quite right. Very sensible of you, Adams--very sensible of you.
Very sen---- What was I saying, Adams?"
"About my not taking large mouthfuls, your lordship."
"Quite right--quite right! Never take large mouthfuls, Adams.
Never gobble. Have you any children, Adams?"
"Two, your lordship."
"I hope you teach them not to gobble. They pay for it in later
life. Americans gobble when young and ruin their digestions. My
American friend, Mr. Peters, suffers terribly from indigestion."
Adams lowered his voice to a confidential murmur: "If you will
pardon the liberty, your lordship--I saw it in the paper--"
"About Mr. Peters' indigestion?"
"About Miss Peters, your lordship, and the Honorable Frederick.
May I be permitted to offer my congratulations?"
"Eh, Oh, yes--the engagement. Yes, yes, yes! Yes--to be sure.
Yes; very satisfactory in every respect. High time he settled
down and got a little sense. I put it to him straight. I cut off
his allowance and made him stay at home. That made him
think--lazy young devil!"
Lord Emsworth had his lucid moments; and in the one that occurred
now it came home to him that he was not talking to himself, as he
had imagined, but confiding intimate family secrets to the head
steward of his club's dining-room. He checked himself abruptly,
and with a slight decrease of amiability fixed his gaze on the
bill of fare and ordered cold beef. For an instant he felt
resentful against Adams for luring him on to soliloquize; but the
next moment his whole mind was gripped by the fascinating
spectacle of Mr. Simmonds dealing with a wedge of Stilton cheese,
and Adams was forgotten.
The cold beef had the effect of restoring his lordship to
complete amiability, and when Adams in the course of his
wanderings again found himself at the table he was once more
disposed for light conversation.
"So you saw the news of the engagement in the paper, did you,
"Yes, your lordship, in the Mail. It had quite a long piece about
it. And the Honorable Frederick's photograph and the young lady's
were in the Mirror. Mrs. Adams clipped them out and put them in
an album, knowing that your lordship was a member of ours. If I
may say so, your lordship--a beautiful young lady."
"Devilish attractive, Adams--and devilish rich. Mr. Peters is a
"So I read in the paper, your lordship."
"Damme! They all seem to be millionaires in America. Wish I knew
how they managed it. Honestly, I hope. Mr. Peters is an honest
man, but his digestion is bad. He used to bolt his food. You
don't bolt your food, I hope, Adams?"
"No, your lordship; I am most careful."
"The late Mr. Gladstone used to chew each mouthful thirty-three
times. Deuced good notion if you aren't in a hurry. What cheese
would you recommend, Adams?"
"The gentlemen are speaking well of the Gorgonzola."
"All right, bring me some. You know, Adams, what I admire about
Americans is their resource. Mr. Peters tells me that as a boy of
eleven he earned twenty dollars a week selling mint to saloon
keepers, as they call publicans over there. Why they wanted mint
I cannot recollect. Mr. Peters explained the reason to me and it
seemed highly plausible at the time; but I have forgotten it.
Possibly for mint sauce. It impressed me, Adams. Twenty dollars
is four pounds. I never earned four pounds a week when I was a
boy of eleven; in fact, I don't think I ever earned four pounds a
week. His story impressed me, Adams. Every man ought to have an
earning capacity. I was so struck with what he told me that I
began to paint."
"Landscapes, your lordship?"
"Furniture. It is unlikely that I shall ever be compelled to
paint furniture for a living, but it is a consolation to me to
feel that I could do so if called on. There is a fascination
about painting furniture, Adams. I have painted the whole of my
bedroom at Blandings and am now engaged on the museum. You would
be surprised at the fascination of it. It suddenly came back to
me the other day that I had been inwardly longing to mess about
with paints and things since I was a boy. They stopped me when I
was a boy. I recollect my old father beating me with a walking
stick--Tell me, Adams, have I eaten my cheese?"
"Not yet, your lordship. I was about to send the waiter for it."
"Never mind. Tell him to bring the bill instead. I remember that
I have an appointment. I must not be late."
"Shall I take the fork, your lordship?"
"Your lordship has inadvertently put a fork in your coat pocket."
Lord Emsworth felt in the pocket indicated, and with the air of
an inexpert conjurer whose trick has succeeded contrary to his
expectations produced a silver-plated fork. He regarded it with
surprise; then he looked wonderingly at Adams.
"Adams, I'm getting absent-minded. Have you ever noticed any
traces of absent-mindedness in me before?"
"Oh, no, your lordship."
"Well, it's deuced peculiar! I have no recollection whatsoever of
placing that fork in my pocket . . . Adams, I want a taxicab." He
glanced round the room, as though expecting to locate one by the
"The hall porter will whistle one for you, your lordship."
"So he will, by George!--so he will! Good day, Adams."
"Good day, your lordship."
The Earl of Emsworth ambled benevolently to the door, leaving
Adams with the feeling that his day had been well-spent. He gazed
almost with reverence after the slow-moving figure.
"What a nut!" said Adams to his immortal soul.
Wafted through the sunlit streets in his taxicab, the Earl of
Emsworth smiled benevolently on London's teeming millions. He was
as completely happy as only a fluffy-minded old man with
excellent health and a large income can be. Other people worried
about all sorts of things--strikes, wars, suffragettes, the
diminishing birth rate, the growing materialism of the age, a
score of similar subjects.
Worrying, indeed, seemed to be the twentieth-century specialty.
Lord Emsworth never worried. Nature had equipped him with a mind
so admirably constructed for withstanding the disagreeableness of
life that if an unpleasant thought entered it, it passed out
again a moment later. Except for a few of life's fundamental
facts, such as that his check book was in the right-hand top
drawer of his desk; that the Honorable Freddie Threepwood was a
young idiot who required perpetual restraint; and that when in
doubt about anything he had merely to apply to his secretary,
Rupert Baxter--except for these basic things, he never remembered
anything for more than a few minutes.
At Eton, in the sixties, they had called him Fathead.
His was a life that lacked, perhaps, the sublimer emotions which
raise man to the level of the gods; but undeniably it was an
extremely happy one. He never experienced the thrill of ambition
fulfilled; but, on the other hand, he never knew the agony of
ambition frustrated. His name, when he died, would not live
forever in England's annals; he was spared the pain of worrying
about this by the fact that he had no desire to live forever in
England's annals. He was possibly as nearly contented as a human
being could be in this century of alarms and excursions.
Indeed, as he bowled along in his cab and reflected that a really
charming girl, not in the chorus of any West End theater, a girl
with plenty of money and excellent breeding, had--in a moment,
doubtless, of mental aberration--become engaged to be married to
the Honorable Freddie, he told himself that life at last was
absolutely without a crumpled rose leaf.
The cab drew up before a house gay with flowered window boxes.
Lord Emsworth paid the driver and stood on the sidewalk looking
up at this cheerful house, trying to remember why on earth he had
told the man to drive there.
A few moments' steady thought gave him the answer to the riddle.
This was Mr. Peters' town house, and he had come to it by
invitation to look at Mr. Peters' collection of scarabs. To be
sure! He remembered now--his collection of scarabs. Or was it
Lord Emsworth smiled. Scarabs, of course. You couldn't collect
Arabs. He wondered idly, as he rang the bell, what scarabs might
be; but he was interested in a fluffy kind of way in all forms of
collecting, and he was very pleased to have the opportunity of
examining these objects; whatever they were. He rather thought
they were a kind of fish.
There are men in this world who cannot rest; who are so
constituted that they can only take their leisure in the shape of
a change of work. To this fairly numerous class belonged Mr. J.
Preston Peters, father of Freddie's Aline. And to this merit--or
defect--is to be attributed his almost maniacal devotion to that
rather unattractive species of curio, the Egyptian scarab.
Five years before, a nervous breakdown had sent Mr. Peters to a
New York specialist. The specialist had grown rich on similar
cases and his advice was always the same. He insisted on Mr.
Peters taking up a hobby.
"What sort of a hobby?" inquired Mr. Peters irritably. His
digestion had just begun to trouble him at the time, and his
temper now was not of the best.
"Now my hobby," said the specialist, "is the collecting of
scarabs. Why should you not collect scarabs?"
"Because," said Mr. Peters, "I shouldn't know one if you brought
it to me on a plate. What are scarabs?"
"Scarabs," said the specialist, warming to his subject, "the
"And what," inquired Mr. Peters, "are Egyptian hieroglyphs?"
The specialist began to wonder whether it would not have been
better to advise Mr. Peters to collect postage stamps.
"A scarab," he said--"derived from the Latin scarabeus--is
literally a beetle."
"I will not collect beetles!" said Mr. Peters definitely. "They
give me the Willies."
"Scarabs are Egyptian symbols in the form of beetles," the
specialist hurried on. "The most common form of scarab is in the
shape of a ring. Scarabs were used for seals. They were also
employed as beads or ornaments. Some scarabaei bear inscriptions
having reference to places; as, for instance: 'Memphis is mighty
Mr. Peters' scorn changed to active interest.
"Have you got one like that?"
"A scarab boosting Memphis. It's my home town."
"I think it possible that some other Memphis was alluded to."
"There isn't any other except the one in Tennessee," said Mr.
The specialist owed the fact that he was a nerve doctor instead
of a nerve patient to his habit of never arguing with his
"Perhaps," he said, "you would care to glance at my collection.
It is in the next room."
That was the beginning of Mr. Peters' devotion to scarabs. At
first he did his collecting without any love of it, partly
because he had to collect something or suffer, but principally
because of a remark the specialist made as he was leaving the
"How long would it take me to get together that number of the
things?" Mr. Peters inquired, when, having looked his fill on the
dullest assortment of objects he remembered ever to have seen, he
was preparing to take his leave.
The specialist was proud of his collection. "How long? To make a
collection as large as mine? Years, Mr. Peters. Oh, many, many
"I'll bet you a hundred dollars I'll do it in six months!"
From that moment Mr. Peters brought to the collecting of scarabs
the same furious energy which had given him so many dollars and
so much indigestion. He went after scarabs like a dog after rats.
He scooped in scarabs from the four corners of the earth, until
at the end of a year he found himself possessed of what, purely
as regarded quantity, was a record collection.
This marked the end of the first phase of--so to speak--the
scarabaean side of his life. Collecting had become a habit with
him, but he was not yet a real enthusiast. It occurred to him
that the time had arrived for a certain amount of pruning and
elimination. He called in an expert and bade him go through the
collection and weed out what he felicitously termed the "dead
ones." The expert did his job thoroughly. When he had finished,
the collection was reduced to a mere dozen specimens.
"The rest," he explained, "are practically valueless. If you are
thinking of making a collection that will have any value in the
eyes of archeologists I should advise you to throw them away. The
remaining twelve are good."
"How do you mean--good? Why is one of these things valuable and
another so much punk? They all look alike to me."
And then the expert talked to Mr. Peters for nearly two hours
about the New Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, Osiris, Ammon, Mut,
Bubastis, dynasties, Cheops, the Hyksos kings, cylinders, bezels,
Amenophis III, Queen Taia, the Princess Gilukhipa of Mitanni, the
lake of Zarukhe, Naucratis, and the Book of the Dead. He did it
with a relish. He liked to do it.
When he had finished, Mr. Peters thanked him and went to the
bathroom, where he bathed his temples with eau de Cologne.
That talk changed J. Preston Peters from a supercilious
scooper-up of random scarabs to what might be called a genuine
scarab fan. It does not matter what a man collects; if Nature has
given him the collector's mind he will become a fanatic on the
subject of whatever collection he sets out to make. Mr. Peters
had collected dollars; he began to collect scarabs with precisely
the same enthusiasm. He would have become just as enthusiastic
about butterflies or old china if he had turned his thoughts to
them; but it chanced that what he had taken up was the collecting
of the scarab, and it gripped him more and more as the years went
Gradually he came to love his scarabs with that love, surpassing
the love of women, which only collectors know. He became an
expert on those curious relics of a dead civilization. For a time
they ran neck and neck in his thoughts with business. When he
retired from business he was free to make them the master passion
of his life. He treasured each individual scarab in his
collection as a miser treasures gold.
Collecting, as Mr. Peters did it, resembles the drink habit. It
begins as an amusement and ends as an obsession. He was gloating
over his treasures when the maid announced Lord Emsworth.
A curious species of mutual toleration--it could hardly be
dignified by the title of friendship--had sprung up between these
two men, so opposite in practically every respect. Each regarded
the other with that feeling of perpetual amazement with which we
encounter those whose whole viewpoint and mode of life is foreign
to our own.
The American's force and nervous energy fascinated Lord Emsworth.
As for Mr. Peters, nothing like the earl had ever happened to him
before in a long and varied life. Each, in fact, was to the other
a perpetual freak show, with no charge for admission. And if
anything had been needed to cement the alliance it would have
been supplied by the fact that they were both collectors.
They differed in collecting as they did in everything else. Mr.
Peters' collecting, as has been shown, was keen, furious,
concentrated; Lord Emsworth's had the amiable dodderingness that
marked every branch of his life. In the museum at Blandings
Castle you could find every manner of valuable and valueless
curio. There was no central motive; the place was simply an
amateur junk shop. Side by side with a Gutenberg Bible for which
rival collectors would have bidden without a limit, you would
come on a bullet from the field of Waterloo, one of a consignment
of ten thousand shipped there for the use of tourists by a
Birmingham firm. Each was equally attractive to its owner.
"My dear Mr. Peters," said Lord Emsworth sunnily, advancing into
the room, "I trust I am not unpunctual. I have been lunching at
"I'd have asked you to lunch here," said Mr. Peters, "but you
know how it is with me . . . I've promised the doctor I'll give
those nuts and grasses of his a fair trial, and I can do it
pretty well when I'm alone with Aline; but to have to sit by and
see somebody else eating real food would be trying me too high."
Lord Emsworth murmured sympathetically. The other's digestive
tribulations touched a ready chord. An excellent trencherman
himself, he understood what Mr. Peters must suffer.
"Too bad!" he said.
Mr. Peters turned the conversation into other channels.
"These are my scarabs," he said.
Lord Emsworth adjusted his glasses, and the mild smile
disappeared from his face, to be succeeded by a set look. A stage
director of a moving-picture firm would have recognized the look.
Lord Emsworth was registering interest--interest which he
perceived from the first instant would have to be completely
simulated; for instinct told him, as Mr. Peters began to talk,
that he was about to be bored as he had seldom been bored in his
Mr. Peters, in his character of showman, threw himself into his
work with even more than his customary energy. His flow of speech
never faltered. He spoke of the New Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom,
Osiris and Ammon; waxed eloquent concerning Mut, Bubastis,
Cheops, the Hyksos kings, cylinders, bezels and Amenophis III;
and became at times almost lyrical when touching on Queen Taia,
the Princess Gilukhipa of Mitanni, the lake of Zarukhe, Naucratis
and the Book of the Dead. Time slid by.
"Take a look at this, Lord Emsworth."
As one who, brooding on love or running over business projects in
his mind, walks briskly into a lamppost and comes back to the
realities of life with a sense of jarring shock, Lord Emsworth
started, blinked and returned to consciousness. Far away his mind
had been--seventy miles away--in the pleasant hothouses and shady
garden walks of Blandings Castle. He came back to London to find
that his host, with a mingled air of pride and reverence, was
extending toward him a small, dingy-looking something.
He took it and looked at it. That, apparently, was what he was
meant to do. So far, all was well.
"Ah!" he said--that blessed word; covering everything! He
repeated it, pleased at his ready resource.
"A Cheops of the Fourth Dynasty," said Mr. Peters fervently.
"I beg your pardon?"
"A Cheops--of the Fourth Dynasty."
Lord Emsworth began to feel like a hunted stag. He could not go
on saying "Ah!" indefinitely; yet what else was there to say to
this curious little beastly sort of a beetle kind of thing?
"Dear me! A Cheops!"
"Of the Fourth Dynasty!"
"Bless my soul! The Fourth Dynasty!"
"What do you think of that--eh?"
Strictly speaking, Lord Emsworth thought nothing of it; and he
was wondering how to veil this opinion in diplomatic words, when
the providence that looks after all good men saved him by causing
a knock at the door to occur. In response to Mr. Peters'
irritated cry a maid entered.
"If you please, sir, Mr. Threepwood wishes to speak with you on
Mr. Peters turned to his guest. "Excuse me for one moment."
"Certainly," said Lord Emsworth gratefully. "Certainly,
certainly, certainly! By all means."
The door closed behind Mr. Peters. Lord Emsworth was alone. For
some moments he stood where he had been left, a figure with small
signs of alertness about it. But Mr. Peters did not return
immediately. The booming of his voice came faintly from some
distant region. Lord Emsworth strolled to the window and looked
The sun still shone brightly on the quiet street. Across the road
were trees. Lord Emsworth was fond of trees; he looked at these
approvingly. Then round the corner came a vagrom man, wheeling
flowers in a barrow.
Flowers! Lord Emsworth's mind shot back to Blandings like a
homing pigeon. Flowers! Had he or had he not given Head Gardener
Thorne adequate instructions as to what to do with those
hydrangeas? Assuming that he had not, was Thorne to be depended
on to do the right thing by them by the light of his own
intelligence? Lord Emsworth began to brood on Head Gardener
He was aware of some curious little object in his hand. He
accorded it a momentary inspection. It had no message for him.
It was probably something; but he could not remember what. He put
it in his pocket and returned to his meditations.
* * *
At about the hour when the Earl of Emsworth was driving to keep
his appointment with Mr. Peters, a party of two sat at a corner
table at Simpson's Restaurant, in the Strand. One of the two was
a small, pretty, good-natured-looking girl of about twenty; the
other, a thick-set young man, with a wiry crop of red-brown hair
and an expression of mingled devotion and determination. The girl
was Aline Peters; the young man's name was George Emerson. He,
also, was an American, a rising member in a New York law firm. He
had a strong, square face, with a dogged and persevering chin.
There are all sorts of restaurants in London, from the restaurant
which makes you fancy you are in Paris to the restaurant which
makes you wish you were. There are palaces in Piccadilly, quaint
lethal chambers in Soho, and strange food factories in Oxford
Street and Tottenham Court Road. There are restaurants which
specialize in ptomaine and restaurants which specialize in
sinister vegetable messes. But there is only one Simpson's.
Simpson's, in the Strand, is unique. Here, if he wishes, the
Briton may for the small sum of half a dollar stupefy himself
with food. The god of fatted plenty has the place under his
protection. Its keynote is solid comfort.
It is a pleasant, soothing, hearty place--a restful temple of
food. No strident orchestra forces the diner to bolt beef in
ragtime. No long central aisle distracts his attention with its
stream of new arrivals. There he sits, alone with his food, while
white-robed priests, wheeling their smoking trucks, move to and
fro, ever ready with fresh supplies.
All round the room--some at small tables, some at large tables
--the worshipers sit, in their eyes that resolute, concentrated
look which is the peculiar property of the British luncher,
ex-President Roosevelt's man-eating fish, and the American army
Conversation does not flourish at Simpson's. Only two of all
those present on this occasion showed any disposition toward
chattiness. They were Aline Peters and her escort.
"The girl you ought to marry," Aline was saying, "is Joan
"The girl I am going to marry," said George Emerson, "is Aline
For answer, Aline picked up from the floor beside her an
illustrated paper and, having opened it at a page toward the end,
handed it across the table.
George Emerson glanced at it disdainfully. There were two
photographs on the page. One was of Aline; the other of a heavy,
loutish-looking youth, who wore that expression of pained
glassiness which Young England always adopts in the face of a
Under one photograph were printed the words: "Miss Aline Peters,
who is to marry the Honorable Frederick Threepwood in June";
under the other: "The Honorable Frederick Threepwood, who is to
marry Miss Aline Peters in June." Above the photographs was the
legend: "Forthcoming International Wedding. Son of the Earl of
Emsworth to marry American heiress." In one corner of the picture
a Cupid, draped in the Stars and Stripes, aimed his bow at the
gentleman; in the other another Cupid, clad in a natty Union
Jack, was drawing a bead on the lady.
The subeditor had done his work well. He had not been ambiguous.
What he intended to convey to the reader was that Miss Aline
Peters, of America, was going to marry the Honorable Frederick
Threepwood, son of the Earl of Emsworth; and that was exactly the
impression the average reader got.
George Emerson, however, was not an average reader. The
subeditor's work did not impress him.
"You mustn't believe everything you see in the papers," he said.
"What are the stout children in the one-piece bathing suits
supposed to be doing?"
"Those are Cupids, George, aiming at us with their little bow--
a pretty and original idea."
"Cupid is the god of love."
"What has the god of love got to do with it?"
Aline placidly devoured a fried potato. "You're simply trying to
make me angry," she said; "and I call it very mean of you. You
know perfectly well how fatal it is to get angry at meals. It was
eating while he was in a bad temper that ruined father's
digestion. George, that nice, fat carver is wheeling his truck
this way. Flag him and make him give me some more of that
George looked round him morosely.
"This," he said, "is England--this restaurant, I mean. You don't
need to go any farther. Just take a good look at this place and
you have seen the whole country and can go home again. You may
judge a country by its meals. A people with imagination will eat
with imagination. Look at the French; look at ourselves, The
Englishman loathes imagination. He goes to a place like this and
says: 'Don't bother me to think. Here's half a dollar. Give me
food--any sort of food--until I tell you to stop.' And that's the
principle on which he lives his life. 'Give me anything, and
don't bother me!' That's his motto."
"If that was meant to apply to Freddie and me, I think you're
very rude. Do you mean that any girl would have done for him, so
long as it was a girl?"
George Emerson showed a trace of confusion. Being honest with
himself, he had to admit that he did not exactly know what he did
mean--if he meant anything. That, he felt rather bitterly, was
the worst of Aline. She would never let a fellow's good things go
purely as good things; she probed and questioned and spoiled the
whole effect. He was quite sure that when he began to speak he
had meant something, but what it was escaped him for the moment.
He had been urged to the homily by the fact that at a neighboring
table he had caught sight of a stout young Briton, with a red
face, who reminded him of the Honorable Frederick Threepwood. He
mentioned this to Aline.
"Do you see that fellow in the gray suit--I think he has been
sleeping in it--at the table on your right? Look at the stodgy
face. See the glassy eye. If that man sandbagged your Freddie and
tied him up somewhere, and turned up at the church instead of
him, can you honestly tell me you would know the difference?
Come, now, wouldn't you simply say, 'Why, Freddie, how natural
you look!' and go through the ceremony without a suspicion?"
"He isn't a bit like Freddie."
"My dear girl, there isn't a man in this restaurant under the age
of thirty who isn't just like Freddie. All Englishmen look
exactly alike, talk exactly alike, and think exactly alike."
"And you oughtn't to speak of him as Freddie. You don't know
"Yes, I do. And, what is more, he expressly asked me to call him
Freddie. 'Oh, dash it, old top, don't keep on calling me
Threepwood! Freddie to pals!' Those were his very words."
"George, you're making this up."
"Not at all. We met last night at the National Sporting Club.
Porky Jones was going twenty rounds with Eddie Flynn. I offered
to give three to one on Eddie. Freddie, who was sitting next to
me, took me in fivers. And if you want any further proof of your
young man's pin-headedness; mark that! A child could have seen
that Eddie had him going. Eddie comes from Pittsburgh--God bless
it! My own home town!"
"Did your Eddie win?"
"You don't listen--I told you he was from Pittsburgh. And
afterward Threepwood chummed up with me and told me that to real
pals like me he was Freddie. I was a real pal, as I understood
it, because I would have to wait for my money. The fact was, he
explained, his old governor had cut off his bally allowance."
"You're simply trying to poison my mind against him; and I don't
think it's very nice of you, George."
"What do you mean--poison your mind? I'm not poisoning your mind;
I'm simply telling you a few things about him. You know perfectly
well that you don't love him, and that you aren't going to marry
him--and that you are going to marry me."
"How do you know I don't love my Freddie?"
"If you can look me straight in the eyes and tell me you do, I
will drop the whole thing and put on a little page's dress and
carry your train up the aisle. Now, then!"
"And all the while you're talking you're letting my carver get
away," said Aline.
George called to the willing priest, who steered his truck toward
them. Aline directed his dissection of the shoulder of mutton by
word and gesture.
"Enjoy yourself!" said Emerson coldly.
"So I do, George; so I do. What excellent meat they have in
"It all comes from America," said George patriotically. "And,
anyway, can't you be a bit more spiritual? I don't want to sit
here discussing food products."
"If you were in my position, George, you wouldn't want to talk
about anything else. It's doing him a world of good, poor dear;
but there are times when I'm sorry Father ever started this
food-reform thing. You don't know what it means for a healthy
young girl to try and support life on nuts and grasses."
"And why should you?" broke out Emerson. "I'll tell you what it
is, Aline--you are perfectly absurd about your father. I don't
want to say anything against him to you, naturally; but--"
"Go ahead, George. Why this diffidence? Say what you like."
"Very well, then, I will. I'll give it to you straight. You know
quite well that you have let your father bully you since you were
in short frocks. I don't say it is your fault or his fault, or
anybody's fault; I just state it as a fact. It's temperament, I
suppose. You are yielding and he is aggressive; and he has taken
advantage of it.
"We now come to this idiotic Freddie-marriage business. Your
father has forced you into that. It's all very well to say that
you are a free agent and that fathers don't coerce their
daughters nowadays. The trouble is that your father does. You let
him do what he likes with you. He has got you hypnotized; and you
won't break away from this Freddie foolishness because you can't
find the nerve. I'm going to help you find the nerve. I'm coming
down to Blandings Castle when you go there on Friday."
"Coming to Blandings!"
"Freddie invited me last night. I think it was done by way of
interest on the money he owed me; but he did it and I accepted."
"But, George, my dear boy, do you never read the etiquette books
and the hints in the Sunday papers on how to be the perfect
gentleman? Don't you know you can't be a man's guest and take
advantage of his hospitality to try to steal his fiancee away
A dreamy look came into Aline's eyes. "I wonder what it feels
like, being a countess," she said.
"You will never know." George looked at her pityingly. "My poor
girl," he said, "have you been lured into this engagement in the
belief that pop-eyed Frederick, the Idiot Child, is going to be
an earl some day? You have been stung! Freddie is not the heir.
His older brother, Lord Bosham, is as fit as a prize-fighter and
has three healthy sons. Freddie has about as much chance of
getting the title as I have."
"George, your education has been sadly neglected. Don't you know
that the heir to the title always goes on a yachting cruise, with
his whole family, and gets drowned--and the children too? It
happens in every English novel you read."
"Listen, Aline! Let us get this thing straight: I have been in
love with you since I wore knickerbockers. I proposed to you at
your first dance--"
"But sincerely. Last year, when I found that you had gone to
England, I came on after you as soon as the firm could spare me.
And I found you engaged to this Freddie excrescence."
"I like the way you stand up for Freddie. So many men in your
position might say horrid things about him."
"Oh, I've nothing against Freddie. He is practically an imbecile
and I don't like his face; outside of that he's all right. But
you will be glad later that you did not marry him. You are much
too real a person. What a wife you will make for a hard-working
"What does Freddie work hard at?"
"I am alluding at the moment not to Freddie but to myself. I
shall come home tired out. Maybe things will have gone wrong
downtown. I shall be fagged, disheartened. And then you will come
with your cool, white hands and, placing them gently on my
Aline shook her head. "It's no good, George. Really, you had
better realize it. I'm very fond of you, but we are not suited!"
"You are too overwhelming--too much like a bomb. I think you must
be one of the supermen one reads about. You would want your own
way and nothing but your own way. Now, Freddie will roll through
hoops and sham dead, and we shall be the happiest pair in the
world. I am much too placid and mild to make you happy. You want
somebody who would stand up to you--somebody like Joan
"That's the second time you have mentioned this Joan Valentine.
Who is she?"
"She is a girl who was at school with me. We were the greatest
chums--at least, I worshiped her and would have done anything for
her; and I think she liked me. Then we lost touch with one
another and didn't meet for years. I met her on the street
yesterday, and she is just the same. She has been through the
most awful times. Her father was quite rich; he died suddenly
while he and Joan were in Paris, and she found that he hadn't
left a cent. He had been living right up to his income all the
time. His life wasn't even insured. She came to London; and, so
far as I could make out from the short talk we had, she has done
pretty nearly everything since we last met. She worked in a shop
and went on the stage, and all sorts of things. Isn't it awful,
"Pretty tough," said Emerson. He was but faintly interested in