IX

As we grow older and realize more clearly the limitations of human happiness, we come to see that the only real and abiding pleasure in life is to give pleasure to other people. One must assume that the Efficient Baxter had not reached the age when this comes home to a man, for the fact that he had given genuine pleasure to some dozens of his fellow-men brought him no balm.

There was no doubt about the pleasure he had given. Once they had got over their disappointment at finding that he was not a dead burglar, the house party rejoiced wholeheartedly at the break in the monotony of life at Blandings Castle. Relations who had not been on speaking terms for years forgot their quarrels and strolled about the grounds in perfect harmony, abusing Baxter. The general verdict was that he was insane.

“Don’t tell me that young fellow’s all there,” said Colonel Horace Mant; “because I know better. Have you noticed his eye? Furtive! Shifty! Nasty gleam in it. Besides⁠—dash it!⁠—did you happen to take a look at the hall last night after he had been there? It was in ruins, my dear sir⁠—absolute dashed ruins. It was positively littered with broken china and tables that had been bowled over. Don’t tell me that was just an accidental collision in the dark.

“My dear sir, the man must have been thrashing about⁠—absolutely thrashing about, like a dashed salmon on a dashed hook. He must have had a paroxysm of some kind⁠—some kind of a dashed fit. A doctor could give you the name for it. It’s a well-known form of insanity. Paranoia⁠—isn’t that what they call it? Rush of blood to the head, followed by a general running amuck.

“I’ve heard fellows who have been in India talk of it. Natives get it. Don’t know what they’re doing, and charge through the streets taking cracks at people with dashed whacking great knives. Same with this young man, probably in a modified form at present. He ought to be in a home. One of these nights, if this grows on him, he will be massacring Emsworth in his bed.”

“My dear Horace!” The Bishop of Godalming’s voice was properly horror-stricken; but there was a certain unctuous relish in it.

“Take my word for it! Though, mind you, I don’t say they aren’t well suited. Everyone knows that Emsworth has been, to all practical intents and purposes, a dashed lunatic for years. What was it that young fellow Emerson, Freddie’s American friend, was saying, the other day about some acquaintance of his who is not quite right in the head? Nobody in the house⁠—is that it? Something to that effect, at any rate. I felt at the time it was a perfect description of Emsworth.”

“My dear Horace! Your father-in-law! The head of the family!”

“A dashed lunatic, my dear sir⁠—head of the family or no head of the family. A man as absentminded as he is has no right to call himself sane. Nobody in the house⁠—I recollect it now⁠—nobody in the house except gas, and that has not been turned on. That’s Emsworth!”

The Efficient Baxter, who had just left his presence, was feeling much the same about his noble employer. After a sleepless night he had begun at an early hour to try and corner Lord Emsworth in order to explain to him the true inwardness of last night’s happenings. Eventually he had tracked him to the museum, where he found him happily engaged in painting a cabinet of birds’ eggs. He was seated on a small stool, a large pot of red paint on the floor beside him, dabbing at the cabinet with a dripping brush. He was absorbed and made no attempt whatever to follow his secretary’s remarks.

For ten minutes Baxter gave a vivid picture of his vigil and the manner in which it had been interrupted.

“Just so; just so, my dear fellow,” said the earl when he had finished. “I quite understand. All I say is, if you do require additional food in the night let one of the servants bring it to your room before bedtime; then there will be no danger of these disturbances. There is no possible objection to your eating a hundred meals a day, my good Baxter, provided you do not rouse the whole house over them. Some of us like to sleep during the night.”

“But, Lord Emsworth! I have just explained⁠—It was not⁠—I was not⁠—”

“Never mind, my dear fellow; never mind. Why make such an important thing of it? Many people like a light snack before actually retiring. Doctors, I believe, sometimes recommend it. Tell me, Baxter, how do you think the museum looks now? A little brighter? Better for the dash of color? I think so. Museums are generally such gloomy places.”

“Lord Emsworth, may I explain once again?”

The earl looked annoyed.

“My dear Baxter, I have told you that there is nothing to explain. You are getting a little tedious. What a deep, rich red this is, and how clean new paint smells! Do you know, Baxter, I have been longing to mess about with paint ever since I was a boy! I recollect my old father beating me with a walking stick.⁠ ⁠… That would be before your time, of course. By the way, if you see Freddie, will you tell him I want to speak to him? He probably is in the smoking-room. Send him to me here.”

It was an overwrought Baxter who delivered the message to the Honorable Freddie, who, as predicted, was in the smoking-room, lounging in a deep armchair.

There are times when life presses hard on a man, and it pressed hard on Baxter now. Fate had played him a sorry trick. It had put him in a position where he had to choose between two courses, each as disagreeable as the other. He must either face a possible second fiasco like that of last night, or else he must abandon his post and cease to mount guard over his threatened treasure.

His imagination quailed at the thought of a repetition of last night’s horrors. He had been badly shaken by his collision with the table and even more so by the events that had followed it. Those revolver shots still rang in his ears.

It was probably the memory of those shots that turned the scale. It was unlikely he would again become entangled with a man bearing a tongue and the other things⁠—he had given up in despair the attempt to unravel the mystery of the tongue; it completely baffled him⁠—but it was by no means unlikely that if he spent another night in the gallery looking on the hall he might not again become a target for Lord Emsworth’s irresponsible firearm. Nothing, in fact, was more likely; for in the disturbed state of the public mind the slightest sound after nightfall would be sufficient cause for a fusillade.

He had actually overheard young Algernon Wooster telling Lord Stockheath he had a jolly good mind to sit on the stairs that night with a shotgun, because it was his opinion that there was a jolly sight more in this business than there seemed to be; and what he thought of the bally affair was that there was a gang of some kind at work, and that that feller⁠—what’s-his-name?⁠—that feller Baxter was some sort of an accomplice.

With these things in his mind Baxter decided to remain that night in the security of his bedroom. He had lost his nerve. He formed this decision with the utmost reluctance, for the thought of leaving the road to the museum clear for marauders was bitter in the extreme. If he could have overheard a conversation between Joan Valentine and Ashe Marson it is probable he would have risked Lord Emsworth’s revolver and the shotgun of the Honorable Algernon Wooster.

Ashe, when he met Joan and recounted the events of the night, at which Joan, who was a sound sleeper, had not been present, was inclined to blame himself as a failure. True, fate had been against him, but the fact remained that he had achieved nothing. Joan, however, was not of this opinion.

“You have done wonders,” she said. “You have cleared the way for me. That is my idea of real teamwork. I’m so glad now that we formed our partnership. It would have been too bad if I had got all the advantage of your work and had jumped in and deprived you of the reward. As it is, I shall go down and finish the thing off tonight with a clear conscience.”

“You can’t mean that you dream of going down to the museum tonight!”

“Of course I do.”

“But it’s madness!”

“On the contrary, tonight is the one night when there ought to be no risk at all.”

“After what happened last night?”

“Because of what happened last night. Do you imagine Mr. Baxter will dare to stir from his bed after that? If ever there was a chance of getting this thing finished, it will be tonight.”

“You’re quite right. I never looked at it in that way. Baxter wouldn’t risk a second disaster. I’ll certainly make a success of it this time.”

Joan raised her eyebrows.

“I don’t quite understand you, Mr. Marson. Do you propose to try to get the scarab tonight?”

“Yes. It will be as easy as⁠—”

“Are you forgetting that, by the terms of our agreement, it is my turn?”

“You surely don’t intend to hold me to that?”

“Certainly I do.”

“But, good heavens, consider my position! Do you seriously expect me to lie in bed while you do all the work, and then to take a half share in the reward?”

“I do.”

“It’s ridiculous!”

“It’s no more ridiculous than that I should do the same. Mr. Marson, there’s no use in our going over all this again. We settled it long ago.”

Joan refused to discuss the matter further, leaving Ashe in a condition of anxious misery comparable only to that which, as night began to draw near, gnawed the vitals of the Efficient Baxter.


Breakfast at Blandings Castle was an informal meal. There was food and drink in the long dining-hall for such as were energetic enough to come down and get it; but the majority of the house party breakfasted in their rooms, Lord Emsworth, whom nothing in the world would have induced to begin the day in the company of a crowd of his relations, most of whom he disliked, setting them the example.

When, therefore, Baxter, yielding to Nature after having remained awake until the early morning, fell asleep at nine o’clock, nobody came to rouse him. He did not ring his bell, so he was not disturbed; and he slept on until half past eleven, by which time, it being Sunday morning and the house party including one bishop and several of the minor clergy, most of the occupants of the place had gone off to church.

Baxter shaved and dressed hastily, for he was in state of nervous apprehension. He blamed himself for having lain in bed so long. When every minute he was away might mean the loss of the scarab, he had passed several hours in dreamy sloth. He had wakened with a presentiment. Something told him the scarab had been stolen in the night, and he wished now that he had risked all and kept guard.

The house was very quiet as he made his way rapidly to the hall. As he passed a window he perceived Lord Emsworth, in an un-Sabbatarian suit of tweeds and bearing a garden fork⁠—which must have pained the bishop⁠—bending earnestly over a flower bed; but he was the only occupant of the grounds, and indoors there was a feeling of emptiness. The hall had that Sunday-morning air of wanting to be left to itself, and disapproving of the entry of anything human until lunch time, which can be felt only by a guest in a large house who remains at home when his fellows have gone to church.

The portraits on the walls, especially the one of the Countess of Emsworth in the character of Venus rising from the sea, stared at Baxter as he entered, with cold reproof. The very chairs seemed distant and unfriendly; but Baxter was in no mood to appreciate their attitude. His conscience slept. His mind was occupied, to the exclusion of all other things, by the scarab and its probable fate. How disastrously remiss it had been of him not to keep guard last night! Long before he opened the museum door he was feeling the absolute certainty that the worst had happened.

It had. The card which announced that here was an Egyptian scarab of the reign of Cheops of the Fourth Dynasty, presented by J. Preston Peters, Esquire, still lay on the cabinet in its wonted place; but now its neat lettering was false and misleading. The scarab was gone.


For all that he had expected this, for all his premonition of disaster, it was an appreciable time before the Efficient Baxter rallied from the blow. He stood transfixed, goggling at the empty place.

Then his mind resumed its functions. All, he perceived, was not yet lost. Baxter the watchdog must retire, to be succeeded by Baxter the sleuthhound. He had been unable to prevent the theft of the scarab, but he might still detect the thief.

For the Doctor Watsons of this world, as opposed to the Sherlock Holmeses, success in the province of detective work must always be, to a very large extent, the result of luck. Sherlock Holmes can extract a clue from a wisp of straw or a flake of cigar ash; but Doctor Watson has to have it taken out for him and dusted, and exhibited clearly, with a label attached.

The average man is a Doctor Watson. We are wont to scoff in a patronizing manner at that humble follower of the great investigator; but as a matter of fact we should have been just as dull ourselves. We should not even have risen to the modest height of a Scotland Yard bungler.

Baxter was a Doctor Watson. What he wanted was a clue; but it is so hard for the novice to tell what is a clue and what is not. And then he happened to look down⁠—and there on the floor was a clue that nobody could have overlooked.

Baxter saw it, but did not immediately recognize it for what it was. What he saw, at first, was not a clue, but just a mess. He had a tidy soul and abhorred messes, and this was a particularly messy mess. A considerable portion of the floor was a sea of red paint. The can from which it had flowed was lying on its side⁠—near the wall. He had noticed that the smell of paint had seemed particularly pungent, but had attributed this to a new freshet of energy on the part of Lord Emsworth. He had not perceived that paint had been spilled.

“Pah!” said Baxter.

Then suddenly, beneath the disguise of the mess, he saw the clue. A footmark! No less. A crimson footmark on the polished wood! It was as clear and distinct as though it had been left there for the purpose of assisting him. It was a feminine footmark, the print of a slim and pointed shoe.

This perplexed Baxter. He had looked on the siege of the scarab as an exclusively male affair. But he was not perplexed long. What could be simpler than that Mr. Peters should have enlisted female aid? The female of the species is more deadly than the male. Probably she makes a better purloiner of scarabs. At any rate, there the footprint was, unmistakably feminine.

Inspiration came to him. Aline Peters had a maid! What more likely than that secretly she should be a hireling of Mr. Peters, on whom he had now come to look as a man of the blackest and most sinister character? Mr. Peters was a collector; and when a collector makes up his mind to secure a treasure, he employs, Baxter knew, every possible means to that end.

Baxter was now in a state of great excitement. He was hot on the scent and his brain was working like a buzz saw in an ice box. According to his reasoning, if Aline Peters’ maid had done this thing there should be red paint in the hall marking her retreat, and possibly a faint stain on the stairs leading to the servants’ bedrooms.

He hastened from the museum and subjected the hall to a keen scrutiny. Yes; there was red paint on the carpet. He passed through the green-baize door and examined the stairs. On the bottom step there was a faint but conclusive stain of crimson!

He was wondering how best to follow up this clue when he perceived Ashe coming down the stairs. Ashe, like Baxter, and as the result of a night disturbed by anxious thoughts, had also overslept himself.

There are moments when the giddy excitement of being right on the trail causes the amateur⁠—or Watsonian⁠—detective to be incautious. If Baxter had been wise he would have achieved his object⁠—the getting a glimpse of Joan’s shoes⁠—by a devious and snaky route. As it was, zeal getting the better of prudence, he rushed straight on. His early suspicion of Ashe had been temporarily obscured. Whatever Ashe’s claims to be a suspect, it had not been his footprint Baxter had seen in the museum.

“Here, you!” said the Efficient Baxter excitedly.

“Sir?”

“The shoes!”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I wish to see the servants’ shoes. Where are they?”

“I expect they have them on, sir.”

“Yesterday’s shoes, man⁠—yesterday’s shoes. Where are they?”

“Where are the shoes of yesteryear?” murmured Ashe. “I should say at a venture, sir, that they would be in a large basket somewhere near the kitchen. Our genial knife-and-shoe boy collects them, I believe, at early dawn.”

“Would they have been cleaned yet?”

“If I know the lad, sir⁠—no.”

“Go and bring that basket to me. Bring it to me in this room.”


The room to which he referred was none other than the private sanctum of Mr. Beach, the butler, the door of which, standing open, showed it to be empty. It was not Baxter’s plan, excited as he was, to risk being discovered sifting shoes in the middle of a passage in the servants’ quarters.

Ashe’s brain was working rapidly as he made for the shoe cupboard, that little den of darkness and smells, where Billy, the knife-and-shoe boy, better known in the circle in which he moved as Young Bonehead, pursued his menial tasks. What exactly was at the back of the Efficient Baxter’s mind prompting these maneuvers he did not know; but that there was something he was certain.

He had not yet seen Joan this morning, and he did not know whether or not she had carried out her resolve of attempting to steal the scarab on the previous night; but this activity and mystery on the part of their enemy must have some sinister significance. He gathered up the shoe basket thoughtfully. He staggered back with it and dumped it down on the floor of Mr. Beach’s room. The Efficient Baxter stooped eagerly over it. Ashe, leaning against the wall, straightened the creases in his clothes and flicked disgustedly at an inky spot which the journey had transferred from the basket to his coat.

“We have here, sir,” he said, “a fair selection of our various foot coverings.”

“You did not drop any on your way?”

“Not one, sir.”

The Efficient Baxter uttered a grunt of satisfaction and bent once more to his task. Shoes flew about the room. Baxter knelt on the floor beside the basket, and dug like a terrier at a rat hole. At last he made a find and with an exclamation of triumph rose to his feet. In his hand he held a shoe.

“Put those back,” he said.

Ashe began to pick up the scattered footgear.

“That’s the lot, sir,” he said, rising.

“Now come with me. Leave the basket there. You can carry it back when you return.”

“Shall I put back that shoe, sir?”

“Certainly not. I shall take this one with me.”

“Shall I carry it for you, sir?”

Baxter reflected.

“Yes. I think that would be best.”

Trouble had shaken his nerve. He was not certain that there might not be others besides Lord Emsworth in the garden; and it occurred to him that, especially after his reputation for eccentric conduct had been so firmly established by his misfortunes that night in the hall, it might cause comment should he appear before them carrying a shoe.

Ashe took the shoe and, doing so, understood what before had puzzled him. Across the toe was a broad splash of red paint. Though he had nothing else to go on, he saw all. The shoe he held was a female shoe. His own researches in the museum had made him aware of the presence there of red paint. It was not difficult to build up on these data a pretty accurate estimate of the position of affairs.

“Come with me,” said Baxter.

He left the room. Ashe followed him.

In the garden Lord Emsworth, garden fork in hand, was dealing summarily with a green young weed that had incautiously shown its head in the middle of a flower bed. He listened to Baxter’s statement with more interest than he usually showed in anybody’s statements. He resented the loss of the scarab, not so much on account of its intrinsic worth as because it had been the gift of his friend Mr. Peters.

“Indeed!” he said, when Baxter had finished. “Really? Dear me! It certainly seems⁠—It is extremely suggestive. You are certain there was red paint on this shoe?”

“I have it with me. I brought it on purpose to show you.” He looked at Ashe, who stood in close attendance. “The shoe!”

Lord Emsworth polished his glasses and bent over the exhibit.

“Ah!” he said. “Now let me look at⁠—This, you say, is the⁠—Just so; just so! Just⁠—My dear Baxter, it may be that I have not examined this shoe with sufficient care, but⁠—Can you point out to me exactly where this paint is that you speak of?”

The Efficient Baxter stood staring at the shoe with wild, fixed stare. Of any suspicion of paint, red or otherwise, it was absolutely and entirely innocent!

The shoe became the center of attraction, the center of all eyes. The Efficient Baxter fixed it with the piercing glare of one who feels that his brain is tottering. Lord Emsworth looked at it with a mildly puzzled expression. Ashe Marson examined it with a sort of affectionate interest, as though he were waiting for it to do a trick of some kind. Baxter was the first to break the silence.

“There was paint on this shoe,” he said vehemently. “I tell you there was a splash of red paint across the toe. This man here will bear me out in this. You saw paint on this shoe?”

“Paint, sir?”

“What! Do you mean to tell me you did not see it?”

“No, sir; there was no paint on this shoe.”

“This is ridiculous. I saw it with my own eyes. It was a broad splash right across the toe.”

Lord Emsworth interposed.

“You must have made a mistake, my dear Baxter. There is certainly no trace of paint on this shoe. These momentary optical delusions are, I fancy, not uncommon. Any doctor will tell you⁠—”

“I had an aunt, your lordship,” said Ashe chattily, “who was remarkably subject⁠—”

“It is absurd! I cannot have been mistaken,” said Baxter. “I am positively certain the toe of this shoe was red when I found it.”

“It is quite black now, my dear Baxter.”

“A sort of chameleon shoe,” murmured Ashe.

The goaded secretary turned on him.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing, sir.”

Baxter’s old suspicion of this smooth young man came surging back to him.

“I strongly suspect you of having had something to do with this.”

“Really, Baxter,” said the earl, “that is surely the least probable of solutions. This young man could hardly have cleaned the shoe on his way from the house. A few days ago, when painting in the museum, I inadvertently splashed some paint on my own shoe. I can assure you it does not brush off. It needs a very systematic cleaning before all traces are removed.”

“Exactly, your lordship,” said Ashe. “My theory, if I may⁠—”

“Yes?”

“My theory, your lordship, is that Mr. Baxter was deceived by the light-and-shade effects on the toe of the shoe. The morning sun, streaming in through the window, must have shone on the shoe in such a manner as to give it a momentary and fictitious aspect of redness. If Mr. Baxter recollects, he did not look long at the shoe. The picture on the retina of the eye consequently had not time to fade. I myself remember thinking at the moment that the shoe appeared to have a certain reddish tint. The mistake⁠—”

“Bah!” said Baxter shortly.

Lord Emsworth, now thoroughly bored with the whole affair and desiring nothing more than to be left alone with his weeds and his garden fork, put in his word. Baxter, he felt, was curiously irritating these days. He always seemed to be bobbing up. The Earl of Emsworth was conscious of a strong desire to be free from his secretary’s company. He was efficient, yes⁠—invaluable indeed⁠—he did not know what he should do without Baxter; but there was no denying that his company tended after a while to become a trifle tedious. He took a fresh grip on his garden fork and shifted it about in the air as a hint that the interview had lasted long enough.

“It seems to me, my dear fellow,” he said, “the only explanation that will square with the facts. A shoe that is really smeared with red paint does not become black of itself in the course of a few minutes.”

“You are very right, your lordship,” said Ashe approvingly. “May I go now, your lordship?”

“Certainly⁠—certainly; by all means.”

“Shall I take the shoe with me, your lordship?”

“If you do not want it, Baxter.”

The secretary passed the fraudulent piece of evidence to Ashe without a word; and the latter, having included both gentlemen in a kindly smile, left the garden.

On returning to the butler’s room, Ashe’s first act was to remove a shoe from the top of the pile in the basket. He was about to leave the room with it, when the sound of footsteps in the passage outside halted him.

“I do not in the least understand why you wish me to come here, my dear Baxter,” said a voice, “and you are completely spoiling my morning, but⁠—”

For a moment Ashe was at a loss. It was a crisis that called for swift action, and it was a little hard to know exactly what to do. It had been his intention to carry the paint-splashed shoe back to his own room, there to clean it at his leisure; but it appeared that his strategic line of retreat was blocked. Plainly, the possibility⁠—nay, the certainty⁠—that Ashe had substituted another shoe for the one with the incriminating splash of paint on it had occurred to the Efficient Baxter almost directly the former had left the garden.

The window was open. Ashe looked out. There were bushes below. It was a makeshift policy, and one which did not commend itself to him as the ideal method, but it seemed the only thing to be done, for already the footsteps had reached the door. He threw the shoe out of window, and it sank beneath the friendly surface of the long grass round a wisteria bush.

Ashe turned, relieved, and the next moment the door opened and Baxter walked in, accompanied⁠—with obvious reluctance⁠—by his bored employer.

Baxter was brisk and peremptory.

“I wish to look at those shoes again,” he said coldly.

“Certainly, sir,” said Ashe.

“I can manage without your assistance,” said Baxter.

“Very good, sir.”

Leaning against the wall, Ashe watched him with silent interest, as he burrowed among the contents of the basket, like a terrier digging for rats. The Earl of Emsworth took no notice of the proceedings. He yawned plaintively, and pottered about the room. He was one of Nature’s potterers.

The scrutiny of the man whom he had now placed definitely as a malefactor irritated Baxter. Ashe was looking at him in an insufferably tolerant manner, as if he were an indulgent father brooding over his infant son while engaged in some childish frolic. He lodged a protest.

“Don’t stand there staring at me!”

“I was interested in what you were doing, sir.”

“Never mind! Don’t stare at me in that idiotic way.”

“May I read a book, sir?”

“Yes, read if you like.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Ashe took a volume from the butler’s slenderly stocked shelf. The shoe-expert resumed his investigations in the basket. He went through it twice, but each time without success. After the second search he stood up and looked wildly about the room. He was as certain as he could be of anything that the missing piece of evidence was somewhere within those four walls. There was very little cover in the room, even for so small a fugitive as a shoe. He raised the tablecloth and peered beneath the table.

“Are you looking for Mr. Beach, sir?” said Ashe. “I think he has gone to church.”

Baxter, pink with his exertions, fastened a baleful glance upon him.

“You had better be careful,” he said.

At this point the Earl of Emsworth, having done all the pottering possible in the restricted area, yawned like an alligator.

“Now, my dear Baxter⁠—” he began querulously.

Baxter was not listening. He was on the trail. He had caught sight of a small closet in the wall, next to the mantelpiece, and it had stimulated him.

“What is in this closet?”

“That closet, sir?”

“Yes, this closet.” He rapped the door irritably.

“I could not say, sir. Mr. Beach, to whom the closet belongs, possibly keeps a few odd trifles there. A ball of string, perhaps. Maybe an old pipe or something of that kind. Probably nothing of value or interest.”

“Open it.”

“It appears to be locked, sir⁠—”

“Unlock it.”

“But where is the key?”

Baxter thought for a moment.

“Lord Emsworth,” he said, “I have my reasons for thinking that this man is deliberately keeping the contents of this closet from me. I am convinced that the shoe is in there. Have I your leave to break open the door?”

The earl looked a little dazed, as if he were unequal to the intellectual pressure of the conversation.

“Now, my dear Baxter,” said the earl impatiently, “please tell me once again why you have brought me in here. I cannot make head or tail of what you have been saying. Apparently you accuse this young man of keeping his shoes in a closet. Why should you suspect him of keeping his shoes in a closet? And if he wishes to do so, why on earth should not he keep his shoes in a closet? This is a free country.”

“Exactly, your lordship,” said Ashe approvingly. “You have touched the spot.”

“It all has to do with the theft of your scarab, Lord Emsworth. Somebody got into the museum and stole the scarab.”

“Ah, yes; ah, yes⁠—so they did. I remember now. You told me. Bad business that, my dear Baxter. Mr. Peters gave me that scarab. He will be most deucedly annoyed if it’s lost. Yes, indeed.”

“Whoever stole it upset the can of red paint and stepped in it.”

“Devilish careless of them. It must have made the dickens of a mess. Why don’t people look where they are walking?”

“I suspect this man of shielding the criminal by hiding her shoe in this closet.”

“Oh, it’s not his own shoes that this young man keeps in closets?”

“It is a woman’s shoe, Lord Emsworth.”

“The deuce it is! Then it was a woman who stole the scarab? Is that the way you figure it out? Bless my soul, Baxter, one wonders what women are coming to nowadays. It’s all this movement, I suppose. The Vote, and all that⁠—eh? I recollect having a chat with the Marquis of Petersfield some time ago. He is in the Cabinet, and he tells me it is perfectly infernal the way these women carry on. He said sometimes it got to such a pitch, with them waving banners and presenting petitions, and throwing flour and things at a fellow, that if he saw his own mother coming toward him, with a hand behind her back, he would run like a rabbit. Told me so himself.”

“So,” said the Efficient Baxter, cutting in on the flow of speech, “what I wish to do is to break open this closet.”

“Eh? Why?”

“To get the shoe.”

“The shoe?⁠ ⁠… Ah, yes, I recollect now. You were telling me.”

“If your lordship has no objection.”

“Objection, my dear fellow? None in the world. Why should I have any objection? Let me see! What is it you wish to do?”

“This,” said Baxter shortly.

He seized the poker from the fireplace and delivered two rapid blows on the closet door. The wood was splintered. A third blow smashed the flimsy lock. The closet, with any skeletons it might contain, was open for all to view.

It contained a corkscrew, a box of matches, a paper-covered copy of a book entitled Mary, the Beautiful Mill-Hand, a bottle of embrocation, a spool of cotton, two pencil-stubs, and other useful and entertaining objects. It contained, in fact, almost everything except a paint-splashed shoe, and Baxter gazed at the collection in dumb disappointment.

“Are you satisfied now, my dear Baxter,” said the earl, “or is there any more furniture that you would like to break? You know, this furniture breaking is becoming a positive craze with you, my dear fellow. You ought to fight against it. The night before last, I don’t know how many tables broken in the hall; and now this closet. You will ruin me. No purse can stand the constant drain.”

Baxter did not reply. He was still trying to rally from the blow. A chance remark of Lord Emsworth’s set him off on the trail once more. Lord Emsworth, having said his say, had dismissed the affair from his mind and begun to potter again. The course of his pottering had brought him to the fireplace, where a little pile of soot on the fender caught his eye. He bent down to inspect it.

“Dear me!” he said. “I must remember to tell Beach to have his chimney swept. It seems to need it badly.”

No trumpet-call ever acted more instantaneously on old warhorse than this simple remark on the Efficient Baxter. He was still convinced that Ashe had hidden the shoe somewhere in the room, and, now that the closet had proved an alibi, the chimney was the only spot that remained unsearched. He dived forward with a rush, nearly knocking Lord Emsworth off his feet, and thrust an arm up into the unknown. The startled peer, having recovered his balance, met Ashe’s respectfully pitying gaze.

“We must humor him,” said the gaze, more plainly than speech.

Baxter continued to grope. The chimney was a roomy chimney, and needed careful examination. He wriggled his hand about clutchingly. From time to time soot fell in gentle showers.

“My dear Baxter!”

Baxter was baffled. He withdrew his hand from the chimney, and straightened himself. He brushed a bead of perspiration from his face with the back of his hand. Unfortunately, he used the sooty hand, and the result was too much for Lord Emsworth’s politeness. He burst into a series of pleased chuckles.

“Your face, my dear Baxter! Your face! It is positively covered with soot⁠—positively! You must go and wash it. You are quite black. Really, my dear fellow, you present rather an extraordinary appearance. Run off to your room.”

Against this crowning blow the Efficient Baxter could not stand up. It was the end.

“Soot!” he murmured weakly. “Soot!”

“Your face is covered, my dear fellow⁠—quite covered.”

“It certainly has a faintly sooty aspect, sir,” said Ashe.

His voice roused the sufferer to one last flicker of spirit.

“You will hear more of this,” he said. “You will⁠—”

At this moment, slightly muffled by the intervening door and passageway, there came from the direction of the hall a sound like the delivery of a ton of coal. A heavy body bumped down the stairs, and a voice which all three recognized as that of the Honorable Freddie uttered an oath that lost itself in a final crash and a musical splintering sound, which Baxter for one had no difficulty in recognizing as the dissolution of occasional china.

Even if they had not so able a detective as Baxter with them, Lord Emsworth and Ashe would have been at no loss to guess what had happened. Doctor Watson himself could have deduced it from the evidence. The Honorable Freddie had fallen downstairs.


With a little ingenuity this portion of the story of Mr. Peters’ scarab could be converted into an excellent tract, driving home the perils, even in this world, of absenting one’s self from church on Sunday morning. If the Honorable Freddie had gone to church he would not have been running down the great staircase at the castle at this hour; and if he had not been running down the great staircase at the castle at that hour he would not have encountered Muriel.

Muriel was a Persian cat belonging to Lady Ann Warblington. Lady Ann had breakfasted in bed and lain there late, as she rather fancied she had one of her sick headaches coming on. Muriel had left her room in the wake of the breakfast tray, being anxious to be present at the obsequies of a fried sole that had formed Lady Ann’s simple morning meal, and had followed the maid who bore it until she had reached the hall.

At this point the maid, who disliked Muriel, stopped and made a noise like an exploding pop bottle, at the same time taking a little run in Muriel’s direction and kicking at her with a menacing foot. Muriel, wounded and startled, had turned in her tracks and sprinted back up the staircase at the exact moment when the Honorable Freddie, who for some reason was in a great hurry, ran lightly down.

There was an instant when Freddie could have saved himself by planting a number-ten shoe on Muriel’s spine, but even in that crisis he bethought him that he hardly stood solid enough with the authorities to risk adding to his misdeeds the slaughter of his aunt’s favorite cat, and he executed a rapid swerve. The spared cat proceeded on her journey upstairs, while Freddie, touching the staircase at intervals, went on down.

Having reached the bottom, he sat amid the occasional china, like Marius among the ruins of Carthage, and endeavored to ascertain the extent of his injuries. He had a dazed suspicion that he was irretrievably fractured in a dozen places. It was in this attitude that the rescue party found him. He gazed up at them with silent pathos.

“In the name of goodness, Frederick,” said Lord Emsworth peevishly, “what do you imagine you are doing?”

Freddie endeavored to rise, but sank back again with a stifled howl.

“It was that bally cat of Aunt Ann’s,” he said. “It came legging it up the stairs. I think I’ve broken my leg.”

“You have certainly broken everything else,” said his father unsympathetically. “Between you and Baxter, I wonder there’s a stick of furniture standing in the house.”

“Thanks, old chap,” said Freddie gratefully as Ashe stepped forward and lent him an arm. “I think my bally ankle must have got twisted. I wish you would give me a hand up to my room.”

“And, Baxter, my dear fellow,” said Lord Emsworth, “you might telephone to Doctor Bird, in Market Blandings, and ask him to be good enough to drive out. I am sorry, Freddie,” he added, “that you should have met with this accident; but⁠—but everything is so⁠—so disturbing nowadays that I feel⁠—I feel most disturbed.”

Ashe and the Honorable Freddie began to move across the hall⁠—Freddie hopping, Ashe advancing with a sort of polka step. As they reached the stairs there was a sound of wheels outside and the vanguard of the house party, returned from church, entered the house.

“It’s all very well to give it out officially that Freddie has fallen downstairs and sprained his ankle,” said Colonel Horace Mant, discussing the affair with the Bishop of Godalming later in the afternoon; “but it’s my firm belief that that fellow Baxter did precisely as I said he would⁠—ran amuck and inflicted dashed frightful injuries on young Freddie. When I got into the house there was Freddie being helped up the stairs, while Baxter, with his face covered with soot, was looking after him with a sort of evil grin. What had he smeared his face with soot for, I should like to know, if he were perfectly sane?

“The whole thing is dashed fishy and mysterious and the sooner I can get Mildred safely out of the place, the better I shall be pleased. The fellow’s as mad as a hatter!”