Part 4 out of 5
it's too late now?"
"Not at all. I'm like that myself--only it is generally the next
day when I hit the right answer. Shall we go back? . . . She is a
weak creature, to be shielded and petted."
"Thank you so much," said Joan gratefully. "And why is she a weak
creature? Because she has allowed herself to be shielded and
petted; because she has permitted man to give her special
privileges, and generally--No; it isn't so good as I thought it
was going to be."
"It should be crisper," said Ashe critically. "It lacks the
"But it brings me back to my point, which is that I am not going
to imitate her and forfeit my independence of action in return
for chivalry. Try to look at it from my point of view, Mr.
Marson. I know you need the money just as much as I do. Well,
don't you think I should feel a little mean if I thought you were
not trying your hardest to get it, simply because you didn't
think it would be fair to try your hardest against a woman? That
would cripple me. I should not feel as though I had the right to
do anything. It's too important a matter for you to treat me like
a child and let me win to avoid disappointing me. I want the
money; but I don't want it handed to me."
"Believe me," said Ashe earnestly, "it will not be handed to you.
I have studied the Baxter question more deeply than you have, and
I can assure you that Baxter is a menace. What has put him so
firmly on the right scent I don't know; but he seems to have
divined the exact state of affairs in its entirety--so far as I
am concerned, that is to say. Of course he has no idea you are
mixed up in the business; but I am afraid his suspicion of me
will hit you as well. What I mean is that, for some time to come,
I fancy that man proposes to camp out on the rug in front of the
museum door. It would be madness for either of us to attempt to
go there at present."
"It is being made very hard for us, isn't it? And I thought it
was going to be so simple."
"I think we should give him at least a week to simmer down."
"Let us look on the bright side. We are in no hurry. Blandings
Castle is quite as comfortable as Number Seven Arundell Street,
and the commissariat department is a revelation to me. I had no
idea English servants did themselves so well. And, as for the
social side, I love it; I revel in it. For the first time in my
life I feel as though I am somebody. Did you observe my manner
toward the kitchen maid who waited on us at dinner last night? A
touch of the old noblesse about it, I fancy. Dignified but not
unkind, I think. And I can keep it up. So far as I am concerned,
let this life continue indefinitely."
"But what about Mr. Peters? Don't you think there is danger he
may change his mind about that five thousand dollars if we keep
him waiting too long?"
"Not a chance of it. Being almost within touch of the scarab has
had the worst effect on him. It has intensified the craving. By
the way, have you seen the scarab?"
"Yes; I got Mrs. Twemlow to take me to the museum while you were
talking to the butler. It was dreadful to feel that it was lying
there in the open waiting for somebody to take it, and not be
able to do anything."
"I felt exactly the same. It isn't much to look at, is it? If it
hadn't been for the label I wouldn't have believed it was the
thing for which Peters was offering five thousand dollars'
reward. But that's his affair. A thing is worth what somebody
will give for it. Ours not to reason why; ours but to elude
Baxter and gather it in."
"Ours, indeed! You speak as though we were partners instead of
Ashe uttered an exclamation. "You've hit it! Why not? Why any
cutthroat competition? Why shouldn't we form a company? It would
Joan looked thoughtful.
"You mean divide the reward?"
"Exactly--into two equal parts."
"And the labor?"
"How shall we divide that?"
"My idea," he said, "was that I should do what I might call the
rough work; and--"
"You mean you should do the actual taking of the scarab?"
"Exactly. I would look after that end of it."
"And what would my duties be?"
"Well, you--you would, as it were--how shall I put it? You would,
so to speak, lend moral support."
"By lying snugly in bed, fast asleep?"
Ashe avoided her eye.
"Well, yes--er--something on those lines."
"While you ran all the risks?"
"No, no. The risks are practically nonexistent."
"I thought you said just now that it would be madness for either
of us to attempt to go to the museum at present." Joan laughed.
"It won't do, Mr. Marson. You remind me of an old cat I once had.
Whenever he killed a mouse he would bring it into the
drawing-room and lay it affectionately at my feet. I would reject
the corpse with horror and turn him out, but back he would come
with his loathsome gift. I simply couldn't make him understand
that he was not doing me a kindness. He thought highly of his
mouse and it was beyond him to realize that I did not want it.
"You are just the same with your chivalry. It's very kind of you
to keep offering me your dead mouse; but honestly I have no use
for it. I won't take favors just because I happen to be a female.
If we are going to form this partnership I insist on doing my
fair share of the work and running my fair share of the
risks--the practically nonexistent risks."
"Say pig-headed; I shan't mind. Certainly I am! A girl has got to
be, even nowadays, if she wants to play fair. Listen, Mr.
Marson; I will not have the dead mouse. I do not like dead mice.
If you attempt to work off your dead mouse on me this partnership
ceases before it has begun. If we are to work together we are
going to make alternate attempts to get the scarab. No other
arrangement will satisfy me."
"Then I claim the right to make the first one."
"You don't do anything of the sort. We toss up for first chance,
like little ladies and gentlemen. Have you a coin? I will spin,
and you call."
Ashe made a last stand.
"This is perfectly--"
Ashe gave in. He produced a coin and handed it to her gloomily.
"Under protest," he said.
"Head or tail?" said Joan, unmoved.
Ashe watched the coin gyrating in the sunshine.
"Tail!" he cried.
The coin stopped rolling.
"Tail it is," said Joan. "What a nuisance! Well, never mind--
I'll get my chance if you fail."
"I shan't fail," said Ashe fervently. "If I have to pull the
museum down I won't fail. Thank heaven, there's no chance now of
your doing anything foolish!"
"Don't be too sure. Well, good luck, Mr. Marson!"
"Thank you, partner."
They shook hands.
As they parted at the door, Joan made one further remark:
"There's just one thing, Mr. Marson."
"If I could have accepted the mouse from anyone I should
certainly have accepted it from you."
It is worthy of record, in the light of after events, that at the
beginning of their visit it was the general opinion of the guests
gathered together at Blandings Castle that the place was dull.
The house party had that air of torpor which one sees in the
saloon passengers of an Atlantic liner--that appearance of
resignation to an enforced idleness and a monotony to be broken
only by meals. Lord Emsworth's guests gave the impression,
collectively, of being just about to yawn and look at their
This was partly the fault of the time of year, for most house
parties are dull if they happen to fall between the hunting and
the shooting seasons, but must be attributed chiefly to Lord
Emsworth's extremely sketchy notions of the duties of a host.
A host has no right to interne a regiment of his relations in his
house unless he also invites lively and agreeable outsiders to
meet them. If he does commit this solecism the least he can do is
to work himself to the bone in the effort to invent amusements
and diversions for his victims. Lord Emsworth had failed badly in
both these matters. With the exception of Mr. Peters, his
daughter Aline and George Emerson, there was nobody in the house
who did not belong to the clan; and, as for his exerting himself
to entertain, the company was lucky if it caught a glimpse of its
host at meals.
Lord Emsworth belonged to the people-who-like-to-be-left-alone-
to-amuse-themselves-when-they-come-to-a-place school of hosts. He
pottered about the garden in an old coat--now uprooting a weed,
now wrangling with the autocrat from Scotland, who was
theoretically in his service as head gardener---dreamily
satisfied, when he thought of them at all, that his guests were
as perfectly happy as he was.
Apart from his son Freddie, whom he had long since dismissed as a
youth of abnormal tastes, from whom nothing reasonable was to be
expected, he could not imagine anyone not being content merely to
be at Blandings when the buds were bursting on the trees.
A resolute hostess might have saved the situation; but Lady Ann
Warblington's abilities in that direction stopped short at
leaving everything to Mrs. Twemlow and writing letters in her
bedroom. When Lady Ann Warblington was not writing letters in her
bedroom--which was seldom, for she had an apparently
inexhaustible correspondence--she was nursing sick headaches in
it. She was one of those hostesses whom a guest never sees except
when he goes into the library and espies the tail of her skirt
vanishing through the other door.
As for the ordinary recreations of the country house, the guests
could frequent the billiard room, where they were sure to find
Lord Stockheath playing a hundred up with his cousin, Algernon
Wooster--a spectacle of the liveliest interest--or they could, if
fond of golf, console themselves for the absence of links in the
neighborhood with the exhilarating pastime of clock golf; or they
could stroll about the terraces with such of their relations as
they happened to be on speaking terms with at the moment, and
abuse their host and the rest of their relations.
This was the favorite amusement; and after breakfast, on a
morning ten days after Joan and Ashe had formed their compact,
the terraces were full of perambulating couples. Here, Colonel
Horace Mant, walking with the Bishop of Godalming, was soothing
that dignitary by clothing in soldierly words thoughts that the
latter had not been able to crush down, but which his holy office
scarcely permitted him to utter.
There, Lady Mildred Mant, linked to Mrs. Jack Hale, of the
collateral branch of the family, was saying things about her
father in his capacity of host and entertainer, that were making
her companion feel like another woman. Farther on, stopping
occasionally to gesticulate, could be seen other Emsworth
relations and connections. It was a typical scene of quiet,
peaceful English family life.
Leaning on the broad stone balustrade of the upper terrace, Aline
Peters and George Emerson surveyed the malcontents. Aline gave a
little sigh, almost inaudible; but George's hearing was good.
"I was wondering when you are going to admit it," he said,
shifting his position so that he faced her.
"That you can't stand the prospect; that the idea of being stuck
for life with this crowd, like a fly on fly paper, is too much
for you; that you are ready to break off your engagement to
Freddie and come away and marry me and live happily ever after."
"Well, wasn't that what it meant? Be honest!"
"What what meant?"
"I didn't sigh. I was just breathing."
"Then you can breathe in this atmosphere! You surprise me!" He
raked the terraces with hostile eyes. "Look at them! Look at
them--crawling round like doped beetles. My dear girl, it's no
use your pretending that this sort of thing wouldn't kill you.
You're pining away already. You're thinner and paler since you
came here. Gee! How we shall look back at this and thank our
stars that we're out of it when we're back in old New York, with
the elevated rattling and the street cars squealing over the
points, and something doing every step you take. I shall call you
on the 'phone from the office and have you meet me down town
somewhere, and we'll have a bite to eat and go to some show, and
a bit of supper afterward and a dance or two; and then go home to
"George, you mustn't--really!"
"Why mustn't I?"
"It's wrong. You can't talk like that when we are both enjoying
A wild laugh, almost a howl, disturbed the talk of the most
adjacent of the perambulating relations. Colonel Horace Mant,
checked in mid-sentence, looked up resentfully at the cause of
"I wish somebody would tell me whether it's that American fellow,
Emerson, or young Freddie who's supposed to be engaged to Miss
Peters. Hanged if you ever see her and Freddie together, but she
and Emerson are never to be found apart. If my respected
father-in-law had any sense I should have thought he would have
had sense enough to stop that."
"You forget, my dear Horace," said the bishop charitably; "Miss
Peters and Mr. Emerson have known each other since they were
"They were never nearly such children as Emsworth is now,"
snorted the colonel. "If that girl isn't in love with Emerson
I'll be--I'll eat my hat."
"No, no," said the bishop. "No, no! Surely not, Horace. What were
you saying when you broke off?"
"I was saying that if a man wanted his relations never to speak
to each other again for the rest of their lives the best thing he
could do would be to herd them all together in a dashed barrack
of a house a hundred miles from anywhere, and then go off and
spend all his time prodding dashed flower beds with a spud--dash
"Just so; just so. So you were. Go on, Horace; I find a curious
comfort in your words."
On the terrace above them Aline was looking at George with
"I'm sorry; but you shouldn't spring these jokes on me so
suddenly. You said enjoying! Yes--reveling in it, aren't we!"
"It's a lovely old place," said Aline defensively.
"And when you've said that you've said everything. You can't live
on scenery and architecture for the rest of your life. There's
the human element to be thought of. And you're beginning--"
"There goes father," interrupted Aline. "How fast he is walking!
George, have you noticed a sort of difference in father these
last few days?"
"I haven't. My specialty is keeping an eye on the rest of the
"He seems better somehow. He seems to have almost stopped
smoking--and I'm very glad, for those cigars were awfully bad for
him. The doctor expressly told him he must stop them, but he
wouldn't pay any attention to him. And he seems to take so much
more exercise. My bedroom is next to his, you know, and every
morning I can hear things going on through the wall--father
dancing about and puffing a good deal. And one morning I met his
valet going in with a pair of Indian clubs. I believe father is
really taking himself in hand at last."
George Emerson exploded.
"And about time, too! How much longer are you to go on starving
yourself to death just to give him the resolution to stick to his
dieting? It maddens me to see you at dinner. And it's killing
you. You're getting pale and thin. You can't go on like this."
A wistful look came over Aline's face.
"I do get a little hungry sometimes--late at night generally."
"You want somebody to take care of you and look after you. I'm
the man. You may think you can fool me; but I can tell. You're
weakening on this Freddie proposition. You're beginning to see
that it won't do. One of these days you're going to come to me
and say: 'George, you were right. I take the count. Me for the
quiet sneak to the station, without anybody knowing, and the
break for London, and the wedding at the registrar's.' Oh, I
know! I couldn't have loved you all this time and not know.
The trouble with these supermen is that they lack reticence. They
do not know how to omit. They expand their chests and whoop. And
a girl, even the mildest and sweetest of girls--even a girl like
Aline Peters--cannot help resenting the note of triumph. But
supermen despise tact. As far as one can gather, that is the
chief difference between them and the ordinary man.
A little frown appeared on Aline's forehead and she set her mouth
"I'm not weakening at all," she said, and her voice was--for
her--quite acid. "You--you take too much for granted."
George was contemplating the landscape with a conqueror's eye.
"You are beginning to see that it is impossible--this Freddie
"It is not foolishness," said Aline pettishly, tears of annoyance
in her eyes. "And I wish you wouldn't call him Freddie."
"He asked me to. He asked me to!"
Aline stamped her foot.
"Well, never mind. Please don't do it."
"Very well, little girl," said George softly. "I wouldn't do
anything to hurt you."
The fact that it never even occurred to George Emerson he was
being offensively patronizing shows the stern stuff of which
these supermen are made.
* * *
The Efficient Baxter bicycled broodingly to Market Blandings for
tobacco. He brooded for several reasons. He had just seen Aline
Peters and George Emerson in confidential talk on the upper
terrace, and that was one thing which exercised his mind, for he
suspected George Emerson. He suspected him nebulously as a snake
in the grass; as an influence working against the orderly
progress of events concerning the marriage that had been arranged
and would shortly take place between Miss Peters and the
Honorable Frederick Threepwood.
It would be too much to say that he had any idea that George was
putting in such hard and consistent work in his serpentine role;
indeed if he could have overheard the conversation just recorded
it is probable that Rupert Baxter would have had heart failure;
but he had observed the intimacy between the two as he observed
most things in his immediate neighborhood, and he disapproved of
it. It was all very well to say that George Emerson had known
Aline Peters since she was a child. If that was so, then in the
opinion of the Efficient Baxter he had known her quite long
enough and ought to start making the acquaintance of somebody
He blamed the Honorable Freddie. If the Honorable Freddie had
been a more ardent lover he would have spent his time with Aline,
and George Emerson would have taken his proper place as one of
the crowd at the back of the stage. But Freddie's view of the
matter seemed to be that he had done all that could be expected
of a chappie in getting engaged to the girl, and that now he
might consider himself at liberty to drop her for a while.
So Baxter, as he bicycled to Market Blandings for tobacco,
brooded on Freddie, Aline Peters and George Emerson. He also
brooded on Mr. Peters and Ashe Marson. Finally he brooded in a
general way, because he had had very little sleep the past week.
The spectacle of a young man doing his duty and enduring
considerable discomforts while doing it is painful; but there is
such uplift in it, it affords so excellent a moral picture, that
I cannot omit a short description of the manner in which Rupert
Baxter had spent the nights which had elapsed since his meeting
with Ashe in the small hours in the hall.
In the gallery which ran above the hall there was a large chair,
situated a few paces from the great staircase. On this, in an
overcoat--for the nights were chilly--and rubber-soled shoes, the
Efficient Baxter had sat, without missing a single night, from
one in the morning until daybreak, waiting, waiting, waiting. It
had been an ordeal to try the stoutest determination. Nature had
never intended Baxter for a night bird. He loved his bed. He knew
that doctors held that insufficient sleep made a man pale and
sallow, and he had always aimed at the peach-bloom complexion
which comes from a sensible eight hours between the sheets.
One of the King Georges of England--I forget which--once said
that a certain number of hours' sleep each night--I cannot recall
at the moment how many--made a man something, which for the time
being has slipped my memory. Baxter agreed with him. It went
against all his instincts to sit up in this fashion; but it was
his duty and he did it.
It troubled him that, as night after night went by and Ashe, the
suspect, did not walk into the trap so carefully laid for him, he
found an increasing difficulty in keeping awake. The first two or
three of his series of vigils he had passed in an unimpeachable
wakefulness, his chin resting on the rail of the gallery and his
ears alert for the slightest sound; but he had not been able to
maintain this standard of excellence.
On several occasions he had caught himself in the act of dropping
off, and the last night he had actually wakened with a start to
find it quite light. As his last recollection before that was of
an inky darkness impenetrable to the eye, dismay gripped him with
a sudden clutch and he ran swiftly down to the museum. His
relief on finding that the scarab was still there had been
tempered by thoughts of what might have been.
Baxter, then, as he bicycled to Market Blandings for tobacco, had
good reason to brood. Having bought his tobacco and observed the
life and thought of the town for half an hour--it was market day
and the normal stagnation of the place was temporarily relieved
and brightened by pigs that eluded their keepers, and a bull calf
which caught a stout farmer at the psychological moment when he
was tying his shoe lace and lifted him six feet--he made his way
to the Emsworth Arms, the most respectable of the eleven inns the
citizens of Market Blandings contrived in some miraculous way to
In English country towns, if the public houses do not actually
outnumber the inhabitants, they all do an excellent trade. It is
only when they are two to one that hard times hit them and set
the innkeepers to blaming the government.
It was not the busy bar, full to overflowing with honest British
yeomen--many of them in a similar condition--that Baxter sought.
His goal was the genteel dining-room on the first floor, where a
bald and shuffling waiter, own cousin to a tortoise, served
luncheon to those desiring it. Lack of sleep had reduced Baxter
to a condition where the presence and chatter of the house party
were insupportable. It was his purpose to lunch at the Emsworth
Arms and take a nap in an armchair afterward.
He had relied on having the room to himself, for Market Blandings
did not lunch to a great extent; but to his annoyance and
disappointment the room was already occupied by a man in brown
Occupied is the correct word, for at first sight this man seemed
to fill the room. Never since almost forgotten days when he used
to frequent circuses and side shows, had Baxter seen a fellow
human being so extraordinarily obese. He was a man about fifty
years old, gray-haired, of a mauve complexion, and his general
appearance suggested joviality.
To Baxter's chagrin, this person engaged him in conversation
directly he took his seat at the table. There was only one table
in the room, as is customary in English inns, and it had the
disadvantage that it collected those seated at it into one party.
It was impossible for Baxter to withdraw into himself and ignore
this person's advances.
It is doubtful whether he could have done it, however, had they
been separated by yards of floor, for the fat man was not only
naturally talkative but, as appeared from his opening remarks,
speech had been dammed up within him for some time by lack of a
"Morning!" he began; "nice day. Good for the farmers. I'll move
up to your end of the table if I may, sir. Waiter, bring my beef
to this gentleman's end of the table."
He creaked into a chair at Baxter's side and resumed:
"Infernally quiet place, this, sir. I haven't found a soul to
speak to since I arrived yesterday afternoon except deaf-and-dumb
rustics. Are you making a long stay here?"
"I live outside the town."
"I pity you. Wouldn't care to do it myself. Had to come here on
business and shan't be sorry when it's finished. I give you my
word I couldn't sleep a wink last night because of the quiet. I
was just dropping off when a beast of a bird outside the window
gave a chirrup, and it brought me up with a jerk as though
somebody had fired a gun. There's a damned cat somewhere near my
room that mews. I lie in bed waiting for the next mew, all worked
"Heaven save me from the country! It may be all right for you, if
you've got a comfortable home and a pal or two to chat with after
dinner; but you've no conception what it's like in this infernal
town--I suppose it calls itself a town. What a hole! There's a
church down the street. I'm told it's Norman or something.
Anyway, it's old. I'm not much of a man for churches as a rule,
but I went and took a look at it.
"Then somebody told me there was a fine view from the end of High
Street; so I went and took a look at that. And now, so far as I
can make out, I've done the sights and exhausted every
possibility of entertainment the town has to provide--unless
there's another church. I'm so reduced that I'll go and see the
Methodist Chapel, if there is one."
Fresh air, want of sleep and the closeness of the dining-room
combined to make Baxter drowsy. He ate his lunch in a torpor,
hardly replying to his companion's remarks, who, for his part,
did not seem to wish or to expect replies. It was enough for him
to be talking.
"What do people do with themselves in a place like this? When
they want amusement, I mean. I suppose it's different if you've
been brought up to it. Like being born color-blind or something.
You don't notice. It's the visitor who suffers. They've no
enterprise in this sort of place. There's a bit of land just
outside here that would make a sweet steeplechase course; natural
barriers; everything. It hasn't occurred to 'em to do anything
with it. It makes you despair of your species--that sort of
thing. Now if I--"
Baxter dozed. With his fork still impaling a piece of cold beef,
he dropped into that half-awake, half-asleep state which is
Nature's daytime substitute for the true slumber of the night.
The fat man, either not noticing or not caring, talked on. His
voice was a steady drone, lulling Baxter to rest.
Suddenly there was a break. Baxter sat up, blinking. He had a
curious impression that his companion had said "Hello, Freddie!"
and that the door had just opened and closed.
"Eh?" he said.
"Yes?" said the fat man.
"What did you say?"
"I was speaking of--"
"I thought you said, 'Hello, Freddie!'"
His companion eyed him indulgently.
"I thought you were dropping off when I looked at you. You've
been dreaming. What should I say, 'Hello, Freddie!' for?"
The conundrum was unanswerable. Baxter did not attempt to answer
it. But there remained at the back of his mind a quaint idea that
he had caught sight, as he woke, of the Honorable Frederick
Threepwood, his face warningly contorted, vanishing through the
doorway. Yet what could the Honorable Freddie be doing at the
A solution of the difficulty occurred to him: he had dreamed he
had seen Freddie and that had suggested the words which, reason
pointed out, his companion could hardly have spoken. Even if the
Honorable Freddie should enter the room, this fat man, who was
apparently a drummer of some kind, would certainly not know who
he was, nor would he address him so familiarly.
Yes, that must be the explanation. After all, the quaintest
things happened in dreams. Last night, when he had fallen asleep
in his chair, he had dreamed that he was sitting in a glass case
in the museum, making faces at Lord Emsworth, Mr. Peters, and
Beach, the butler, who were trying to steal him, under the
impression that he was a scarab of the reign of Cheops of the
Fourth Dynasty--a thing he would never have done when awake. Yes;
he must certainly have been dreaming.
In the bedroom into which he had dashed to hide himself, on
discovering that the dining-room was in possession of the
Efficient Baxter, the Honorable Freddie sat on a rickety chair,
scowling. He elaborated a favorite dictum of his:
"You can't take a step anywhere without stumbling over that damn
He wondered whether Baxter had seen him. He wondered whether
Baxter had recognized him. He wondered whether Baxter had heard
R. Jones say, "Hello, Freddie!"
He wondered, if such should be the case, whether R. Jones'
presence of mind and native resource had been equal to explaining
away the remark.
"'Put the butter or drippings in a kettle on the range, and when
hot add the onions and fry them; add the veal and cook until
brown. Add the water, cover closely, and cook very slowly until
the meat is tender; then add the seasoning and place the potatoes
on top of the meat. Cover and cook until the potatoes are tender,
but not falling to pieces.'"
"Sure," said Mr. Peters--"not falling to pieces. That's right.
"'Then add the cream and cook five minutes longer'" read Ashe.
"Is that all?"
"That's all of that one."
Mr. Peters settled himself more comfortably in bed.
"Read me the piece where it tells about curried lobster."
Ashe cleared his throat.
"'Curried Lobster,'" he read. "'Materials: Two one-pound
lobsters, two teaspoonfuls lemon juice, half a spoonful curry
powder, two tablespoonfuls butter, a tablespoonful flour, one
cupful scalded milk, one cupful cracker crumbs, half teaspoonful
salt, quarter teaspoonful pepper.'"
"'Way of Preparing: Cream the butter and flour and add the
scalded milk; then add the lemon juice, curry powder, salt and
pepper. Remove the lobster meat from the shells and cut into
"Half-inch cubes," sighed Mr. Peters wistfully. "Yes?"
"'Add the latter to the sauce.'"
"You didn't say anything about the latter. Oh, I see; it means
the half-inch cubes. Yes?"
"'Refill the lobster shells, cover with buttered crumbs, and bake
until the crumbs are brown. This will serve six persons.'"
"And make them feel an hour afterward as though they had
swallowed a live wild cat," said Mr. Peters ruefully.
"Not necessarily," said Ashe. "I could eat two portions of that
at this very minute and go off to bed and sleep like a little
Mr. Peters raised himself on his elbow and stared at him. They
were in the millionaire's bedroom, the time being one in the
morning, and Mr. Peters had expressed a wish that Ashe should
read him to sleep. He had voted against Ashe's novel and produced
from the recesses of his suitcase a much-thumbed cookbook. He
explained that since his digestive misfortunes had come on him he
had derived a certain solace from its perusal.
It may be that to some men sorrow's crown of sorrow is
remembering happier things; but Mr. Peters had not found that to
be the case. In his hour of affliction it soothed him to read of
Hungarian Goulash and escaloped brains, and to remember that he,
too, the nut-and-grass eater of today, had once dwelt in Arcadia.
The passage of the days, which had so sapped the stamina of the
efficient Baxter, had had the opposite effect on Mr. Peters. His
was one of those natures that cannot deal in half measures.
Whatever he did, he did with the same driving energy. After the
first passionate burst of resistance he had settled down into a
model pupil in Ashe's one-man school of physical culture. It had
been the same, now that he came to look back on it, at Muldoon's.
Now that he remembered, he had come away from White Plains
hoping, indeed, never to see the place again, but undeniably a
different man physically. It was not the habit of Professor
Muldoon to let his patients loaf; but Mr. Peters, after the
initial plunge, had needed no driving. He had worked hard at his
cure then, because it was the job in hand. He worked hard now,
under the guidance of Ashe, because, once he had begun, the thing
interested and gripped him.
Ashe, who had expected continued reluctance, had been astonished
and delighted at the way in which the millionaire had behaved.
Nature had really intended Ashe for a trainer; he identified
himself so thoroughly with his man and rejoiced at the least
signs of improvement.
In Mr. Peters' case there had been distinct improvement already.
Miracles do not happen nowadays, and it was too much to expect
one who had maltreated his body so consistently for so many years
to become whole in a day; but to an optimist like Ashe signs were
not wanting that in due season Mr. Peters would rise on
stepping-stones of his dead self to higher things, and though
never soaring into the class that devours lobster a la Newburg
and smiles after it, might yet prove himself a devil of a fellow
among the mutton chops.
"You're a wonder!" said Mr. Peters. "You're fresh, and you have
no respect for your elders and betters; but you deliver the
goods. That's the point. Why, I'm beginning to feel great! Say,
do you know I felt a new muscle in the small of my back this
morning? They are coming out on me like a rash."
"That's the Larsen Exercises. They develop the whole body."
"Well, you're a pretty good advertisement for them if they need
one. What were you before you came to me--a prize-fighter?"
"That's the question everybody I have met since I arrived here
has asked me. I believe it made the butler think I was some sort
of crook when I couldn't answer it. I used to write stories--
"What you ought to be doing is running a place over here in
England like Muldoon has back home. But you will be able to write
one more story out of this business here, if you want to. When
are you going to have another try for my scarab?"
"To-night? How about Baxter?"
"I shall have to risk Baxter."
Mr. Peters hesitated. He had fallen out of the habit of being
magnanimous during the past few years, for dyspepsia brooks no
divided allegiance and magnanimity has to take a back seat when
it has its grip on you.
"See here," he said awkwardly; "I've been thinking this over
lately--and what's the use? It's a queer thing; and if anybody
had told me a week ago that I should be saying it I wouldn't have
believed him; but I am beginning to like you. I don't want to get
you into trouble. Let the old scarab go. What's a scarab anyway?
Forget about it and stick on here as my private Muldoon. If it's
the five thousand that's worrying you, forget that too. I'll give
it to you as your fee."
Ashe was astounded. That it could really be his peppery employer
who spoke was almost unbelievable. Ashe's was a friendly nature
and he could never be long associated with anyone without trying
to establish pleasant relations; but he had resigned himself in
the present case to perpetual warfare.
He was touched; and if he had ever contemplated abandoning his
venture, this, he felt, would have spurred him on to see it
through. This sudden revelation of the human in Mr. Peters was
like a trumpet call.
"I wouldn't think of it," he said. "It's great of you to suggest
such a thing; but I know just how you feel about the thing, and
I'm going to get it for you if I have to wring Baxter's neck.
Probably Baxter will have given up waiting as a bad job by now if
he has been watching all this while. We've given him ten nights
to cool off. I expect he is in bed, dreaming pleasant dreams.
It's nearly two o'clock. I'll wait another ten minutes and then
go down." He picked up the cookbook. "Lie back and make yourself
comfortable, and I'll read you to sleep first."
"You're a good boy," said Mr. Peters drowsily.
"Are you ready? 'Pork Tenderloin Larded. Half pound fat pork--'"
A faint smile curved Mr. Peters' lips. His eyes were closed and
he breathed softly. Ashe went on in a low voice: "'four large
pork tenderloins, one cupful cracker crumbs, one cupful boiling
water, two tablespoonfuls butter, one teaspoonful salt, half
teaspoonful pepper, one teaspoonful poultry seasoning.'"
A little sigh came from the bed.
"'Way of Preparing: Wipe the tenderloins with a damp cloth. With
a sharp knife make a deep pocket lengthwise in each tenderloin.
Cut your pork into long thin strips and, with a needle, lard each
tenderloin. Melt the butter in the water, add the seasoning and
the cracker crumbs, combining all thoroughly. Now fill each
pocket in the tenderloin with this stuffing. Place the
A snore sounded from the pillows, punctuating the recital like a
mark of exclamation. Ashe laid down the book and peered into the
darkness beyond the rays of the bed lamp. His employer slept.
Ashe switched off the light and crept to the door. Out in the
passage he stopped and listened. All was still. He stole
* * *
George Emerson sat in his bedroom in the bachelors' wing of the
castle smoking a cigarette. A light of resolution was in his
eyes. He glanced at the table beside his bed and at what was on
that table, and the light of resolution flamed into a glare of
fanatic determination. So might a medieval knight have looked on
the eve of setting forth to rescue a maiden from a dragon.
His cigarette burned down. He looked at his watch, put it back,
and lit another cigarette. His aspect was the aspect of one
waiting for the appointed hour. Smoking his second cigarette, he
resumed his meditations. They had to do with Aline Peters.
George Emerson was troubled about Aline Peters. Watching over
her, as he did, with a lover's eye, he had perceived that about
her which distressed him. On the terrace that morning she had
been abrupt to him--what in a girl of less angelic disposition
one might have called snappy. Yes, to be just, she had snapped at
him. That meant something. It meant that Aline was not well. It
meant what her pallor and tired eyes meant--that the life she was
leading was doing her no good.
Eleven nights had George dined at Blandings Castle, and on each
of the eleven nights he had been distressed to see the manner in
which Aline, declining the baked meats, had restricted herself to
the miserable vegetable messes which were all that doctor's
orders permitted to her suffering father. George's pity had its
limits. His heart did not bleed for Mr. Peters. Mr. Peters' diet
was his own affair. But that Aline should starve herself in this
fashion, purely by way of moral support for her parent, was
George was perhaps a shade material. Himself a robust young man
and taking what might be called an outsize in meals, he attached
perhaps too much importance to food as an adjunct to the perfect
life. In his survey of Aline he took a line through his own
requirements; and believing that eleven such dinners as he had
seen Aline partake of would have killed him he decided that his
loved one was on the point of starvation.
No human being, he held, could exist on such Barmecide feasts.
That Mr. Peters continued to do so did not occur to him as a flaw
in his reasoning. He looked on Mr. Peters as a sort of machine.
Successful business men often give that impression to the young.
If George had been told that Mr. Peters went along on gasoline,
like an automobile, he would not have been much surprised. But
that Aline--his Aline--should have to deny herself the exercise
of that mastication of rich meats which, together with the gift
of speech, raises man above the beasts of the field---- That was
what tortured George.
He had devoted the day to thinking out a solution of the problem.
Such was the overflowing goodness of Aline's heart that not even
he could persuade her to withdraw her moral support from her
father and devote herself to keeping up her strength as she
should do. It was necessary to think of some other plan.
And then a speech of hers had come back to him. She had
"I do get a little hungry sometimes--late at night generally."
The problem was solved. Food should be brought to her late at
On the table by his bed was a stout sheet of packing paper. On
this lay, like one of those pictures in still life that one sees
on suburban parlor walls, a tongue, some bread, a knife, a fork,
salt, a corkscrew and a small bottle of white wine.
It is a pleasure, when one has been able hitherto to portray
George's devotion only through the medium of his speeches, to
produce these comestibles as Exhibit A, to show that he loved
Aline with no common love; for it had not been an easy task to
get them there. In a house of smaller dimensions he would have
raided the larder without shame, but at Blandings Castle there
was no saying where the larder might be. All he knew was that it
lay somewhere beyond that green-baize door opening on the hall,
past which he was wont to go on his way to bed. To prowl through
the maze of the servants' quarters in search of it was
impossible. The only thing to be done was to go to Market
Blandings and buy the things.
Fortune had helped him at the start by arranging that the
Honorable Freddie, also, should be going to Market Blandings in
the little runabout, which seated two. He had acquiesced in
George's suggestion that he, George, should occupy the other
seat, but with a certain lack of enthusiasm it seemed to George.
He had not volunteered any reason as to why he was going to
Market Blandings in the little runabout, and on arrival there had
betrayed an unmistakable desire to get rid of George at the
As this had suited George to perfection, he being desirous of
getting rid of the Honorable Freddie at the earliest opportunity,
he had not been inquisitive, and they had parted on the outskirts
of the town without mutual confidences.
George had then proceeded to the grocer's, and after that to
another of the Market Blandings inns, not the Emsworth Arms,
where he had bought the white wine. He did not believe in the
local white wine, for he was a young man with a palate and
mistrusted country cellars, but he assumed that, whatever its
quality, it would cheer Aline in the small hours.
He had then tramped the whole five miles back to the castle with
his purchases. It was here that his real troubles began and the
quality of his love was tested. The walk, to a heavily laden man,
was bad enough; but it was as nothing compared with the ordeal of
smuggling the cargo up to his bedroom. Superhuman though he was,
George was alive to the delicacy of the situation. One cannot
convey food and drink to one's room in a strange house without,
if detected, seeming to cast a slur on the table of the host. It
was as one who carries dispatches through an enemy's lines that
George took cover, emerged from cover, dodged, ducked and ran;
and the moment when he sank down on his bed, the door locked
behind him, was one of the happiest of his life.
The recollection of that ordeal made the one he proposed to
embark on now seem slight in comparison. All he had to do was to
go to Aline's room on the other side of the house, knock softly
on the door until signs of wakefulness made themselves heard from
within, and then dart away into the shadows whence he had come,
and so back to bed. He gave Aline credit for the intelligence
that would enable her, on finding a tongue, some bread, a knife,
a fork, salt, a corkscrew and a bottle of white wine on the mat,
to know what to do with them--and perhaps to guess whose was the
loving hand that had laid them there.
The second clause, however, was not important, for he proposed to
tell her whose was the hand next morning. Other people might hide
their light under a bushel--not George Emerson.
It only remained now to allow time to pass until the hour should
be sufficiently advanced to insure safety for the expedition. He
looked at his watch again. It was nearly two. By this time the
house must be asleep.
He gathered up the tongue, the bread, the knife, the fork, the
salt, the corkscrew and the bottle of white wine, and left the
room. All was still. He stole downstairs.
* * *
On his chair in the gallery that ran round the hall, swathed in
an overcoat and wearing rubber-soled shoes, the Efficient Baxter
sat and gazed into the darkness. He had lost the first fine
careless rapture, as it were, which had helped him to endure
these vigils, and a great weariness was on him. He found
difficulty in keeping his eyes open, and when they were open the
darkness seemed to press on them painfully. Take him for all in
all, the Efficient Baxter had had about enough of it.
Time stood still. Baxter's thoughts began to wander. He knew that
this was fatal and exerted himself to drag them back. He tried to
concentrate his mind on some one definite thing. He selected the
scarab as a suitable object, but it played him false. He had
hardly concentrated on the scarab before his mind was straying
off to ancient Egypt, to Mr. Peters' dyspepsia, and on a dozen
other branch lines of thought.
He blamed the fat man at the inn for this. If the fat man had not
thrust his presence and conversation on him he would have been
able to enjoy a sound sleep in the afternoon, and would have come
fresh to his nocturnal task. He began to muse on the fat man.
And by a curious coincidence whom should he meet a few moments
later but this same man!
It happened in a somewhat singular manner, though it all seemed
perfectly logical and consecutive to Baxter. He was climbing up
the outer wall of Westminster Abbey in his pyjamas and a tall
hat, when the fat man, suddenly thrusting his head out of a
window which Baxter had not noticed until that moment, said,
Baxter was about to explain that his name was not Freddie when he
found himself walking down Piccadilly with Ashe Marson. Ashe said
to him: "Nobody loves me. Everybody steals my grapefruit!" And
the pathos of it cut the Efficient Baxter like a knife. He was on
the point of replying; when Ashe vanished and Baxter discovered
that he was not in Piccadilly, as he had supposed, but in an
aeroplane with Mr. Peters, hovering over the castle.
Mr. Peters had a bomb in his hand, which he was fondling with
loving care. He explained to Baxter that he had stolen it from
the Earl of Emsworth's museum. "I did it with a slice of cold
beef and a pickle," he explained; and Baxter found himself
realizing that that was the only way. "Now watch me drop it,"
said Mr. Peters, closing one eye and taking aim at the castle.
"I have to do this by the doctor's orders."
He loosed the bomb and immediately Baxter was lying in bed
watching it drop. He was frightened, but the idea of moving did
not occur to him. The bomb fell very slowly, dipping and
fluttering like a feather. It came closer and closer. Then it
struck with a roar and a sheet of flame.
Baxter woke to a sound of tumult and crashing. For a moment he
hovered between dreaming and waking, and then sleep passed from
him, and he was aware that something noisy and exciting was in
progress in the hall below.
* * *
Coming down to first causes, the only reason why collisions of
any kind occur is because two bodies defy Nature's law that a
given spot on a given plane shall at a given moment of time be
occupied by only one body.
There was a certain spot near the foot of the great staircase
which Ashe, coming downstairs from Mr. Peters' room, and George
Emerson, coming up to Aline's room, had to pass on their
respective routes. George reached it at one minute and three
seconds after two a.m., moving silently but swiftly; and Ashe,
also maintaining a good rate of speed, arrived there at one
minute and four seconds after the hour, when he ceased to walk
and began to fly, accompanied by George Emerson, now going down.
His arms were round George's neck and George was clinging to his
In due season they reached the foot of the stairs and a small
table, covered with occasional china and photographs in frames,
which lay adjacent to the foot of the stairs. That--especially
the occasional china--was what Baxter had heard.
George Emerson thought it was a burglar. Ashe did not know what
it was, but he knew he wanted to shake it off; so he insinuated a
hand beneath George's chin and pushed upward. George, by this
time parted forever from the tongue, the bread, the knife, the
fork, the salt, the corkscrew and the bottle of white wine, and
having both hands free for the work of the moment, held Ashe with
the left and punched him in the ribs with the right.
Ashe, removing his left arm from George's neck, brought it up as
a reinforcement to his right, and used both as a means of
throttling George. This led George, now permanently underneath,
to grasp Ashe's ears firmly and twist them, relieving the
pressure on his throat and causing Ashe to utter the first vocal
sound of the evening, other than the explosive Ugh! that both had
emitted at the instant of impact.
Ashe dislodged George's hands from his ears and hit George in the
ribs with his elbow. George kicked Ashe on the left ankle. Ashe
rediscovered George's throat and began to squeeze it afresh; and
a pleasant time was being had by all when the Efficient Baxter,
whizzing down the stairs, tripped over Ashe's legs, shot forward
and cannoned into another table, also covered with occasional
china and photographs in frames.
The hall at Blandings Castle was more an extra drawing-room than
a hall; and, when not nursing a sick headache in her bedroom,
Lady Ann Warblington would dispense afternoon tea there to her
guests. Consequently it was dotted pretty freely with small
tables. There were, indeed, no fewer than five more in various
spots, waiting to be bumped into and smashed.
The bumping into and smashing of small tables, however, is a task
that calls for plenty of time, a leisured pursuit; and neither
George nor Ashe, a third party having been added to their little
affair, felt a desire to stay on and do the thing properly. Ashe
was strongly opposed to being discovered and called on to account
for his presence there at that hour; and George, conscious of the
tongue and its adjuncts now strewn about the hall, had a similar
prejudice against the tedious explanations that detection must
As though by mutual consent each relaxed his grip. They stood
panting for an instant; then, Ashe in the direction where he
supposed the green-baize door of the servants' quarters to be,
George to the staircase that led to his bedroom, they went away
from that place.
They had hardly done so when Baxter, having disassociated himself
from the contents of the table he had upset, began to grope his
way toward the electric-light switch, the same being situated
near the foot of the main staircase. He went on all fours, as a
safer method of locomotion, though slower, than the one he had
Noises began to make themselves heard on the floors above. Roused
by the merry crackle of occasional china, the house party was
bestirring itself to investigate. Voices sounded, muffled and
Meantime Baxter crawled steadily on his hands and knees toward
the light switch. He was in much the same condition as one White
Hope of the ring is after he has put his chin in the way of the
fist of a rival member of the Truck Drivers' Union. He knew that
he was still alive. More he could not say. The mists of sleep,
which still shrouded his brain, and the shake-up he had had from
his encounter with the table, a corner of which he had rammed
with the top of his head, combined to produce a dreamlike state.
And so the Efficient Baxter crawled on; and as he crawled his
hand, advancing cautiously, fell on something--something that was
not alive; something clammy and ice-cold, the touch of which
filled him with a nameless horror.
To say that Baxter's heart stood still would be physiologically
inexact. The heart does not stand still. Whatever the emotions of
its owner, it goes on beating. It would be more accurate to say
that Baxter felt like a man taking his first ride in an express
elevator, who has outstripped his vital organs by several floors
and sees no immediate prospect of their ever catching up with him
again. There was a great cold void where the more intimate parts
of his body should have been. His throat was dry and contracted.
The flesh of his back crawled, for he knew what it was he had
Painful and absorbing as had been his encounter with the table,
Baxter had never lost sight of the fact that close beside him a
furious battle between unseen forces was in progress. He had
heard the bumping and the thumping and the tense breathing even
as he picked occasional china from his person. Such a combat, he
had felt, could hardly fail to result in personal injury to
either the party of the first part or the party of the second
part, or both. He knew now that worse than mere injury had
happened, and that he knelt in the presence of death.
There was no doubt that the man was dead. Insensibility alone
could never have produced this icy chill. He raised his head in
the darkness, and cried aloud to those approaching. He meant to
cry: "Help! Murder!" But fear prevented clear articulation. What
he shouted was: "Heh! Mer!" On which, from the neighborhood of
the staircase, somebody began to fire a revolver.
The Earl of Emsworth had been sleeping a sound and peaceful sleep
when the imbroglio began downstairs. He sat up and listened. Yes;
undoubtedly burglars! He switched on his light and jumped out of
bed. He took a pistol from a drawer, and thus armed went to look
into the matter. The dreamy peer was no poltroon.
It was quite dark when he arrived on the scene of conflict, in
the van of a mixed bevy of pyjamaed and dressing-gowned
relations. He was in the van because, meeting these relations in
the passage above, he had said to them: "Let me go first. I have
a pistol." And they had let him go first. They were, indeed,
awfully nice about it, not thrusting themselves forward or
jostling or anything, but behaving in a modest and self-effacing
manner that was pretty to watch.
When Lord Emsworth said, "Let me go first," young Algernon
Wooster, who was on the very point of leaping to the fore, said,
"Yes, by Jove! Sound scheme, by Gad!"--and withdrew into the
background; and the Bishop of Godalming said: "By all means,
Clarence undoubtedly; most certainly precede us."
When his sense of touch told him he had reached the foot of the
stairs, Lord Emsworth paused. The hall was very dark and the
burglars seemed temporarily to have suspended activities. And
then one of them, a man with a ruffianly, grating voice, spoke.
What it was he said Lord Emsworth could not understand. It
sounded like "Heh! Mer!"--probably some secret signal to his
confederates. Lord Emsworth raised his revolver and emptied it in
the direction of the sound.
Extremely fortunately for him, the Efficient Baxter had not
changed his all-fours attitude. This undoubtedly saved Lord
Emsworth the worry of engaging a new secretary. The shots sang
above Baxter's head one after the other, six in all, and found
other billets than his person. They disposed themselves as
follows: The first shot broke a window and whistled out into the
night; the second shot hit the dinner gong and made a perfectly
extraordinary noise, like the Last Trump; the third, fourth and
fifth shots embedded themselves in the wall; the sixth and final
shot hit a life-size picture of his lordship's grandmother in the
face and improved it out of all knowledge.
One thinks no worse of Lord Emsworth's grandmother because she
looked like Eddie Foy, and had allowed herself to be painted,
after the heavy classic manner of some of the portraits of a
hundred years ago, in the character of Venus--suitably draped, of
course, rising from the sea; but it was beyond the possibility of
denial that her grandson's bullet permanently removed one of
Blandings Castle's most prominent eyesores.
Having emptied his revolver, Lord Emsworth said, "Who is there?
Speak!" in rather an aggrieved tone, as though he felt he had
done his part in breaking the ice, and it was now for the
intruder to exert himself and bear his share of the social
The Efficient Baxter did not reply. Nothing in the world could
have induced him to speak at that moment, or to make any sound
whatsoever that might betray his position to a dangerous maniac
who might at any instant reload his pistol and resume the
fusillade. Explanations, in his opinion, could be deferred until
somebody had the presence of mind to switch on the lights. He
flattened himself on the carpet and hoped for better things. His
cheek touched the corpse beside him; but though he winced and
shuddered he made no outcry. After those six shots he was through
A voice from above, the bishop's voice, said: "I think you have
killed him, Clarence."
Another voice, that of Colonel Horace Mant, said: "Switch on
those dashed lights! Why doesn't somebody? Dash it!"
The whole strength of the company began to demand light.
When the lights came, it was from the other side of the hall.
Six revolver shots, fired at quarter past two in the morning,
will rouse even sleeping domestics. The servants' quarters were
buzzing like a hive. Shrill feminine screams were puncturing the
air. Mr. Beach, the butler, in a suit of pink silk pajamas, of
which no one would have suspected him, was leading a party of men
servants down the stairs--not so much because he wanted to lead
them as because they pushed him.
The passage beyond the green-baize door became congested, and
there were cries for Mr. Beach to open it and look through and
see what was the matter; but Mr. Beach was smarter than that and
wriggled back so that he no longer headed the procession. This
done, he shouted:
"Open that door there! Open that door! Look and see what the
Ashe opened the door. Since his escape from the hall he had been
lurking in the neighborhood of the green-baize door and had been
engulfed by the swirling throng. Finding himself with elbowroom
for the first time, he pushed through, swung the door open and
switched on the lights.
They shone on a collection of semi-dressed figures, crowding the
staircase; on a hall littered with china and glass; on a dented
dinner gong; on an edited and improved portrait of the late
Countess of Emsworth; and on the Efficient Baxter, in an overcoat
and rubber-soled shoes, lying beside a cold tongue. At no great
distance lay a number of other objects--a knife, a fork, some
bread, salt, a corkscrew and a bottle of white wine.
Using the word in the sense of saying something coherent, the
Earl of Emsworth was the first to speak. He peered down at his
recumbent secretary and said:
"Baxter! My dear fellow--what the devil?"
The feeling of the company was one of profound disappointment.
They were disgusted at the anticlimax. For an instant, when the
Efficient one did not move, a hope began to stir; but as soon as
it was seen that he was not even injured, gloom reigned. One of
two things would have satisfied them--either a burglar or a
corpse. A burglar would have been welcome, dead or alive; but, if
Baxter proposed to fill the part adequately it was imperative
that he be dead. He had disappointed them deeply by turning out
to be the object of their quest. That he should not have been
even grazed was too much.
There was a cold silence as he slowly raised himself from the
floor. As his eyes fell on the tongue, he started and remained
gazing fixedly at it. Surprise paralyzed him.
Lord Emsworth was also looking at the tongue and he leaped to a
not unreasonable conclusion. He spoke coldly and haughtily; for
he was not only annoyed, like the others, at the anticlimax, but
offended. He knew that he was not one of your energetic hosts who
exert themselves unceasingly to supply their guests with
entertainment; but there was one thing on which, as a host, he
did pride himself--in the material matters of life he did his
guests well; he kept an admirable table.
"My dear Baxter," he said in the tones he usually reserved for
the correction of his son Freddie, "if your hunger is so great
that you are unable to wait for breakfast and have to raid my
larder in the middle of the night, I wish to goodness you would
contrive to make less noise about it. I do not grudge you the
food--help yourself when you please--but do remember that people
who have not such keen appetites as yourself like to sleep during
the night. A far better plan, my dear fellow, would be to have
sandwiches or buns--or whatever you consider most sustaining--
sent up to your bedroom."
Not even the bullets had disordered Baxter's faculties so much as
this monstrous accusation. Explanations pushed and jostled one
another in his fermenting brain, but he could not utter them. On
every side he met gravely reproachful eyes. George Emerson was
looking at him in pained disgust. Ashe Marson's face was the face
of one who could never have believed this had he not seen it with
his own eyes. The scrutiny of the knife-and-shoe boy was
He stammered. Words began to proceed from him, tripping and
stumbling over each other. Lord Emsworth's frigid disapproval did
"Pray do not apologize, Baxter. The desire for food is human. It
is your boisterous mode of securing and conveying it that I
deprecate. Let us all go to bed."
"But, Lord Emsworth-----"
"To bed!" repeated his lordship firmly.
The company began to stream moodily upstairs. The lights were
switched off. The Efficient Baxter dragged himself away. From the
darkness in the direction of the servants' door a voice spoke.
"Greedy pig!" said the voice scornfully.
It sounded like the fresh young voice of the knife-and-shoe boy,
but Baxter was too broken to investigate. He continued his
retreat without pausing.
"Stuffin' of 'isself at all hours!" said the voice.
There was a murmur of approval from the unseen throng of
As we grow older and realize more clearly the limitations of
human happiness, we come to see that the only real and abiding
pleasure in life is to give pleasure to other people. One must
assume that the Efficient Baxter had not reached the age when
this comes home to a man, for the fact that he had given genuine
pleasure to some dozens of his fellow-men brought him no balm.
There was no doubt about the pleasure he had given. Once they had
got over their disappointment at finding that he was not a dead
burglar, the house party rejoiced whole-heartedly at the break in
the monotony of life at Blandings Castle. Relations who had not
been on speaking terms for years forgot their quarrels and
strolled about the grounds in perfect harmony, abusing Baxter.
The general verdict was that he was insane.
"Don't tell me that young fellow's all there," said Colonel
Horace Mant; "because I know better. Have you noticed his eye?
Furtive! Shifty! Nasty gleam in it. Besides--dash it!--did you
happen to take a look at the hall last night after he had been
there? It was in ruins, my dear sir--absolute dashed ruins. It
was positively littered with broken china and tables that had
been bowled over. Don't tell me that was just an accidental
collision in the dark.
"My dear sir, the man must have been thrashing about--absolutely
thrashing about, like a dashed salmon on a dashed hook. He must
have had a paroxysm of some kind--some kind of a dashed fit. A
doctor could give you the name for it. It's a well-known form of
insanity. Paranoia--isn't that what they call it? Rush of blood
to the head, followed by a general running amuck.
"I've heard fellows who have been in India talk of it. Natives
get it. Don't know what they're doing, and charge through the
streets taking cracks at people with dashed whacking great
knives. Same with this young man, probably in a modified form at
present. He ought to be in a home. One of these nights, if this
grows on him, he will be massacring Emsworth in his bed."
"My dear Horace!" The Bishop of Godalming's voice was properly
horror-stricken; but there was a certain unctuous relish in it.
"Take my word for it! Though, mind you, I don't say they aren't
well suited. Everyone knows that Emsworth has been, to all
practical intents and purposes, a dashed lunatic for years. What
was it that young fellow Emerson, Freddie's American friend, was
saying, the other day about some acquaintance of his who is not
quite right in the head? Nobody in the house--is that it?
Something to that effect, at any rate. I felt at the time it was
a perfect description of Emsworth."
"My dear Horace! Your father-in-law! The head of the family!"
"A dashed lunatic, my dear sir--head of the family or no head of
the family. A man as absent-minded as he is has no right to call
himself sane. Nobody in the house--I recollect it now--nobody in
the house except gas, and that has not been turned on. That's
The Efficient Baxter, who had just left his presence, was feeling
much the same about his noble employer. After a sleepless night
he had begun at an early hour to try and corner Lord Emsworth in
order to explain to him the true inwardness of last night's
happenings. Eventually he had tracked him to the museum, where he
found him happily engaged in painting a cabinet of birds' eggs.
He was seated on a small stool, a large pot of red paint on the
floor beside him, dabbing at the cabinet with a dripping brush.
He was absorbed and made no attempt whatever to follow his
For ten minutes Baxter gave a vivid picture of his vigil and the
manner in which it had been interrupted.
"Just so; just so, my dear fellow," said the earl when he had
finished. "I quite understand. All I say is, if you do require
additional food in the night let one of the servants bring it to
your room before bedtime; then there will be no danger of these
disturbances. There is no possible objection to your eating a
hundred meals a day, my good Baxter, provided you do not rouse
the whole house over them. Some of us like to sleep during the
"But, Lord Emsworth! I have just explained--It was not--I was
"Never mind, my dear fellow; never mind. Why make such an
important thing of it? Many people like a light snack before
actually retiring. Doctors, I believe, sometimes recommend it.
Tell me, Baxter, how do you think the museum looks now? A little
brighter? Better for the dash of color? I think so. Museums are
generally such gloomy places."
"Lord Emsworth, may I explain once again?"
The earl looked annoyed.
"My dear Baxter, I have told you that there is nothing to
explain. You are getting a little tedious. What a deep, rich red
this is, and how clean new paint smells! Do you know, Baxter, I
have been longing to mess about with paint ever since I was a
boy! I recollect my old father beating me with a walking stick.
. . . That would be before your time, of course. By the way, if
you see Freddie, will you tell him I want to speak to him? He
probably is in the smoking-room. Send him to me here."
It was an overwrought Baxter who delivered the message to the
Honorable Freddie, who, as predicted, was in the smoking-room,
lounging in a deep armchair.
There are times when life presses hard on a man, and it pressed
hard on Baxter now. Fate had played him a sorry trick. It had put
him in a position where he had to choose between two courses,
each as disagreeable as the other. He must either face a possible
second fiasco like that of last night, or else he must abandon
his post and cease to mount guard over his threatened treasure.
His imagination quailed at the thought of a repetition of last
night's horrors. He had been badly shaken by his collision with
the table and even more so by the events that had followed it.
Those revolver shots still rang in his ears.
It was probably the memory of those shots that turned the scale.
It was unlikely he would again become entangled with a man
bearing a tongue and the other things--he had given up in despair
the attempt to unravel the mystery of the tongue; it completely
baffled him--but it was by no means unlikely that if he spent
another night in the gallery looking on the hall he might not
again become a target for Lord Emsworth's irresponsible firearm.
Nothing, in fact, was more likely; for in the disturbed state of
the public mind the slightest sound after nightfall would be
sufficient cause for a fusillade.
He had actually overheard young Algernon Wooster telling Lord
Stockheath he had a jolly good mind to sit on the stairs that
night with a shotgun, because it was his opinion that there was a
jolly sight more in this business than there seemed to be; and
what he thought of the bally affair was that there was a gang of
some kind at work, and that that feller--what's-his-name?--that
feller Baxter was some sort of an accomplice.
With these things in his mind Baxter decided to remain that night
in the security of his bedroom. He had lost his nerve. He formed
this decision with the utmost reluctance, for the thought of
leaving the road to the museum clear for marauders was bitter in
the extreme. If he could have overheard a conversation between
Joan Valentine and Ashe Marson it is probable he would have
risked Lord Emsworth's revolver and the shotgun of the Honorable
Ashe, when he met Joan and recounted the events of the night, at
which Joan, who was a sound sleeper, had not been present, was
inclined to blame himself as a failure. True, fate had been
against him, but the fact remained that he had achieved nothing.
Joan, however, was not of this opinion.
"You have done wonders," she said. "You have cleared the way for
me. That is my idea of real teamwork. I'm so glad now that we
formed our partnership. It would have been too bad if I had got
all the advantage of your work and had jumped in and deprived you
of the reward. As it is, I shall go down and finish the thing off
to-night with a clear conscience."
"You can't mean that you dream of going down to the museum
"Of course I do."
"But it's madness!"
"On the contrary, to-night is the one night when there ought to
be no risk at all."
"After what happened last night?"
"Because of what happened last night. Do you imagine Mr. Baxter
will dare to stir from his bed after that? If ever there was a
chance of getting this thing finished, it will be to-night."
"You're quite right. I never looked at it in that way. Baxter
wouldn't risk a second disaster. I'll certainly make a success of
it this time."
Joan raised her eyebrows.
"I don't quite understand you, Mr. Marson. Do you propose to try
to get the scarab to-night?"
"Yes. It will be as easy as--"
"Are you forgetting that, by the terms of our agreement, it is my
"You surely don't intend to hold me to that?"
"Certainly I do."
"But, good heavens, consider my position! Do you seriously expect
me to lie in bed while you do all the work, and then to take a
half share in the reward?"
"It's no more ridiculous than that I should do the same. Mr.
Marson, there's no use in our going over all this again. We
settled it long ago."
Joan refused to discuss the matter further, leaving Ashe in a
condition of anxious misery comparable only to that which, as
night began to draw near, gnawed the vitals of the Efficient
* * *
Breakfast at Blandings Castle was an informal meal. There was
food and drink in the long dining-hall for such as were energetic
enough to come down and get it; but the majority of the house
party breakfasted in their rooms, Lord Emsworth, whom nothing in
the world would have induced to begin the day in the company of a
crowd of his relations, most of whom he disliked, setting them
When, therefore, Baxter, yielding to Nature after having remained
awake until the early morning, fell asleep at nine o'clock,
nobody came to rouse him. He did not ring his bell, so he was not
disturbed; and he slept on until half past eleven, by which time,
it being Sunday morning and the house party including one bishop
and several of the minor clergy, most of the occupants of the
place had gone off to church.
Baxter shaved and dressed hastily, for he was in state of nervous
apprehension. He blamed himself for having lain in bed so long.
When every minute he was away might mean the loss of the scarab,
he had passed several hours in dreamy sloth. He had wakened with
a presentiment. Something told him the scarab had been stolen in
the night, and he wished now that he had risked all and kept
The house was very quiet as he made his way rapidly to the hall.
As he passed a window he perceived Lord Emsworth, in an
un-Sabbatarian suit of tweeds and bearing a garden fork--which
must have pained the bishop--bending earnestly over a flower bed;
but he was the only occupant of the grounds, and indoors there
was a feeling of emptiness. The hall had that Sunday-morning air
of wanting to be left to itself, and disapproving of the entry of
anything human until lunch time, which can be felt only by a
guest in a large house who remains at home when his fellows have
gone to church.
The portraits on the walls, especially the one of the Countess of
Emsworth in the character of Venus rising from the sea, stared at
Baxter as he entered, with cold reproof. The very chairs seemed
distant and unfriendly; but Baxter was in no mood to appreciate
their attitude. His conscience slept. His mind was occupied, to
the exclusion of all other things, by the scarab and its probable
fate. How disastrously remiss it had been of him not to keep
guard last night! Long before he opened the museum door he was
feeling the absolute certainty that the worst had happened.
It had. The card which announced that here was an Egyptian scarab
of the reign of Cheops of the Fourth Dynasty, presented by J.
Preston Peters, Esquire, still lay on the cabinet in its wonted
place; but now its neat lettering was false and misleading. The
scarab was gone.
* * *
For all that he had expected this, for all his premonition of
disaster, it was an appreciable time before the Efficient Baxter
rallied from the blow. He stood transfixed, goggling at the empty
Then his mind resumed its functions. All, he perceived, was not
yet lost. Baxter the watchdog must retire, to be succeeded by
Baxter the sleuthhound. He had been unable to prevent the theft
of the scarab, but he might still detect the thief.
For the Doctor Watsons of this world, as opposed to the Sherlock
Holmeses, success in the province of detective work must always
be, to a very large extent, the result of luck. Sherlock Holmes
can extract a clew from a wisp of straw or a flake of cigar ash;
but Doctor Watson has to have it taken out for him and dusted,
and exhibited clearly, with a label attached.
The average man is a Doctor Watson. We are wont to scoff in a
patronizing manner at that humble follower of the great
investigator; but as a matter of fact we should have been just as
dull ourselves. We should not even have risen to the modest
height of a Scotland Yard bungler.
Baxter was a Doctor Watson. What he wanted was a clew; but it is
so hard for the novice to tell what is a clew and what is not.
And then he happened to look down--and there on the floor was a
clew that nobody could have overlooked.
Baxter saw it, but did not immediately recognize it for what it
was. What he saw, at first, was not a clew, but just a mess. He
had a tidy soul and abhorred messes, and this was a particularly
messy mess. A considerable portion of the floor was a sea of red
paint. The can from which it had flowed was lying on its
side--near the wall. He had noticed that the smell of paint had
seemed particularly pungent, but had attributed this to a new
freshet of energy on the part of Lord Emsworth. He had not
perceived that paint had been spilled.
"Pah!" said Baxter.
Then suddenly, beneath the disguise of the mess, he saw the clew.
A footmark! No less. A crimson footmark on the polished wood! It
was as clear and distinct as though it had been left there for
the purpose of assisting him. It was a feminine footmark, the
print of a slim and pointed shoe.
This perplexed Baxter. He had looked on the siege of the scarab
as an exclusively male affair. But he was not perplexed long.
What could be simpler than that Mr. Peters should have enlisted
female aid? The female of the species is more deadly than the
male. Probably she makes a better purloiner of scarabs. At any
rate, there the footprint was, unmistakably feminine.
Inspiration came to him. Aline Peters had a maid! What more
likely than that secretly she should be a hireling of Mr. Peters,
on whom he had now come to look as a man of the blackest and most
sinister character? Mr. Peters was a collector; and when a
collector makes up his mind to secure a treasure, he employs,
Baxter knew, every possible means to that end.
Baxter was now in a state of great excitement. He was hot on the
scent and his brain was working like a buzz saw in an ice box.
According to his reasoning, if Aline Peters' maid had done this
thing there should be red paint in the hall marking her retreat,
and possibly a faint stain on the stairs leading to the servants'
He hastened from the museum and subjected the hall to a keen
scrutiny. Yes; there was red paint on the carpet. He passed
through the green-baize door and examined the stairs. On the
bottom step there was a faint but conclusive stain of crimson!
He was wondering how best to follow up this clew when he
perceived Ashe coming down the stairs. Ashe, like Baxter, and as
the result of a night disturbed by anxious thoughts, had also
There are moments when the giddy excitement of being right on the
trail causes the amateur--or Watsonian--detective to be
incautious. If Baxter had been wise he would have achieved his
object--the getting a glimpse of Joan's shoes--by a devious and
snaky route. As it was, zeal getting the better of prudence, he
rushed straight on. His early suspicion of Ashe had been
temporarily obscured. Whatever Ashe's claims to be a suspect, it
had not been his footprint Baxter had seen in the museum.
"Here, you!" said the Efficient Baxter excitedly.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I wish to see the servants' shoes. Where are they?"
"I expect they have them on, sir."
"Yesterday's shoes, man--yesterday's shoes. Where are they?"
"Where are the shoes of yesteryear?" murmured Ashe. "I should say
at a venture, sir, that they would be in a large basket somewhere
near the kitchen. Our genial knife-and-shoe boy collects them, I
believe, at early dawn."
"Would they have been cleaned yet?"
"If I know the lad, sir--no."
"Go and bring that basket to me. Bring it to me in this room."
* * *
The room to which he referred was none other than the private
sanctum of Mr. Beach, the butler, the door of which, standing
open, showed it to be empty. It was not Baxter's plan, excited as
he was, to risk being discovered sifting shoes in the middle of a
passage in the servants' quarters.
Ashe's brain was working rapidly as he made for the shoe
cupboard, that little den of darkness and smells, where Billy,
the knife-and-shoe boy, better known in the circle in which he
moved as Young Bonehead, pursued his menial tasks. What exactly
was at the back of the Efficient Baxter's mind prompting these
maneuvers he did not know; but that there was something he was
He had not yet seen Joan this morning, and he did not know
whether or not she had carried out her resolve of attempting to
steal the scarab on the previous night; but this activity and
mystery on the part of their enemy must have some sinister
significance. He gathered up the shoe basket thoughtfully. He
staggered back with it and dumped it down on the floor of Mr.
Beach's room. The Efficient Baxter, stooped eagerly over it.
Ashe, leaning against the wall, straightened the creases in his
clothes and flicked disgustedly at an inky spot which the journey
had transferred from the basket to his coat.
"We have here, sir," he said, "a fair selection of our various
"You did not drop any on your way?"
"Not one, sir."
The Efficient Baxter uttered a grunt of satisfaction and bent
once more to his task. Shoes flew about the room. Baxter knelt on
the floor beside the basket, and dug like a terrier at a rat
hole. At last he made a find and with an exclamation of triumph
rose to his feet. In his hand he held a shoe.
"Put those back," he said.
Ashe began to pick up the scattered footgear.
"That's the lot, sir," he said, rising.
"Now come with me. Leave the basket there. You can carry it back
when you return."
"Shall I put back that shoe, sir?"
"Certainly not. I shall take this one with me."
"Shall I carry it for you, sir?"
"Yes. I think that would be best."
Trouble had shaken his nerve. He was not certain that there might
not be others besides Lord Emsworth in the garden; and it
occurred to him that, especially after his reputation for
eccentric conduct had been so firmly established by his
misfortunes that night in the hall, it might cause comment should
he appear before them carrying a shoe.
Ashe took the shoe and, doing so, understood what before had
puzzled him. Across the toe was a broad splash of red paint.
Though he had nothing else to go on, he saw all. The shoe he held
was a female shoe. His own researches in the museum had made him
aware of the presence there of red paint. It was not difficult to
build up on these data a pretty accurate estimate of the position
"Come with me," said Baxter.
He left the room. Ashe followed him.
In the garden Lord Emsworth, garden fork in hand, was dealing
summarily with a green young weed that had incautiously shown its
head in the middle of a flower bed. He listened to Baxter's
statement with more interest than he usually showed in anybody's
statements. He resented the loss of the scarab, not so much on
account of its intrinsic worth as because it had been the gift of
his friend Mr. Peters.
"Indeed!" he said, when Baxter had finished. "Really? Dear me!
It certainly seems--It is extremely suggestive. You are certain
there was red paint on this shoe?"
"I have it with me. I brought it on purpose to show you." He
looked at Ashe, who stood in close attendance. "The shoe!"
Lord Emsworth polished his glasses and bent over the exhibit.
"Ah!" he said. "Now let me look at--This, you say, is the--Just
so; just so! Just--My dear Baxter, it may be that I have not
examined this shoe with sufficient care, but--Can you point out
to me exactly where this paint is that you speak of?"
The Efficient Baxter stood staring at the shoe with wild, fixed
stare. Of any suspicion of paint, red or otherwise, it was
absolutely and entirely innocent!
The shoe became the center of attraction, the center of all eyes.
The Efficient Baxter fixed it with the piercing glare of one who
feels that his brain is tottering. Lord Emsworth looked at it
with a mildly puzzled expression. Ashe Marson examined it with a
sort of affectionate interest, as though he were waiting for it
to do a trick of some kind. Baxter was the first to break the
"There was paint on this shoe," he said vehemently. "I tell you
there was a splash of red paint across the toe. This man here
will bear me out in this. You saw paint on this shoe?"
"What! Do you mean to tell me you did not see it?"
"No, sir; there was no paint on this shoe."
"This is ridiculous. I saw it with my own eyes. It was a broad
splash right across the toe."
Lord Emsworth interposed.
"You must have made a mistake, my dear Baxter. There is certainly
no trace of paint on this shoe. These momentary optical delusions
are, I fancy, not uncommon. Any doctor will tell you--"
"I had an aunt, your lordship," said Ashe chattily, "who was
"It is absurd! I cannot have been mistaken," said Baxter. "I am
positively certain the toe of this shoe was red when I found it."
"It is quite black now, my dear Baxter."
"A sort of chameleon shoe," murmured Ashe.
The goaded secretary turned on him.
"What did you say?"
Baxter's old suspicion of this smooth young man came surging back
"I strongly suspect you of having had something to do with this."
"Really, Baxter," said the earl, "that is surely the least
probable of solutions. This young man could hardly have cleaned
the shoe on his way from the house. A few days ago, when painting
in the museum, I inadvertently splashed some paint on my own
shoe. I can assure you it does not brush off. It needs a very
systematic cleaning before all traces are removed."
"Exactly, your lordship," said Ashe. "My theory, if I may--"
"My theory, your lordship, is that Mr. Baxter was deceived by the
light-and-shade effects on the toe of the shoe. The morning sun,
streaming in through the window, must have shone on the shoe in
such a manner as to give it a momentary and fictitious aspect of
redness. If Mr. Baxter recollects, he did not look long at the
shoe. The picture on the retina of the eye consequently had not
time to fade. I myself remember thinking at the moment that the
shoe appeared to have a certain reddish tint. The mistake--"
"Bah!" said Baxter shortly.
Lord Emsworth, now thoroughly bored with the whole affair and
desiring nothing more than to be left alone with his weeds and
his garden fork, put in his word. Baxter, he felt, was curiously
irritating these days. He always seemed to be bobbing up. The
Earl of Emsworth was conscious of a strong desire to be free from
his secretary's company. He was efficient, yes--invaluable
indeed--he did not know what he should do without Baxter; but
there was no denying that his company tended after a while to
become a trifle tedious. He took a fresh grip on his garden fork
and shifted it about in the air as a hint that the interview had
lasted long enough.
"It seems to me, my dear fellow," he said, "the only explanation
that will square with the facts. A shoe that is really smeared
with red paint does not become black of itself in the course of a
"You are very right, your lordship," said Ashe approvingly. "May
I go now, your lordship?"
"Certainly--certainly; by all means."
"Shall I take the shoe with me, your lordship?"
"If you do not want it, Baxter."
The secretary passed the fraudulent piece of evidence to Ashe
without a word; and the latter, having included both gentlemen in
a kindly smile, left the garden.
On returning to the butler's room, Ashe's first act was to remove
a shoe from the top of the pile in the basket. He was about to
leave the room with it, when the sound of footsteps in the
passage outside halted him.
"I do not in the least understand why you wish me to come here,
my dear Baxter," said a voice, "and you are completely spoiling
my morning, but--"
For a moment Ashe was at a loss. It was a crisis that called for
swift action, and it was a little hard to know exactly what to
do. It had been his intention to carry the paint-splashed shoe
back to his own room, there to clean it at his leisure; but it
appeared that his strategic line of retreat was blocked. Plainly,
the possibility--nay, the certainty--that Ashe had substituted
another shoe for the one with the incriminating splash of paint
on it had occurred to the Efficient Baxter almost directly the
former had left the garden.
The window was open. Ashe looked out. There were bushes below.
It was a makeshift policy, and one which did not commend itself
to him as the ideal method, but it seemed the only thing to be
done, for already the footsteps had reached the door. He threw
the shoe out of window, and it sank beneath the friendly surface
of the long grass round a wisteria bush.
Ashe turned, relieved, and the next moment the door opened and
Baxter walked in, accompanied--with obvious reluctance---by his
Baxter was brisk and peremptory.