Part 3 out of 5
"The cart from the castle's here."
In the gloom beyond him there gleamed a light which had not been
there before. The meditative snort of a horse supported his
statement. He began to deal as authoritatively with Mr. Peters'
steamer trunk as he had dealt with the milk cans.
"At last!" said Joan. "I hope it's a covered cart. I'm frozen.
Let's go and see."
Ashe followed her with the gait of an automaton.
* * *
Cold is the ogre that drives all beautiful things into hiding.
Below the surface of a frost-bound garden there lurk hidden
bulbs, which are only biding their time to burst forth in a riot
of laughing color; but shivering Nature dare not put forth her
flowers until the ogre has gone. Not otherwise does cold suppress
love. A man in an open cart on an English Spring night may
continue to be in love; but love is not the emotion uppermost in
his bosom. It shrinks within him and waits for better times.
The cart was not a covered cart. It was open to the four winds of
heaven, of which the one at present active proceeded from the
bleak east. To this fact may be attributed Ashe's swift recovery
from the exalted mood into which Joan's smile had thrown him, his
almost instant emergence from the trance. Deep down in him he was
aware that his attitude toward Joan had not changed, but his
conscious self was too fully occupied with the almost hopeless
task of keeping his blood circulating, to permit of thoughts of
love. Before the cart had traveled twenty yards he was a mere
chunk of frozen misery.
After an eternity of winding roads, darkened cottages, and black
fields and hedges, the cart turned in at a massive iron gate,
which stood open giving entrance to a smooth gravel drive. Here
the way ran for nearly a mile through an open park of great trees
and was then swallowed in the darkness of dense shrubberies.
Presently to the left appeared lights, at first in ones and twos,
shining out and vanishing again; then, as the shrubberies ended
and the smooth lawns and terraces began, blazing down on the
travelers from a score of windows, with the heartening effect of
fires on a winter night.
Against the pale gray sky Blandings Castle stood out like a
mountain. It was a noble pile, of Early Tudor building. Its
history is recorded in England's history books and Viollet-le-Duc
has written of its architecture. It dominated the surrounding
The feature of it which impressed Ashe most at this moment,
however, was the fact that it looked warm; and for the first time
since the drive began he found himself in a mood that
approximated cheerfulness. It was a little early to begin feeling
cheerful, he discovered, for the journey was by no means over.
Arrived within sight of the castle, the cart began a detour,
which, ten minutes later, brought it under an arch and over
cobblestones to the rear of the building, where it eventually
pulled up in front of a great door.
Ashe descended painfully and beat his feet against the cobbles.
He helped Joan to climb down. Joan was apparently in a gentle
glow. Women seem impervious to cold.
The door opened. Warm, kitcheny scents came through it. Strong
men hurried out to take down the trunks, while fair women, in the
shape of two nervous scullery maids, approached Joan and Ashe,
and bobbed curtsies. This under more normal conditions would have
been enough to unman Ashe; but in his frozen state a mere
curtsying scullery maid expended herself harmlessly on him. He
even acknowledged the greeting with a kindly nod.
The scullery maids, it seemed, were acting in much the same
capacity as the attaches of royalty. One was there to conduct
Joan to the presence of Mrs. Twemlow, the housekeeper; the other
to lead Ashe to where Beach, the butler, waited to do honor to
the valet of the castle's most important guest.
After a short walk down a stone-flagged passage Joan and her
escort turned to the right. Ashe's objective appeared to be
located to the left. He parted from Joan with regret. Her moral
support would have been welcome.
Presently his scullery maid stopped at a door and tapped thereon.
A fruity voice, like old tawny port made audible, said: "Come
in!" Ashe's guide opened the door.
"The gentleman, Mr. Beach," said she, and scuttled away to the
less rarefied atmosphere of the kitchen.
Ashe's first impression of Beach, the butler, was one of tension.
Other people, confronted for the first time with Beach, had felt
the same. He had that strained air of being on the very point of
bursting that one sees in bullfrogs and toy balloons. Nervous and
imaginative men, meeting Beach, braced themselves involuntarily,
stiffening their muscles for the explosion. Those who had the
pleasure of more intimate acquaintance with him soon passed this
stage, just as people whose homes are on the slopes of Mount
Vesuvius become immune to fear of eruptions.
As far back as they could remember Beach had always looked as
though an apoplectic fit were a matter of minutes; but he never
had apoplexy and in time they came to ignore the possibility of
it. Ashe, however, approaching him with a fresh eye, had the
feeling that this strain could not possibly continue and that
within a very short space of time the worst must happen. The
prospect of this did much to rouse him from the coma into which
he had been frozen by the rigors of the journey.
Butlers as a class seem to grow less and less like anything human
in proportion to the magnificence of their surroundings. There is
a type of butler employed in the comparatively modest homes of
small country gentlemen who is practically a man and a brother;
who hobnobs with the local tradesmen, sings a good comic song at
the village inn, and in times of crisis will even turn to and
work the pump when the water supply suddenly fails.
The greater the house the more does the butler diverge from this
type. Blandings Castle was one of the more important of England's
show places, and Beach accordingly had acquired a dignified
inertia that almost qualified him for inclusion in the vegetable
kingdom. He moved--when he moved at all--slowly. He distilled
speech with the air of one measuring out drops of some precious
drug. His heavy-lidded eyes had the fixed expression of a
With an almost imperceptible wave of a fat white hand, he
conveyed to Ashe that he desired him to sit down. With a stately
movement of his other hand, he picked up a kettle, which simmered
on the hob. With an inclination of his head, he called Ashe's
attention to a decanter on the table.
In another moment Ashe was sipping a whisky toddy, with the
feeling that he had been privileged to assist at some mystic
rite. Mr. Beach, posting himself before the fire and placing his
hands behind his back, permitted speech to drip from him.
"I have not the advantage of your name, Mr.----"
Ashe introduced himself. Beach acknowledged the information with
a half bow.
"You must have had a cold ride, Mr. Marson. The wind is in the
Ashe said yes; the ride had been cold.
"When the wind is in the east," continued Mr. Beach, letting each
syllable escape with apparent reluctance, "I suffer from my
"I beg your pardon?"
"I suffer from my feet," repeated the butler, measuring out the
drops. "You are a young man, Mr. Marson. Probably you do not know
what it is to suffer from your feet." He surveyed Ashe, his
whisky toddy and the wall beyond him, with heavy-lidded
inscrutability. "Corns!" he said.
Ashe said he was sorry.
"I suffer extremely from my feet--not only corns. I have but
recently recovered from an ingrowing toenail. I suffered greatly
from my ingrowing toenail. I suffer from swollen joints."
Ashe regarded this martyr with increasing disfavor. It is the
flaw in the character of many excessively healthy young men that,
though kind-hearted enough in most respects, they listen with a
regrettable feeling of impatience to the confessions of those
less happily situated as regards the ills of the flesh. Rightly
or wrongly, they hold that these statements should be reserved
for the ear of the medical profession, and other and more general
topics selected for conversation with laymen.
"I'm sorry," he said hastily. "You must have had a bad time. Is
there a large house party here just now?"
"We are expecting," said Mr. Beach, "a number of guests. We shall
in all probability sit down thirty or more to dinner."
"A responsibility for you," said Ashe ingratiatingly, well
pleased to be quit of the feet topic.
Mr. Beach nodded.
"You are right, Mr. Marson. Few persons realize the
responsibilities of a man in my position. Sometimes, I can assure
you, it preys on my mind, and I suffer from nervous headaches."
Ashe began to feel like a man trying to put out a fire which, as
fast as he checks it at one point, breaks out at another.
"Sometimes when I come off duty everything gets blurred. The
outlines of objects grow indistinct and misty. I have to sit down
in a chair. The pain is excruciating."
"But it helps you to forget the pain in your feet."
"No, no. I suffer from my feet simultaneously."
Ashe gave up the struggle.
"Tell me all about your feet," he said.
And Mr. Beach told him all about his feet.
The pleasantest functions must come to an end, and the moment
arrived when the final word on the subject of swollen joints was
spoken. Ashe, who had resigned himself to a permanent
contemplation of the subject, could hardly believe he heard
correctly when, at the end of some ten minutes, his companion
changed the conversation.
"You have been with Mr. Peters some time, Mr. Marson?"
"Eh? Oh! Oh, no only since last Wednesday."
"Indeed! Might I inquire whom you assisted before that?"
For a moment Ashe did what he would not have believed himself
capable of doing--regretted that the topic of feet was no longer
under discussion. The question placed him in an awkward position.
If he lied and credited himself with a lengthy experience as a
valet, he risked exposing himself. If he told the truth and
confessed that this was his maiden effort in the capacity of
gentleman's gentleman, what would the butler think? There were
objections to each course, but to tell the truth was the easier
of the two; so he told it.
"Your first situation?" said Mr. Beach. "Indeed!"
"I was--er--doing something else before I met Mr. Peters," said
Mr. Beach was too well-bred to be inquisitive, but his eyebrows
"Ah!" he said. "?" cried his eyebrows. "?--?--?"
Ashe ignored the eyebrows.
"Something different," he said.
There was an awkward silence. Ashe appreciated its awkwardness.
He was conscious of a grievance against Mr. Peters. Why could not
Mr. Peters have brought him down here as his secretary? To be
sure, he had advanced some objection to that course in their
conversation at the offices of Mainprice, Mainprice & Boole; but
merely a silly, far-fetched objection. He wished he had had the
sense to fight the point while there was time; but at the moment
when they were arranging plans he had been rather tickled by the
thought of becoming a valet. The notion had a pleasing
musical-comedy touch about it. Why had he not foreseen the
complications that must ensue? He could tell by the look on his
face that this confounded butler was waiting for him to give a
full explanation. What would he think if he withheld it? He would
probably suppose that Ashe had been in prison.
Well, there was nothing to be done about it. If Beach was
suspicious, he must remain suspicious. Fortunately the suspicions
of a butler do not matter much.
Mr. Beach's eyebrows were still mutely urging him to reveal all,
but Ashe directed his gaze at that portion of the room which Mr.
Beach did not fill. He would be hanged if he was going to let
himself be hypnotized by a pair of eyebrows into incriminating
himself! He glared stolidly at the pattern of the wallpaper,
which represented a number of birds of an unknown species seated
on a corresponding number of exotic shrubs.
The silence was growing oppressive. Somebody had to break it
soon. And as Mr. Beach was still confining himself to the
language of the eyebrow and apparently intended to fight it out
on that line if it took all Summer, Ashe himself broke it.
It seemed to him as he reconstructed the scene in bed that night
that Providence must have suggested the subject to Mr. Peters'
indigestion; for the mere mention of his employer's sufferings
acted like magic on the butler.
"I might have had better luck while I was looking for a place,"
said Ashe. "I dare say you know how bad-tempered Mr. Peters is.
He is dyspeptic."
"So," responded Mr. Beach, "I have been informed." He brooded for
a space. "I, too," he proceeded, "suffer from my stomach. I have
a weak stomach. The lining of my stomach is not what I could wish
the lining of my stomach to be."
"Tell me," said Ashe gratefully, leaning forward in an attitude
of attention, "all about the lining of your stomach."
It was a quarter of an hour later when Mr. Beach was checked in
his discourse by the chiming of the little clock on the
mantelpiece. He turned round and gazed at it with surprise not
unmixed with displeasure.
"So late?" he said. "I shall have to be going about my duties.
And you, also, Mr. Marson, if I may make the suggestion. No doubt
Mr. Peters will be wishing to have your assistance in preparing
for dinner. If you go along the passage outside you will come to
the door that separates our portion of the house from the other.
I must beg you to excuse me. I have to go to the cellar."
Following his directions Ashe came after a walk of a few yards to
a green-baize door, which, swinging at his push, gave him a view
of what he correctly took to be the main hall of the castle--a
wide, comfortable space, ringed with settees and warmed by a log
fire burning in a mammoth fireplace. On the right a broad
staircase led to the upper regions.
It was at this point that Ashe realized the incompleteness of Mr.
Beach's directions. Doubtless, the broad staircase would take him
to the floor on which were the bedrooms; but how was he to
ascertain, without the tedious process of knocking and inquiring
at each door, which was the one assigned to Mr. Peters? It was
too late to go back and ask the butler for further guidance;
already he was on his way to the cellar in quest of the evening's
As he stood irresolute a door across the hall opened and a man of
his own age came out. Through the doorway, which the young man
held open for an instant while he answered a question from
somebody within, Ashe had a glimpse of glass-topped cases.
Could this be the museum--his goal? The next moment the door,
opening a few inches more, revealed the outlying portions of an
Egyptian mummy and brought certainty. It flashed across Ashe's
mind that the sooner he explored the museum and located Mr.
Peters' scarab, the better. He decided to ask Beach to take him
there as soon as he had leisure.
Meantime the young man had closed the museum door and was
crossing the hall. He was a wiry-haired, severe-looking young
man, with a sharp nose and eyes that gleamed through rimless
spectacles--none other, in fact than Lord Emsworth's private
secretary, the Efficient Baxter. Ashe hailed him:
"I say, old man, would you mind telling me how I get to Mr.
Peters' room? I've lost my bearings."
He did not reflect that this was hardly the way in which valets
in the best society addressed their superiors. That is the worst
of adopting what might be called a character part. One can manage
the business well enough; it is the dialogue that provides the
Mr. Baxter would have accorded a hearty agreement to the
statement that this was not the way in which a valet should have
spoken to him; but at the moment he was not aware that Ashe was a
valet. From his easy mode of address he assumed that he was one
of the numerous guests who had been arriving at the castle all
day. As he had asked for Mr. Peters, he fancies that Ashe must be
the Honorable Freddie's American friend, George Emerson, whom he
had not yet met. Consequently he replied with much cordiality
that Mr. Peters' room was the second at the left on the second
He said Ashe could not miss it. Ashe said he was much obliged.
"Awfully good of you," said Ashe.
"Not at all," said Mr. Baxter.
"You lose your way in a place like this," said Ashe.
"You certainly do," said Mr. Baxter.
Ashe went on his upward path and in a few moments was knocking at
the door indicated. And sure enough it was Mr. Peters' voice that
invited him to enter.
Mr. Peters, partially arrayed in the correct garb for gentlemen
about to dine, was standing in front of the mirror, wrestling
with his evening tie. As Ashe entered he removed his fingers and
anxiously examined his handiwork. It proved unsatisfactory. With
a yelp and an oath, he tore the offending linen from his neck.
"Damn the thing!"
It was plain to Ashe that his employer was in no sunny mood.
There are few things less calculated to engender sunniness in a
naturally bad-tempered man than a dress tie that will not let
itself be pulled and twisted into the right shape. Even when
things went well, Mr. Peters hated dressing for dinner. Words
cannot describe his feelings when they went wrong.
There is something to be said in excuse for this impatience: It
is a hollow mockery to be obliged to deck one's person as for a
feast when that feast is to consist of a little asparagus and a
Mr. Peters' eye met Ashe's in the mirror.
"Oh, it's you, is it? Come in, then. Don't stand staring. Close
that door quick! Hustle! Don't scrape your feet on the floor.
Try to look intelligent. Don't gape. Where have you been all this
while? Why didn't you come before? Can you tie a tie? All right,
Somewhat calmed by the snow-white butterfly-shaped creation that
grew under Ashe's fingers, he permitted himself to be helped into
his coat. He picked up the remnant of a black cigar from the
dressing-table and relit it.
"I've been thinking about you," he said.
"Yes?" said Ashe.
"Have you located the scarab yet?"
"What the devil have you been doing with yourself then? You've
had time to collar it a dozen times."
"I have been talking to the butler."
"What the devil do you waste time talking to butlers for? I
suppose you haven't even located the museum yet?"
"Yes; I've done that."
"Oh, you have, have you? Well, that's something. And how do you
propose setting about the job?"
"The best plan would be to go there very late at night."
"Well, you didn't propose to stroll in in the afternoon, did you?
How are you going to find the scarab when you do get in?"
Ashe had not thought of that. The deeper he went into this
business the more things did there seem to be in it of which he
had not thought.
"I don't know," he confessed.
"You don't know! Tell me, young man, are you considered pretty
bright, as Englishmen go?"
"I am not English. I was born near Boston."
"Oh, you were, were you? You blanked bone-headed, bean-eating
boob!" cried Mr. Peters, frothing over quite unexpectedly and
waving his arms in a sudden burst of fury. "Then if you are an
American why don't you show a little more enterprise? Why don't
you put something over? Why do you loaf about the place as though
you were supposed to be an ornament? I want results--and I want
"I'll tell you how you can recognize my scarab when you get into
the museum. That shameless old green-goods man who sneaked it
from me has had the gall, the nerve, to put it all by itself,
with a notice as big as a circus poster alongside of it saying
that it is a Cheops of the Fourth Dynasty, presented"--Mr. Peters
choked--"presented by J. Preston Peters, Esquire! That's how
you're going to recognize it."
Ashe did not laugh, but he nearly dislocated a rib in his effort
to abstain from doing so. It seemed to him that this act on Lord
Emsworth's part effectually disposed of the theory that Britons
have no sense of humor. To rob a man of his choicest possession
and then thank him publicly for letting you have it appealed to
Ashe as excellent comedy.
"The thing isn't even in a glass case," continued Mr. Peters.
"It's lying on an open tray on top of a cabinet of Roman coins.
Anybody who was left alone for two minutes in the place could
take it! It's criminal carelessness to leave a valuable scarab
about like that. If Lord Jesse James was going to steal my Cheops
he might at least have had the decency to treat it as though it
was worth something."
"But it makes it easier for me to get it," said Ashe consolingly.
"It's got to be made easy if you are to get it!" snapped Mr.
Peters. "Here's another thing: You say you are going to try for
it late at night. Well, what are you going to do if anyone
catches you prowling round at that time? Have you considered
"You would have to say something, wouldn't you? You wouldn't chat
about the weather, would you? You wouldn't discuss the latest
play? You would have to think up some mighty good reason for
being out of bed at that time, wouldn't you?"
"I suppose so."
"Oh, you do admit that, do you? Well, what you would say is this:
You would explain that I had rung for you to come and read me to
sleep. Do you understand?"
"You think that would be a satisfactory explanation of my being
in the museum?"
"Idiot! I don't mean that you're to say it if you're caught
actually in the museum. If you're caught in the museum the best
thing you can do is to say nothing, and hope that the judge will
let you off light because it's your first offense. You're to say
it if you're found wandering about on your way there."
"It sounds thin to me."
"Does it? Well, let me tell you that it isn't so thin as you
suppose, for it's what you will actually have to do most nights.
Two nights out of three I have to be read to sleep. My
indigestion gives me insomnia." As though to push this fact home,
Mr. Peters suddenly bent double. "Oof!" he said. "Wow!" He
removed the cigar from his mouth and inserted a digestive
tabloid. "The lining of my stomach is all wrong," he added.
It is curious how trivial are the immediate causes that produce
revolutions. If Mr. Peters had worded his complaint differently
Ashe would in all probability have borne it without active
protest. He had been growing more and more annoyed with this
little person who buzzed and barked and bit at him, yet the idea
of definite revolt had not occurred to him. But his sufferings at
the hands of Beach, the butler, had reduced him to a state where
he could endure no further mention of stomachic linings. There
comes a time when our capacity for listening to detailed data
about the linings of other people's stomachs is exhausted.
He looked at Mr. Peters sternly. He had ceased to be intimidated
by the fiery little man and regarded him simply as a
hypochondriac, who needed to be told a few useful facts.
"How do you expect not to have indigestion? You take no exercise
and you smoke all day long."
The novel sensation of being criticized--and by a beardless youth
at that--held Mr. Peters silent. He started convulsively, but he
did not speak. Ashe, on his pet subject, became eloquent. In his
opinion dyspeptics cumbered the earth. To his mind they had the
choice between health and sickness, and they deliberately chose
"Your sort of man makes me angry. I know your type inside out.
You overwork and shirk exercise, and let your temper run away
with you, and smoke strong cigars on an empty stomach; and when
you get indigestion as a natural result you look on yourself as a
martyr, nourish a perpetual grouch, and make the lives of
everybody you meet miserable. If you would put yourself into my
hands for a month I would have you eating bricks and thriving on
them. Up in the morning, Larsen Exercises, cold bath, a brisk
rubdown, sharp walk--"
"Who the devil asked your opinion, you impertinent young hound?"
inquired Mr. Peters.
"Don't interrupt--confound you!" shouted Ashe. "Now you have made
me forget what I was going to say."
There was a tense silence. Then Mr. Peters began to speak:
"Don't talk to me like that!"
"I'll talk to you just--"
Ashe took a step toward the door. "Very well, then," he said.
"I'll quit! I'm through! You can get somebody else to do this job
of yours for you."
The sudden sagging of Mr. Peters' jaw, the look of consternation
that flashed on his face, told Ashe he had found the right
weapon--that the game was in his hands. He continued with a
feeling of confidence:
"If I had known what being your valet involved I wouldn't have
undertaken the thing for a hundred thousand dollars. Just because
you had some idiotic prejudice against letting me come down here
as your secretary, which would have been the simple and obvious
thing, I find myself in a position where at any moment I may be
publicly rebuked by the butler and have the head stillroom maid
looking at me as though I were something the cat had brought in."
His voice trembled with self-pity.
"Do you realize a fraction of the awful things you have let me in
for? How on earth am I to remember whether I go in before the
chef or after the third footman? I shan't have a peaceful minute
while I'm in this place. I've got to sit and listen by the hour
to a bore of a butler who seems to be a sort of walking hospital.
I've got to steer my way through a complicated system of
"And on top of all that you have the nerve, the insolence, to
imagine that you can use me as a punching bag to work your bad
temper off! You have the immortal rind to suppose that I will
stand for being nagged and bullied by you whenever your suicidal
way of living brings on an attack of indigestion! You have the
supreme gall to fancy that you can talk as you please to me!
"Very well! I've had enough of it. I resign! If you want this
scarab of yours recovered let somebody else do it. I've retired
He took another step toward the door. A shaking hand clutched at
"My boy--my dear boy--be reasonable!"
Ashe was intoxicated with his own oratory. The sensation of
bullyragging a genuine millionaire was new and exhilarating. He
expanded his chest and spread his feet like a colossus.
"That's all very well," he said, coldly disentangling himself
from the hand. "You can't get out of it like that. We have got to
come to an understanding. The point is that if I am to be
subjected to your--your senile malevolence every time you have a
twinge of indigestion, no amount of money could pay me to stop
"My dear boy, it shall not occur again. I was hasty."
Mr. Peters, with agitated fingers, relit the stump of his cigar.
"Throw away that cigar!"
"Throw it away! You say you were hasty. Of course you were hasty;
and as long as you abuse your digestion you will go on being
hasty. I want something better than apologies. If I am to stop
here we must get to the root of things. You must put yourself in
my hands as though I were your doctor. No more cigars. Every
morning regular exercises."
"No; stop! Stop! What sort of exercises?"
"I'll show you to-morrow morning. Brisk walks."
"I hate walking."
"No; stop! A cold bath would kill me at my age."
"It would put new life into you. Do you consent to the cold
baths? No? Very well!"
"Yes, yes, yes!"
"All right, then."
The distant sound of the dinner gong floated in.
"We settled that just in time." said Ashe.
Mr. Peters regarded him fixedly.
"Young man," he said slowly, "if, after all this, you fail to
recover my Cheops for me I'll--I'll--By George, I'll skin you!"
"Don't talk like that," said Ashe. "That's another thing you have
got to remember. If my treatment is to be successful you must not
let yourself think in that way. You must exercise self-control
mentally. You must think beautiful thoughts."
"The idea of skinning you is a beautiful thought!" said Mr.
* * *
In order that their gayety might not be diminished--and the food
turned to ashes in their mouths by the absence from the festive
board of Mr. Beach, it was the custom for the upper servants at
Blandings to postpone the start of their evening meal until
dinner was nearly over above-stairs. This enabled the butler to
take his place at the head of the table without fear of
interruption, except for the few moments when coffee was being
Every night shortly before half-past eight--at which hour Mr.
Beach felt that he might safely withdraw from the dining-room and
leave Lord Emsworth and his guests to the care of Merridew, the
under-butler, and James and Alfred, the footmen, returning only
for a few minutes to lend tone and distinction to the
distribution of cigars and liqueurs--those whose rank entitled
them to do so made their way to the housekeeper's room, to pass
in desultory conversation the interval before Mr. Beach should
arrive, and a kitchen maid, with the appearance of one who has
been straining at the leash and has at last managed to get free,
opened the door, with the announcement: "Mr. Beach, if you please,
dinner is served." On which Mr. Beach, extending a crooked elbow
toward the housekeeper, would say, "Mrs. Twemlow!" and lead the
way, high and disposedly, down the passage, followed in order of
rank by the rest of the company, in couples, to the steward's
For Blandings was not one of those houses--or shall we say
hovels?--where the upper servants are expected not only to feed
but to congregate before feeding in the steward's room. Under the
auspices of Mr. Beach and of Mrs. Twemlow, who saw eye to eye
with him in these matters, things were done properly at the
castle, with the correct solemnity. To Mr. Beach and Mrs. Twemlow
the suggestion that they and their peers should gather together
in the same room in which they were to dine would have been as
repellent as an announcement from Lady Ann Warblington, the
chatelaine, that the house party would eat in the drawing-room.
When Ashe, returning from his interview with Mr. Peters, was
intercepted by a respectful small boy and conducted to the
housekeeper's room, he was conscious of a sensation of shrinking
inferiority akin to his emotions on his first day at school. The
room was full and apparently on very cordial terms with itself.
Everybody seemed to know everybody and conversation was
proceeding in a manner reminiscent of an Old Home Week.
As a matter of fact, the house party at Blandings being in the
main a gathering together of the Emsworth clan by way of honor
and as a means of introduction to Mr. Peters and his daughter,
the bride-of-the-house-to-be, most of the occupants of the
housekeeper's room were old acquaintances and were renewing
interrupted friendships at the top of their voices.
A lull followed Ashe's arrival and all eyes, to his great
discomfort, were turned in his direction. His embarrassment was
relieved by Mrs. Twemlow, who advanced to do the honors. Of Mrs.
Twemlow little need be attempted in the way of pen portraiture
beyond the statement that she went as harmoniously with Mr.
Beach as one of a pair of vases or one of a brace of pheasants
goes with its fellow. She had the same appearance of imminent
apoplexy, the same air of belonging to some dignified and haughty
branch of the vegetable kingdom.
"Mr. Marson, welcome to Blandings Castle!"
Ashe had been waiting for somebody to say this, and had been a
little surprised that Mr. Beach had not done so. He was also
surprised at the housekeeper's ready recognition of his identity,
until he saw Joan in the throng and deduced that she must have
been the source of information.
He envied Joan. In some amazing way she contrived to look not out
of place in this gathering. He himself, he felt, had impostor
stamped in large characters all over him.
Mrs. Twemlow began to make the introductions--a long and tedious
process, which she performed relentlessly, without haste and
without scamping her work. With each member of the aristocracy of
his new profession Ashe shook hands, and on each member he
smiled, until his facial and dorsal muscles were like to crack
under the strain. It was amazing that so many high-class
domestics could be collected into one moderate-sized room.
"Miss Simpson you know," said Mrs. Twemlow, and Ashe was about to
deny the charge when he perceived that Joan was the individual
referred to. "Mr. Judson, Mr. Marson. Mr. Judson is the Honorable
"You have not the pleasure of our Freddie's acquaintance as yet,
I take it, Mr. Marson?" observed Mr. Judson genially, a
smooth-faced, lazy-looking young man. "Freddie repays
"Mr. Marson, permit me to introduce you to Mr. Ferris, Lord
Mr. Ferris, a dark, cynical man, with a high forehead, shook Ashe
by the hand.
"Happy to meet you, Mr. Marson."
"Miss Willoughby, this is Mr. Marson, who will take you in to
dinner. Miss Willoughby is Lady Mildred Mant's lady. As of course
you are aware, Lady Mildred, our eldest daughter, married Colonel
Horace Mant, of the Scots Guards."
Ashe was not aware, and he was rather surprised that Mrs. Twemlow
should have a daughter whose name was Lady Mildred; but reason,
coming to his rescue, suggested that by our she meant the
offspring of the Earl of Emsworth and his late countess. Miss
Willoughby was a light-hearted damsel, with a smiling face and
chestnut hair, done low over her forehead.
Since etiquette forbade that he should take Joan in to dinner,
Ashe was glad that at least an apparently pleasant substitute had
been provided. He had just been introduced to an appallingly
statuesque lady of the name of Chester, Lady Ann Warblington's
own maid, and his somewhat hazy recollections of Joan's lecture
on below-stairs precedence had left him with the impression that
this was his destined partner. He had frankly quailed at the
prospect of being linked to so much aristocratic hauteur.
When the final introduction had been made conversation broke out
again. It dealt almost exclusively, so far as Ashe could follow
it, with the idiosyncrasies of the employers of those present. He
took it that this happened down the entire social scale below
stairs. Probably the lower servants in the servants' hall
discussed the upper servants in the room, and the still lower
servants in the housemaids' sitting-room discussed their
superiors of the servants' hall, and the stillroom gossiped about
the housemaids' sitting-room.
He wondered which was the bottom circle of all, and came to the
conclusion that it was probably represented by the small
respectful boy who had acted as his guide a short while before.
This boy, having nobody to discuss anybody with, presumably sat
in solitary meditation, brooding on the odd-job man.
He thought of mentioning this theory to Miss Willoughby, but
decided that it was too abstruse for her, and contented himself
with speaking of some of the plays he had seen before leaving
London. Miss Willoughby was an enthusiast on the drama; and,
Colonel Mant's military duties keeping him much in town, she had
had wide opportunities of indulging her tastes. Miss Willoughby
did not like the country. She thought it dull.
"Don't you think the country dull, Mr. Marson?"
"I shan't find it dull here," said Ashe; and he was surprised to
discover, through the medium of a pleased giggle, that he was
considered to have perpetrated a compliment.
Mr. Beach appeared in due season, a little distrait, as becomes a
man who has just been engaged on important and responsible
"Alfred spilled the hock!" Ashe heard him announce to Mrs.
Twemlow in a bitter undertone. "Within half an inch of his
lordship's arm he spilled it."
Mrs. Twemlow murmured condolences. Mr. Beach's set expression was
of one who is wondering how long the strain of existence can be
"Mr. Beach, if you please, dinner is served."
The butler crushed down sad thoughts and crooked his elbow.
Ashe, miscalculating degrees of rank in spite of all his caution,
was within a step of leaving the room out of his proper turn; but
the startled pressure of Miss Willoughby's hand on his arm warned
him in time. He stopped, to allow the statuesque Miss Chester to
sail out under escort of a wizened little man with a horseshoe
pin in his tie, whose name, in company with nearly all the others
that had been spoken to him since he came into the room, had
escaped Ashe's memory.
"You were nearly making a bloomer!" said Miss Willoughby
brightly. "You must be absent-minded, Mr. Marson--like his
"Is Lord Emsworth absent-minded?"
Miss Willoughby laughed.
"Why, he forgets his own name sometimes! If it wasn't for Mr.
Baxter, goodness knows what would happen to him."
"I don't think I know Mr. Baxter."
"You will if you stay here long. You can't get away from him if
you're in the same house. Don't tell anyone I said so; but he's
the real master here. His lordship's secretary he calls himself;
but he's really everything rolled into one--like the man in the
Ashe, searching in his dramatic memories for such a person in a
play, inquired whether Miss Willoughby meant Pooh-Bah, in "The
Mikado," of which there had been a revival in London recently.
Miss Willoughby did mean Pooh-Bah.
"But Nosy Parker is what I call him," she said. "He minds
everybody's business as well as his own."
The last of the procession trickled into the steward's room.
Mr. Beach said grace somewhat patronizingly. The meal began.
"You've seen Miss Peters, of course, Mr. Marson?" said Miss
Willoughby, resuming conversation with the soup.
"Just for a few minutes at Paddington."
"Oh! You haven't been with Mr. Peters long, then?"
Ashe began to wonder whether everybody he met was going to ask
him this dangerous question.
"Only a day or so."
"Where were you before that?"
Ashe was conscious of a prickly sensation. A little more of this
and he might as well reveal his true mission at the castle and
have done with it.
"Oh, I was--that is to say----"
"How are you feeling after the journey, Mr. Marson?" said a voice
from the other side of the table; and Ashe, looking up
gratefully, found Joan's eyes looking into his with a curiously
He was too grateful for the interruption to try to account for
this. He replied that he was feeling very well, which was not the
case. Miss Willoughby's interest was diverted to a discussion of
the defects of the various railroad systems of Great Britain.
At the head of the table Mr. Beach had started an intimate
conversation with Mr. Ferris, the valet of Lord Stockheath, the
Honorable Freddie's "poor old Percy"--a cousin, Ashe had
gathered, of Aline Peters' husband-to-be. The butler spoke in
more measured tones even than usual, for he was speaking of
"We were all extremely sorry, Mr. Ferris, to read of your
Ashe wondered what had been happening to Mr. Ferris.
"Yes, Mr. Beach," replied the valet, "it's a fact we made a
pretty poor show." He took a sip from his glass. "There is no
concealing the fact--I have never tried to conceal it--that poor
Percy is not bright."
Miss Chester entered the conversation.
"I couldn't see where the girl--what's her name? was so very
pretty. All the papers had pieces where it said she was
attractive, and what not; but she didn't look anything special to
me from her photograph in the Mirror. What his lordship could see
in her I can't understand."
"The photo didn't quite do her justice, Miss Chester. I was
present in court, and I must admit she was svelte--decidedly
svelte. And you must recollect that Percy, from childhood up, has
always been a highly susceptible young nut. I speak as one who
Mr. Beach turned to Joan.
"We are speaking of the Stockheath breach-of-promise case, Miss
Simpson, of which you doubtless read in the newspapers. Lord
Stockheath is a nephew of ours. I fancy his lordship was greatly
shocked at the occurrence."
"He was," chimed in Mr. Judson from down the table. "I happened
to overhear him speaking of it to young Freddie. It was in the
library on the morning when the judge made his final summing up
and slipped it into Lord Stockheath so proper. 'If ever anything
of this sort happens to you, you young scalawag,' he says to
Mr. Beach coughed. "Mr. Judson!" "Oh, it's all right, Mr. Beach;
we're all in the family here, in a manner of speaking. It wasn't
as though I was telling it to a lot of outsiders. I'm sure none
of these ladies or gentlemen will let it go beyond this room?"
The company murmured virtuous acquiescence.
"He says to Freddie: 'You young scalawag, if ever anything of
this sort happens to you, you can pack up and go off to Canada,
for I'll have nothing more to do with you!'--or words to that
effect. And Freddie says: 'Oh, dash it all, gov'nor, you
However short Mr. Judson's imitation of his master's voice may
have fallen of histrionic perfection, it pleased the company. The
room shook with mirth.
"Mr. Judson is clever, isn't he, Mr. Marson?" whispered Miss
Willoughby, gazing with adoring eyes at the speaker.
Mr. Beach thought it expedient to deflect the conversation. By
the unwritten law of the room every individual had the right to
speak as freely as he wished about his own personal employer; but
Judson, in his opinion, sometimes went a trifle too far.
"Tell me, Mr. Ferris," he said, "does his lordship seem to bear
"Oh, Percy is bearing it well enough."
Ashe noted as a curious fact that, though the actual valet of any
person under discussion spoke of him almost affectionately by his
Christian name, the rest of the company used the greatest
ceremony and gave him his title with all respect. Lord Stockheath
was Percy to Mr. Ferris, and the Honorable Frederick Threepwood
was Freddie to Mr. Judson; but to Ferris, Mr. Judson's Freddie
was the Honorable Frederick, and to Judson Mr. Ferris' Percy was
Lord Stockheath. It was rather a pleasant form of etiquette, and
struck Ashe as somehow vaguely feudal.
"Percy," went on Mr. Ferris, "is bearing it like a little
Briton--the damages not having come out of his pocket! It's his
old father--who had to pay them--that's taking it to heart. You
might say he's doing himself proud. He says it's brought on his
gout again, and that's why he's gone to Droitwich instead of
coming here. I dare say Percy isn't sorry."
"It has been," said Mr. Beach, summing up, "a most unfortunate
occurrence. The modern tendency of the lower classes to get above
themselves is becoming more marked every day. The young female in
this case was, I understand, a barmaid. It is deplorable that our
young men should allow themselves to get into such
"The wonder to me," said the irrepressible Mr. Judson, "is that
more of these young chaps don't get put through it. His lordship
wasn't so wide of the mark when he spoke like that to Freddie in
the library that time. I give you my word, it's a mercy young
Freddie hasn't been up against it! When we were in London,
Freddie and I," he went on, cutting through Mr. Beach's
disapproving cough, "before what you might call the crash, when
his lordship cut off supplies and had him come back and live
here, Freddie was asking for it--believe me! Fell in love with a
girl in the chorus of one of the theaters. Used to send me to the
stage door with notes and flowers every night for weeks, as
regular as clockwork.
"What was her name? It's on the tip of my tongue. Funny how you
forget these things! Freddie was pretty far gone. I recollect
once, happening to be looking round his room in his absence,
coming on a poem he had written to her. It was hot stuff--very
hot! If that girl has kept those letters it's my belief we shall
see Freddie following in Lord Stockheath's footsteps."
There was a hush of delighted horror round the table.
"Goo'," said Miss Chester's escort with unction. "You don't say
so, Mr. Judson! It wouldn't half make them look silly if the
Honorable Frederick was sued for breach just now, with the
wedding coming on!"
"There is no danger of that."
It was Joan's voice, and she had spoken with such decision that
she had the ear of the table immediately. All eyes looked in her
direction. Ashe was struck with her expression. Her eyes were
shining as though she were angry; and there was a flush on her
face. A phrase he had used in the train came back to him. She
looked like a princess in disguise.
"What makes you say that, Miss Simpson?" inquired Judson,
annoyed. He had been at pains to make the company's flesh creep,
and it appeared to be Joan's aim to undo his work.
It seemed to Ashe that Joan made an effort of some sort as though
she were pulling herself together and remembering where she was.
"Well," she said, almost lamely, "I don't think it at all likely
that he proposed marriage to this girl."
"You never can tell," said Judson. "My impression is that Freddie
did. It's my belief that there's something on his mind these
days. Before he went to London with his lordship the other day he
was behaving very strange. And since he came back it's my belief
that he has been brooding. And I happen to know he followed the
affair of Lord Stockheath pretty closely, for he clipped the
clippings out of the paper. I found them myself one day when I
happened to be going through his things."
Beach cleared his throat--his mode of indicating that he was
about to monopolize the conversation.
"And in any case, Miss Simpson," he said solemnly, "with things
come to the pass they have come to, and the juries--drawn from
the lower classes--in the nasty mood they're in, it don't seem
hardly necessary in these affairs for there to have been any
definite promise of marriage. What with all this socialism
rampant, they seem so happy at the idea of being able to do one
of us an injury that they give heavy damages without it. A few
ardent expressions, and that's enough for them. You recollect the
Havant case, and when young Lord Mount Anville was sued? What it
comes to is that anarchy is getting the upper hand, and the lower
classes are getting above themselves. It's all these here cheap
newspapers that does it. They tempt the lower classes to get
"Only this morning I had to speak severe to that young fellow,
James, the footman. He was a good young fellow once and did his
work well, and had a proper respect for people; but now he's gone
all to pieces. And why? Because six months ago he had the
rheumatism, and had the audacity to send his picture and a
testimonial, saying that it had cured him of awful agonies, to
Walkinshaw's Supreme Ointment, and they printed it in half a
dozen papers; and it has been the ruin of James. He has got above
himself and don't care for nobody."
"Well, all I can say is," resumed Judson, "that I hope to
goodness nothing won't happen to Freddie of that kind; for it's
not every girl that would have him."
There was a murmur of assent to this truth.
"Now your Miss Peters," said Judson tolerantly--"she seems a nice
"She would be pleased to hear you say so," said Joan.
"Joan Valentine!" cried Judson, bringing his hands down on the
tablecloth with a bang. "I've just remembered it. That was the
name of the girl Freddie used to write the letters and poems to;
and that's who it is I've been trying all along to think you
reminded me of, Miss Simpson. You're the living image of
Freddie's Miss Joan Valentine."
Ashe was not normally a young man of particularly ready wit; but
on this occasion it may have been that the shock of this
revelation, added to the fact that something must be done
speedily if Joan's discomposure was not to become obvious to all
present, quickened his intelligence. Joan, usually so sure of
herself, so ready of resource, had gone temporarily to pieces.
She was quite white, and her eyes met Ashe's with almost a hunted
If the attention of the company was to be diverted, something
drastic must be done. A mere verbal attempt to change the
conversation would be useless. Inspiration descended on Ashe.
In the days of his childhood in Hayling, Massachusetts, he had
played truant from Sunday school again and again in order to
frequent the society of one Eddie Waffles, the official bad boy
of the locality. It was not so much Eddie's charm of conversation
which had attracted him--though that had been great--as the fact
that Eddie, among his other accomplishments, could give a
lifelike imitation of two cats fighting in a back yard; and Ashe
felt that he could never be happy until he had acquired this gift
from the master.
In course of time he had done so. It might be that his absences
from Sunday school in the cause of art had left him in later
years a trifle shaky on the subject of the Kings of Judah, but
his hard-won accomplishment had made him in request at every
smoking concert at Oxford; and it saved the situation now.
"Have you ever heard two cats fighting in a back yard?" he
inquired casually of his neighbor, Miss Willoughby.
The next moment the performance was in full swing. Young Master
Waffles, who had devoted considerable study to his subject, had
conceived the combat of his imaginary cats in a broad, almost
Homeric, vein. The unpleasantness opened with a low gurgling
sound, answered by another a shade louder and possibly more
querulous. A momentary silence was followed by a long-drawn note,
like rising wind, cut off abruptly and succeeded by a grumbling
mutter. The response to this was a couple of sharp howls. Both
parties to the contest then indulged in a discontented whining,
growing louder and louder until the air was full of electric
menace. And then, after another sharp silence, came war, noisy
Standing at Master Waffles' side, you could follow almost every
movement of that intricate fray, and mark how now one and now the
other of the battlers gained a short-lived advantage. It was a
great fight. Shrewd blows were taken and given, and in the eye of
the imagination you could see the air thick with flying fur.
Louder and louder grew the din; and then, at its height, it
ceased in one crescendo of tumult, and all was still, save for a
faint, angry moaning.
Such was the cat fight of Master Eddie Waffles; and Ashe, though
falling short of the master, as a pupil must, rendered it
faithfully and with energy.
To say that the attention of the company was diverted from Mr.
Judson and his remarks by the extraordinary noises which
proceeded from Ashe's lips would be to offer a mere shadowy
suggestion of the sensation caused by his efforts. At first,
stunned surprise, then consternation, greeted him. Beach, the
butler, was staring as one watching a miracle, nearer apparently
to apoplexy than ever. On the faces of the others every shade of
emotion was to be seen.
That this should be happening in the steward's room at Blandings
Castle was scarcely less amazing than if it had taken place in a
cathedral. The upper servants, rigid in their seats, looked at
each other, like Cortes' soldiers--"with a wild surmise."
The last faint moan of feline defiance died away and silence fell
on the room. Ashe turned to Miss Willoughby.
"Just like that!" he said. "I was telling Miss Willoughby," he
added apologetically to Mrs. Twemlow, "about the cats in London.
They were a great trial."
For perhaps three seconds his social reputation swayed to and fro
in the balance, while the company pondered on what he had done.
It was new; but it was humorous--or was it vulgar? There is
nothing the English upper servant so abhors as vulgarity. That
was what the steward's room was trying to make up its mind about.
Then Miss Willoughby threw her shapely head back and the squeal
of her laughter smote the ceiling. And at that the company made
its decision. Everybody laughed. Everybody urged Ashe to give an
encore. Everybody was his friend and admirer---everybody but
Beach, the butler. Beach, the butler, was shocked to his very
core. His heavy-lidded eyes rested on Ashe with disapproval. It
seemed to Beach, the butler, that this young man Marson had got
* * *
Ashe found Joan at his side. Dinner was over and the diners were
making for the housekeeper's room.
"Thank you, Mr. Marson. That was very good of you and very
clever." Her eyes twinkled. "But what a terrible chance you took!
You have made yourself a popular success, but you might just as
easily have become a social outcast. As it is, I am afraid Mr.
Beach did not approve."
"I'm afraid he didn't. In a minute or so I'm going to fawn on him
and make all well."
Joan lowered her voice.
"It was quite true, what that odious little man said. Freddie
Threepwood did write me letters. Of course I destroyed them long
"But weren't you running the risk in coming here that he might
recognize you? Wouldn't that make it rather unpleasant for you?"
"I never met him, you see. He only wrote to me. When he came to
the station to meet us this evening he looked startled to see me;
so I suppose he remembers my appearance. But Aline will have told
him that my name is Simpson."
"That fellow Judson said he was brooding. I think you ought to
put him out of his misery."
"Mr. Judson must have been letting his imagination run away with
him. He is out of his misery. He sent a horrid fat man named
Jones to see me in London about the letters, and I told him I had
destroyed them. He must have let him know that by this time."
They went into the housekeeper's room. Mr. Beach was standing
before the fire. Ashe went up to him. It was not an easy matter
to mollify Mr. Beach. Ashe tried the most tempting topics. He
mentioned swollen feet--he dangled the lining of Mr. Beach's
stomach temptingly before his eyes; but the butler was not to be
softened. Only when Ashe turned the conversation to the subject
of the museum did a flicker of animation stir him.
Mr. Beach was fond and proud of the Blandings Castle museum. It
had been the means of getting him into print for the first and
only time in his life. A year before, a representative of the
Intelligencer and Echo, from the neighboring town of Blatchford,
had come to visit the castle on behalf of his paper; and he had
begun one section of his article with the words: "Under the
auspices of Mr. Beach, my genial cicerone, I then visited his
lordship's museum--" Mr. Beach treasured the clipping in a
He responded almost amiably to Ashe's questions. Yes; he had seen
the scarab--he pronounced it scayrub--which Mr. Peters had
presented to his lordship. He understood that his lordship
thought very highly of Mr. Peters' scayrub. He had overheard Mr.
Baxter telling his lordship that it was extremely valuable.
"Mr. Beach," said Ashe, "I wonder whether you would take me to
see Lord Emsworth's museum?"
Mr. Beach regarded him heavily.
"I shall be pleased to take you to see his lordship's museum," he
* * *
One can attribute only to the nervous mental condition following
the interview he had had with Ashe in his bedroom the rash act
Mr. Peters attempted shortly after dinner.
Mr. Peters, shortly after dinner, was in a dangerous and reckless
mood. He had had a wretched time all through the meal. The
Blandings chef had extended himself in honor of the house party,
and had produced a succession of dishes, which in happier days
Mr. Peters would have devoured eagerly. To be compelled by
considerations of health to pass these by was enough to damp the
liveliest optimist. Mr. Peters had suffered terribly. Occasions
of feasting and revelry like the present were for him so many
battlefields, on which greed fought with prudence.
All through dinner he brooded on Ashe's defiance and the horrors
which were to result from that defiance. One of Mr. Peters' most
painful memories was of a two weeks' visit he had once paid to
Mr. Muldoon in his celebrated establishment at White Plains. He
had been persuaded to go there by a brother millionaire whom,
until then, he had always regarded as a friend. The memory of Mr.
Muldoon's cold shower baths and brisk system of physical exercise
The thought that under Ashe's rule he was to go through privately
very much what he had gone through in the company of a gang of
other unfortunates at Muldoon's froze him with horror. He knew
those health cranks who believed that all mortal ailments could
be cured by cold showers and brisk walks. They were all alike and
they nearly killed you. His worst nightmare was the one where he
dreamed he was back at Muldoon's, leading his horse up that
endless hill outside the village.
He would not stand it! He would be hanged if he'd stand it! He
would defy Ashe. But if he defied Ashe, Ashe would go away; and
then whom could he find to recover his lost scarab?
Mr. Peters began to appreciate the true meaning of the phrase
about the horns of a dilemma. The horns of this dilemma occupied
his attention until the end of the dinner. He shifted uneasily
from one to the other and back again. He rose from the table in a
thoroughly overwrought condition of mind. And then, somehow, in
the course of the evening, he found himself alone in the hall,
not a dozen feet from the unlocked museum door.
It was not immediately that he appreciated the significance of
this fact. He had come to the hall because its solitude suited
his mood. It was only after he had finished a cigar--Ashe could
not stop his smoking after dinner--that it suddenly flashed on
him that he had ready at hand a solution of all his troubles. A
brief minute's resolute action and the scarab would be his again,
and the menace of Ashe a thing of the past. He glanced about him.
Yes; he was alone.
Not once since the removal of the scarab had begun to exercise
his mind had Mr. Peters contemplated for an instant the
possibility of recovering it himself. The prospect of the
unpleasantness that would ensue had been enough to make him
regard such an action as out of the question. The risk was too
great to be considered for a moment; but here he was, in a
position where the risk was negligible!
Like Ashe, he had always visualized the recovery of his scarab as
a thing of the small hours, a daring act to be performed when
sleep held the castle in its grip. That an opportunity would be
presented to him of walking in quite calmly and walking out again
with the Cheops in his pocket, had never occurred to him as a
Yet now this chance was presenting itself in all its simplicity,
and all he had to do was to grasp it. The door of the museum was
not even closed. He could see from where he stood that it was
He moved cautiously in its direction--not in a straight line as
one going to a museum, but circuitously as one strolling without
an aim. From time to time he glanced over his shoulder. He
reached the door, hesitated, and passed it. He turned, reached
the door again--and again passed it. He stood for a moment
darting his eyes about the hall; then, in a burst of resolution,
he dashed for the door and shot in like a rabbit.
At the same moment the Efficient Baxter, who, from the shelter of
a pillar on the gallery that ran around two-thirds of the hall,
had been eyeing the peculiar movements of the distinguished guest
with considerable interest for some minutes, began to descend the
Rupert Baxter, the Earl of Emsworth's indefatigable private
secretary, was one of those men whose chief characteristic is a
vague suspicion of their fellow human beings. He did not suspect
them of this or that definite crime; he simply suspected them. He
prowled through life as we are told the hosts of Midian prowled.
His powers in this respect were well-known at Blandings Castle.
The Earl of Emsworth said: "Baxter is invaluable--positively
invaluable." The Honorable Freddie said: "A chappie can't take a
step in this bally house without stumbling over that damn feller,
Baxter!" The manservant and the maidservant within the gates,
like Miss Willoughby, employing that crisp gift for
characterization which is the property of the English lower
orders, described him as a Nosy Parker.
Peering over the railing of the balcony and observing the curious
movements of Mr. Peters, who, as a matter of fact, while making
up his mind to approach the door, had been backing and filling
about the hall in a quaint serpentine manner like a man trying to
invent a new variety of the tango, the Efficient Baxter had found
himself in some way--why, he did not know--of what, he could not
say--but in some nebulous way, suspicious.
He had not definitely accused Mr. Peters in his mind of any
specific tort or malfeasance. He had merely felt that something
fishy was toward. He had a sixth sense in such matters.
But when Mr. Peters, making up his mind, leaped into the museum,
Baxter's suspicions lost their vagueness and became crystallized.
Certainty descended on him like a bolt from the skies. On oath,
before a notary, the Efficient Baxter would have declared that J.
Preston Peters was about to try to purloin the scarab.
Lest we should seem to be attributing too miraculous powers of
intuition to Lord Emsworth's secretary, it should be explained
that the mystery which hung about that curio had exercised his
mind not a little since his employer had given it to him to place
in the museum. He knew Lord Emsworth's power of forgetting and he
did not believe his account of the transaction. Scarab maniacs
like Mr. Peters did not give away specimens from their
collections as presents. But he had not divined the truth of what
had happened in London.
The conclusion at which he had arrived was that Lord Emsworth had
bought the scarab and had forgotten all about it. To support this
theory was the fact that the latter had taken his check book to
London with him. Baxter's long acquaintance with the earl had
left him with the conviction that there was no saying what he
might not do if left loose in London with a check book.
As to Mr. Peters' motive for entering the museum, that, too,
seemed completely clear to the secretary. He was a curio
enthusiast himself and he had served collectors in a secretarial
capacity; and he knew, both from experience and observation, that
strange madness which may at any moment afflict the collector,
blotting out morality and the nice distinction between meum and
tuum, as with a sponge. He knew that collectors who would not
steal a loaf if they were starving might--and did--fall before
the temptation of a coveted curio.
He descended the stairs three at a time, and entered the museum
at the very instant when Mr. Peters' twitching fingers were about
to close on his treasure. He handled the delicate situation with
eminent tact. Mr. Peters, at the sound of his step, had executed a
backward leap, which was as good as a confession of guilt, and
his face was rigid with dismay; but the Efficient Baxter
pretended not to notice these phenomena. His manner, when he
spoke, was easy and unembarrassed.
"Ah! Taking a look at our little collection, Mr. Peters? You will
see that we have given the place of honor to your Cheops. It is
certainly a fine specimen--a wonderfully fine specimen."
Mr. Peters was recovering slowly. Baxter talked on, to give him
time. He spoke of Mut and Bubastis, of Ammon and the Book of the
Dead. He directed the other's attention to the Roman coins.
He was touching on some aspects of the Princess Gilukhipa of
Mitanni, in whom his hearer could scarcely fail to be interested,
when the door opened and Beach, the butler, came in, accompanied
by Ashe. In the bustle of the interruption Mr. Peters escaped,
glad to be elsewhere, and questioning for the first time in his
life the dictum that if you want a thing well done you must do it
"I was not aware, sir," said Beach, the butler, "that you were in
occupation of the museum. I would not have intruded; but this
young man expressed a desire to examine the exhibits, and I took
the liberty of conducting him."
"Come in, Beach--come in," said Baxter.
The light fell on Ashe's face, and he recognized him as the
cheerful young man who had inquired the way to Mr. Peters' room
before dinner and who, he had by this time discovered, was not
the Honorable Freddie's friend, George Emerson--or, indeed, any
other of the guests of the house. He felt suspicious.
"Just a moment."
He drew the butler into the hall, out of earshot.
"Beach, who is that man?"
"Mr. Peters' valet, sir."
"Mr. Peters' valet!"
"Has he been in service long?" asked Baxter, remembering that a
mere menial had addressed him as "old man."
Beach lowered his voice. He and the Efficient Baxter were old
allies, and it seemed right to Beach to confide in him.
"He has only just joined Mr. Peters, sir; and he has never been
in service before. He told me so himself, and I was unable to
elicit from him any information as to his antecedents. His manner
struck me, sir, as peculiar. It crossed my mind to wonder whether
Mr. Peters happened to be aware of this. I should dislike to do
any young man an injury; but it might be anyone coming to a
gentleman without a character, like this young man. Mr. Peters
might have been deceived, sir."
The Efficient Baxter's manner became distraught. His mind was
"Should he be informed, sir?"
"Mr. Peters, sir--in case he should have been deceived?"
"No, no; Mr. Peters knows his own business."
"Far from me be it to appear officious, sir; but--"
"Mr. Peters probably knows all about him. Tell me, Beach, who was
it suggested this visit to the museum? Did you?"
"It was at the young man's express desire that I conducted him,
The Efficient Baxter returned to the museum without a word.
Ashe, standing in the middle of the room, was impressing the
topography of the place on his memory. He was unaware of the
piercing stare of suspicion that was being directed at him from
He did not see Baxter. He was not even thinking of Baxter; but
Baxter was on the alert. Baxter was on the warpath. Baxter knew!
Among the compensations of advancing age is a wholesome
pessimism, which, though it takes the fine edge off of whatever
triumphs may come to us, has the admirable effect of preventing
Fate from working off on us any of those gold bricks, coins with
strings attached, and unhatched chickens, at which ardent youth
snatches with such enthusiasm, to its subsequent disappointment.
As we emerge from the twenties we grow into a habit of mind that
looks askance at Fate bearing gifts. We miss, perhaps, the
occasional prize, but we also avoid leaping light-heartedly into
Ashe Marson had yet to reach the age of tranquil mistrust; and
when Fate seemed to be treating him kindly he was still young
enough to accept such kindnesses on their face value and rejoice
As he sat on his bed at the end of his first night in Castle
Blandings, he was conscious to a remarkable degree that Fortune
was treating him well. He had survived--not merely without
discredit, but with positive triumph--the initiatory plunge into
the etiquette maelstrom of life below stairs. So far from doing
the wrong thing and drawing down on himself the just scorn of the
steward's room, he had been the life and soul of the party. Even
if to-morrow, in an absent-minded fit, he should anticipate the
groom of the chambers in the march to the table, he would be
forgiven; for the humorist has his privileges.
So much for that. But that was only a part of Fortune's
kindnesses. To have discovered on the first day of their
association the correct method of handling and reducing to
subjection his irascible employer was an even greater boon. A
prolonged association with Mr. Peters on the lines in which their
acquaintance had begun would have been extremely trying. Now, by
virtue of a fortunate stand at the outset, he had spiked the
Thirdly, and most important of all, he had not only made himself
familiar with the locality and surroundings of the scarab, but he
had seen, beyond the possibility of doubt, that the removal of it
and the earning of the five thousand dollars would be the
simplest possible task. Already he was spending the money in his
mind. And to such lengths had optimism led him that, as he sat on
his bed reviewing the events of the day, his only doubt was
whether to get the scarab at once or to let it remain where it
was until he had the opportunity of doing Mr. Peters' interior
good on the lines he had mapped out in their conversation; for,
of course, directly he had restored the scarab to its rightful
owner and pocketed the reward, his position as healer and trainer
to the millionaire would cease automatically.
He was sorry for that, because it troubled him to think that a
sick man would not be made well; but, on the whole, looking at it
from every aspect, it would be best to get the scarab as soon as
possible and leave Mr. Peters' digestion to look after itself.
Being twenty-six and an optimist, he had no suspicion that Fate
might be playing with him; that Fate might have unpleasant
surprises in store; that Fate even now was preparing to smite him
in his hour of joy with that powerful weapon, the Efficient
He looked at his watch. It was five minutes to one. He had no
idea whether they kept early hours at Blandings Castle or not,
but he deemed it prudent to give the household another hour in
which to settle down. After which he would just trot down and
collect the scarab.
The novel he had brought down with him from London fortunately
proved interesting. Two o'clock came before he was ready for it.
He slipped the book into his pocket and opened the door.
All was still--still and uncommonly dark. Along the corridor on
which his room was situated the snores of sleeping domestics
exploded, growled and twittered in the air. Every menial on the
list seemed to be snoring, some in one key, some in another, some
defiantly, some plaintively; but the main fact was that they were
all snoring somehow, thus intimating that, so far as this side of
the house was concerned, the coast might be considered clear and
interruption of his plans a negligible risk.
Researches made at an earlier hour had familiarized him with the
geography of the place. He found his way to the green-baize door
without difficulty and, stepping through, was in the hall, where
the remains of the log fire still glowed a fitful red. This,
however, was the only illumination, and it was fortunate that he
did not require light to guide him to the museum.
He knew the direction and had measured the distance. It was
precisely seventeen steps from where he stood. Cautiously, and
with avoidance of noise, he began to make the seventeen steps.
He was beginning the eleventh when he bumped into somebody--
somebody soft--somebody whose hand, as it touched his, felt small
The fragment of a log fell on the ashes and the fire gave a dying
spurt. Darkness succeeded the sudden glow. The fire was out.
That little flame had been its last effort before expiring, but
it had been enough to enable him to recognize Joan Valentine.
"Good Lord!" he gasped.
His astonishment was short-lived. Next moment the only thing that
surprised him was the fact that he was not more surprised. There
was something about this girl that made the most bizarre
happenings seem right and natural. Ever since he had met her his
life had changed from an orderly succession of uninteresting days
to a strange carnival of the unexpected, and use was accustoming
him to it. Life had taken on the quality of a dream, in which
anything might happen and in which everything that did happen was
to be accepted with the calmness natural in dreams.
It was strange that she should be here in the pitch-dark hall in
the middle of the night; but--after all--no stranger than that he
should be. In this dream world in which he now moved it had to be
taken for granted that people did all sorts of odd things from
all sorts of odd motives.
"Hello!" he said.
"Don't be alarmed."
"I think we are both here for the same reason."
"You don't mean to say--"
"Yes; I have come here to earn the five thousand dollars, too,
Mr. Marson. We are rivals."
In his present frame of mind it seemed so simple and intelligible
to Ashe that he wondered whether he was really hearing it the
first time. He had an odd feeling that he had known this all
"You are here to get the scarab?"
Ashe was dimly conscious of some objection to this, but at first
it eluded him. Then he pinned it down.
"But you aren't a young man of good appearance," he said.
"I don't know what you mean. But Aline Peters is an old friend of
mine. She told me her father would give a large reward to whoever
recovered the scarab; so I--"
"Look out!" whispered Ashe. "Run! There's somebody coming!"
There was a soft footfall on the stairs, a click, and above
Ashe's head a light flashed out. He looked round. He was alone,
and the green-baize door was swaying gently to and fro.
"Who's that? Who's there?" said a voice.
The Efficient Baxter was coming down the broad staircase.
A general suspicion of mankind and a definite and particular
suspicion of one individual made a bad opiate. For over an hour
sleep had avoided the Efficient Baxter with an unconquerable
coyness. He had tried all the known ways of wooing slumber, but
they had failed him, from the counting of sheep downward. The
events of the night had whipped his mind to a restless activity.
Try as he might to lose consciousness, the recollection of the
plot he had discovered surged up and kept him wakeful.
It is the penalty of the suspicious type of mind that it suffers
from its own activity. From the moment he detected Mr. Peters in
the act of rifling the museum and marked down Ashe as an
accomplice, Baxter's repose was doomed. Nor poppy nor mandragora,
nor all the drowsy sirups of the world, could ever medicine him
to that sweet sleep which he owed yesterday.
But it was the recollection that on previous occasions of
wakefulness hot whisky and water had done the trick, which had
now brought him from his bed and downstairs. His objective was
the decanter on the table of the smoking-room, which was one of
the rooms opening on the gallery that looked down on the hall.
Hot water he could achieve in his bedroom by means of his stove.
So out of bed he had climbed and downstairs he had come; and here
he was, to all appearances, just in time to foil the very plot on
which he had been brooding. Mr. Peters might be in bed, but there
in the hall below him stood the accomplice, not ten paces from
the museum's door. He arrived on the spot at racing speed and
"What are you doing here?"
And then, from the Baxter viewpoint, things began to go wrong. By
all the rules of the game, Ashe, caught, as it were, red-handed,
should have wilted, stammered and confessed all; but Ashe was
fortified by that philosophic calm which comes to us in dreams,
and, moreover, he had his story ready.
"Mr. Peters rang for me, sir."
He had never expected to feel grateful to the little firebrand
who employed him, but he had to admit that the millionaire, in
their late conversation, had shown forethought. The thought
struck him that but for Mr. Peters' advice he might by now be in
an extremely awkward position; for his was not a swiftly
"Rang for you? At half-past two in the morning!"
"To read to him, sir."
"To read to him at this hour?"
"Mr. Peters suffers from insomnia, sir. He has a weak digestion
and pain sometimes prevents him from sleeping. The lining of his
stomach is not at all what it should be."
"I don't believe a word of it."
With that meekness which makes the good man wronged so impressive
a spectacle, Ashe produced and exhibited his novel.
"Here is the book I am about to read to him. I think, sir, if you
will excuse me, I had better be going to his room. Good night,
He proceeded to mount the stairs. He was sorry for Mr. Peters, so
shortly about to be roused from a refreshing slumber; but these
were life's tragedies and must be borne bravely.
The Efficient Baxter dogged him the whole way, sprinting silently
in his wake and dodging into the shadows whenever the light of an
occasional electric bulb made it inadvisable to keep to the open.
Then abruptly he gave up the pursuit. For the first time his
comparative impotence in this silent conflict on which he had
embarked was made manifest to him, and he perceived that on mere
suspicion, however strong, he could do nothing. To accuse Mr.
Peters of theft or to accuse him of being accessory to a theft
was out of the question.
Yet his whole being revolted at the thought of allowing the
sanctity of the museum to be violated. Officially its contents
belonged to Lord Emsworth, but ever since his connection with the
castle he had been put in charge of them, and he had come to look
on them as his own property. If he was only a collector by proxy
he had, nevertheless, the collector's devotion to his curios,
beside which the lioness' attachment to her cubs is tepid; and he
was prepared to do anything to retain in his possession a scarab
toward which he already entertained the feelings of a life
No--not quite anything! He stopped short at the idea of causing
unpleasantness between the father of the Honorable Freddie and
the father of the Honorable Freddie's fiancee. His secretarial
position at the castle was a valuable one and he was loath to
There was only one way in which this delicate affair could be
brought to a satisfactory conclusion. It was obvious from what he
had seen that night that Mr. Peters' connection with the attempt
on the scarab was to be merely sympathetic, and that the actual
theft was to be accomplished by Ashe. His only course, therefore,
was to catch Ashe actually in the museum. Then Mr. Peters need
not appear in the matter at all. Mr. Peters' position in those
circumstances would be simply that of a man who had happened to
employ, through no fault of his own, a valet who happened to be a
He had made a mistake, he perceived, in locking the door of the
museum. In future he must leave it open, as a trap is open;
and he must stay up nights and keep watch. With these
reflections, the Efficient Baxter returned to his room.
Meantime Ashe had entered Mr. Peters' bedroom and switched on the
light. Mr. Peters, who had just succeeded in dropping off to
sleep, sat up with a start.
"I've come to read to you," said Ashe.
Mr. Peters emitted a stifled howl, in which wrath and self-pity
were nicely blended.
"You fool, don't you know I have just managed to get to sleep?"
"And now you're awake again," said Ashe soothingly. "Such is
life! A little rest, a little folding of the hands in sleep, and
then bing!--off we go again. I hope you will like this novel. I
dipped into it and it seems good."
"What do you mean by coming in here at this time of night? Are
"It was your suggestion; and, by the way, I must thank you for
it. I apologize for calling it thin. It worked like a charm. I
don't think he believed it--in fact, I know he didn't; but it
held him. I couldn't have thought up anything half so good in an
Mr. Peters' wrath changed to excitement.
"Did you get it? Have you been after my--my Cheops?"
"I have been after your Cheops, but I didn't get it. Bad men were
abroad. That fellow with the spectacles, who was in the museum
when I met you there this evening, swooped down from nowhere, and
I had to tell him that you had rung for me to read to you.
Fortunately I had this novel on me. I think he followed me
upstairs to see whether I really did come to your room."
Mr. Peters groaned miserably.
"Baxter," he said; "He's a man named Baxter--Lord Emsworth's
private secretary; and he suspects us. He's the man we--I mean
you--have got to look out for."
"Well, never mind. Let's be happy while we can. Make yourself
comfortable and I'll start reading. After all, what could be
pleasanter than a little literature in the small hours? Shall I
* * *
Ashe Marson found Joan Valentine in the stable yard after
breakfast the next morning, playing with a retriever puppy. "Will
you spare me a moment of your valuable time?"
"Certainly, Mr. Marson."
"Shall we walk out into the open somewhere--where we can't be
"Perhaps it would be better."
They moved off.
"Request your canine friend to withdraw," said Ashe. "He prevents
me from marshaling my thoughts."
"I'm afraid he won't withdraw."
"Never mind. I'll do my best in spite of him. Tell me, was I
dreaming or did I really meet you in the hall this morning at
about twenty minutes after two?"
"And did you really tell me that you had come to the castle to
"--Recover Mr. Peters' scarab?"
"Then it's true?"
Ashe scraped the ground with a meditative toe.
"This," he said, "seems to me to complicate matters somewhat."
"It complicates them abominably!"
"I suppose you were surprised when you found that I was on the
same game as yourself."
"Not in the least."
"I knew it directly I saw the advertisement in the Morning Post.
And I hunted up the Morning Post directly you had told me that
you had become Mr. Peters' valet."
"You have known all along!"
Ashe regarded her admiringly.
"Because I saw through you?"
"Partly that; but chiefly because you had the pluck to undertake
a thing like this."
"You undertook it."
"But I'm a man."
"And I'm a woman. And my theory, Mr. Marson, is that a woman can
do nearly everything better than a man. What a splendid test case
this would make to settle the Votes-for-Women question once and
for all! Here we are--you and I--a man and a woman, each trying
for the same thing and each starting with equal chances. Suppose
I beat you? How about the inferiority of women then?"
"I never said women were inferior."
"You did with your eyes."
"Besides, you're an exceptional woman."
"You can't get out of it with a compliment. I'm an ordinary woman
and I'm going to beat a real man."
"I don't like to think of ourselves as working against each
"Because I like you."
"I like you, Mr. Marson; but we must not let sentiment interfere
with business. You want Mr. Peters' five thousand dollars. So do
"I hate the thought of being the instrument to prevent you from
getting the money."
"You won't be. I shall be the instrument to prevent you from
getting it. I don't like that thought, either; but one has got to
"It makes me feel mean."
"That's simply your old-fashioned masculine attitude toward the
female, Mr. Marson. You look on woman as a weak creature, to be
shielded and petted. We aren't anything of the sort. We're
terrors! We're as hard as nails. We're awful creatures. You
mustn't let my sex interfere with your trying to get this reward.
Think of me as though I were another man. We're up against each
other in a fair fight, and I don't want any special privileges.
If you don't do your best from now onward I shall never forgive
you. Do you understand?"
"I suppose so."
"And we shall need to do our best. That little man with the
glasses is on his guard. I was listening to you last night from
behind the door. By the way, you shouldn't have told me to run
away and then have stayed yourself to be caught. That is an
example of the sort of thing I mean. It was chivalry--not
"I had a story ready to account for my being there. You had not."
"And what a capital story it was! I shall borrow it for my own
use. If I am caught I shall say I had to read Aline to sleep
because she suffers from insomnia. And I shouldn't wonder if she
did--poor girl! She doesn't get enough to eat. She is being
starved--poor child! I heard one of the footmen say that she
refused everything at dinner last night. And, though she vows it
isn't, my belief is that it's all because she is afraid to make a
stand against her old father. It's a shame!"
"She is a weak creature, to be shielded and petted," said Ashe
"Well, yes; you caught me there. I admit that poor Aline is not a
shining example of the formidable modern woman; but--" She
stopped. "Oh, bother! I've just thought of what I ought to have
said--the good repartee that would have crushed you. I suppose