Part 2 out of 5
"She is so plucky and full of life. She would stand up to you."
"Thanks! My idea of marriage is not a perpetual scrap. My notion
of a wife is something cozy and sympathetic and soothing. That
is why I love you. We shall be the happiest--"
"Dear old George! Now pay the check and get me a taxi. I've
endless things to do at home. If Freddie is in town I suppose he
will be calling to see me. Who is Freddie, do you ask? Freddie is
my fiance, George. My betrothed. My steady. The young man I'm
going to marry."
Emerson shook his head resignedly. "Curious how you cling to that
Freddie idea. Never mind! I'll come down to Blandings on Friday
and we shall see what happens. Bear in mind the broad fact that
you and I are going to be married, and that nothing on earth is
going to stop us."
* * *
It was Aline Peters who had to bear the brunt of her father's
mental agony when he discovered, shortly after Lord Emsworth had
left him, that the gem of his collection of scarabs had done the
same. It is always the innocent bystander who suffers.
"The darned old sneak thief!" said Mr. Peters.
"Don't sit there saying 'Father!' What's the use of saying
'Father!'? Do you think it is going to help--your saying
'Father!'? I'd rather the old pirate had taken the house and lot
than that scarab. He knows what's what! Trust him to walk off
with the pick of the whole bunch! I did think I could leave the
father of the man who's going to marry my daughter for a second
alone with the things. There's no morality among
collectors--none! I'd trust a syndicate of Jesse James, Captain
Kidd and Dick Turpin sooner than I would a collector. My Cheops
of the Fourth Dynasty! I wouldn't have lost it for five thousand
"But, father, couldn't you write him a letter, asking for it
back? He's such a nice old man! I'm sure he didn't mean to steal
Mr. Peters' overwrought soul blew off steam in the shape of a
"Didn't mean to steal it! What do you think he meant to do--take
it away and keep it safe for me for fear I should lose it? Didn't
mean to steal it! Bet you he's well-known in society as a
kleptomaniac. Bet you that when his name is announced his friends
pick up their spoons and send in a hurry call to police
headquarters for a squad to come and see that he doesn't sneak
the front door. Of course he meant to steal it! He has a museum
of his own down in the country. My Cheops is going to lend tone
to that. I'd give five thousand dollars to get it back. If
there's a man in this country with the spirit to break into that
castle and steal that scarab and hand it back to me, there's five
thousand waiting for him right here; and if he wants to he can
knock that old safe blower on the head with a jimmy into the
"But, father, why can't you simply go to him and say it's yours
and that you must have it back?"
"And have him come back at me by calling off this engagement of
yours? Not if I know it! You can't go about the place charging a
man with theft and ask him to go on being willing to have his son
marry your daughter, can you? The slightest suggestion that I
thought he had stolen this scarab and he would do the Proud Old
English Aristocrat and end everything. He's in the strongest
position a thief has ever been in. You can't get at him."
"I didn't think of that."
"You don't think at all. That's the trouble with you," said Mr.
Years of indigestion had made Mr. Peters' temper, even when in a
normal mood, perfectly impossible; in a crisis like this it ran
amuck. He vented it on Aline because he had always vented his
irritabilities on Aline; because the fact of her sweet, gentle
disposition, combined with the fact of their relationship, made
her the ideal person to receive the overflow of his black moods.
While his wife had lived he had bullied her. On her death Aline
had stepped into the vacant position.
Aline did not cry, because she was not a girl who was given to
tears; but, for all her placid good temper, she was wounded. She
was a girl who liked everything in the world to run smoothly and
easily, and these scenes with her father always depressed her.
She took advantage of a lull in Mr. Peters' flow of words and
slipped from the room.
Her cheerfulness had received a shock. She wanted sympathy. She
wanted comforting. For a moment she considered George Emerson in
the role of comforter; but there were objections to George in
this character. Aline was accustomed to tease and chat with
George, but at heart she was a little afraid of him; and instinct
told her that, as comforter, he would be too volcanic and
supermanly for a girl who was engaged to marry another man in
June. George, as comforter, would be far too prone to trust to
action rather than to the soothing power of the spoken word.
George's idea of healing the wound, she felt, would be to push
her into a cab and drive to the nearest registrar's.
No; she would not go to George. To whom, then? The vision of Joan
Valentine came to her--of Joan as she had seen her yesterday,
strong, cheerful, self-reliant, bearing herself, in spite of
adversity, with a valiant jauntiness. Yes; she would go and see
Joan. She put on her hat and stole from the house.
Curiously enough, only a quarter of an hour before, R. Jones had
set out with exactly the same object in view.
* * *
At almost exactly the hour when Aline Peters set off to visit her
friend, Miss Valentine, three men sat in the cozy smoking-room of
They were variously occupied. In the big chair nearest the door
the Honorable Frederick Threepwood--Freddie to pals--was reading.
Next to him sat a young man whose eyes, glittering through
rimless spectacles, were concentrated on the upturned faces of
several neat rows of playing cards--Rupert Baxter, Lord
Emsworth's invaluable secretary, had no vices, but he sometimes
relaxed his busy brain with a game of solitaire. Beyond Baxter, a
cigar in his mouth and a weak highball at his side, the Earl of
Emsworth took his ease.
The book the Honorable Freddie was reading was a small
paper-covered book. Its cover was decorated with a color scheme
in red, black and yellow, depicting a tense moment in the lives
of a man with a black beard, a man with a yellow beard, a man
without any beard at all, and a young woman who, at first sight,
appeared to be all eyes and hair. The man with the black beard,
to gain some private end, had tied this young woman with ropes to
a complicated system of machinery, mostly wheels and pulleys. The
man with the yellow beard was in the act of pushing or pulling a
lever. The beardless man, protruding through a trapdoor in the
floor, was pointing a large revolver at the parties of the second
Beneath this picture were the words: "Hands up, you scoundrels!"
Above it, in a meandering scroll across the page, was: "Gridley
Quayle, Investigator. The Adventure of the Secret Six. By Felix
The Honorable Freddie did not so much read as gulp the adventure
of the Secret Six. His face was crimson with excitement; his hair
was rumpled; his eyes bulged. He was absorbed.
This is peculiarly an age in which each of us may, if we do but
search diligently, find the literature suited to his mental
powers. Grave and earnest men, at Eton and elsewhere, had tried
Freddie Threepwood with Greek, with Latin and with English; and
the sheeplike stolidity with which he declined to be interested
in the masterpieces of all three tongues had left them with the
conviction that he would never read anything.
And then, years afterward, he had suddenly blossomed out as a
student--only, it is true, a student of the Adventures of Gridley
Quayle; but still a student. His was a dull life and Gridley
Quayle was the only person who brought romance into it. Existence
for the Honorable Freddie was simply a sort of desert, punctuated
with monthly oases in the shape of new Quayle adventures. It was
his ambition to meet the man who wrote them.
Lord Emsworth sat and smoked, and sipped and smoked again, at
peace with all the world. His mind was as nearly a blank as it is
possible for the human mind to be. The hand that had not the task
of holding the cigar was at rest in his trousers pocket. The
fingers of it fumbled idly with a small, hard object.
Gradually it filtered into his lordship's mind that this small,
hard object was not familiar. It was something new--something
that was neither his keys nor his pencil; nor was it his small
change. He yielded to a growing curiosity and drew it out. He
examined it. It was a little something, rather like a fossilized
beetle. It touched no chord in him. He looked at it with amiable
"Now how in the world did that get there?" he said.
The Honorable Freddie paid no attention to the remark. He was now
at the very crest of his story, when every line intensified the
thrill. Incident was succeeding incident. The Secret Six were
here, there and everywhere, like so many malignant June bugs.
Annabel, the heroine, was having a perfectly rotten
time--kidnapped, and imprisoned every few minutes. Gridley
Quayle, hot on the scent, was covering somebody or other with his
revolver almost continuously. Freddie Threepwood had no time for
chatting with his father. Not so Rupert Baxter. Chatting with
Lord Emsworth was one of the things for which he received his
salary. He looked up from his cards.
"I have found a curious object in my pocket, Baxter. I was
wondering how it got there."
He handed the thing to his secretary. Rupert Baxter's eyes lit up
with sudden enthusiasm. He gasped.
"Magnificent!" he cried. "Superb!"
Lord Emsworth looked at him inquiringly.
"It is a scarab, Lord Emsworth; and unless I am mistaken--and I
think I may claim to be something of an expert--a Cheops of the
Fourth Dynasty. A wonderful addition to your museum!"
"Is it? By Gad! You don't say so, Baxter!"
"It is, indeed. If it is not a rude question, how much did you
give for it, Lord Emsworth? It must have been the gem of
somebody's collection. Was there a sale at Christie's this
Lord Emsworth shook his head. "I did not get it at Christie's,
for I recollect that I had an important engagement which
prevented my going to Christie's. To be sure; yes--I had promised
to call on Mr. Peters and examine his collection of--Now I wonder
what it was that Mr. Peters said he collected!"
"Mr. Peters is one of the best-known living collectors of
"Scarabs! You are quite right, Baxter. Now that I recall the
episode, this is a scarab; and Mr. Peters gave it to me."
"Gave it to you, Lord Emsworth?"
"Yes. The whole scene comes back to me. Mr. Peters, after telling
me a great many exceedingly interesting things about scarabs,
which I regret to say I cannot remember, gave me this. And you
say it is really valuable, Baxter?"
"It is, from a collector's point of view, of extraordinary
"Bless my soul!" Lord Emsworth beamed. "This is extremely
interesting, Baxter. One has heard so much of the princely
hospitality of Americans. How exceedingly kind of Mr. Peters! I
shall certainly treasure it, though I must confess that from a
purely spectacular standpoint it leaves me a little cold.
However, I must not look a gift horse in the mouth--eh, Baxter?"
From afar came the silver booming of a gong. Lord Emsworth rose.
"Time to dress for dinner? I had no idea it was so late. Baxter,
you will be going past the museum door. Will you be a good fellow
and place this among the exhibits? You will know what to do with
it better than I. I always think of you as the curator of my
little collection, Baxter--ha-ha! Mind how you step when you are
in the museum. I was painting a chair there yesterday and I think
I left the paint pot on the floor."
He cast a less amiable glance at his studious son.
"Get up, Frederick, and go and dress, for dinner. What is that
trash you are reading?"
The Honorable Freddie came out of his book much as a sleepwalker
wakes--with a sense of having been violently assaulted. He looked
up with a kind of stunned plaintiveness.
"Make haste! Beach rang the gong five minutes ago. What is that
you are reading?"
"Oh, nothing, gov'nor--just a book."
"I wonder you can waste your time on such trash. Make haste!"
He turned to the door, and the benevolent expression once more
wandered athwart his face.
"Extremely kind of Mr. Peters!" he said. "Really, there is
something almost Oriental in the lavish generosity of our
* * *
It had taken R. Jones just six hours to discover Joan Valentine's
address. That it had not taken him longer is a proof of his
energy and of the excellence of his system of obtaining
information; but R. Jones, when he considered it worth his while,
could be extremely energetic, and he was a past master at the art
of finding out things.
He poured himself out of his cab and rang the bell of Number
Seven. A disheveled maid answered the ring.
"Miss Valentine in?"
R. Jones produced his card.
"On important business, tell her. Half a minute--I'll write it."
He wrote the words on the card and devoted the brief period of
waiting to a careful scrutiny of his surroundings. He looked out
into the court and he looked as far as he could down the dingy
passage; and the conclusions he drew from what he saw were
complimentary to Miss Valentine.
"If this girl is the sort of girl who would hold up Freddie's
letters," he mused, "she wouldn't be living in a place like this.
If she were on the make she would have more money than she
evidently possesses. Therefore, she is not on the make; and I am
prepared to bet that she destroyed the letters as fast as she got
Those were, roughly, the thoughts of R. Jones as he stood in the
doorway of Number Seven; and they were important thoughts
inasmuch as they determined his attitude toward Joan in the
approaching interview. He perceived that this matter must be
handled delicately--that he must be very much the gentleman. It
would be a strain, but he must do it.
The maid returned and directed him to Joan's room with a brief
word and a sweeping gesture.
"Eh?" said R. Jones. "First floor?"
"Front," said the maid.
R. Jones trudged laboriously up the short flight of stairs. It
was very dark on the stairs and he stumbled. Eventually, however,
light came to him through an open door. Looking in, he saw a girl
standing at the table. She had an air of expectation; so he
deduced that he had reached his journey's end.
"Please come in."
R. Jones waddled in.
"Not much light on your stairs."
"No. Will you take a seat?"
One glance at the girl convinced R. Jones that he had been right.
Circumstances had made him a rapid judge of character, for in the
profession of living by one's wits in a large city the first
principle of offense and defense is to sum people up at first
sight. This girl was not on the make.
Joan Valentine was a tall girl with wheat-gold hair and eyes as
brightly blue as a November sky when the sun is shining on a
frosty world. There was in them a little of November's cold
glitter, too, for Joan had been through much in the last few
years; and experience, even though it does not harden, erects a
defensive barrier between its children and the world.
Her eyes were eyes that looked straight and challenged. They
could thaw to the satin blue of the Mediterranean Sea, where it
purrs about the little villages of Southern France; but they did
not thaw for everybody. She looked what she was--a girl of
action; a girl whom life had made both reckless and wary--wary of
friendly advances, reckless when there was a venture afoot.
Her eyes, as they met R. Jones' now, were cold and challenging.
She, too, had learned the trick of swift diagnosis of character,
and what she saw of R. Jones in that first glance did not impress
"You wished to see me on business?"
"Yes," said R. Jones. "Yes. . . . Miss Valentine, may I begin by
begging you to realize that I have no intention of insulting
Joan's eyebrows rose. For an instant she did her visitor the
injustice of suspecting that he had been dining too well.
"I don't understand."
"Let me explain: I have come here," R. Jones went on, getting
more gentlemanly every moment, "on a very distasteful errand, to
oblige a friend. Will you bear in mind that whatever I say is
said entirely on his behalf?"
By this time Joan had abandoned the idea that this stout person
was a life-insurance tout, and was inclining to the view that he
was collecting funds for a charity.
"I came here at the request of the Honorable Frederick
"I don't quite understand."
"You never met him, Miss Valentine; but when you were in the
chorus at the Piccadilly Theatre, I believe, he wrote you some
very foolish letters. Possibly you have forgotten them?"
"I certainly have."
"You have probably destroyed them---eh?"
"Certainly! I never keep letters. Why do you ask?"
"Well, you see, Miss Valentine, the Honorable Frederick
Threepwood is about to be married; and he thought that possibly,
on the whole, it would be better that the letters--and
poetry--which he wrote you were nonexistent."
Not all R. Jones' gentlemanliness--and during this speech he
diffused it like a powerful scent in waves about him--could hide
the unpleasant meaning of the words.
"He was afraid I might try to blackmail him?" said Joan, with
R. Jones raised and waved a fat hand deprecatingly.
"My dear Miss Valentine!"
Joan rose and R. Jones followed her example. The interview was
plainly at an end.
"Please tell Mr. Threepwood to make his mind quite easy. He is in
"Exactly--exactly; precisely! I assured Threepwood that my visit
here would be a mere formality. I was quite sure you had no
intention whatever of worrying him. I may tell him definitely,
then, that you have destroyed the letters?"
"Good-evening, Miss Valentine."
The closing of the door behind him left him in total darkness,
but he hardly liked to return and ask Joan to reopen it in order
to light him on his way. He was glad to be out of her presence.
He was used to being looked at in an unfriendly way by his
fellows, but there had been something in Joan's eyes that had
curiously discomfited him.
R. Jones groped his way down, relieved that all was over and had
ended well. He believed what she had told him, and he could
conscientiously assure Freddie that the prospect of his sharing
the fate of poor old Percy was nonexistent. It is true that he
proposed to add in his report that the destruction of the letters
had been purchased with difficulty, at a cost of just five
hundred pounds; but that was a mere business formality.
He had almost reached the last step when there was a ring at the
front door. With what he was afterward wont to call an
inspiration, he retreated with unusual nimbleness until he had
almost reached Joan's door again. Then he leaned over the
banister and listened.
The disheveled maid opened the door. A girl's voice spoke:
"Is Miss Valentine in?"
"She's in; but she's engaged."
"I wish you would go up and tell her that I want to see her. Say
it's Miss Peters--Miss Aline Peters."
The banister shook beneath R. Jones' sudden clutch. For a moment
he felt almost faint. Then he began to think swiftly. A great
light had dawned on him, and the thought outstanding in his mind
was that never again would he trust a man or woman on the
evidence of his senses. He could have sworn that this Valentine
girl was on the level. He had been perfectly satisfied with her
statement that she had destroyed the letters. And all the while
she had been playing as deep a game as he had come across in the
whole course of his professional career! He almost admired her.
How she had taken him in!
It was obvious now what her game was. Previous to his visit she
had arranged a meeting with Freddie's fiancee, with the view of
opening negotiations for the sale of the letters. She had held
him, Jones, at arm's length because she was going to sell the
letters to whoever would pay the best price. But for the accident
of his happening to be here when Miss Peters arrived, Freddie and
his fiancee would have been bidding against each other and
raising each other's price. He had worked the same game himself a
dozen times, and he resented the entry of female competition into
what he regarded as essentially a male field of enterprise.
As the maid stumped up the stairs he continued his retreat. He
heard Joan's door open, and the stream of light showed him the
disheveled maid standing in the doorway.
"Ow, I thought there was a gentleman with you, miss."
"He left a moment ago. Why?"
"There's a lady wants to see you. Miss Peters, her name is."
"Will you ask her to come up?"
The disheveled maid was no polished mistress of ceremonies. She
leaned down into the void and hailed Aline.
"She says will you come up?"
Aline's feet became audible on the staircase. There were
"Whatever brings you here, Aline?"
"Am I interrupting you, Joan, dear?"
"No. Do come in! I was only surprised to see you so late. I
didn't know you paid calls at this hour. Is anything wrong? Come
The door closed, the maid retired to the depths, and R. Jones
stole cautiously down again. He was feeling absolutely
bewildered. Apparently his deductions, his second thoughts, had
been all wrong, and Joan was, after all, the honest person he had
imagined at first sight. Those two girls had talked to each other
as though they were old friends; as though they had known each
other all their lives. That was the thing which perplexed R.
With the tread of a red Indian, he approached the door and put
his ear to it. He found he could hear quite comfortably.
Aline, meantime, inside the room, had begun to draw comfort from
Joan's very appearance, she looked so capable.
Joan's eyes had changed the expression they had contained during
the recent interview. They were soft now, with a softness that
was half compassionate, half contemptuous. It is the compensation
which life gives to those whom it has handled roughly in order
that they shall be able to regard with a certain contempt the
small troubles of the sheltered. Joan remembered Aline of old,
and knew her for a perennial victim of small troubles. Even in
their schooldays she had always needed to be looked after and
comforted. Her sweet temper had seemed to invite the minor slings
and arrows of fortune. Aline was a girl who inspired
protectiveness in a certain type of her fellow human beings. It
was this quality in her that kept George Emerson awake at nights;
and it appealed to Joan now.
Joan, for whom life was a constant struggle to keep the wolf
within a reasonable distance from the door, and who counted that
day happy on which she saw her way clear to paying her weekly
rent and possibly having a trifle over for some coveted hat or
pair of shoes, could not help feeling, as she looked at Aline,
that her own troubles were as nothing, and that the immediate
need of the moment was to pet and comfort her friend. Her
knowledge of Aline told her the probable tragedy was that she had
lost a brooch or had been spoken to crossly by somebody; but it
also told her that such tragedies bulked very large on Aline's
Trouble, after all, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder;
and Aline was far less able to endure with fortitude the loss of
a brooch than she herself to bear the loss of a position the
emoluments of which meant the difference between having just
enough to eat and starving.
"You're worried about something," she said. "Sit down and tell me
all about it."
Aline sat down and looked about her at the shabby room. By that
curious process of the human mind which makes the spectacle of
another's misfortune a palliative for one's own, she was feeling
oddly comforted already. Her thoughts were not definite and she
could not analyze them; but what they amounted to was that,
though it was an unpleasant thing to be bullied by a dyspeptic
father, the world manifestly held worse tribulations, which her
father's other outstanding quality, besides dyspepsia--wealth, to
wit--enabled her to avoid.
It was at this point that the dim beginnings of philosophy began
to invade her mind. The thing resolved itself almost into an
equation. If father had not had indigestion he would not have
bullied her. But, if father had not made a fortune he would not
have had indigestion. Therefore, if father had not made a fortune
he would not have bullied her. Practically, in fact, if father
did not bully her he would not be rich. And if he were not rich--
She took in the faded carpet, the stained wall paper and the
soiled curtains with a comprehensive glance. It certainly cut
both ways. She began to be a little ashamed of her misery.
"It's nothing at all; really," she said. "I think I've been
making rather a fuss about very little."
Joan was relieved. The struggling life breeds moods of
depression, and such a mood had come to her just before Aline's
arrival. Life, at that moment, had seemed to stretch before her
like a dusty, weary road, without hope. She was sick of fighting.
She wanted money and ease, and a surcease from this perpetual
race with the weekly bills. The mood had been the outcome partly
of R. Jones' gentlemanly-veiled insinuations, but still more,
though she did not realize it, of her yesterday's meeting with
Mr. Peters might be unguarded in his speech when conversing with
his daughter--he might play the tyrant toward her in many ways;
but he did not stint her in the matter of dress allowance, and,
on the occasion when she met Joan, Aline had been wearing so
Parisian a hat and a tailor-made suit of such obviously expensive
simplicity that green-eyed envy had almost spoiled Joan's
pleasure at meeting this friend of her opulent days.
She had suppressed the envy, and it had revenged itself by
assaulting her afresh in the form of the worst fit of the blues
she had had in two years.
She had been loyally ready to sink her depression in order to
alleviate Aline's, but it was a distinct relief to find that the
feat would not be necessary.
"Never mind," she said. "Tell me what the very little thing was."
"It was only father," said Aline simply.
Joan cast her mind back to the days of school and placed father
as a rather irritable person, vaguely reputed to be something of
an ogre in his home circle.
"Was he angry with you about something?" she asked.
"Not exactly angry with me; but--well, I was there."
Joan's depression lifted slightly. She had forgotten, in the
stunning anguish of the sudden spectacle of that hat and that
tailor-made suit, that Paris hats and hundred-and-twenty-dollar
suits not infrequently had what the vulgar term a string attached
to them. After all, she was independent. She might have to murder
her beauty with hats and frocks that had never been nearer Paris
than the Tottenham Court Road; but at least no one bullied her
because she happened to be at hand when tempers were short.
"What a shame!" she said. "Tell me all about it."
With a prefatory remark that it was all so ridiculous, really,
Aline embarked on the narrative of the afternoon's events.
Joan heard her out, checking a strong disposition to giggle. Her
viewpoint was that of the average person, and the average person
cannot see the importance of the scarab in the scheme of things.
The opinion she formed of Mr. Peters was of his being an
eccentric old gentleman, making a great to-do about nothing at
all. Losses had to have a concrete value before they could
impress Joan. It was beyond her to grasp that Mr. Peters would
sooner have lost a diamond necklace, if he had happened to
possess one, than his Cheops of the Fourth Dynasty.
It was not until Aline, having concluded her tale, added one more
strand to it that she found herself treating the matter
"Father says he would give five thousand dollars to anyone who
would get it back for him."
The whole story took on a different complexion for Joan. Money
talks. Mr. Peters' words might have been merely the rhetorical
outburst of a heated moment; but, even discounting them, there
seemed to remain a certain exciting substratum. A man who shouts
that he will give five thousand dollars for a thing may very well
mean he will give five hundred, and Joan's finances were
perpetually in a condition which makes five hundred dollars a sum
to be gasped at.
"He wasn't serious, surely!"
"I think he was," said Aline.
"But five thousand dollars!"
"It isn't really very much to father, you know. He gave away a
hundred thousand a year ago to a university."
"But for a grubby little scarab!"
"You don't understand how father loves his scarabs. Since he
retired from business, he has been simply wrapped up in them. You
know collectors are like that. You read in the papers about men
giving all sorts of money for funny things."
Outside the door R. Jones, his ear close to the panel, drank in
all these things greedily. He would have been willing to remain
in that attitude indefinitely in return for this kind of special
information; but just as Aline said these words a door opened on
the floor above, and somebody came out, whistling, and began to
descend the stairs.
R. Jones stood not on the order of his going. He was down in the
hall and fumbling with the handle of the front door with an
agility of which few casual observers of his dimensions would
have deemed him capable. The next moment he was out in the
street, walking calmly toward Leicester Square, pondering over
what he had heard.
Much of R. Jones' substantial annual income was derived from
pondering over what he had heard.
In the room Joan was looking at Aline with the distended eyes of
one who sees visions or has inspirations. She got up. There are
occasions when one must speak standing.
"Then you mean to say that your father would really give five
thousand dollars to anyone who got this thing back for him?"
"I am sure he would. But who could do it?"
"I could," said Joan. "And what is more, I'm going to!"
Aline stared at her helplessly. In their schooldays, Joan had
always swept her off her feet. Then, she had always had the
feeling that with Joan nothing was impossible. Heroine worship,
like hero worship, dies hard. She looked at Joan now with the
stricken sensation of one who has inadvertently set powerful
machinery in motion.
"But, Joan!" It was all she could say.
"My dear child, it's perfectly simple. This earl of yours has
taken the thing off to his castle, like a brigand. You say you
are going down there on Friday for a visit. All you have to do is
to take me along with you, and sit back and watch me get busy."
"Where's the difficulty?"
"I don't see how I could take you down very well."
"Oh, I don't know."
"But what is your objection?"
"Well--don't you see?--if you went down there as a friend of mine
and were caught stealing the scarab, there would be just the
trouble father wants to avoid--about my engagement, you see, and
It was an aspect of the matter that had escaped Joan. She frowned
"I see. Yes, there is that; but there must be a way."
"You mustn't, Joan--really! don't think any more about it."
"Not think any more about it! My child, do you even faintly
realize what five thousand dollars--or a quarter of five thousand
dollars--means to me? I would do anything for it--anything! And
there's the fun of it. I don't suppose you can realize that,
either. I want a change. I've been grubbing away here on nothing
a week for years, and it's time I had a vacation. There must be a
way by which you could get me down--Why, of course! Why didn't I
think of it before! You shall take me on Friday as your lady's
"But, Joan, I couldn't!"
Joan advanced on her where she sat and grasped her firmly by the
shoulders. Her face was inflexible.
"Aline, my pet, it's no good arguing. You might just as well
argue with a wolf on the trail of a fat Russian peasant. I need
that money. I need it in my business. I need it worse than
anybody has ever needed anything. And I'm going to have it! From
now on, until further notice, I am your lady's maid. You can give
your present one a holiday."
Aline met her eyes waveringly. The spirit of the old schooldays,
when nothing was impossible where Joan was concerned, had her in
its grip. Moreover, the excitement of the scheme began to attract
"But, Joan," she said, "you know it's simply ridiculous. You
could never pass as a lady's maid. The other servants would find
you out. I expect there are all sorts of things a lady's maid has
got to do and not do."
"My dear Aline, I know them all. You can't stump me on
below-stairs etiquette. I've been a lady's maid!"
"It's quite true--three years ago, when I was more than usually
impecunious. The wolf was glued to the door like a postage stamp;
so I answered an advertisement and became a lady's maid."
"You seem to have done everything."
"I have--pretty nearly. It's all right for you idle rich,
Aline--you can sit still and contemplate life; but we poor
working girls have got to hustle."
"You know, you always could make me do anything you wanted in the
old days, Joan. I suppose I have got to look on this as quite
"Absolutely settled! Oh, Aline, there's one thing you must
remember: Don't call me Joan when I'm down at the castle. You
must call me Valentine."
She paused. The recollection of the Honorable Freddie had come to
her. No; Valentine would not do!
"No; not Valentine," she went on--"it's too jaunty. I used it
once years ago, but it never sounded just right. I want something
more respectable, more suited to my position. Can't you suggest
"Simpson! It's exactly right. You must practice it. Simpson! Say
it kindly and yet distantly, as though I were a worm, but a worm
for whom you felt a mild liking. Roll it round your tongue."
"Splendid! Now once again--a little more haughtily."
Joan regarded her with affectionate approval.
"It's wonderful!" she said. "You might have been doing it all
"What are you laughing at?" asked Aline.
"Nothing," said Joan. "I was just thinking of something. There's
a young man who lives on the floor above this, and I was
lecturing him yesterday on enterprise. I told him to go and find
something exciting to do. I wonder what he would say if he knew
how thoroughly I am going to practice what I preach!"
In the morning following Aline's visit to Joan Valentine, Ashe
sat in his room, the Morning Post on the table before him. The
heady influence of Joan had not yet ceased to work within him;
and he proposed, in pursuance of his promise to her, to go
carefully through the columns of advertisements, however
pessimistic he might feel concerning the utility of that action.
His first glance assured him that the vast fortunes of the
philanthropists, whose acquaintance he had already made in print,
were not yet exhausted. Brian MacNeill still dangled his gold
before the public; so did Angus Bruce; so did Duncan Macfarlane
and Wallace Mackintosh and Donald MacNab. They still had the
money and they still wanted to give it away.
Ashe was reading listlessly down the column when, from the mass
of advertisements, one of an unusual sort detached itself.
WANTED: Young Man of good appearance, who is poor and
reckless, to undertake a delicate and dangerous enterprise.
Good pay for the right man. Apply between the hours of ten
and twelve at offices of Mainprice, Mainprice & Boole,
3, Denvers Street, Strand.
And as he read it, half past ten struck on the little clock on
his mantelpiece. It was probably this fact that decided Ashe. If
he had been compelled to postpone his visit to the offices of
Messrs. Mainprice, Mainprice & Boole until the afternoon, it is
possible that barriers of laziness might have reared themselves
in the path of adventure; for Ashe, an adventurer at heart, was
also uncommonly lazy. As it was, however, he could make an
Pausing but to put on his shoes, and having satisfied himself by
a glance in the mirror that his appearance was reasonably good,
he seized his hat, shot out of the narrow mouth of Arundell Street
like a shell, and scrambled into a taxicab, with the feeling
that--short of murder--they could not make it too delicate and
dangerous for him.
He was conscious of strange thrills. This, he told himself, was
the only possible mode of life with spring in the air. He had
always been partial to those historical novels in which the
characters are perpetually vaulting on chargers and riding across
country on perilous errands. This leaping into taxicabs to answer
stimulating advertisements in the Morning Post was very much the
same sort of thing. It was with fine fervor animating him that he
entered the gloomy offices of Mainprice, Mainprice & Boole. His
brain was afire and he felt ready for anything.
"I have come in ans--" he began, to the diminutive office boy,
who seemed to be the nearest thing visible to a Mainprice or a
"Siddown. Gottatakeyerturn," said the office boy; and for the
first time Ashe perceived that the ante-room in which he stood
was crowded to overflowing.
This, in the circumstances, was something of a damper. He had
pictured himself, during his ride in the cab, striding into the
office and saying. "The delicate and dangerous enterprise. Lead
me to it!" He had not realized until now that he was not the only
man in London who read the advertisement columns of the Morning
Post, and for an instant his heart sank at the sight of all this
competition. A second and more comprehensive glance at his rivals
gave him confidence.
The Wanted column of the morning paper is a sort of dredger,
which churns up strange creatures from the mud of London's
underworld. Only in response to the dredger's operations do they
come to the surface in such numbers as to be noticeable, for as a
rule they are of a solitary habit and shun company; but when they
do come they bring with them something of the horror of the
It is the saddest spectacle in the world--that of the crowd
collected by a Wanted advertisement. They are so palpably not
wanted by anyone for any purpose whatsoever; yet every time they
gather together with a sort of hopeful hopelessness. What they
were originally--the units of these collections--Heaven knows.
Fate has battered out of them every trace of individuality. Each
now is exactly like his neighbor--no worse; no better.
Ashe, as he sat and watched them, was filled with conflicting
emotions. One-half of him, thrilled with the glamour of
adventure, was chafing at the delay, and resentful of these poor
creatures as of so many obstacles to the beginning of all the
brisk and exciting things that lay behind the mysterious brevity
of the advertisement; the other, pitifully alive to the tragedy
of the occasion, was grateful for the delay.
On the whole, he was glad to feel that if one of these derelicts
did not secure the "good pay for the right man," it would not be
his fault. He had been the last to arrive, and he would be the
last to pass through that door, which was the gateway of
adventure--the door with Mr. Boole inscribed on its ground glass,
behind which sat the author of the mysterious request for
assistance, interviewing applicants. It would be through their
own shortcomings--not because of his superior attractions--if
they failed to please that unseen arbiter.
That they were so failing was plain. Scarcely had one scarred
victim of London's unkindness passed through before the bell
would ring; the office boy, who, in the intervals of frowning
sternly on the throng, as much as to say that he would stand no
nonsense, would cry, "Next!" and another dull-eyed wreck would
drift through, to be followed a moment later by yet another. The
one fact at present ascertainable concerning the unknown searcher
for reckless young men of good appearance was that he appeared to
be possessed of considerable decision of character, a man who did
not take long to make up his mind. He was rejecting applicants
now at the rate of two a minute.
Expeditious though he was, he kept Ashe waiting for a
considerable time. It was not until the hands of the fat clock
over the door pointed to twenty minutes past eleven that the
office boy's "Next!" found him the only survivor. He gave his
clothes a hasty smack with the palm of his hand and his hair a
fleeting dab to accentuate his good appearance, and turned the
handle of the door of fate.
The room assigned by the firm to their Mr. Boole for his personal
use was a small and dingy compartment, redolent of that
atmosphere of desolation which lawyers alone know how to achieve.
It gave the impression of not having been swept since the
foundation of the firm, in the year 1786. There was one small
window, covered with grime. It was one of those windows you see
only in lawyers' offices. Possibly some reckless Mainprice or
harebrained Boole had opened it in a fit of mad excitement
induced by the news of the Battle of Waterloo, in 1815, and had
been instantly expelled from the firm. Since then, no one had
dared to tamper with it.
Gazing through this window--or, rather, gazing at it, for X-rays
could hardly have succeeded in actually penetrating the alluvial
deposits on the glass--was a little man. As Ashe entered, he
turned and looked at him as though he hurt him rather badly in
some tender spot.
Ashe was obliged to own to himself that he felt a little nervous.
It is not every day that a young man of good appearance, who has
led a quiet life, meets face to face one who is prepared to pay
him well for doing something delicate and dangerous. To Ashe the
sensation was entirely novel. The most delicate and dangerous act
he had performed to date had been the daily mastication of Mrs.
Bell's breakfast--included in the rent. Yes, he had to admit
it--he was nervous: and the fact that he was nervous made him hot
To judge him by his appearance, the man at the window was also
hot and uncomfortable. He was a little, truculent-looking man,
and his face at present was red with a flush that sat unnaturally
on a normally lead-colored face. His eyes looked out from under
thick gray eyebrows with an almost tortured expression. This was
partly owing to the strain of interviewing Ashe's preposterous
predecessors, but principally to the fact that the little man had
suddenly been seized with acute indigestion, a malady to which he
was peculiarly subject.
He removed from his mouth the black cigar he was smoking,
inserted a digestive tabloid, and replaced the cigar. Then he
concentrated his attention on Ashe. As he did so the hostile
expression of his face became modified. He looked surprised
"Well, what do you want?" he said.
"I came in answer to--"
"In answer to my advertisement? I had given up hope of seeing
anything part human. I thought you must be one of the clerks.
You're certainly more like what I advertised for. Of all the
seedy bunches of dead beats I ever struck, the aggregation I've
just been interviewing was the seediest! When I spend good money
in advertising for a young man of good appearance, I want a young
man of good appearance--not a tramp of fifty-five."
Ashe was sorry for his predecessors, but he was bound to admit
that they certainly had corresponded somewhat faithfully to the
description just given. The comparative cordiality of his own
reception removed the slight nervousness that had been troubling
him. He began to feel confident--almost jaunty.
"I'm through," said the little man wearily. "I've had enough of
interviewing applicants. You're the last one I'll see. Are there
any more hobos outside?"
"Not when I came in."
"Then we'll get down to business. I'll tell you what I want done,
and if you are willing you can do it; if you are not willing you
can leave it--and go to the devil! Sit down."
Ashe sat down. He resented the little man's tone, but this was
not the moment for saying so. His companion scrutinized him
"So far as appearance goes," he said, "you are what I want." Ashe
felt inclined to bow. "Whoever takes on this job has got to act
as my valet, and you look like a valet." Ashe felt less inclined
"You're tall and thin and ordinary-looking. Yes; so far as
appearance goes, you fill the bill."
It seemed to Ashe that it was time to correct an impression the
little man appeared to have formed.
"I am afraid," he said, "if all you want is a valet, you will
have to look elsewhere. I got the idea from your advertisement
that something rather more exciting was in the air. I can
recommend you to several good employment agencies if you wish."
He rose. "Good-morning!" he said.
He would have liked to fling the massive pewter inkwell at this
little creature who had so keenly disappointed him.
"Sit down!" snapped the other.
Ashe resumed his seat. The hope of adventure dies hard on a
Spring morning when one is twenty-six, and he had the feeling
that there was more to come.
"Don't be a damned fool!" said the little man. "Of course I'm not
asking you to be a valet and nothing else."
"You would want me to do some cooking and plain sewing on the
Their eyes met in a hostile glare. The flush on the little man's
"Are you trying to get fresh with me?" he demanded dangerously.
"Yes," said Ashe.
The answer seemed to disconcert his adversary. He was silent for
"Well," he said at last, "maybe it's all for the best. If you
weren't full of gall probably you wouldn't have come here at all;
and whoever takes on this job of mine has got to have gall if he
has nothing else. I think we shall suit each other."
"What is the job?"
The little man's face showed doubt and perplexity.
"It's awkward. If I'm to make the thing clear to you I've got to
trust you. And I don't know a thing about you. I wish I had
thought of that before I inserted the advertisement."
Ashe appreciated the difficulty.
"Couldn't you make an A--B case out of it?"
"Maybe I could if I knew what an A--B case was."
"Call the people mixed up in it A and B."
"And forget, halfway through, who was which! No; I guess I'll
have to trust you."
"I'll play square."
The little man fastened his eyes on Ashe's in a piercing stare.
Ashe met them smilingly. His spirits, always fairly cheerful, had
risen high by now. There was something about the little man, in
spite of his brusqueness and ill temper, which made him feel
"Pure white!" said Ashe.
"My soul! And this"--he thumped the left section of his
waistcoat--"solid gold. You may fire when ready, Gridley.
"I don't know where to begin."
"Without presuming to dictate, why not at the beginning?"
"It's all so darned complicated that I don't rightly know which
is the beginning. Well, see here . . . I collect scarabs. I'm
crazy about scarabs. Ever since I quit business, you might say
that I have practically lived for scarabs."
"Though it sounds like an unkind thing to say of anyone," said
Ashe. "Incidentally, what are scarabs?" He held up his hand.
"Wait! It all comes back to me. Expensive classical education,
now bearing belated fruit. Scarabaeus--Latin; noun, nominative--a
beetle. Scarabaee--vocative--O you beetle! Scarabaeum--
accusative--the beetle. Scarabaei--of the beetle. Scarabaeo--to
or for the beetle. I remember now. Egypt--Rameses--pyramids--
sacred scarabs! Right!"
"Well, I guess I've gotten together the best collection of
scarabs outside the British Museum, and some of them are worth
what you like to me. I don't reckon money when it comes to a
question of my scarabs. Do you understand?"
Displeasure clouded the little man's face.
"My name is not Mike."
"I used the word figuratively, as it were."'
"Well, don't do it again. My name is J. Preston Peters, and Mr.
Peters will do as well as anything else when you want to attract
"Mine is Marson. You were saying, Mr. Peters--?"
"Well, it's this way," said the little man.
Shakespeare and Pope have both emphasized the tediousness of a
twice-told tale; the Episode Of the Stolen Scarab need not be
repeated at this point, though it must be admitted that Mr.
Peters' version of it differed considerably from the calm,
dispassionate description the author, in his capacity of official
historian, has given earlier in the story.
In Mr. Peters' version the Earl of Emsworth appeared as a smooth
and purposeful robber, a sort of elderly Raffles, worming his way
into the homes of the innocent, and only sparing that portion of
their property which was too heavy for him to carry away. Mr.
Peters, indeed, specifically described the Earl of Emsworth as an
oily old second-story man.
It took Ashe some little time to get a thorough grasp of the
tangled situation; but he did it at last.
Only one point perplexed him.
"You want to hire somebody to go to this castle and get this
scarab back for you. I follow that. But why must he go as your
"That's simple enough. You don't think I'm asking him to buy a
black mask and break in, do you? I'm making it as easy for him as
possible. I can't take a secretary down to the castle, for
everybody knows that, now I've retired, I haven't got a
secretary; and if I engaged a new one and he was caught trying to
steal my scarab from the earl's collection, it would look
suspicious. But a valet is different. Anyone can get fooled by a
crook valet with bogus references."
"I see. There's just one other point: Suppose your accomplice
does get caught--what then?"
"That," said Mr. Peters, "is the catch; and it's just because of
that I am offering good pay to my man. We'll suppose, for the
sake of argument, that you accept the contract and get caught.
Well, if that happens you've got to look after yourself. I
couldn't say a word. If I did it would all come out, and so far
as the breaking off of my daughter's engagement to young
Threepwood is concerned, it would be just as bad as though I had
tried to get the thing back myself.
"You've got to bear that in mind. You've got to remember it if
you forget everything else. I don't appear in this business in
any way whatsoever. If you get caught you take what's coming to
you without a word. You can't turn round and say: 'I am innocent.
Mr. Peters will explain all'--because Mr. Peters certainly won't.
Mr. Peters won't utter a syllable of protest if they want to hang
"No; if you go into this, young man, you go into it with your
eyes open. You go into it with a full understanding of the
risks--because you think the reward, if you are successful, makes
the taking of those risks worth while. You and I know that what
you are doing isn't really stealing; it's simply a tactful way of
getting back my own property. But the judge and jury will have
"I am beginning to understand," said Ashe thoughtfully, "why you
called the job delicate and dangerous."
Certainly it had been no overstatement. As a writer of detective
stories for the British office boy, he had imagined in his time
many undertakings that might be so described, but few to which
the description was more admirably suited.
"It is," said Mr. Peters; "and that is why I'm offering good pay.
Whoever carries this job through gets one thousand pounds."
"One thousand pounds--five thousand dollars!"
"When do I begin?"
"You'll do it?"
"For five thousand dollars I certainly will."
"With your eyes open?"
A look of positive geniality illuminated Mr. Peters' pinched
features. He even went so far as to pat Ashe on the shoulder.
"Good boy!" he said. "Meet me at Paddington Station at four
o'clock on Friday. And if there's anything more you want to know
come round to this address."
There remained the telling of Joan Valentine; for it was
obviously impossible not to tell her. When you have
revolutionized your life at the bidding of another you cannot
well conceal the fact, as though nothing had happened. Ashe had
not the slightest desire to conceal the fact. On the contrary, he
was glad to have such a capital excuse for renewing the
He could not tell her, of course, the secret details of the
thing. Naturally those must remain hidden. No, he would just go
airily in and say:
"You know what you told me about doing something new? Well, I've
just got a job as a valet."
So he went airily in and said it.
"To whom?" said Joan.
"To a man named Peters--an American."
Women are trained from infancy up to conceal their feelings. Joan
did not start or otherwise express emotion.
"Not Mr. J. Preston Peters?"
"Yes. Do you know him? What a remarkable thing."
"His daughter," said Joan, "has just engaged me as a lady's
"It will not be quite the same thing as three years ago," Joan
explained. "It is just a cheap way of getting a holiday. I used
to know Miss Peters very well, you see. It will be more like
traveling as her guest."
"But--but--" Ashe had not yet overcome his amazement.
"But what an extraordinary coincidence!"
"Yes. By the way, how did you get the situation? And what put it
into your head to be a valet at all? It seems such a curious
thing for you to think of doing."
Ashe was embarrassed.
"I--I--well, you see, the experience will be useful to me, of
course, in my writing."
"Oh! Are you thinking of taking up my line of work? Dukes?"
"No, no--not exactly that."
"It seems so odd. How did you happen to get in touch with Mr.
"Oh, I answered an advertisement."
Ashe was becoming conscious of an undercurrent of something not
altogether agreeable in the conversation. It lacked the gay ease
of their first interview. He was not apprehensive lest she might
have guessed his secret. There was, he felt, no possible means by
which she could have done that. Yet the fact remained that those
keen blue eyes of hers were looking at him in a peculiar and
penetrating manner. He felt damped.
"It will be nice, being together," he said feebly.
"Very!" said Joan.
There was a pause.
"I thought I would come and tell you."
There was another pause.
"It seems so funny that you should be going out as a lady's
"But, of course, you have done it before."
"The really extraordinary thing is that we should be going to the
"It--it's remarkable, isn't it?"
Ashe reflected. No; he did not appear to have any further remarks
"Good-by for the present," he said.
Ashe drifted out. He was conscious of a wish that he understood
girls. Girls, in his opinion, were odd.
When he had gone Joan Valentine hurried to the door and, having
opened it an inch, stood listening. When the sound of his door
closing came to her she ran down the stairs and out into Arundell
Street. She went to the Hotel Mathis.
"I wonder," she said to the sad-eyed waiter, "if you have a copy
of the Morning Post?"
The waiter, a child of romantic Italy, was only too anxious to
oblige youth and beauty. He disappeared and presently returned
with a crumpled copy. Joan thanked him with a bright smile.
Back in her room, she turned to the advertisement pages. She knew
that life was full of what the unthinking call coincidences; but
the miracle of Ashe having selected by chance the father of Aline
Peters as an employer was too much of a coincidence for her.
Suspicion furrowed her brow.
It did not take her long to discover the advertisement that had
sent Ashe hurrying in a taxicab to the offices of Messrs.
Mainprice, Mainprice & Boole. She had been looking for something
of the kind.
She read it through twice and smiled. Everything was very clear
to her. She looked at the ceiling above her and shook her head.
"You are quite a nice young man, Mr. Marson," she said softly;
"but you mustn't try to jump my claim. I dare say you need that
money too; but I'm afraid you must go without. I am going to have
it--and nobody else!"
The four-fifteen express slid softly out of Paddington Station
and Ashe Marson settled himself in the corner seat of his
second-class compartment. Opposite him Joan Valentine had begun
to read a magazine. Along the corridor, in a first-class smoking
compartment, Mr. Peters was lighting a big black cigar. Still
farther along the corridor, in a first-class non-smoking
compartment, Aline Peters looked through the window and thought
of many things.
In English trains the tipping classes travel first; valets,
lady's maids, footmen, nurses, and head stillroom maids, second;
and housemaids, grooms, and minor and inferior stillroom maids,
third. But for these social distinctions, the whole fabric of
society, would collapse and anarchy stalk naked through the
land--as in the United States.
Ashe was feeling remarkably light-hearted. He wished he had not
bought Joan that magazine and thus deprived himself temporarily
of the pleasure of her conversation; but that was the only flaw
in his happiness. With the starting of the train, which might be
considered the formal and official beginning of the delicate and
dangerous enterprise on which he had embarked, he had definitely
come to the conclusion that the life adventurous was the life for
him. He had frequently suspected this to be the case, but it had
required the actual experiment to bring certainty.
Almost more than physical courage, the ideal adventurer needs a
certain lively inquisitiveness, the quality of not being content
to mind his own affairs; and in Ashe this quality was highly
developed. From boyhood up he had always been interested in
things that were none of his business. And it is just that
attribute which the modern young man, as a rule, so sadly lacks.
The modern young man may do adventurous things if they are thrust
on him; but left to himself he will edge away uncomfortably and
look in the other direction when the goddess of adventure smiles
at him. Training and tradition alike pluck at his sleeve and urge
him not to risk making himself ridiculous. And from sheer horror
of laying himself open to the charge of not minding his own
business he falls into a stolid disregard of all that is out of
the ordinary and exciting. He tells himself that the shriek from
the lonely house he passed just now was only the high note of
some amateur songstress, and that the maiden in distress whom he
saw pursued by the ruffian with a knife was merely earning the
salary paid her by some motion-picture firm. And he proceeds on
his way, looking neither to left nor right.
Ashe had none of this degenerate coyness toward adventure. Though
born within easy distance of Boston and deposited by
circumstances in London, he possessed, nevertheless, to a
remarkable degree, that quality so essentially the property of
the New Yorker--the quality known, for want of a more polished
word, as rubber. It is true that it had needed the eloquence of
Joan Valentine to stir him from his groove; but that was because
he was also lazy. He loved new sights and new experiences. Yes;
he was happy. The rattle of the train shaped itself into a lively
march. He told himself that he had found the right occupation for
a young man in the Spring.
Joan, meantime, intrenched behind her magazine, was also busy
with her thoughts. She was not reading the magazine; she held it
before her as a protection, knowing that if she laid it down Ashe
would begin to talk. And just at present she had no desire for
conversation. She, like Ashe, was contemplating the immediate
future, but, unlike him, was not doing so with much pleasure. She
was regretting heartily that she had not resisted the temptation
to uplift this young man and wishing that she had left him to
wallow in the slothful peace in which she had found him.
It is curious how frequently in this world our attempts to
stimulate and uplift swoop back on us and smite us like
boomerangs. Ashe's presence was the direct outcome of her lecture
on enterprise, and it added a complication to an already
She did her best to be fair to Ashe. It was not his fault that he
was about to try to deprive her of five thousand dollars, which
she looked on as her personal property; but illogically she found
herself feeling a little hostile.
She glanced furtively at him over the magazine, choosing by ill
chance a moment when he had just directed his gaze at her. Their
eyes met and there was nothing for it but to talk; so she tucked
away her hostility in a corner of her mind, where she could find
it again when she wanted it, and prepared for the time being to
be friendly. After all, except for the fact that he was her
rival, this was a pleasant and amusing young man, and one for
whom, until he made the announcement that had changed her whole
attitude toward him, she had entertained a distinct feeling of
There was something about him that made her feel that she would
have liked to stroke his hair in a motherly way and straighten
his tie, and have cozy chats with him in darkened rooms by the
light of open fires, and make him tell her his inmost thoughts,
and stimulate him to do something really worth while with his
life; but this, she held, was merely the instinct of a generous
nature to be kind and helpful even to a comparative stranger.
"Well, Mr. Marson," she said, "Here we are!"
"Exactly what I was thinking," said Ashe.
He was conscious of a marked increase in the exhilaration the
starting of the expedition had brought to him. At the back of his
mind he realized there had been all along a kind of wistful
resentment at the change in this girl's manner toward him.
During the brief conversation when he had told her of his having
secured his present situation, and later, only a few minutes
back, on the platform of Paddington Station, he had sensed a
coldness, a certain hostility--so different from her pleasant
friendliness at their first meeting.
She had returned now to her earlier manner and he was surprised
at the difference it made. He felt somehow younger, more alive.
The lilt of the train's rattle changed to a gay ragtime. This was
curious, because Joan was nothing more than a friend. He was not
in love with her. One does not fall in love with a girl whom one
has met only three times. One is attracted--yes; but one does not
fall in love.
A moment's reflection enabled him to diagnose his sensations
correctly. This odd impulse to leap across the compartment and
kiss Joan was not love. It was merely the natural desire of a
good-hearted young man to be decently chummy with his species.
"Well, what do you think of it all, Mr. Marson?" said Joan. "Are
you sorry or glad that you let me persuade you to do this
perfectly mad thing? I feel responsible for you, you know. If it
had not been for me you would have been comfortably in Arundell
Street, writing your Wand of Death."
"You don't feel any misgivings now that you are actually
committed to domestic service?"
Joan, against her will, smiled approval on this uncompromising
attitude. This young man might be her rival, but his demeanor on
the eve of perilous times appealed to her. That was the spirit
she liked and admired--that reckless acceptance of whatever might
come. It was the spirit in which she herself had gone into the
affair and she was pleased to find that it animated Ashe
also--though, to be sure, it had its drawbacks. It made his
rivalry the more dangerous. This reflection injected a touch of
the old hostility into her manner.
"I wonder whether you will continue to feel so brave."
"What do you mean?"
Joan perceived that she was in danger of going too far. She had
no wish to unmask Ashe at the expense of revealing her own
secret. She must resist the temptation to hint that she had
"I meant," she said quickly, "that from what I have seen of him
Mr. Peters seems likely to be a rather trying man to work for."
Ashe's face cleared. For a moment he had almost suspected that
she had guessed his errand.
"Yes. I imagine he will be. He is what you might call
quick-tempered. He has dyspepsia, you know."
"What he wants is plenty of fresh air and no cigars, and a
regular course of those Larsen Exercises that amused you so
"Are you going to try and persuade Mr. Peters to twist himself
about like that? Do let me see it if you do."
"I wish I could."
"Do suggest it to him."
"Don't you think he would resent it from a valet?"
"I keep forgetting that you are a valet. You look so unlike one."
"Old Peters didn't think so. He rather complimented me on my
appearance. He said I was ordinary-looking."
"I shouldn't have called you that. You look so very strong and
"Surely there are muscular valets?"
"Well, yes; I suppose there are."
Ashe looked at her. He was thinking that never in his life had he
seen a girl so amazingly pretty. What it was that she had done to
herself was beyond him; but something, some trick of dress, had
given her a touch of the demure that made her irresistible. She
was dressed in sober black, the ideal background for her
"While on the subject," he said, "I suppose you know you don't
look in the least like a lady's maid? You look like a disguised
"That's very nice of you, Mr. Marson, but you're quite wrong.
Anyone could tell I was a lady's maid, a mile away. You aren't
criticizing the dress, surely?"
"The dress is all right. It's the general effect. I don't think
your expression is right. It's--it's--there's too much attack in
it. You aren't meek enough."
Joan's eyes opened wide.
"Meek! Have you ever seen an English lady's maid, Mr. Marson?"
"Why, no; now that I come to think of it, I don't believe I
"Well, let me tell you that meekness is her last quality. Why
should she be meek? Doesn't she go in after the groom of the
"Go in? Go in where?"
"In to dinner." She smiled at the sight of his bewildered face.
"I'm afraid you don't know much about the etiquette of the new
world you have entered so rashly. Didn't you know that the rules
of precedence among the servants of a big house in England are
more rigid and complicated than in English society?"
"I'm not joking. You try going in to dinner out of your proper
place when we get to Blandings and see what happens. A public
rebuke from the butler is the least you could expect."
A bead of perspiration appeared on Ashe's forehead.
"Heavens!" he whispered. "If a butler publicly rebuked me I think
I should commit suicide. I couldn't survive it."
He stared, with fallen jaw, into the abyss of horror into which
he had leaped so light-heartedly. The servant problem, on this
large scale, had been nonexistent for him until now. In the days
of his youth, at Mayling, Massachusetts, his needs had been
ministered to by a muscular Swede. Later, at Oxford, there had
been his "scout" and his bed maker, harmless persons both,
provided you locked up your whisky. And in London, his last
phase, a succession of servitors of the type of the disheveled
maid at Number Seven had tended him.
That, dotted about the land of his adoption, there were houses in
which larger staffs of domestics were maintained, he had been
vaguely aware. Indeed, in "Gridley Quayle, Investigator; the
Adventure of the Missing Marquis"--number four of the series--he
had drawn a picture of the home life of a duke, in which a butler
and two powdered footmen had played their parts; but he had had
no idea that rigid and complicated rules of etiquette swayed the
private lives of these individuals. If he had given the matter a
thought he had supposed that when the dinner hour arrived the
butler and the two footmen would troop into the kitchen and
squash in at the table wherever they found room.
"Tell me," he said. "Tell me all you know. I feel as though I had
escaped a frightful disaster."
"You probably have. I don't suppose there is anything so terrible
as a snub from a butler."
"If there is I can't think of it. When I was at Oxford I used to
go and stay with a friend of mine who had a butler that looked
like a Roman emperor in swallowtails. He terrified me. I used to
grovel to the man. Please give me all the pointers you can."
"Well, as Mr. Peters' valet, I suppose you will be rather a big
"I shan't feel it."
"However large the house party is, Mr. Peters is sure to be the
principal guest; so your standing will be correspondingly
magnificent. You come after the butler, the housekeeper, the
groom of the chambers, Lord Emsworth's valet, Lady Ann
Warblington's lady's maid--"
"Who is she?"
"Lady Ann? Lord Emsworth's sister. She has lived with him since
his wife died. What was I saying? Oh, yes! After them come the
honorable Frederick Threepwood's valet and myself--and then you."
"I'm not so high up then, after all?"
"Yes, you are. There's a whole crowd who come after you. It all
depends on how many other guests there are besides Mr. Peters."
"I suppose I charge in at the head of a drove of housemaids and
"My dear Mr. Marson, if a housemaid or a scullery maid tried to
get into the steward's room and have her meals with us, she would
"Rebuked by the butler?"
"Lynched, I should think. Kitchen maids and scullery maids eat in
the kitchen. Chauffeurs, footmen, under-butler, pantry boys, hall
boy, odd man and steward's-room footman take their meals in the
servants' hall, waited on by the hall boy. The stillroom maids
have breakfast and tea in the stillroom, and dinner and supper in
the hall. The housemaids and nursery maids have breakfast and tea
in the housemaid's sitting-room, and dinner and supper in the
hall. The head housemaid ranks next to the head stillroom maid.
The laundry maids have a place of their own near the laundry, and
the head laundry maid ranks above the head housemaid. The chef
has his meals in a room of his own near the kitchen. Is there
anything else I can tell you, Mr. Marson?"
Ashe was staring at her with vacant eyes. He shook his head
"We stop at Swindon in half an hour," said Joan softly. "Don't
you think you would be wise to get out there and go straight back
to London, Mr. Marson? Think of all you would avoid!"
Ashe found speech.
"It's a nightmare!"
"You would be far happier in Arundell Street. Why don't you get
out at Swindon and go back?"
Ashe shook his head.
"I can't. There's--there's a reason."
Joan picked up her magazine again. Hostility had come out from
the corner into which she had tucked it away and was once more
filling her mind. She knew it was illogical, but she could not
help it. For a moment, during her revelations of servants'
etiquette, she had allowed herself to hope that she had
frightened her rival out of the field, and the disappointment
made her feel irritable. She buried herself in a short story, and
countered Ashe's attempts at renewing the conversation with cold
monosyllables, until he ceased his efforts and fell into a moody
He was feeling hurt and angry. Her sudden coldness, following on
the friendliness with which she had talked so long, puzzled and
infuriated him. He felt as though he had been snubbed, and for no
He resented the defensive magazine, though he had bought it for
her himself. He resented her attitude of having ceased to
recognize his existence. A sadness, a filmy melancholy, crept
over him. He brooded on the unutterable silliness of humanity,
especially the female portion of it, in erecting artificial
barriers to friendship. It was so unreasonable.
At their first meeting, when she might have been excused for
showing defensiveness, she had treated him with unaffected ease.
When that meeting had ended there was a tacit understanding
between them that all the preliminary awkwardnesses of the first
stages of acquaintanceship were to be considered as having been
passed; and that when they met again, if they ever did, it would
be as friends. And here she was, luring him on with apparent
friendliness, and then withdrawing into herself as though he had
A rebellious spirit took possession of him. He didn't care! Let
her be cold and distant. He would show her that she had no
monopoly of those qualities. He would not speak to her until she
spoke to him; and when she spoke to him he would freeze her with
his courteous but bleakly aloof indifference.
The train rattled on. Joan read her magazine. Silence reigned in
the second-class compartment. Swindon was reached and passed.
Darkness fell on the land. The journey began to seem interminable
to Ashe; but presently there came a creaking of brakes and the
train jerked itself to another stop. A voice on the platform made
itself heard, calling:
"Market Blandings! Market Blandings Station!"
* * *
The village of Market Blandings is one of those sleepy English
hamlets that modern progress has failed to touch; except by the
addition of a railroad station and a room over the grocer's shop
where moving pictures are on view on Tuesdays and Fridays. The
church is Norman and the intelligence of the majority of the
natives Paleozoic. To alight at Market Blandings Station in the
dusk of a rather chilly Spring day, when the southwest wind has
shifted to due east and the thrifty inhabitants have not yet lit
their windows, is to be smitten with the feeling that one is at
the edge of the world with no friends near.
Ashe, as he stood beside Mr. Peters' baggage and raked the
unsympathetic darkness with a dreary eye, gave himself up to
melancholy. Above him an oil lamp shed a meager light. Along the
platform a small but sturdy porter was juggling with a milk can.
The east wind explored Ashe's system with chilly fingers.
Somewhere out in the darkness into which Mr. Peters and Aline had
already vanished in a large automobile, lay the castle, with its
butler and its fearful code of etiquette. Soon the cart that was
to convey him and the trunks thither would be arriving. He
Out of the gloom and into the feeble rays of the oil lamp came
Joan Valentine. She had been away, tucking Aline into the car.
She looked warm and cheerful. She was smiling in the old friendly
If girls realized their responsibilities they would be so careful
when they smiled that they would probably abandon the practice
altogether. There are moments in a man's life when a girl's smile
can have as important results as an explosion of dynamite.
In the course of their brief acquaintance Joan had smiled at Ashe
many times, but the conditions governing those occasions had not
been such as to permit him to be seriously affected. He had been
pleased on such occasions; he had admired her smile in a detached
and critical spirit; but he had not been overwhelmed by it. The
frame of mind necessary for that result had been lacking.
Now, however, after five minutes of solitude on the depressing
platform of Market Blandings Station, he was what the
spiritualists call a sensitive subject. He had reached that depth
of gloom and bodily discomfort when a sudden smile has all the
effect of strong liquor and good news administered
simultaneously, warming the blood and comforting the soul, and
generally turning the world from a bleak desert into a land
flowing with milk and honey.
It is not too much to say that he reeled before Joan's smile. It
was so entirely unexpected. He clutched Mr. Peters' steamer trunk
in his emotion. All his resolutions to be cold and distant were
swept away. He had the feeling that in a friendless universe here
was somebody who was fond of him and glad to see him.
A smile of such importance demands analysis, and in this case
repays it; for many things lay behind this smile of Joan
Valentine's on the platform of Market Blandings Station.
In the first place, she had had another of her swift changes of
mood, and had once again tucked away hostility into its corner.
She had thought it over and had come to the conclusion that as
she had no logical grievance against Ashe for anything he had
done to be distant to him was the behavior of a cat. Consequently
she resolved, when they should meet again, to resume her attitude
of good-fellowship. That in itself would have been enough to make
There was another reason, however, which had nothing to do with
Ashe. While she had been tucking Aline into the automobile she
met the eye of the driver of that vehicle and had perceived a
curious look in it--a look of amazement and sheer terror. A
moment, later, when Aline called the driver Freddie, she had
understood. No wonder the Honorable Freddie had looked as though
he had seen a ghost.
It would be a relief to the poor fellow when, as he undoubtedly
would do in the course of the drive, he inquired of Aline the
name of her maid and was told that it was Simpson. He would
mutter something about "Reminds me of a girl I used to know," and
would brood on the remarkable way in which Nature produces
doubles. But he had a bad moment, and it was partly at the
recollection of his face that Joan smiled.
A third reason was because the sight of the Honorable Freddie had
reminded her that R. Jones had said he had written her poetry.
That thought, too, had contributed toward the smile which so
Ashe, not being miraculously intuitive, accepted the easier
explanation that she smiled because she was glad to be in his
company; and this thought, coming on top of his mood of despair
and general dissatisfaction with everything mundane, acted on him
like some powerful chemical.
In every man's life there is generally one moment to which in
later years he can look back and say: "In this moment I fell in
love!" Such a moment came to Ashe now.
Betwixt the stirrup and the ground,
Mercy I asked; mercy I found.
So sings the poet and so it was with Ashe.
In the almost incredibly brief time it took the small but sturdy
porter to roll a milk can across the platform and hump it, with a
clang, against other milk cans similarly treated a moment before,
Ashe fell in love.
The word is so loosely used, to cover a thousand varying shades
of emotion--from the volcanic passion of an Antony for a
Cleopatra to the tepid preference of a grocer's assistant for the
Irish maid at the second house on Main Street, as opposed to the
Norwegian maid at the first house past the post office--the mere
statement that Ashe fell in love is not a sufficient description
of his feelings as he stood grasping Mr. Peters' steamer trunk.
Analysis is required.
From his fourteenth year onward Ashe had been in love many times.
His sensations in the case of Joan were neither the terrific
upheaval that had caused him, in his fifteenth year, to collect
twenty-eight photographs of the heroine of the road company of a
musical comedy which had visited the Hayling Opera House, nor the
milder flame that had caused him, when at college, to give up
smoking for a week and try to read the complete works of Ella
His love was something that lay between these two poles.
He did not wish the station platform of Market Blandings to
become suddenly congested with red Indians so that he might save
Joan's life; and he did not wish to give up anything at all. But
he was conscious--to the very depths of his being--that a future
in which Joan did not figure would be so insupportable as not to
bear considering; and in the immediate present he very strongly
favored the idea of clasping Joan in his arms and kissing her
until further notice.
Mingled with these feelings was an excited gratitude to her for
coming to him like this, with that electric smile on her face; a
stunned realization that she was a thousand times prettier than
he had ever imagined; and a humility that threatened to make him
loose his clutch on the steamer trunk and roll about at her feet,
yapping like a dog.
Gratitude, so far as he could dissect his tangled emotion was the
predominating ingredient of his mood. Only once in his life had
he felt so passionately grateful to any human being. On that
occasion, too, the object of his gratitude had been feminine.
Years before, when a boy in his father's home in distant Hayling,
Massachusetts, those in authority had commanded that he--in his
eleventh year and as shy as one can be only at that interesting
age--should rise in the presence of a roomful of strangers, adult
guests, and recite "The Wreck of the Hesperus."
He had risen. He had blushed. He had stammered. He had contrived
to whisper: "It was the Schooner Hesperus." And then, in a corner
of the room, a little girl, for no properly explained reason, had
burst out crying. She had yelled, she had bellowed, and would not
be comforted; and in the ensuing confusion Ashe had escaped to
the woodpile at the bottom of the garden, saved by a miracle.
All his life he had remembered the gratitude he had felt for that
little timely girl, and never until now had he experienced any
other similar spasm. But as he looked at Joan he found himself
renewing that emotion of fifteen years ago.
She was about to speak. In a sort of trance he watched her lips
part. He waited almost reverently for the first words she should
speak to him in her new role of the only authentic goddess.
"Isn't it a shame?" she said. "I've just put a penny in the
chocolate slot machine--and it's empty! I've a good mind to write
to the company."
Ashe felt as though he were listening to the strains of some
grand sweet anthem.
The small but sturdy porter, weary of his work among the milk
cans, or perhaps--let us not do him an injustice even in
thought--having finished it, approached them.