The four-fifteen express slid softly out of Paddington Station and Ashe Marson settled himself in the corner seat of his second-class compartment. Opposite him Joan Valentine had begun to read a magazine. Along the corridor, in a first-class smoking compartment, Mr. Peters was lighting a big black cigar. Still farther along the corridor, in a first-class non-smoking compartment, Aline Peters looked through the window and thought of many things.

In English trains the tipping classes travel first; valets, lady’s maids, footmen, nurses, and head stillroom maids, second; and housemaids, grooms, and minor and inferior stillroom maids, third. But for these social distinctions, the whole fabric of society would collapse and anarchy stalk naked through the land⁠—as in the United States.

Ashe was feeling remarkably lighthearted. He wished he had not bought Joan that magazine and thus deprived himself temporarily of the pleasure of her conversation; but that was the only flaw in his happiness. With the starting of the train, which might be considered the formal and official beginning of the delicate and dangerous enterprise on which he had embarked, he had definitely come to the conclusion that the life adventurous was the life for him. He had frequently suspected this to be the case, but it had required the actual experiment to bring certainty.

Almost more than physical courage, the ideal adventurer needs a certain lively inquisitiveness, the quality of not being content to mind his own affairs; and in Ashe this quality was highly developed. From boyhood up he had always been interested in things that were none of his business. And it is just that attribute which the modern young man, as a rule, so sadly lacks.

The modern young man may do adventurous things if they are thrust on him; but left to himself he will edge away uncomfortably and look in the other direction when the goddess of adventure smiles at him. Training and tradition alike pluck at his sleeve and urge him not to risk making himself ridiculous. And from sheer horror of laying himself open to the charge of not minding his own business he falls into a stolid disregard of all that is out of the ordinary and exciting. He tells himself that the shriek from the lonely house he passed just now was only the high note of some amateur songstress, and that the maiden in distress whom he saw pursued by the ruffian with a knife was merely earning the salary paid her by some motion-picture firm. And he proceeds on his way, looking neither to left nor right.

Ashe had none of this degenerate coyness toward adventure. Though born within easy distance of Boston and deposited by circumstances in London, he possessed, nevertheless, to a remarkable degree, that quality so essentially the property of the New Yorker⁠—the quality known, for want of a more polished word, as rubber. It is true that it had needed the eloquence of Joan Valentine to stir him from his groove; but that was because he was also lazy. He loved new sights and new experiences. Yes; he was happy. The rattle of the train shaped itself into a lively march. He told himself that he had found the right occupation for a young man in the spring.

Joan, meantime, intrenched behind her magazine, was also busy with her thoughts. She was not reading the magazine; she held it before her as a protection, knowing that if she laid it down Ashe would begin to talk. And just at present she had no desire for conversation. She, like Ashe, was contemplating the immediate future, but, unlike him, was not doing so with much pleasure. She was regretting heartily that she had not resisted the temptation to uplift this young man and wishing that she had left him to wallow in the slothful peace in which she had found him.

It is curious how frequently in this world our attempts to stimulate and uplift swoop back on us and smite us like boomerangs. Ashe’s presence was the direct outcome of her lecture on enterprise, and it added a complication to an already complicated venture.

She did her best to be fair to Ashe. It was not his fault that he was about to try to deprive her of five thousand dollars, which she looked on as her personal property; but illogically she found herself feeling a little hostile.

She glanced furtively at him over the magazine, choosing by ill chance a moment when he had just directed his gaze at her. Their eyes met and there was nothing for it but to talk; so she tucked away her hostility in a corner of her mind, where she could find it again when she wanted it, and prepared for the time being to be friendly. After all, except for the fact that he was her rival, this was a pleasant and amusing young man, and one for whom, until he made the announcement that had changed her whole attitude toward him, she had entertained a distinct feeling of friendship⁠—nothing warmer.

There was something about him that made her feel that she would have liked to stroke his hair in a motherly way and straighten his tie, and have cozy chats with him in darkened rooms by the light of open fires, and make him tell her his inmost thoughts, and stimulate him to do something really worth while with his life; but this, she held, was merely the instinct of a generous nature to be kind and helpful even to a comparative stranger.

“Well, Mr. Marson,” she said, “Here we are!”

“Exactly what I was thinking,” said Ashe.

He was conscious of a marked increase in the exhilaration the starting of the expedition had brought to him. At the back of his mind he realized there had been all along a kind of wistful resentment at the change in this girl’s manner toward him. During the brief conversation when he had told her of his having secured his present situation, and later, only a few minutes back, on the platform of Paddington Station, he had sensed a coldness, a certain hostility⁠—so different from her pleasant friendliness at their first meeting.

She had returned now to her earlier manner and he was surprised at the difference it made. He felt somehow younger, more alive. The lilt of the train’s rattle changed to a gay ragtime. This was curious, because Joan was nothing more than a friend. He was not in love with her. One does not fall in love with a girl whom one has met only three times. One is attracted⁠—yes; but one does not fall in love.

A moment’s reflection enabled him to diagnose his sensations correctly. This odd impulse to leap across the compartment and kiss Joan was not love. It was merely the natural desire of a good-hearted young man to be decently chummy with his species.

“Well, what do you think of it all, Mr. Marson?” said Joan. “Are you sorry or glad that you let me persuade you to do this perfectly mad thing? I feel responsible for you, you know. If it had not been for me you would have been comfortably in Arundell Street, writing your Wand of Death.”

“I’m glad.”

“You don’t feel any misgivings now that you are actually committed to domestic service?”

“Not one.”

Joan, against her will, smiled approval on this uncompromising attitude. This young man might be her rival, but his demeanor on the eve of perilous times appealed to her. That was the spirit she liked and admired⁠—that reckless acceptance of whatever might come. It was the spirit in which she herself had gone into the affair and she was pleased to find that it animated Ashe also⁠—though, to be sure, it had its drawbacks. It made his rivalry the more dangerous. This reflection injected a touch of the old hostility into her manner.

“I wonder whether you will continue to feel so brave.”

“What do you mean?”

Joan perceived that she was in danger of going too far. She had no wish to unmask Ashe at the expense of revealing her own secret. She must resist the temptation to hint that she had discovered his.

“I meant,” she said quickly, “that from what I have seen of him Mr. Peters seems likely to be a rather trying man to work for.”

Ashe’s face cleared. For a moment he had almost suspected that she had guessed his errand.

“Yes. I imagine he will be. He is what you might call quick-tempered. He has dyspepsia, you know.”

“I know.”

“What he wants is plenty of fresh air and no cigars, and a regular course of those Larsen Exercises that amused you so much.”

Joan laughed.

“Are you going to try and persuade Mr. Peters to twist himself about like that? Do let me see it if you do.”

“I wish I could.”

“Do suggest it to him.”

“Don’t you think he would resent it from a valet?”

“I keep forgetting that you are a valet. You look so unlike one.”

“Old Peters didn’t think so. He rather complimented me on my appearance. He said I was ordinary-looking.”

“I shouldn’t have called you that. You look so very strong and fit.”

“Surely there are muscular valets?”

“Well, yes; I suppose there are.”

Ashe looked at her. He was thinking that never in his life had he seen a girl so amazingly pretty. What it was that she had done to herself was beyond him; but something, some trick of dress, had given her a touch of the demure that made her irresistible. She was dressed in sober black, the ideal background for her fairness.

“While on the subject,” he said, “I suppose you know you don’t look in the least like a lady’s maid? You look like a disguised princess.”

She laughed.

“That’s very nice of you, Mr. Marson, but you’re quite wrong. Anyone could tell I was a lady’s maid, a mile away. You aren’t criticizing the dress, surely?”

“The dress is all right. It’s the general effect. I don’t think your expression is right. It’s⁠—it’s⁠—there’s too much attack in it. You aren’t meek enough.”

Joan’s eyes opened wide.

“Meek! Have you ever seen an English lady’s maid, Mr. Marson?”

“Why, no; now that I come to think of it, I don’t believe I have.”

“Well, let me tell you that meekness is her last quality. Why should she be meek? Doesn’t she go in after the groom of the chambers?”

“Go in? Go in where?”

“In to dinner.” She smiled at the sight of his bewildered face. “I’m afraid you don’t know much about the etiquette of the new world you have entered so rashly. Didn’t you know that the rules of precedence among the servants of a big house in England are more rigid and complicated than in English society?”

“You’re joking!”

“I’m not joking. You try going in to dinner out of your proper place when we get to Blandings and see what happens. A public rebuke from the butler is the least you could expect.”

A bead of perspiration appeared on Ashe’s forehead.

“Heavens!” he whispered. “If a butler publicly rebuked me I think I should commit suicide. I couldn’t survive it.”

He stared, with fallen jaw, into the abyss of horror into which he had leaped so lightheartedly. The servant problem, on this large scale, had been nonexistent for him until now. In the days of his youth, at Mayling, Massachusetts, his needs had been ministered to by a muscular Swede. Later, at Oxford, there had been his “scout” and his bed maker, harmless persons both, provided you locked up your whisky. And in London, his last phase, a succession of servitors of the type of the disheveled maid at Number Seven had tended him.

That, dotted about the land of his adoption, there were houses in which larger staffs of domestics were maintained, he had been vaguely aware. Indeed, in Gridley Quayle, Investigator; The Adventure of the Missing Marquis⁠—number four of the series⁠—he had drawn a picture of the home life of a duke, in which a butler and two powdered footmen had played their parts; but he had had no idea that rigid and complicated rules of etiquette swayed the private lives of these individuals. If he had given the matter a thought he had supposed that when the dinner hour arrived the butler and the two footmen would troop into the kitchen and squash in at the table wherever they found room.

“Tell me,” he said. “Tell me all you know. I feel as though I had escaped a frightful disaster.”

“You probably have. I don’t suppose there is anything so terrible as a snub from a butler.”

“If there is I can’t think of it. When I was at Oxford I used to go and stay with a friend of mine who had a butler that looked like a Roman emperor in swallowtails. He terrified me. I used to grovel to the man. Please give me all the pointers you can.”

“Well, as Mr. Peters’ valet, I suppose you will be rather a big man.”

“I shan’t feel it.”

“However large the house party is, Mr. Peters is sure to be the principal guest; so your standing will be correspondingly magnificent. You come after the butler, the housekeeper, the groom of the chambers, Lord Emsworth’s valet, Lady Ann Warblington’s lady’s maid⁠—”

“Who is she?”

“Lady Ann? Lord Emsworth’s sister. She has lived with him since his wife died. What was I saying? Oh, yes! After them come the honorable Frederick Threepwood’s valet and myself⁠—and then you.”

“I’m not so high up then, after all?”

“Yes, you are. There’s a whole crowd who come after you. It all depends on how many other guests there are besides Mr. Peters.”

“I suppose I charge in at the head of a drove of housemaids and scullery maids?”

“My dear Mr. Marson, if a housemaid or a scullery maid tried to get into the steward’s room and have her meals with us, she would be⁠—”

“Rebuked by the butler?”

“Lynched, I should think. Kitchen maids and scullery maids eat in the kitchen. Chauffeurs, footmen, under-butler, pantry boys, hall boy, odd man and steward’s-room footman take their meals in the servants’ hall, waited on by the hall boy. The stillroom maids have breakfast and tea in the stillroom, and dinner and supper in the hall. The housemaids and nursery maids have breakfast and tea in the housemaid’s sitting-room, and dinner and supper in the hall. The head housemaid ranks next to the head stillroom maid. The laundry maids have a place of their own near the laundry, and the head laundry maid ranks above the head housemaid. The chef has his meals in a room of his own near the kitchen. Is there anything else I can tell you, Mr. Marson?”

Ashe was staring at her with vacant eyes. He shook his head dumbly.

“We stop at Swindon in half an hour,” said Joan softly. “Don’t you think you would be wise to get out there and go straight back to London, Mr. Marson? Think of all you would avoid!”

Ashe found speech.

“It’s a nightmare!”

“You would be far happier in Arundell Street. Why don’t you get out at Swindon and go back?”

Ashe shook his head.

“I can’t. There’s⁠—there’s a reason.”

Joan picked up her magazine again. Hostility had come out from the corner into which she had tucked it away and was once more filling her mind. She knew it was illogical, but she could not help it. For a moment, during her revelations of servants’ etiquette, she had allowed herself to hope that she had frightened her rival out of the field, and the disappointment made her feel irritable. She buried herself in a short story, and countered Ashe’s attempts at renewing the conversation with cold monosyllables, until he ceased his efforts and fell into a moody silence.

He was feeling hurt and angry. Her sudden coldness, following on the friendliness with which she had talked so long, puzzled and infuriated him. He felt as though he had been snubbed, and for no reason.

He resented the defensive magazine, though he had bought it for her himself. He resented her attitude of having ceased to recognize his existence. A sadness, a filmy melancholy, crept over him. He brooded on the unutterable silliness of humanity, especially the female portion of it, in erecting artificial barriers to friendship. It was so unreasonable.

At their first meeting, when she might have been excused for showing defensiveness, she had treated him with unaffected ease. When that meeting had ended there was a tacit understanding between them that all the preliminary awkwardnesses of the first stages of acquaintanceship were to be considered as having been passed; and that when they met again, if they ever did, it would be as friends. And here she was, luring him on with apparent friendliness, and then withdrawing into herself as though he had presumed.

A rebellious spirit took possession of him. He didn’t care! Let her be cold and distant. He would show her that she had no monopoly of those qualities. He would not speak to her until she spoke to him; and when she spoke to him he would freeze her with his courteous but bleakly aloof indifference.

The train rattled on. Joan read her magazine. Silence reigned in the second-class compartment. Swindon was reached and passed. Darkness fell on the land. The journey began to seem interminable to Ashe; but presently there came a creaking of brakes and the train jerked itself to another stop. A voice on the platform made itself heard, calling:

“Market Blandings! Market Blandings Station!”

The village of Market Blandings is one of those sleepy English hamlets that modern progress has failed to touch; except by the addition of a railroad station and a room over the grocer’s shop where moving pictures are on view on Tuesdays and Fridays. The church is Norman and the intelligence of the majority of the natives Paleozoic. To alight at Market Blandings Station in the dusk of a rather chilly spring day, when the southwest wind has shifted to due east and the thrifty inhabitants have not yet lit their windows, is to be smitten with the feeling that one is at the edge of the world with no friends near.

Ashe, as he stood beside Mr. Peters’ baggage and raked the unsympathetic darkness with a dreary eye, gave himself up to melancholy. Above him an oil lamp shed a meager light. Along the platform a small but sturdy porter was juggling with a milk can. The east wind explored Ashe’s system with chilly fingers.

Somewhere out in the darkness into which Mr. Peters and Aline had already vanished in a large automobile, lay the castle, with its butler and its fearful code of etiquette. Soon the cart that was to convey him and the trunks thither would be arriving. He shivered.

Out of the gloom and into the feeble rays of the oil lamp came Joan Valentine. She had been away, tucking Aline into the car. She looked warm and cheerful. She was smiling in the old friendly way.

If girls realized their responsibilities they would be so careful when they smiled that they would probably abandon the practice altogether. There are moments in a man’s life when a girl’s smile can have as important results as an explosion of dynamite.

In the course of their brief acquaintance Joan had smiled at Ashe many times, but the conditions governing those occasions had not been such as to permit him to be seriously affected. He had been pleased on such occasions; he had admired her smile in a detached and critical spirit; but he had not been overwhelmed by it. The frame of mind necessary for that result had been lacking.

Now, however, after five minutes of solitude on the depressing platform of Market Blandings Station, he was what the spiritualists call a sensitive subject. He had reached that depth of gloom and bodily discomfort when a sudden smile has all the effect of strong liquor and good news administered simultaneously, warming the blood and comforting the soul, and generally turning the world from a bleak desert into a land flowing with milk and honey.

It is not too much to say that he reeled before Joan’s smile. It was so entirely unexpected. He clutched Mr. Peters’ steamer trunk in his emotion. All his resolutions to be cold and distant were swept away. He had the feeling that in a friendless universe here was somebody who was fond of him and glad to see him.

A smile of such importance demands analysis, and in this case repays it; for many things lay behind this smile of Joan Valentine’s on the platform of Market Blandings Station.

In the first place, she had had another of her swift changes of mood, and had once again tucked away hostility into its corner. She had thought it over and had come to the conclusion that as she had no logical grievance against Ashe for anything he had done to be distant to him was the behavior of a cat. Consequently she resolved, when they should meet again, to resume her attitude of good-fellowship. That in itself would have been enough to make her smile.

There was another reason, however, which had nothing to do with Ashe. While she had been tucking Aline into the automobile she met the eye of the driver of that vehicle and had perceived a curious look in it⁠—a look of amazement and sheer terror. A moment, later, when Aline called the driver Freddie, she had understood. No wonder the Honorable Freddie had looked as though he had seen a ghost.

It would be a relief to the poor fellow when, as he undoubtedly would do in the course of the drive, he inquired of Aline the name of her maid and was told that it was Simpson. He would mutter something about “Reminds me of a girl I used to know,” and would brood on the remarkable way in which Nature produces doubles. But he had a bad moment, and it was partly at the recollection of his face that Joan smiled.

A third reason was because the sight of the Honorable Freddie had reminded her that R. Jones had said he had written her poetry. That thought, too, had contributed toward the smile which so dazzled Ashe.

Ashe, not being miraculously intuitive, accepted the easier explanation that she smiled because she was glad to be in his company; and this thought, coming on top of his mood of despair and general dissatisfaction with everything mundane, acted on him like some powerful chemical.

In every man’s life there is generally one moment to which in later years he can look back and say: “In this moment I fell in love!” Such a moment came to Ashe now.

Betwixt the stirrup and the ground,
Mercy I asked; mercy I found.

So sings the poet and so it was with Ashe.

In the almost incredibly brief time it took the small but sturdy porter to roll a milk can across the platform and hump it, with a clang, against other milk cans similarly treated a moment before, Ashe fell in love.

The word is so loosely used, to cover a thousand varying shades of emotion⁠—from the volcanic passion of an Antony for a Cleopatra to the tepid preference of a grocer’s assistant for the Irish maid at the second house on Main Street, as opposed to the Norwegian maid at the first house past the post office⁠—the mere statement that Ashe fell in love is not a sufficient description of his feelings as he stood grasping Mr. Peters’ steamer trunk. Analysis is required.

From his fourteenth year onward Ashe had been in love many times. His sensations in the case of Joan were neither the terrific upheaval that had caused him, in his fifteenth year, to collect twenty-eight photographs of the heroine of the road company of a musical comedy which had visited the Hayling Opera House, nor the milder flame that had caused him, when at college, to give up smoking for a week and try to read the complete works of Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

His love was something that lay between these two poles.

He did not wish the station platform of Market Blandings to become suddenly congested with red Indians so that he might save Joan’s life; and he did not wish to give up anything at all. But he was conscious⁠—to the very depths of his being⁠—that a future in which Joan did not figure would be so insupportable as not to bear considering; and in the immediate present he very strongly favored the idea of clasping Joan in his arms and kissing her until further notice.

Mingled with these feelings was an excited gratitude to her for coming to him like this, with that electric smile on her face; a stunned realization that she was a thousand times prettier than he had ever imagined; and a humility that threatened to make him loose his clutch on the steamer trunk and roll about at her feet, yapping like a dog.

Gratitude, so far as he could dissect his tangled emotion was the predominating ingredient of his mood. Only once in his life had he felt so passionately grateful to any human being. On that occasion, too, the object of his gratitude had been feminine.

Years before, when a boy in his father’s home in distant Hayling, Massachusetts, those in authority had commanded that he⁠—in his eleventh year and as shy as one can be only at that interesting age⁠—should rise in the presence of a roomful of strangers, adult guests, and recite “The Wreck of the Hesperus.”

He had risen. He had blushed. He had stammered. He had contrived to whisper: “It was the Schooner Hesperus.” And then, in a corner of the room, a little girl, for no properly explained reason, had burst out crying. She had yelled, she had bellowed, and would not be comforted; and in the ensuing confusion Ashe had escaped to the woodpile at the bottom of the garden, saved by a miracle.

All his life he had remembered the gratitude he had felt for that little timely girl, and never until now had he experienced any other similar spasm. But as he looked at Joan he found himself renewing that emotion of fifteen years ago.

She was about to speak. In a sort of trance he watched her lips part. He waited almost reverently for the first words she should speak to him in her new role of the only authentic goddess.

“Isn’t it a shame?” she said. “I’ve just put a penny in the chocolate slot machine⁠—and it’s empty! I’ve a good mind to write to the company.”

Ashe felt as though he were listening to the strains of some grand sweet anthem.

The small but sturdy porter, weary of his work among the milk cans, or perhaps⁠—let us not do him an injustice even in thought⁠—having finished it, approached them.

“The cart from the castle’s here.”

In the gloom beyond him there gleamed a light which had not been there before. The meditative snort of a horse supported his statement. He began to deal as authoritatively with Mr. Peters’ steamer trunk as he had dealt with the milk cans.

“At last!” said Joan. “I hope it’s a covered cart. I’m frozen. Let’s go and see.”

Ashe followed her with the gait of an automaton.

Cold is the ogre that drives all beautiful things into hiding. Below the surface of a frost-bound garden there lurk hidden bulbs, which are only biding their time to burst forth in a riot of laughing color; but shivering Nature dare not put forth her flowers until the ogre has gone. Not otherwise does cold suppress love. A man in an open cart on an English spring night may continue to be in love; but love is not the emotion uppermost in his bosom. It shrinks within him and waits for better times.

The cart was not a covered cart. It was open to the four winds of heaven, of which the one at present active proceeded from the bleak east. To this fact may be attributed Ashe’s swift recovery from the exalted mood into which Joan’s smile had thrown him, his almost instant emergence from the trance. Deep down in him he was aware that his attitude toward Joan had not changed, but his conscious self was too fully occupied with the almost hopeless task of keeping his blood circulating, to permit of thoughts of love. Before the cart had traveled twenty yards he was a mere chunk of frozen misery.

After an eternity of winding roads, darkened cottages, and black fields and hedges, the cart turned in at a massive iron gate, which stood open giving entrance to a smooth gravel drive. Here the way ran for nearly a mile through an open park of great trees and was then swallowed in the darkness of dense shrubberies. Presently to the left appeared lights, at first in ones and twos, shining out and vanishing again; then, as the shrubberies ended and the smooth lawns and terraces began, blazing down on the travelers from a score of windows, with the heartening effect of fires on a winter night.

Against the pale gray sky Blandings Castle stood out like a mountain. It was a noble pile, of early Tudor building. Its history is recorded in England’s history books and Viollet-le-Duc has written of its architecture. It dominated the surrounding country.

The feature of it which impressed Ashe most at this moment, however, was the fact that it looked warm; and for the first time since the drive began he found himself in a mood that approximated cheerfulness. It was a little early to begin feeling cheerful, he discovered, for the journey was by no means over. Arrived within sight of the castle, the cart began a detour, which, ten minutes later, brought it under an arch and over cobblestones to the rear of the building, where it eventually pulled up in front of a great door.

Ashe descended painfully and beat his feet against the cobbles. He helped Joan to climb down. Joan was apparently in a gentle glow. Women seem impervious to cold.

The door opened. Warm, kitcheny scents came through it. Strong men hurried out to take down the trunks, while fair women, in the shape of two nervous scullery maids, approached Joan and Ashe, and bobbed curtsies. This under more normal conditions would have been enough to unman Ashe; but in his frozen state a mere curtsying scullery maid expended herself harmlessly on him. He even acknowledged the greeting with a kindly nod.

The scullery maids, it seemed, were acting in much the same capacity as the attaches of royalty. One was there to conduct Joan to the presence of Mrs. Twemlow, the housekeeper; the other to lead Ashe to where Beach, the butler, waited to do honor to the valet of the castle’s most important guest.

After a short walk down a stone-flagged passage Joan and her escort turned to the right. Ashe’s objective appeared to be located to the left. He parted from Joan with regret. Her moral support would have been welcome.

Presently his scullery maid stopped at a door and tapped thereon. A fruity voice, like old tawny port made audible, said: “Come in!” Ashe’s guide opened the door.

“The gentleman, Mr. Beach,” said she, and scuttled away to the less rarefied atmosphere of the kitchen.

Ashe’s first impression of Beach, the butler, was one of tension. Other people, confronted for the first time with Beach, had felt the same. He had that strained air of being on the very point of bursting that one sees in bullfrogs and toy balloons. Nervous and imaginative men, meeting Beach, braced themselves involuntarily, stiffening their muscles for the explosion. Those who had the pleasure of more intimate acquaintance with him soon passed this stage, just as people whose homes are on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius become immune to fear of eruptions.

As far back as they could remember Beach had always looked as though an apoplectic fit were a matter of minutes; but he never had apoplexy and in time they came to ignore the possibility of it. Ashe, however, approaching him with a fresh eye, had the feeling that this strain could not possibly continue and that within a very short space of time the worst must happen. The prospect of this did much to rouse him from the coma into which he had been frozen by the rigors of the journey.

Butlers as a class seem to grow less and less like anything human in proportion to the magnificence of their surroundings. There is a type of butler employed in the comparatively modest homes of small country gentlemen who is practically a man and a brother; who hobnobs with the local tradesmen, sings a good comic song at the village inn, and in times of crisis will even turn to and work the pump when the water supply suddenly fails.

The greater the house the more does the butler diverge from this type. Blandings Castle was one of the more important of England’s show places, and Beach accordingly had acquired a dignified inertia that almost qualified him for inclusion in the vegetable kingdom. He moved⁠—when he moved at all⁠—slowly. He distilled speech with the air of one measuring out drops of some precious drug. His heavy-lidded eyes had the fixed expression of a statue’s.

With an almost imperceptible wave of a fat white hand, he conveyed to Ashe that he desired him to sit down. With a stately movement of his other hand, he picked up a kettle, which simmered on the hob. With an inclination of his head, he called Ashe’s attention to a decanter on the table.

In another moment Ashe was sipping a whisky toddy, with the feeling that he had been privileged to assist at some mystic rite. Mr. Beach, posting himself before the fire and placing his hands behind his back, permitted speech to drip from him.

“I have not the advantage of your name, Mr.⁠—”

Ashe introduced himself. Beach acknowledged the information with a half bow.

“You must have had a cold ride, Mr. Marson. The wind is in the east.”

Ashe said yes; the ride had been cold.

“When the wind is in the east,” continued Mr. Beach, letting each syllable escape with apparent reluctance, “I suffer from my feet.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I suffer from my feet,” repeated the butler, measuring out the drops. “You are a young man, Mr. Marson. Probably you do not know what it is to suffer from your feet.” He surveyed Ashe, his whisky toddy and the wall beyond him, with heavy-lidded inscrutability. “Corns!” he said.

Ashe said he was sorry.

“I suffer extremely from my feet⁠—not only corns. I have but recently recovered from an ingrowing toenail. I suffered greatly from my ingrowing toenail. I suffer from swollen joints.”

Ashe regarded this martyr with increasing disfavor. It is the flaw in the character of many excessively healthy young men that, though kindhearted enough in most respects, they listen with a regrettable feeling of impatience to the confessions of those less happily situated as regards the ills of the flesh. Rightly or wrongly, they hold that these statements should be reserved for the ear of the medical profession, and other and more general topics selected for conversation with laymen.

“I’m sorry,” he said hastily. “You must have had a bad time. Is there a large house party here just now?”

“We are expecting,” said Mr. Beach, “a number of guests. We shall in all probability sit down thirty or more to dinner.”

“A responsibility for you,” said Ashe ingratiatingly, well pleased to be quit of the feet topic.

Mr. Beach nodded.

“You are right, Mr. Marson. Few persons realize the responsibilities of a man in my position. Sometimes, I can assure you, it preys on my mind, and I suffer from nervous headaches.”

Ashe began to feel like a man trying to put out a fire which, as fast as he checks it at one point, breaks out at another.

“Sometimes when I come off duty everything gets blurred. The outlines of objects grow indistinct and misty. I have to sit down in a chair. The pain is excruciating.”

“But it helps you to forget the pain in your feet.”

“No, no. I suffer from my feet simultaneously.”

Ashe gave up the struggle.

“Tell me all about your feet,” he said.

And Mr. Beach told him all about his feet.

The pleasantest functions must come to an end, and the moment arrived when the final word on the subject of swollen joints was spoken. Ashe, who had resigned himself to a permanent contemplation of the subject, could hardly believe he heard correctly when, at the end of some ten minutes, his companion changed the conversation.

“You have been with Mr. Peters some time, Mr. Marson?”

“Eh? Oh! Oh, no only since last Wednesday.”

“Indeed! Might I inquire whom you assisted before that?”

For a moment Ashe did what he would not have believed himself capable of doing⁠—regretted that the topic of feet was no longer under discussion. The question placed him in an awkward position. If he lied and credited himself with a lengthy experience as a valet, he risked exposing himself. If he told the truth and confessed that this was his maiden effort in the capacity of gentleman’s gentleman, what would the butler think? There were objections to each course, but to tell the truth was the easier of the two; so he told it.

“Your first situation?” said Mr. Beach. “Indeed!”

“I was⁠—er⁠—doing something else before I met Mr. Peters,” said Ashe.

Mr. Beach was too well-bred to be inquisitive, but his eyebrows were not.

“Ah!” he said. “?” cried his eyebrows. “?⁠—?⁠—?”

Ashe ignored the eyebrows.

“Something different,” he said.

There was an awkward silence. Ashe appreciated its awkwardness. He was conscious of a grievance against Mr. Peters. Why could not Mr. Peters have brought him down here as his secretary? To be sure, he had advanced some objection to that course in their conversation at the offices of Mainprice, Mainprice & Boole; but merely a silly, farfetched objection. He wished he had had the sense to fight the point while there was time; but at the moment when they were arranging plans he had been rather tickled by the thought of becoming a valet. The notion had a pleasing musical-comedy touch about it. Why had he not foreseen the complications that must ensue? He could tell by the look on his face that this confounded butler was waiting for him to give a full explanation. What would he think if he withheld it? He would probably suppose that Ashe had been in prison.

Well, there was nothing to be done about it. If Beach was suspicious, he must remain suspicious. Fortunately the suspicions of a butler do not matter much.

Mr. Beach’s eyebrows were still mutely urging him to reveal all, but Ashe directed his gaze at that portion of the room which Mr. Beach did not fill. He would be hanged if he was going to let himself be hypnotized by a pair of eyebrows into incriminating himself! He glared stolidly at the pattern of the wallpaper, which represented a number of birds of an unknown species seated on a corresponding number of exotic shrubs.

The silence was growing oppressive. Somebody had to break it soon. And as Mr. Beach was still confining himself to the language of the eyebrow and apparently intended to fight it out on that line if it took all Summer, Ashe himself broke it.

It seemed to him as he reconstructed the scene in bed that night that Providence must have suggested the subject to Mr. Peters’ indigestion; for the mere mention of his employer’s sufferings acted like magic on the butler.

“I might have had better luck while I was looking for a place,” said Ashe. “I dare say you know how bad-tempered Mr. Peters is. He is dyspeptic.”

“So,” responded Mr. Beach, “I have been informed.” He brooded for a space. “I, too,” he proceeded, “suffer from my stomach. I have a weak stomach. The lining of my stomach is not what I could wish the lining of my stomach to be.”

“Tell me,” said Ashe gratefully, leaning forward in an attitude of attention, “all about the lining of your stomach.”

It was a quarter of an hour later when Mr. Beach was checked in his discourse by the chiming of the little clock on the mantelpiece. He turned round and gazed at it with surprise not unmixed with displeasure.

“So late?” he said. “I shall have to be going about my duties. And you, also, Mr. Marson, if I may make the suggestion. No doubt Mr. Peters will be wishing to have your assistance in preparing for dinner. If you go along the passage outside you will come to the door that separates our portion of the house from the other. I must beg you to excuse me. I have to go to the cellar.”

Following his directions Ashe came after a walk of a few yards to a green-baize door, which, swinging at his push, gave him a view of what he correctly took to be the main hall of the castle⁠—a wide, comfortable space, ringed with settees and warmed by a log fire burning in a mammoth fireplace. On the right a broad staircase led to the upper regions.

It was at this point that Ashe realized the incompleteness of Mr. Beach’s directions. Doubtless, the broad staircase would take him to the floor on which were the bedrooms; but how was he to ascertain, without the tedious process of knocking and inquiring at each door, which was the one assigned to Mr. Peters? It was too late to go back and ask the butler for further guidance; already he was on his way to the cellar in quest of the evening’s wine.

As he stood irresolute a door across the hall opened and a man of his own age came out. Through the doorway, which the young man held open for an instant while he answered a question from somebody within, Ashe had a glimpse of glass-topped cases.

Could this be the museum⁠—his goal? The next moment the door, opening a few inches more, revealed the outlying portions of an Egyptian mummy and brought certainty. It flashed across Ashe’s mind that the sooner he explored the museum and located Mr. Peters’ scarab, the better. He decided to ask Beach to take him there as soon as he had leisure.

Meantime the young man had closed the museum door and was crossing the hall. He was a wiry-haired, severe-looking young man, with a sharp nose and eyes that gleamed through rimless spectacles⁠—none other, in fact than Lord Emsworth’s private secretary, the Efficient Baxter. Ashe hailed him:

“I say, old man, would you mind telling me how I get to Mr. Peters’ room? I’ve lost my bearings.”

He did not reflect that this was hardly the way in which valets in the best society addressed their superiors. That is the worst of adopting what might be called a character part. One can manage the business well enough; it is the dialogue that provides the pitfalls.

Mr. Baxter would have accorded a hearty agreement to the statement that this was not the way in which a valet should have spoken to him; but at the moment he was not aware that Ashe was a valet. From his easy mode of address he assumed that he was one of the numerous guests who had been arriving at the castle all day. As he had asked for Mr. Peters, he fancied that Ashe must be the Honorable Freddie’s American friend, George Emerson, whom he had not yet met. Consequently he replied with much cordiality that Mr. Peters’ room was the second at the left on the second floor.

He said Ashe could not miss it. Ashe said he was much obliged.

“Awfully good of you,” said Ashe.

“Not at all,” said Mr. Baxter.

“You lose your way in a place like this,” said Ashe.

“You certainly do,” said Mr. Baxter.

Ashe went on his upward path and in a few moments was knocking at the door indicated. And sure enough it was Mr. Peters’ voice that invited him to enter.

Mr. Peters, partially arrayed in the correct garb for gentlemen about to dine, was standing in front of the mirror, wrestling with his evening tie. As Ashe entered he removed his fingers and anxiously examined his handiwork. It proved unsatisfactory. With a yelp and an oath, he tore the offending linen from his neck.

“Damn the thing!”

It was plain to Ashe that his employer was in no sunny mood. There are few things less calculated to engender sunniness in a naturally bad-tempered man than a dress tie that will not let itself be pulled and twisted into the right shape. Even when things went well, Mr. Peters hated dressing for dinner. Words cannot describe his feelings when they went wrong.

There is something to be said in excuse for this impatience: It is a hollow mockery to be obliged to deck one’s person as for a feast when that feast is to consist of a little asparagus and a few nuts.

Mr. Peters’ eye met Ashe’s in the mirror.

“Oh, it’s you, is it? Come in, then. Don’t stand staring. Close that door quick! Hustle! Don’t scrape your feet on the floor. Try to look intelligent. Don’t gape. Where have you been all this while? Why didn’t you come before? Can you tie a tie? All right, then⁠—do it!”

Somewhat calmed by the snow-white butterfly-shaped creation that grew under Ashe’s fingers, he permitted himself to be helped into his coat. He picked up the remnant of a black cigar from the dressing-table and relit it.

“I’ve been thinking about you,” he said.

“Yes?” said Ashe.

“Have you located the scarab yet?”


“What the devil have you been doing with yourself then? You’ve had time to collar it a dozen times.”

“I have been talking to the butler.”

“What the devil do you waste time talking to butlers for? I suppose you haven’t even located the museum yet?”

“Yes; I’ve done that.”

“Oh, you have, have you? Well, that’s something. And how do you propose setting about the job?”

“The best plan would be to go there very late at night.”

“Well, you didn’t propose to stroll in in the afternoon, did you? How are you going to find the scarab when you do get in?”

Ashe had not thought of that. The deeper he went into this business the more things did there seem to be in it of which he had not thought.

“I don’t know,” he confessed.

“You don’t know! Tell me, young man, are you considered pretty bright, as Englishmen go?”

“I am not English. I was born near Boston.”

“Oh, you were, were you? You blanked boneheaded, bean-eating boob!” cried Mr. Peters, frothing over quite unexpectedly and waving his arms in a sudden burst of fury. “Then if you are an American why don’t you show a little more enterprise? Why don’t you put something over? Why do you loaf about the place as though you were supposed to be an ornament? I want results⁠—and I want them quick!

“I’ll tell you how you can recognize my scarab when you get into the museum. That shameless old green-goods man who sneaked it from me has had the gall, the nerve, to put it all by itself, with a notice as big as a circus poster alongside of it saying that it is a Cheops of the Fourth Dynasty, presented”⁠—Mr. Peters choked⁠—“presented by J. Preston Peters, Esquire! That’s how you’re going to recognize it.”

Ashe did not laugh, but he nearly dislocated a rib in his effort to abstain from doing so. It seemed to him that this act on Lord Emsworth’s part effectually disposed of the theory that Britons have no sense of humor. To rob a man of his choicest possession and then thank him publicly for letting you have it appealed to Ashe as excellent comedy.

“The thing isn’t even in a glass case,” continued Mr. Peters. “It’s lying on an open tray on top of a cabinet of Roman coins. Anybody who was left alone for two minutes in the place could take it! It’s criminal carelessness to leave a valuable scarab about like that. If Lord Jesse James was going to steal my Cheops he might at least have had the decency to treat it as though it was worth something.”

“But it makes it easier for me to get it,” said Ashe consolingly.

“It’s got to be made easy if you are to get it!” snapped Mr. Peters. “Here’s another thing: You say you are going to try for it late at night. Well, what are you going to do if anyone catches you prowling round at that time? Have you considered that?”


“You would have to say something, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t chat about the weather, would you? You wouldn’t discuss the latest play? You would have to think up some mighty good reason for being out of bed at that time, wouldn’t you?”

“I suppose so.”

“Oh, you do admit that, do you? Well, what you would say is this: You would explain that I had rung for you to come and read me to sleep. Do you understand?”

“You think that would be a satisfactory explanation of my being in the museum?”

“Idiot! I don’t mean that you’re to say it if you’re caught actually in the museum. If you’re caught in the museum the best thing you can do is to say nothing, and hope that the judge will let you off light because it’s your first offense. You’re to say it if you’re found wandering about on your way there.”

“It sounds thin to me.”

“Does it? Well, let me tell you that it isn’t so thin as you suppose, for it’s what you will actually have to do most nights. Two nights out of three I have to be read to sleep. My indigestion gives me insomnia.” As though to push this fact home, Mr. Peters suddenly bent double. “Oof!” he said. “Wow!” He removed the cigar from his mouth and inserted a digestive tabloid. “The lining of my stomach is all wrong,” he added.

It is curious how trivial are the immediate causes that produce revolutions. If Mr. Peters had worded his complaint differently Ashe would in all probability have borne it without active protest. He had been growing more and more annoyed with this little person who buzzed and barked and bit at him, yet the idea of definite revolt had not occurred to him. But his sufferings at the hands of Beach, the butler, had reduced him to a state where he could endure no further mention of stomachic linings. There comes a time when our capacity for listening to detailed data about the linings of other people’s stomachs is exhausted.

He looked at Mr. Peters sternly. He had ceased to be intimidated by the fiery little man and regarded him simply as a hypochondriac, who needed to be told a few useful facts.

“How do you expect not to have indigestion? You take no exercise and you smoke all day long.”

The novel sensation of being criticized⁠—and by a beardless youth at that⁠—held Mr. Peters silent. He started convulsively, but he did not speak. Ashe, on his pet subject, became eloquent. In his opinion dyspeptics cumbered the earth. To his mind they had the choice between health and sickness, and they deliberately chose the latter.

“Your sort of man makes me angry. I know your type inside out. You overwork and shirk exercise, and let your temper run away with you, and smoke strong cigars on an empty stomach; and when you get indigestion as a natural result you look on yourself as a martyr, nourish a perpetual grouch, and make the lives of everybody you meet miserable. If you would put yourself into my hands for a month I would have you eating bricks and thriving on them. Up in the morning, Larsen Exercises, cold bath, a brisk rubdown, sharp walk⁠—”

“Who the devil asked your opinion, you impertinent young hound?” inquired Mr. Peters.

“Don’t interrupt⁠—confound you!” shouted Ashe. “Now you have made me forget what I was going to say.”

There was a tense silence. Then Mr. Peters began to speak:


“Don’t talk to me like that!”

“I’ll talk to you just⁠—”

Ashe took a step toward the door. “Very well, then,” he said. “I’ll quit! I’m through! You can get somebody else to do this job of yours for you.”

The sudden sagging of Mr. Peters’ jaw, the look of consternation that flashed on his face, told Ashe he had found the right weapon⁠—that the game was in his hands. He continued with a feeling of confidence:

“If I had known what being your valet involved I wouldn’t have undertaken the thing for a hundred thousand dollars. Just because you had some idiotic prejudice against letting me come down here as your secretary, which would have been the simple and obvious thing, I find myself in a position where at any moment I may be publicly rebuked by the butler and have the head stillroom maid looking at me as though I were something the cat had brought in.”

His voice trembled with self-pity.

“Do you realize a fraction of the awful things you have let me in for? How on earth am I to remember whether I go in before the chef or after the third footman? I shan’t have a peaceful minute while I’m in this place. I’ve got to sit and listen by the hour to a bore of a butler who seems to be a sort of walking hospital. I’ve got to steer my way through a complicated system of etiquette.

“And on top of all that you have the nerve, the insolence, to imagine that you can use me as a punching bag to work your bad temper off! You have the immortal rind to suppose that I will stand for being nagged and bullied by you whenever your suicidal way of living brings on an attack of indigestion! You have the supreme gall to fancy that you can talk as you please to me!

“Very well! I’ve had enough of it. I resign! If you want this scarab of yours recovered let somebody else do it. I’ve retired from business.”

He took another step toward the door. A shaking hand clutched at his sleeve.

“My boy⁠—my dear boy⁠—be reasonable!”

Ashe was intoxicated with his own oratory. The sensation of bullyragging a genuine millionaire was new and exhilarating. He expanded his chest and spread his feet like a colossus.

“That’s all very well,” he said, coldly disentangling himself from the hand. “You can’t get out of it like that. We have got to come to an understanding. The point is that if I am to be subjected to your⁠—your senile malevolence every time you have a twinge of indigestion, no amount of money could pay me to stop on.”

“My dear boy, it shall not occur again. I was hasty.”

Mr. Peters, with agitated fingers, relit the stump of his cigar.

“Throw away that cigar!”

“My boy!”

“Throw it away! You say you were hasty. Of course you were hasty; and as long as you abuse your digestion you will go on being hasty. I want something better than apologies. If I am to stop here we must get to the root of things. You must put yourself in my hands as though I were your doctor. No more cigars. Every morning regular exercises.”

“No, no!”

“Very well!”

“No; stop! Stop! What sort of exercises?”

“I’ll show you tomorrow morning. Brisk walks.”

“I hate walking.”

“Cold baths.”

“No, no!”

“Very well!”

“No; stop! A cold bath would kill me at my age.”

“It would put new life into you. Do you consent to the cold baths? No? Very well!”

“Yes, yes, yes!”

“You promise?”

“Yes, yes!”

“All right, then.”

The distant sound of the dinner gong floated in.

“We settled that just in time,” said Ashe.

Mr. Peters regarded him fixedly.

“Young man,” he said slowly, “if, after all this, you fail to recover my Cheops for me I’ll⁠—I’ll⁠—By George, I’ll skin you!”

“Don’t talk like that,” said Ashe. “That’s another thing you have got to remember. If my treatment is to be successful you must not let yourself think in that way. You must exercise self-control mentally. You must think beautiful thoughts.”

“The idea of skinning you is a beautiful thought!” said Mr. Peters wistfully.

In order that their gayety might not be diminished and the food turned to ashes in their mouths by the absence from the festive board of Mr. Beach, it was the custom for the upper servants at Blandings to postpone the start of their evening meal until dinner was nearly over above-stairs. This enabled the butler to take his place at the head of the table without fear of interruption, except for the few moments when coffee was being served.

Every night shortly before half-past eight⁠—at which hour Mr. Beach felt that he might safely withdraw from the dining-room and leave Lord Emsworth and his guests to the care of Merridew, the under-butler, and James and Alfred, the footmen, returning only for a few minutes to lend tone and distinction to the distribution of cigars and liqueurs⁠—those whose rank entitled them to do so made their way to the housekeeper’s room, to pass in desultory conversation the interval before Mr. Beach should arrive, and a kitchen maid, with the appearance of one who has been straining at the leash and has at last managed to get free, opened the door, with the announcement: “Mr. Beach, if you please, dinner is served.” On which Mr. Beach, extending a crooked elbow toward the housekeeper, would say, “Mrs. Twemlow!” and lead the way, high and disposedly, down the passage, followed in order of rank by the rest of the company, in couples, to the steward’s room.

For Blandings was not one of those houses⁠—or shall we say hovels?⁠—where the upper servants are expected not only to feed but to congregate before feeding in the steward’s room. Under the auspices of Mr. Beach and of Mrs. Twemlow, who saw eye to eye with him in these matters, things were done properly at the castle, with the correct solemnity. To Mr. Beach and Mrs. Twemlow the suggestion that they and their peers should gather together in the same room in which they were to dine would have been as repellent as an announcement from Lady Ann Warblington, the chatelaine, that the house party would eat in the drawing-room.

When Ashe, returning from his interview with Mr. Peters, was intercepted by a respectful small boy and conducted to the housekeeper’s room, he was conscious of a sensation of shrinking inferiority akin to his emotions on his first day at school. The room was full and apparently on very cordial terms with itself. Everybody seemed to know everybody and conversation was proceeding in a manner reminiscent of an Old Home Week.

As a matter of fact, the house party at Blandings being in the main a gathering together of the Emsworth clan by way of honor and as a means of introduction to Mr. Peters and his daughter, the bride-of-the-house-to-be, most of the occupants of the housekeeper’s room were old acquaintances and were renewing interrupted friendships at the top of their voices.

A lull followed Ashe’s arrival and all eyes, to his great discomfort, were turned in his direction. His embarrassment was relieved by Mrs. Twemlow, who advanced to do the honors. Of Mrs. Twemlow little need be attempted in the way of pen portraiture beyond the statement that she went as harmoniously with Mr. Beach as one of a pair of vases or one of a brace of pheasants goes with its fellow. She had the same appearance of imminent apoplexy, the same air of belonging to some dignified and haughty branch of the vegetable kingdom.

Mr. Marson, welcome to Blandings Castle!”

Ashe had been waiting for somebody to say this, and had been a little surprised that Mr. Beach had not done so. He was also surprised at the housekeeper’s ready recognition of his identity, until he saw Joan in the throng and deduced that she must have been the source of information.

He envied Joan. In some amazing way she contrived to look not out of place in this gathering. He himself, he felt, had impostor stamped in large characters all over him.

Mrs. Twemlow began to make the introductions⁠—a long and tedious process, which she performed relentlessly, without haste and without scamping her work. With each member of the aristocracy of his new profession Ashe shook hands, and on each member he smiled, until his facial and dorsal muscles were like to crack under the strain. It was amazing that so many high-class domestics could be collected into one moderate-sized room.

“Miss Simpson you know,” said Mrs. Twemlow, and Ashe was about to deny the charge when he perceived that Joan was the individual referred to. “Mr. Judson, Mr. Marson. Mr. Judson is the Honorable Frederick’s gentleman.”

“You have not the pleasure of our Freddie’s acquaintance as yet, I take it, Mr. Marson?” observed Mr. Judson genially, a smooth-faced, lazy-looking young man. “Freddie repays inspection.”

Mr. Marson, permit me to introduce you to Mr. Ferris, Lord Stockheath’s gentleman.”

Mr. Ferris, a dark, cynical man, with a high forehead, shook Ashe by the hand.

“Happy to meet you, Mr. Marson.”

“Miss Willoughby, this is Mr. Marson, who will take you in to dinner. Miss Willoughby is Lady Mildred Mant’s lady. As of course you are aware, Lady Mildred, our eldest daughter, married Colonel Horace Mant, of the Scots Guards.”

Ashe was not aware, and he was rather surprised that Mrs. Twemlow should have a daughter whose name was Lady Mildred; but reason, coming to his rescue, suggested that by our she meant the offspring of the Earl of Emsworth and his late countess. Miss Willoughby was a lighthearted damsel, with a smiling face and chestnut hair, done low over her forehead.

Since etiquette forbade that he should take Joan in to dinner, Ashe was glad that at least an apparently pleasant substitute had been provided. He had just been introduced to an appallingly statuesque lady of the name of Chester, Lady Ann Warblington’s own maid, and his somewhat hazy recollections of Joan’s lecture on below-stairs precedence had left him with the impression that this was his destined partner. He had frankly quailed at the prospect of being linked to so much aristocratic hauteur.

When the final introduction had been made conversation broke out again. It dealt almost exclusively, so far as Ashe could follow it, with the idiosyncrasies of the employers of those present. He took it that this happened down the entire social scale below stairs. Probably the lower servants in the servants’ hall discussed the upper servants in the room, and the still lower servants in the housemaids’ sitting-room discussed their superiors of the servants’ hall, and the stillroom gossiped about the housemaids’ sitting-room.

He wondered which was the bottom circle of all, and came to the conclusion that it was probably represented by the small respectful boy who had acted as his guide a short while before. This boy, having nobody to discuss anybody with, presumably sat in solitary meditation, brooding on the odd-job man.

He thought of mentioning this theory to Miss Willoughby, but decided that it was too abstruse for her, and contented himself with speaking of some of the plays he had seen before leaving London. Miss Willoughby was an enthusiast on the drama; and, Colonel Mant’s military duties keeping him much in town, she had had wide opportunities of indulging her tastes. Miss Willoughby did not like the country. She thought it dull.

“Don’t you think the country dull, Mr. Marson?”

“I shan’t find it dull here,” said Ashe; and he was surprised to discover, through the medium of a pleased giggle, that he was considered to have perpetrated a compliment.

Mr. Beach appeared in due season, a little distrait, as becomes a man who has just been engaged on important and responsible duties.

“Alfred spilled the hock!” Ashe heard him announce to Mrs. Twemlow in a bitter undertone. “Within half an inch of his lordship’s arm he spilled it.”

Mrs. Twemlow murmured condolences. Mr. Beach’s set expression was of one who is wondering how long the strain of existence can be supported.

Mr. Beach, if you please, dinner is served.”

The butler crushed down sad thoughts and crooked his elbow.

Mrs. Twemlow!”

Ashe, miscalculating degrees of rank in spite of all his caution, was within a step of leaving the room out of his proper turn; but the startled pressure of Miss Willoughby’s hand on his arm warned him in time. He stopped, to allow the statuesque Miss Chester to sail out under escort of a wizened little man with a horseshoe pin in his tie, whose name, in company with nearly all the others that had been spoken to him since he came into the room, had escaped Ashe’s memory.

“You were nearly making a bloomer!” said Miss Willoughby brightly. “You must be absentminded, Mr. Marson⁠—like his lordship.”

“Is Lord Emsworth absentminded?”

Miss Willoughby laughed.

“Why, he forgets his own name sometimes! If it wasn’t for Mr. Baxter, goodness knows what would happen to him.”

“I don’t think I know Mr. Baxter.”

“You will if you stay here long. You can’t get away from him if you’re in the same house. Don’t tell anyone I said so; but he’s the real master here. His lordship’s secretary he calls himself; but he’s really everything rolled into one⁠—like the man in the play.”

Ashe, searching in his dramatic memories for such a person in a play, inquired whether Miss Willoughby meant Pooh-Bah, in The Mikado of which there had been a revival in London recently. Miss Willoughby did mean Pooh-Bah.

“But Nosy Parker is what I call him,” she said. “He minds everybody’s business as well as his own.”

The last of the procession trickled into the steward’s room. Mr. Beach said grace somewhat patronizingly. The meal began.

“You’ve seen Miss Peters, of course, Mr. Marson?” said Miss Willoughby, resuming conversation with the soup.

“Just for a few minutes at Paddington.”

“Oh! You haven’t been with Mr. Peters long, then?”

Ashe began to wonder whether everybody he met was going to ask him this dangerous question.

“Only a day or so.”

“Where were you before that?”

Ashe was conscious of a prickly sensation. A little more of this and he might as well reveal his true mission at the castle and have done with it.

“Oh, I was⁠—that is to say⁠—”

“How are you feeling after the journey, Mr. Marson?” said a voice from the other side of the table; and Ashe, looking up gratefully, found Joan’s eyes looking into his with a curiously amused expression.

He was too grateful for the interruption to try to account for this. He replied that he was feeling very well, which was not the case. Miss Willoughby’s interest was diverted to a discussion of the defects of the various railroad systems of Great Britain.

At the head of the table Mr. Beach had started an intimate conversation with Mr. Ferris, the valet of Lord Stockheath, the Honorable Freddie’s “poor old Percy”⁠—a cousin, Ashe had gathered, of Aline Peters’ husband-to-be. The butler spoke in more measured tones even than usual, for he was speaking of tragedy.

“We were all extremely sorry, Mr. Ferris, to read of your misfortune.”

Ashe wondered what had been happening to Mr. Ferris.

“Yes, Mr. Beach,” replied the valet, “it’s a fact we made a pretty poor show.” He took a sip from his glass. “There is no concealing the fact⁠—I have never tried to conceal it⁠—that poor Percy is not bright.”

Miss Chester entered the conversation.

“I couldn’t see where the girl⁠—what’s her name?⁠—was so very pretty. All the papers had pieces where it said she was attractive, and whatnot; but she didn’t look anything special to me from her photograph in the Mirror. What his lordship could see in her I can’t understand.”

“The photo didn’t quite do her justice, Miss Chester. I was present in court, and I must admit she was svelte⁠—decidedly svelte. And you must recollect that Percy, from childhood up, has always been a highly susceptible young nut. I speak as one who knows him.”

Mr. Beach turned to Joan.

“We are speaking of the Stockheath breach-of-promise case, Miss Simpson, of which you doubtless read in the newspapers. Lord Stockheath is a nephew of ours. I fancy his lordship was greatly shocked at the occurrence.”

“He was,” chimed in Mr. Judson from down the table. “I happened to overhear him speaking of it to young Freddie. It was in the library on the morning when the judge made his final summing up and slipped it into Lord Stockheath so proper. ‘If ever anything of this sort happens to you, you young scalawag,’ he says to Freddie⁠—”

Mr. Beach coughed. “Mr. Judson!”

“Oh, it’s all right, Mr. Beach; we’re all in the family here, in a manner of speaking. It wasn’t as though I was telling it to a lot of outsiders. I’m sure none of these ladies or gentlemen will let it go beyond this room?”

The company murmured virtuous acquiescence.

“He says to Freddie: ‘You young scalawag, if ever anything of this sort happens to you, you can pack up and go off to Canada, for I’ll have nothing more to do with you!’⁠—or words to that effect. And Freddie says: ‘Oh, dash it all, gov’nor, you know⁠—what?’ ”

However short Mr. Judson’s imitation of his master’s voice may have fallen of histrionic perfection, it pleased the company. The room shook with mirth.

Mr. Judson is clever, isn’t he, Mr. Marson?” whispered Miss Willoughby, gazing with adoring eyes at the speaker.

Mr. Beach thought it expedient to deflect the conversation. By the unwritten law of the room every individual had the right to speak as freely as he wished about his own personal employer; but Judson, in his opinion, sometimes went a trifle too far.

“Tell me, Mr. Ferris,” he said, “does his lordship seem to bear it well?”

“Oh, Percy is bearing it well enough.”

Ashe noted as a curious fact that, though the actual valet of any person under discussion spoke of him almost affectionately by his Christian name, the rest of the company used the greatest ceremony and gave him his title with all respect. Lord Stockheath was Percy to Mr. Ferris, and the Honorable Frederick Threepwood was Freddie to Mr. Judson; but to Ferris, Mr. Judson’s Freddie was the Honorable Frederick, and to Judson Mr. Ferris’ Percy was Lord Stockheath. It was rather a pleasant form of etiquette, and struck Ashe as somehow vaguely feudal.

“Percy,” went on Mr. Ferris, “is bearing it like a little Briton⁠—the damages not having come out of his pocket! It’s his old father⁠—who had to pay them⁠—that’s taking it to heart. You might say he’s doing himself proud. He says it’s brought on his gout again, and that’s why he’s gone to Droitwich instead of coming here. I dare say Percy isn’t sorry.”

“It has been,” said Mr. Beach, summing up, “a most unfortunate occurrence. The modern tendency of the lower classes to get above themselves is becoming more marked every day. The young female in this case was, I understand, a barmaid. It is deplorable that our young men should allow themselves to get into such entanglements.”

“The wonder to me,” said the irrepressible Mr. Judson, “is that more of these young chaps don’t get put through it. His lordship wasn’t so wide of the mark when he spoke like that to Freddie in the library that time. I give you my word, it’s a mercy young Freddie hasn’t been up against it! When we were in London, Freddie and I,” he went on, cutting through Mr. Beach’s disapproving cough, “before what you might call the crash, when his lordship cut off supplies and had him come back and live here, Freddie was asking for it⁠—believe me! Fell in love with a girl in the chorus of one of the theaters. Used to send me to the stage door with notes and flowers every night for weeks, as regular as clockwork.

“What was her name? It’s on the tip of my tongue. Funny how you forget these things! Freddie was pretty far gone. I recollect once, happening to be looking round his room in his absence, coming on a poem he had written to her. It was hot stuff⁠—very hot! If that girl has kept those letters it’s my belief we shall see Freddie following in Lord Stockheath’s footsteps.”

There was a hush of delighted horror round the table.

“Goo’,” said Miss Chester’s escort with unction. “You don’t say so, Mr. Judson! It wouldn’t half make them look silly if the Honorable Frederick was sued for breach just now, with the wedding coming on!”

“There is no danger of that.”

It was Joan’s voice, and she had spoken with such decision that she had the ear of the table immediately. All eyes looked in her direction. Ashe was struck with her expression. Her eyes were shining as though she were angry; and there was a flush on her face. A phrase he had used in the train came back to him. She looked like a princess in disguise.

“What makes you say that, Miss Simpson?” inquired Judson, annoyed. He had been at pains to make the company’s flesh creep, and it appeared to be Joan’s aim to undo his work.

It seemed to Ashe that Joan made an effort of some sort as though she were pulling herself together and remembering where she was.

“Well,” she said, almost lamely, “I don’t think it at all likely that he proposed marriage to this girl.”

“You never can tell,” said Judson. “My impression is that Freddie did. It’s my belief that there’s something on his mind these days. Before he went to London with his lordship the other day he was behaving very strange. And since he came back it’s my belief that he has been brooding. And I happen to know he followed the affair of Lord Stockheath pretty closely, for he clipped the clippings out of the paper. I found them myself one day when I happened to be going through his things.”

Beach cleared his throat⁠—his mode of indicating that he was about to monopolize the conversation.

“And in any case, Miss Simpson,” he said solemnly, “with things come to the pass they have come to, and the juries⁠—drawn from the lower classes⁠—in the nasty mood they’re in, it don’t seem hardly necessary in these affairs for there to have been any definite promise of marriage. What with all this socialism rampant, they seem so happy at the idea of being able to do one of us an injury that they give heavy damages without it. A few ardent expressions, and that’s enough for them. You recollect the Havant case, and when young Lord Mount Anville was sued? What it comes to is that anarchy is getting the upper hand, and the lower classes are getting above themselves. It’s all these here cheap newspapers that does it. They tempt the lower classes to get above themselves.

“Only this morning I had to speak severe to that young fellow, James, the footman. He was a good young fellow once and did his work well, and had a proper respect for people; but now he’s gone all to pieces. And why? Because six months ago he had the rheumatism, and had the audacity to send his picture and a testimonial, saying that it had cured him of awful agonies, to Walkinshaw’s Supreme Ointment, and they printed it in half a dozen papers; and it has been the ruin of James. He has got above himself and don’t care for nobody.”

“Well, all I can say is,” resumed Judson, “that I hope to goodness nothing won’t happen to Freddie of that kind; for it’s not every girl that would have him.”

There was a murmur of assent to this truth.

“Now your Miss Peters,” said Judson tolerantly⁠—“she seems a nice little thing.”

“She would be pleased to hear you say so,” said Joan.

“Joan Valentine!” cried Judson, bringing his hands down on the tablecloth with a bang. “I’ve just remembered it. That was the name of the girl Freddie used to write the letters and poems to; and that’s who it is I’ve been trying all along to think you reminded me of, Miss Simpson. You’re the living image of Freddie’s Miss Joan Valentine.”

Ashe was not normally a young man of particularly ready wit; but on this occasion it may have been that the shock of this revelation, added to the fact that something must be done speedily if Joan’s discomposure was not to become obvious to all present, quickened his intelligence. Joan, usually so sure of herself, so ready of resource, had gone temporarily to pieces. She was quite white, and her eyes met Ashe’s with almost a hunted expression.

If the attention of the company was to be diverted, something drastic must be done. A mere verbal attempt to change the conversation would be useless. Inspiration descended on Ashe.

In the days of his childhood in Hayling, Massachusetts, he had played truant from Sunday school again and again in order to frequent the society of one Eddie Waffles, the official bad boy of the locality. It was not so much Eddie’s charm of conversation which had attracted him⁠—though that had been great⁠—as the fact that Eddie, among his other accomplishments, could give a lifelike imitation of two cats fighting in a back yard; and Ashe felt that he could never be happy until he had acquired this gift from the master.

In course of time he had done so. It might be that his absences from Sunday school in the cause of art had left him in later years a trifle shaky on the subject of the Kings of Judah, but his hard-won accomplishment had made him in request at every smoking concert at Oxford; and it saved the situation now.

“Have you ever heard two cats fighting in a back yard?” he inquired casually of his neighbor, Miss Willoughby.

The next moment the performance was in full swing. Young Master Waffles, who had devoted considerable study to his subject, had conceived the combat of his imaginary cats in a broad, almost Homeric, vein. The unpleasantness opened with a low gurgling sound, answered by another a shade louder and possibly more querulous. A momentary silence was followed by a long-drawn note, like rising wind, cut off abruptly and succeeded by a grumbling mutter. The response to this was a couple of sharp howls. Both parties to the contest then indulged in a discontented whining, growing louder and louder until the air was full of electric menace. And then, after another sharp silence, came war, noisy and overwhelming.

Standing at Master Waffles’ side, you could follow almost every movement of that intricate fray, and mark how now one and now the other of the battlers gained a short-lived advantage. It was a great fight. Shrewd blows were taken and given, and in the eye of the imagination you could see the air thick with flying fur. Louder and louder grew the din; and then, at its height, it ceased in one crescendo of tumult, and all was still, save for a faint, angry moaning.

Such was the cat fight of Master Eddie Waffles; and Ashe, though falling short of the master, as a pupil must, rendered it faithfully and with energy.

To say that the attention of the company was diverted from Mr. Judson and his remarks by the extraordinary noises which proceeded from Ashe’s lips would be to offer a mere shadowy suggestion of the sensation caused by his efforts. At first, stunned surprise, then consternation, greeted him. Beach, the butler, was staring as one watching a miracle, nearer apparently to apoplexy than ever. On the faces of the others every shade of emotion was to be seen.

That this should be happening in the steward’s room at Blandings Castle was scarcely less amazing than if it had taken place in a cathedral. The upper servants, rigid in their seats, looked at each other, like Cortes’ soldiers⁠—“with a wild surmise.”

The last faint moan of feline defiance died away and silence fell on the room. Ashe turned to Miss Willoughby.

“Just like that!” he said. “I was telling Miss Willoughby,” he added apologetically to Mrs. Twemlow, “about the cats in London. They were a great trial.”

For perhaps three seconds his social reputation swayed to and fro in the balance, while the company pondered on what he had done. It was new; but it was humorous⁠—or was it vulgar? There is nothing the English upper servant so abhors as vulgarity. That was what the steward’s room was trying to make up its mind about.

Then Miss Willoughby threw her shapely head back and the squeal of her laughter smote the ceiling. And at that the company made its decision. Everybody laughed. Everybody urged Ashe to give an encore. Everybody was his friend and admirer⁠—everybody but Beach, the butler. Beach, the butler, was shocked to his very core. His heavy-lidded eyes rested on Ashe with disapproval. It seemed to Beach, the butler, that this young man Marson had got above himself.

Ashe found Joan at his side. Dinner was over and the diners were making for the housekeeper’s room.

“Thank you, Mr. Marson. That was very good of you and very clever.” Her eyes twinkled. “But what a terrible chance you took! You have made yourself a popular success, but you might just as easily have become a social outcast. As it is, I am afraid Mr. Beach did not approve.”

“I’m afraid he didn’t. In a minute or so I’m going to fawn on him and make all well.”

Joan lowered her voice.

“It was quite true, what that odious little man said. Freddie Threepwood did write me letters. Of course I destroyed them long ago.”

“But weren’t you running the risk in coming here that he might recognize you? Wouldn’t that make it rather unpleasant for you?”

“I never met him, you see. He only wrote to me. When he came to the station to meet us this evening he looked startled to see me; so I suppose he remembers my appearance. But Aline will have told him that my name is Simpson.”

“That fellow Judson said he was brooding. I think you ought to put him out of his misery.”

Mr. Judson must have been letting his imagination run away with him. He is out of his misery. He sent a horrid fat man named Jones to see me in London about the letters, and I told him I had destroyed them. He must have let him know that by this time.”

“I see.”

They went into the housekeeper’s room. Mr. Beach was standing before the fire. Ashe went up to him. It was not an easy matter to mollify Mr. Beach. Ashe tried the most tempting topics. He mentioned swollen feet⁠—he dangled the lining of Mr. Beach’s stomach temptingly before his eyes; but the butler was not to be softened. Only when Ashe turned the conversation to the subject of the museum did a flicker of animation stir him.

Mr. Beach was fond and proud of the Blandings Castle museum. It had been the means of getting him into print for the first and only time in his life. A year before, a representative of the Intelligencer and Echo, from the neighboring town of Blatchford, had come to visit the castle on behalf of his paper; and he had begun one section of his article with the words: “Under the auspices of Mr. Beach, my genial cicerone, I then visited his lordship’s museum⁠—” Mr. Beach treasured the clipping in a special writing-desk.

He responded almost amiably to Ashe’s questions. Yes; he had seen the scarab⁠—he pronounced it scayrub⁠—which Mr. Peters had presented to his lordship. He understood that his lordship thought very highly of Mr. Peters’ scayrub. He had overheard Mr. Baxter telling his lordship that it was extremely valuable.

Mr. Beach,” said Ashe, “I wonder whether you would take me to see Lord Emsworth’s museum?”

Mr. Beach regarded him heavily.

“I shall be pleased to take you to see his lordship’s museum,” he replied.

One can attribute only to the nervous mental condition following the interview he had had with Ashe in his bedroom the rash act Mr. Peters attempted shortly after dinner.

Mr. Peters, shortly after dinner, was in a dangerous and reckless mood. He had had a wretched time all through the meal. The Blandings chef had extended himself in honor of the house party, and had produced a succession of dishes, which in happier days Mr. Peters would have devoured eagerly. To be compelled by considerations of health to pass these by was enough to damp the liveliest optimist. Mr. Peters had suffered terribly. Occasions of feasting and revelry like the present were for him so many battlefields, on which greed fought with prudence.

All through dinner he brooded on Ashe’s defiance and the horrors which were to result from that defiance. One of Mr. Peters’ most painful memories was of a two weeks’ visit he had once paid to Mr. Muldoon in his celebrated establishment at White Plains. He had been persuaded to go there by a brother millionaire whom, until then, he had always regarded as a friend. The memory of Mr. Muldoon’s cold shower baths and brisk system of physical exercise still lingered.

The thought that under Ashe’s rule he was to go through privately very much what he had gone through in the company of a gang of other unfortunates at Muldoon’s froze him with horror. He knew those health cranks who believed that all mortal ailments could be cured by cold showers and brisk walks. They were all alike and they nearly killed you. His worst nightmare was the one where he dreamed he was back at Muldoon’s, leading his horse up that endless hill outside the village.

He would not stand it! He would be hanged if he’d stand it! He would defy Ashe. But if he defied Ashe, Ashe would go away; and then whom could he find to recover his lost scarab?

Mr. Peters began to appreciate the true meaning of the phrase about the horns of a dilemma. The horns of this dilemma occupied his attention until the end of the dinner. He shifted uneasily from one to the other and back again. He rose from the table in a thoroughly overwrought condition of mind. And then, somehow, in the course of the evening, he found himself alone in the hall, not a dozen feet from the unlocked museum door.

It was not immediately that he appreciated the significance of this fact. He had come to the hall because its solitude suited his mood. It was only after he had finished a cigar⁠—Ashe could not stop his smoking after dinner⁠—that it suddenly flashed on him that he had ready at hand a solution of all his troubles. A brief minute’s resolute action and the scarab would be his again, and the menace of Ashe a thing of the past. He glanced about him. Yes; he was alone.

Not once since the removal of the scarab had begun to exercise his mind had Mr. Peters contemplated for an instant the possibility of recovering it himself. The prospect of the unpleasantness that would ensue had been enough to make him regard such an action as out of the question. The risk was too great to be considered for a moment; but here he was, in a position where the risk was negligible!

Like Ashe, he had always visualized the recovery of his scarab as a thing of the small hours, a daring act to be performed when sleep held the castle in its grip. That an opportunity would be presented to him of walking in quite calmly and walking out again with the Cheops in his pocket, had never occurred to him as a possibility.

Yet now this chance was presenting itself in all its simplicity, and all he had to do was to grasp it. The door of the museum was not even closed. He could see from where he stood that it was ajar.

He moved cautiously in its direction⁠—not in a straight line as one going to a museum, but circuitously as one strolling without an aim. From time to time he glanced over his shoulder. He reached the door, hesitated, and passed it. He turned, reached the door again⁠—and again passed it. He stood for a moment darting his eyes about the hall; then, in a burst of resolution, he dashed for the door and shot in like a rabbit.

At the same moment the Efficient Baxter, who, from the shelter of a pillar on the gallery that ran around two-thirds of the hall, had been eyeing the peculiar movements of the distinguished guest with considerable interest for some minutes, began to descend the stairs.

Rupert Baxter, the Earl of Emsworth’s indefatigable private secretary, was one of those men whose chief characteristic is a vague suspicion of their fellow human beings. He did not suspect them of this or that definite crime; he simply suspected them. He prowled through life as we are told the hosts of Midian prowled.

His powers in this respect were well-known at Blandings Castle. The Earl of Emsworth said: “Baxter is invaluable⁠—positively invaluable.” The Honorable Freddie said: “A chappie can’t take a step in this bally house without stumbling over that damn feller, Baxter!” The manservant and the maidservant within the gates, like Miss Willoughby, employing that crisp gift for characterization which is the property of the English lower orders, described him as a Nosy Parker.

Peering over the railing of the balcony and observing the curious movements of Mr. Peters, who, as a matter of fact, while making up his mind to approach the door, had been backing and filling about the hall in a quaint serpentine manner like a man trying to invent a new variety of the tango, the Efficient Baxter had found himself in some way⁠—why, he did not know⁠—of what, he could not say⁠—but in some nebulous way, suspicious.

He had not definitely accused Mr. Peters in his mind of any specific tort or malfeasance. He had merely felt that something fishy was toward. He had a sixth sense in such matters.

But when Mr. Peters, making up his mind, leaped into the museum, Baxter’s suspicions lost their vagueness and became crystallized. Certainty descended on him like a bolt from the skies. On oath, before a notary, the Efficient Baxter would have declared that J. Preston Peters was about to try to purloin the scarab.

Lest we should seem to be attributing too miraculous powers of intuition to Lord Emsworth’s secretary, it should be explained that the mystery which hung about that curio had exercised his mind not a little since his employer had given it to him to place in the museum. He knew Lord Emsworth’s power of forgetting and he did not believe his account of the transaction. Scarab maniacs like Mr. Peters did not give away specimens from their collections as presents. But he had not divined the truth of what had happened in London.

The conclusion at which he had arrived was that Lord Emsworth had bought the scarab and had forgotten all about it. To support this theory was the fact that the latter had taken his check book to London with him. Baxter’s long acquaintance with the earl had left him with the conviction that there was no saying what he might not do if left loose in London with a check book.

As to Mr. Peters’ motive for entering the museum, that, too, seemed completely clear to the secretary. He was a curio enthusiast himself and he had served collectors in a secretarial capacity; and he knew, both from experience and observation, that strange madness which may at any moment afflict the collector, blotting out morality and the nice distinction between meum and tuum, as with a sponge. He knew that collectors who would not steal a loaf if they were starving might⁠—and did⁠—fall before the temptation of a coveted curio.

He descended the stairs three at a time, and entered the museum at the very instant when Mr. Peters’ twitching fingers were about to close on his treasure. He handled the delicate situation with eminent tact. Mr. Peters, at the sound of his step, had executed a backward leap, which was as good as a confession of guilt, and his face was rigid with dismay; but the Efficient Baxter pretended not to notice these phenomena. His manner, when he spoke, was easy and unembarrassed.

“Ah! Taking a look at our little collection, Mr. Peters? You will see that we have given the place of honor to your Cheops. It is certainly a fine specimen⁠—a wonderfully fine specimen.”

Mr. Peters was recovering slowly. Baxter talked on, to give him time. He spoke of Mut and Bubastis, of Ammon and the Book of the Dead. He directed the other’s attention to the Roman coins.

He was touching on some aspects of the Princess Gilukhipa of Mitanni, in whom his hearer could scarcely fail to be interested, when the door opened and Beach, the butler, came in, accompanied by Ashe. In the bustle of the interruption Mr. Peters escaped, glad to be elsewhere, and questioning for the first time in his life the dictum that if you want a thing well done you must do it yourself.

“I was not aware, sir,” said Beach, the butler, “that you were in occupation of the museum. I would not have intruded; but this young man expressed a desire to examine the exhibits, and I took the liberty of conducting him.”

“Come in, Beach⁠—come in,” said Baxter.

The light fell on Ashe’s face, and he recognized him as the cheerful young man who had inquired the way to Mr. Peters’ room before dinner and who, he had by this time discovered, was not the Honorable Freddie’s friend, George Emerson⁠—or, indeed, any other of the guests of the house. He felt suspicious.

“Oh, Beach!”


“Just a moment.”

He drew the butler into the hall, out of earshot.

“Beach, who is that man?”

Mr. Peters’ valet, sir.”

Mr. Peters’ valet!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Has he been in service long?” asked Baxter, remembering that a mere menial had addressed him as “old man.”

Beach lowered his voice. He and the Efficient Baxter were old allies, and it seemed right to Beach to confide in him.

“He has only just joined Mr. Peters, sir; and he has never been in service before. He told me so himself, and I was unable to elicit from him any information as to his antecedents. His manner struck me, sir, as peculiar. It crossed my mind to wonder whether Mr. Peters happened to be aware of this. I should dislike to do any young man an injury; but it might be anyone coming to a gentleman without a character, like this young man. Mr. Peters might have been deceived, sir.”

The Efficient Baxter’s manner became distraught. His mind was working rapidly.

“Should he be informed, sir?”

“Eh! Who?”

Mr. Peters, sir⁠—in case he should have been deceived?”

“No, no; Mr. Peters knows his own business.”

“Far from me be it to appear officious, sir; but⁠—”

Mr. Peters probably knows all about him. Tell me, Beach, who was it suggested this visit to the museum? Did you?”

“It was at the young man’s express desire that I conducted him, sir.”

The Efficient Baxter returned to the museum without a word. Ashe, standing in the middle of the room, was impressing the topography of the place on his memory. He was unaware of the piercing stare of suspicion that was being directed at him from behind.

He did not see Baxter. He was not even thinking of Baxter; but Baxter was on the alert. Baxter was on the warpath. Baxter knew!