In the morning following Aline’s visit to Joan Valentine, Ashe sat in his room, the Morning Post on the table before him. The heady influence of Joan had not yet ceased to work within him; and he proposed, in pursuance of his promise to her, to go carefully through the columns of advertisements, however pessimistic he might feel concerning the utility of that action.

His first glance assured him that the vast fortunes of the philanthropists, whose acquaintance he had already made in print, were not yet exhausted. Brian MacNeill still dangled his gold before the public; so did Angus Bruce; so did Duncan Macfarlane and Wallace Mackintosh and Donald MacNab. They still had the money and they still wanted to give it away.

Ashe was reading listlessly down the column when, from the mass of advertisements, one of an unusual sort detached itself.

Wanted: Young Man of good appearance, who is poor and reckless, to undertake a delicate and dangerous enterprise. Good pay for the right man. Apply between the hours of ten and twelve at offices of Mainprice, Mainprice & Boole, 3, Denvers Street, Strand.

And as he read it, half past ten struck on the little clock on his mantelpiece. It was probably this fact that decided Ashe. If he had been compelled to postpone his visit to the offices of Messrs. Mainprice, Mainprice & Boole until the afternoon, it is possible that barriers of laziness might have reared themselves in the path of adventure; for Ashe, an adventurer at heart, was also uncommonly lazy. As it was, however, he could make an immediate start.

Pausing but to put on his shoes, and having satisfied himself by a glance in the mirror that his appearance was reasonably good, he seized his hat, shot out of the narrow mouth of Arundell Street like a shell, and scrambled into a taxicab, with the feeling that⁠—short of murder⁠—they could not make it too delicate and dangerous for him.

He was conscious of strange thrills. This, he told himself, was the only possible mode of life with spring in the air. He had always been partial to those historical novels in which the characters are perpetually vaulting on chargers and riding across country on perilous errands. This leaping into taxicabs to answer stimulating advertisements in the Morning Post was very much the same sort of thing. It was with fine fervor animating him that he entered the gloomy offices of Mainprice, Mainprice & Boole. His brain was afire and he felt ready for anything.

“I have come in ans⁠—” he began, to the diminutive office boy, who seemed to be the nearest thing visible to a Mainprice or a Boole.

“Siddown. Gottatakeyerturn,” said the office boy; and for the first time Ashe perceived that the anteroom in which he stood was crowded to overflowing.

This, in the circumstances, was something of a damper. He had pictured himself, during his ride in the cab, striding into the office and saying. “The delicate and dangerous enterprise. Lead me to it!” He had not realized until now that he was not the only man in London who read the advertisement columns of the Morning Post, and for an instant his heart sank at the sight of all this competition. A second and more comprehensive glance at his rivals gave him confidence.

The Wanted column of the morning paper is a sort of dredger, which churns up strange creatures from the mud of London’s underworld. Only in response to the dredger’s operations do they come to the surface in such numbers as to be noticeable, for as a rule they are of a solitary habit and shun company; but when they do come they bring with them something of the horror of the depths.

It is the saddest spectacle in the world⁠—that of the crowd collected by a Wanted advertisement. They are so palpably not wanted by anyone for any purpose whatsoever; yet every time they gather together with a sort of hopeful hopelessness. What they were originally⁠—the units of these collections⁠—heaven knows. Fate has battered out of them every trace of individuality. Each now is exactly like his neighbor⁠—no worse; no better.

Ashe, as he sat and watched them, was filled with conflicting emotions. One-half of him, thrilled with the glamour of adventure, was chafing at the delay, and resentful of these poor creatures as of so many obstacles to the beginning of all the brisk and exciting things that lay behind the mysterious brevity of the advertisement; the other, pitifully alive to the tragedy of the occasion, was grateful for the delay.

On the whole, he was glad to feel that if one of these derelicts did not secure the “good pay for the right man,” it would not be his fault. He had been the last to arrive, and he would be the last to pass through that door, which was the gateway of adventure⁠—the door with Mr. Boole inscribed on its ground glass, behind which sat the author of the mysterious request for assistance, interviewing applicants. It would be through their own shortcomings⁠—not because of his superior attractions⁠—if they failed to please that unseen arbiter.

That they were so failing was plain. Scarcely had one scarred victim of London’s unkindness passed through before the bell would ring; the office boy, who, in the intervals of frowning sternly on the throng, as much as to say that he would stand no nonsense, would cry, “Next!” and another dull-eyed wreck would drift through, to be followed a moment later by yet another. The one fact at present ascertainable concerning the unknown searcher for reckless young men of good appearance was that he appeared to be possessed of considerable decision of character, a man who did not take long to make up his mind. He was rejecting applicants now at the rate of two a minute.

Expeditious though he was, he kept Ashe waiting for a considerable time. It was not until the hands of the fat clock over the door pointed to twenty minutes past eleven that the office boy’s “Next!” found him the only survivor. He gave his clothes a hasty smack with the palm of his hand and his hair a fleeting dab to accentuate his good appearance, and turned the handle of the door of fate.

The room assigned by the firm to their Mr. Boole for his personal use was a small and dingy compartment, redolent of that atmosphere of desolation which lawyers alone know how to achieve. It gave the impression of not having been swept since the foundation of the firm, in the year 1786. There was one small window, covered with grime. It was one of those windows you see only in lawyers’ offices. Possibly some reckless Mainprice or harebrained Boole had opened it in a fit of mad excitement induced by the news of the Battle of Waterloo, in 1815, and had been instantly expelled from the firm. Since then, no one had dared to tamper with it.

Gazing through this window⁠—or, rather, gazing at it, for X-rays could hardly have succeeded in actually penetrating the alluvial deposits on the glass⁠—was a little man. As Ashe entered, he turned and looked at him as though he hurt him rather badly in some tender spot.

Ashe was obliged to own to himself that he felt a little nervous. It is not every day that a young man of good appearance, who has led a quiet life, meets face to face one who is prepared to pay him well for doing something delicate and dangerous. To Ashe the sensation was entirely novel. The most delicate and dangerous act he had performed to date had been the daily mastication of Mrs. Bell’s breakfast⁠—included in the rent. Yes, he had to admit it⁠—he was nervous: and the fact that he was nervous made him hot and uncomfortable.

To judge him by his appearance, the man at the window was also hot and uncomfortable. He was a little, truculent-looking man, and his face at present was red with a flush that sat unnaturally on a normally lead-colored face. His eyes looked out from under thick gray eyebrows with an almost tortured expression. This was partly owing to the strain of interviewing Ashe’s preposterous predecessors, but principally to the fact that the little man had suddenly been seized with acute indigestion, a malady to which he was peculiarly subject.

He removed from his mouth the black cigar he was smoking, inserted a digestive tabloid, and replaced the cigar. Then he concentrated his attention on Ashe. As he did so the hostile expression of his face became modified. He looked surprised and⁠—grudgingly⁠—pleased.

“Well, what do you want?” he said.

“I came in answer to⁠—”

“In answer to my advertisement? I had given up hope of seeing anything part human. I thought you must be one of the clerks. You’re certainly more like what I advertised for. Of all the seedy bunches of deadbeats I ever struck, the aggregation I’ve just been interviewing was the seediest! When I spend good money in advertising for a young man of good appearance, I want a young man of good appearance⁠—not a tramp of fifty-five.”

Ashe was sorry for his predecessors, but he was bound to admit that they certainly had corresponded somewhat faithfully to the description just given. The comparative cordiality of his own reception removed the slight nervousness that had been troubling him. He began to feel confident⁠—almost jaunty.

“I’m through,” said the little man wearily. “I’ve had enough of interviewing applicants. You’re the last one I’ll see. Are there any more hobos outside?”

“Not when I came in.”

“Then we’ll get down to business. I’ll tell you what I want done, and if you are willing you can do it; if you are not willing you can leave it⁠—and go to the devil! Sit down.”

Ashe sat down. He resented the little man’s tone, but this was not the moment for saying so. His companion scrutinized him narrowly.

“So far as appearance goes,” he said, “you are what I want.” Ashe felt inclined to bow. “Whoever takes on this job has got to act as my valet, and you look like a valet.” Ashe felt less inclined to bow.

“You’re tall and thin and ordinary-looking. Yes; so far as appearance goes, you fill the bill.”

It seemed to Ashe that it was time to correct an impression the little man appeared to have formed.

“I am afraid,” he said, “if all you want is a valet, you will have to look elsewhere. I got the idea from your advertisement that something rather more exciting was in the air. I can recommend you to several good employment agencies if you wish.” He rose. “Good morning!” he said.

He would have liked to fling the massive pewter inkwell at this little creature who had so keenly disappointed him.

“Sit down!” snapped the other.

Ashe resumed his seat. The hope of adventure dies hard on a spring morning when one is twenty-six, and he had the feeling that there was more to come.

“Don’t be a damned fool!” said the little man. “Of course I’m not asking you to be a valet and nothing else.”

“You would want me to do some cooking and plain sewing on the side, perhaps?”

Their eyes met in a hostile glare. The flush on the little man’s face deepened.

“Are you trying to get fresh with me?” he demanded dangerously.

“Yes,” said Ashe.

The answer seemed to disconcert his adversary. He was silent for a moment.

“Well,” he said at last, “maybe it’s all for the best. If you weren’t full of gall probably you wouldn’t have come here at all; and whoever takes on this job of mine has got to have gall if he has nothing else. I think we shall suit each other.”

“What is the job?”

The little man’s face showed doubt and perplexity.

“It’s awkward. If I’m to make the thing clear to you I’ve got to trust you. And I don’t know a thing about you. I wish I had thought of that before I inserted the advertisement.”

Ashe appreciated the difficulty.

“Couldn’t you make an A⁠–⁠B case out of it?”

“Maybe I could if I knew what an A⁠–⁠B case was.”

“Call the people mixed up in it A and B.”

“And forget, halfway through, who was which! No; I guess I’ll have to trust you.”

“I’ll play square.”

The little man fastened his eyes on Ashe’s in a piercing stare. Ashe met them smilingly. His spirits, always fairly cheerful, had risen high by now. There was something about the little man, in spite of his brusqueness and ill temper, which made him feel flippant.

“Pure white!” said Ashe.


“My soul! And this”⁠—he thumped the left section of his waistcoat⁠—“solid gold. You may fire when ready, Gridley. Proceed, professor.”

“I don’t know where to begin.”

“Without presuming to dictate, why not at the beginning?”

“It’s all so darned complicated that I don’t rightly know which is the beginning. Well, see here⁠ ⁠… I collect scarabs. I’m crazy about scarabs. Ever since I quit business, you might say that I have practically lived for scarabs.”

“Though it sounds like an unkind thing to say of anyone,” said Ashe. “Incidentally, what are scarabs?” He held up his hand. “Wait! It all comes back to me. Expensive classical education, now bearing belated fruit. Scarabaeus⁠—Latin; noun, nominative⁠—a beetle. Scarabaee⁠—vocative⁠—O you beetle! Scarabaeum⁠—accusative⁠—the beetle. Scarabaei⁠—of the beetle. Scarabaeo⁠—to or for the beetle. I remember now. Egypt⁠—Rameses⁠—pyramids⁠—sacred scarabs! Right!”

“Well, I guess I’ve gotten together the best collection of scarabs outside the British Museum, and some of them are worth what you like to me. I don’t reckon money when it comes to a question of my scarabs. Do you understand?”

“Sure, Mike!”

Displeasure clouded the little man’s face.

“My name is not Mike.”

“I used the word figuratively, as it were.”

“Well, don’t do it again. My name is J. Preston Peters, and Mr. Peters will do as well as anything else when you want to attract my attention.”

“Mine is Marson. You were saying, Mr. Peters⁠—?”

“Well, it’s this way,” said the little man.

Shakespeare and Pope have both emphasized the tediousness of a twice-told tale; the Episode Of the Stolen Scarab need not be repeated at this point, though it must be admitted that Mr. Peters’ version of it differed considerably from the calm, dispassionate description the author, in his capacity of official historian, has given earlier in the story.

In Mr. Peters’ version the Earl of Emsworth appeared as a smooth and purposeful robber, a sort of elderly Raffles, worming his way into the homes of the innocent, and only sparing that portion of their property which was too heavy for him to carry away. Mr. Peters, indeed, specifically described the Earl of Emsworth as an oily old second-story man.

It took Ashe some little time to get a thorough grasp of the tangled situation; but he did it at last.

Only one point perplexed him.

“You want to hire somebody to go to this castle and get this scarab back for you. I follow that. But why must he go as your valet?”

“That’s simple enough. You don’t think I’m asking him to buy a black mask and break in, do you? I’m making it as easy for him as possible. I can’t take a secretary down to the castle, for everybody knows that, now I’ve retired, I haven’t got a secretary; and if I engaged a new one and he was caught trying to steal my scarab from the earl’s collection, it would look suspicious. But a valet is different. Anyone can get fooled by a crook valet with bogus references.”

“I see. There’s just one other point: Suppose your accomplice does get caught⁠—what then?”

“That,” said Mr. Peters, “is the catch; and it’s just because of that I am offering good pay to my man. We’ll suppose, for the sake of argument, that you accept the contract and get caught. Well, if that happens you’ve got to look after yourself. I couldn’t say a word. If I did it would all come out, and so far as the breaking off of my daughter’s engagement to young Threepwood is concerned, it would be just as bad as though I had tried to get the thing back myself.

“You’ve got to bear that in mind. You’ve got to remember it if you forget everything else. I don’t appear in this business in any way whatsoever. If you get caught you take what’s coming to you without a word. You can’t turn round and say: ‘I am innocent. Mr. Peters will explain all’⁠—because Mr. Peters certainly won’t. Mr. Peters won’t utter a syllable of protest if they want to hang you.

“No; if you go into this, young man, you go into it with your eyes open. You go into it with a full understanding of the risks⁠—because you think the reward, if you are successful, makes the taking of those risks worth while. You and I know that what you are doing isn’t really stealing; it’s simply a tactful way of getting back my own property. But the judge and jury will have different views.”

“I am beginning to understand,” said Ashe thoughtfully, “why you called the job delicate and dangerous.”

Certainly it had been no overstatement. As a writer of detective stories for the British office boy, he had imagined in his time many undertakings that might be so described, but few to which the description was more admirably suited.

“It is,” said Mr. Peters; “and that is why I’m offering good pay. Whoever carries this job through gets one thousand pounds.”

Ashe started.

“One thousand pounds⁠—five thousand dollars!”

“Five thousand.”

“When do I begin?”

“You’ll do it?”

“For five thousand dollars I certainly will.”

“With your eyes open?”

“Wide open!”

A look of positive geniality illuminated Mr. Peters’ pinched features. He even went so far as to pat Ashe on the shoulder.

“Good boy!” he said. “Meet me at Paddington Station at four o’clock on Friday. And if there’s anything more you want to know come round to this address.”

There remained the telling of Joan Valentine; for it was obviously impossible not to tell her. When you have revolutionized your life at the bidding of another you cannot well conceal the fact, as though nothing had happened. Ashe had not the slightest desire to conceal the fact. On the contrary, he was glad to have such a capital excuse for renewing the acquaintance.

He could not tell her, of course, the secret details of the thing. Naturally those must remain hidden. No, he would just go airily in and say:

“You know what you told me about doing something new? Well, I’ve just got a job as a valet.”

So he went airily in and said it.

“To whom?” said Joan.

“To a man named Peters⁠—an American.”

Women are trained from infancy up to conceal their feelings. Joan did not start or otherwise express emotion.

“Not Mr. J. Preston Peters?”

“Yes. Do you know him? What a remarkable thing.”

“His daughter,” said Joan, “has just engaged me as a lady’s maid.”


“It will not be quite the same thing as three years ago,” Joan explained. “It is just a cheap way of getting a holiday. I used to know Miss Peters very well, you see. It will be more like traveling as her guest.”

“But⁠—but⁠—” Ashe had not yet overcome his amazement.


“But what an extraordinary coincidence!”

“Yes. By the way, how did you get the situation? And what put it into your head to be a valet at all? It seems such a curious thing for you to think of doing.”

Ashe was embarrassed.

“I⁠—I⁠—well, you see, the experience will be useful to me, of course, in my writing.”

“Oh! Are you thinking of taking up my line of work? Dukes?”

“No, no⁠—not exactly that.”

“It seems so odd. How did you happen to get in touch with Mr. Peters?”

“Oh, I answered an advertisement.”

“I see.”

Ashe was becoming conscious of an undercurrent of something not altogether agreeable in the conversation. It lacked the gay ease of their first interview. He was not apprehensive lest she might have guessed his secret. There was, he felt, no possible means by which she could have done that. Yet the fact remained that those keen blue eyes of hers were looking at him in a peculiar and penetrating manner. He felt damped.

“It will be nice, being together,” he said feebly.

“Very!” said Joan.

There was a pause.

“I thought I would come and tell you.”

“Quite so.”

There was another pause.

“It seems so funny that you should be going out as a lady’s maid.”


“But, of course, you have done it before.”


“The really extraordinary thing is that we should be going to the same people.”


“It⁠—it’s remarkable, isn’t it?”


Ashe reflected. No; he did not appear to have any further remarks to make.

“Goodbye for the present,” he said.


Ashe drifted out. He was conscious of a wish that he understood girls. Girls, in his opinion, were odd.

When he had gone Joan Valentine hurried to the door and, having opened it an inch, stood listening. When the sound of his door closing came to her she ran down the stairs and out into Arundell Street. She went to the Hotel Mathis.

“I wonder,” she said to the sad-eyed waiter, “if you have a copy of the Morning Post?”

The waiter, a child of romantic Italy, was only too anxious to oblige youth and beauty. He disappeared and presently returned with a crumpled copy. Joan thanked him with a bright smile.

Back in her room, she turned to the advertisement pages. She knew that life was full of what the unthinking call coincidences; but the miracle of Ashe having selected by chance the father of Aline Peters as an employer was too much of a coincidence for her. Suspicion furrowed her brow.

It did not take her long to discover the advertisement that had sent Ashe hurrying in a taxicab to the offices of Messrs. Mainprice, Mainprice & Boole. She had been looking for something of the kind.

She read it through twice and smiled. Everything was very clear to her. She looked at the ceiling above her and shook her head.

“You are quite a nice young man, Mr. Marson,” she said softly; “but you mustn’t try to jump my claim. I dare say you need that money too; but I’m afraid you must go without. I am going to have it⁠—and nobody else!”