This story is transcribed from the Washington Herald Literary Magazine dated
February 27, 1910. It was discovered by John Dawson. The archives at the
Library of Congress had the first page, but unfortunately whoever had scanned
the paper had missed the rest of the story which appeared on a different page.
In what is now probably a well-known story, a group of PGW enthusuasts
swung into action, and Lynn Vesley-Gross and others were instrumental in
tracking down the missing page and bringing the whole story to light.
It was printed in the Sunday Times on December 28, 2008. It has also appeared
in The Strand Magazine (Feb–May 2009).
And now, thanks to the efforts of John, the Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate, contacted through the good offices of Tony Ring, have granted MadamEulalie.org permission to put the story on this website. We would like to express our gratitude to the Trustees, and make it known to all that:
This story is reproduced with the support of the Trustees of the P G Wodehouse Literary Estate.
“HIS lordship wishes to see you, Mr. Keeling.”
Keeling, butler to the Earl of Drexdale, rose slowly from the chair in which he had been enjoying his afternoon sleep, and toddled off down the passage. The footman who had brought the message watched him pass through the red-barge door which marked the boundary of the servants’ quarters.
“Jane,” he said to one of the housemaids who had appeared from nowhere, “ ’ow old is old Keeling?”
“Blessed if I know,” said Jane, “I’ve been here since I was a little bit of a slip of a thing, and he was just the same then.”
“Poor old feller.”
“Why poor old feller?”
“ ’Cos he’s got to go see his lordship.”
“Is his lordship in one of his moods, Tom?”
“His lordship,” said Tom with emphasis, “is in about eighteen of ’em at once.”
The guide-books were wont to assert that the most interesting sight to be seen at Drexdale Castle was the thirteenth century crypt. They were wrong. To the really thoughtful visitor the chief object of interest was Keeling. As a matter of fact Keeling looked a good deal older than the crypt. His air of antiquity and permanence was more marked. Nobody—not even James, the head gardener, who had been at the castle for twenty-five years, knew when he had first come to the place. When James was a sprightly young gardener’s boy, Keeling had been exactly the same, so James asserted, as he was now. Keeling was not a mere butler. He was an heirloom, a part of the estate. It was believed that he knew more about the history of the Drexdale family than any man living. It was his hobby. He worshipped the Drexdale blood. He knew the family history back to the days of Edward the Confessor. He dated events by the length of time that had elapsed since the present earl had fallen downstairs and broken his ankle or the eleventh earl had fought furiously with his small brother in the stable loft over a disputed guinea-pig. The faithful old servant of the melodramas was a parvenu compared to Keeling. Footmen might come and footmen might go, but he went on forever.
Having negotiated the distance to his lordship’s study at his best pace—for a summons to the presence in the afternoon meant that important matters were toward—Keeling tapped upon the door. A querulous bellow from within bade him enter.
John, twelfth Earl of Drexdale, was seated in an armchair by the window. He was a short, red-faced man, inclined to stoutness. He wore a ragged grey beard. Those who knew Keeling’s devotion to the proud name of the Drexdales often wondered what his opinion of the present earl might be. Both as regarded manners and appearance Lord Drexdale would have made an excellent bookmaker or publican. In his youth his position and the blameless reputation of his father, a cabinet minister and famous philanthropist, had led society to welcome him with a friendly smile. The friendly smile had changed to a blank stare within the space of four years, and now the best the society papers could find to call him was “that well known sporting peer.” Which was a polite way of intimating that his friends and associates today were the scum of the race course.
BUT whatever Keeling’s views may have been, he confided them to none. A Drexdale, however far he might have fallen from the Drexdale standard, was a sacred subject, immune to criticism.
“Come in, can’t you? Shut the door. Don’t stand there half in and half out, gaping at me like a fish. Ah!”
The last remark was elicited by a sudden twinge of pain in the foot which rested, swathed in bandages, on a pile of cushions, for his lordship was suffering from one of his frequent attacks of gout.
“Your lordship wished to see me?”
“Of course I wished to see you. For Heaven’s sake, man, can’t you close your mouth? Is it absolutely necessary for you to gape at me like that? That’s better. Keeling, I want you to go up to London by the first train tomorrow.”
“To London, your lordship?”
“Yes, London. You’ve heard of the place, I suppose? Here, read this letter. This will explain. Curse the young fool. I might have known he would be making an idiot of himself if I left him out of my sight. Read it. It’s from Colonel Brant, who was here for the shooting last year.”
Keeling took the letter, and fumbled in his pocket for his spectacles, Lord Drexdale watching his maneuvres with growing impatience.
“Damn it, man,” he broke out, “I can’t wait all day. Give me the letter. I’ll read it to you. It’s about Lionel.”
KEELING bowed. The Hon. Lionel, only son of the earl, was a pale, nervous young man who had been bullied through a sickly boyhood by his father and was now drifting aimlessly about London. Keeling, who had known him from his cradle, had an affection for him apart from the fact that he was a Drexdale. Lionel was quiet and diffident, and quiet and diffidence were a welcome change from the common run of manners at the castle.
“This is what it says,” said Lord Drexdale, taking the letter. “I’ll skip the inquiries after my gout. Here is the part I want you to hear. ‘I think, if you feel well enough for the trip, I should run up to town for a day or two, if I were you. It might be just as well if you kept an eye on the hope of the Drexdales just now. Last night, after we had dined together at the club, Lionel, in a communicative mood, unbosomed himself to me. Not to break it gently, the young fool has fallen head over ears with a lady who, however attractive, is hardly in the rank of society, from which, I fancy, you would prefer the future Lady Drexdale to be drawn. To be exact, she is one of the performers in a sort of circus-spectacle which is now drawing the youth of the suburbs to Olympia. Lionel showed me her photograph. She seems to be deucedly good-looking, and I gather from Lionel that she rides magnificently. If these qualities are all you demand from your daughter-in-law, well and good. If not, you’d better come and stop the thing. I can’t help you. I sail tomorrow for Egypt. That is how the matter stands. The next move is with you. I hope your gout—’ Oh, never mind my gout. That’s all. And about enough. I can’t stir myself, with this infernal gout, and you’re the only man I know I can trust to look after the interests of the family. You may be a fool—don’t gape, man!—but I know you’ve got our interests at heart.”
“If I might suggest, your lordship—”
“Perhaps a telegram, directing Master Lionel to return—?”
Lord Drexdale jerked his head toward the table.
“Do you imagine I didn’t think of that? I wired the moment I got this letter. There’s his answer. He says he is very sorry, but he is in bed with a severe attack of tonsilitis, and his doctor forbids him to move. Tonsilitis! Bah! I expect he’s sitting in the six-penny gallery, cracking nuts and making sheep’s-eyes at the girl as she jumps though paper hoops.”
Keeling received this vivid piece of imagery in respectful silence.
“Catch the first train tomorrow, Keeling. Do you see? Do you see, man? Very well. Do what you think best. Use your discretion, if you have any. If the girl has to be bought off, buy her off. Never mind the figure. That’s all. I shall dine up here.”
Keeling bowed, and left the room.
THE atmosphere at the castle was always a trifle electric when his lordship had one of his attacks of gout, but the oldest inhabitant could not recall a more exciting hour than that which followed breakfast on the third day after Keeling’s departure. It was his lordship’s custom to read his “Sporting Life” (he subscribed to the “Times,” but he read the “Sporting Life”) immediately after that meal. On this morning, Tom, the footman, removing the breakfast things, was surprised to hear a sort of combination roar and groan proceed from his lordship. Looking up, he saw that the latter’s face was a rich purple, and that his eyes were bulging apoplectically. He was moving to offer assistance when the bulging eyes suddenly met his, and the earl, becoming aware of his presence, ordered him from the room with a stream of forceful words. Tom stood not upon the order of his going.
The paragraph which had disturbed his lordship so extremely was headed, “Interesting Wedding.” And, in his lordship’s opinion, that did not overstate the case. The paragraph ran as follows:
“A wedding of great interest to lovers of sport was solemnized yesterday at St. Andrew’s church, Walthamstow, when the Hon. Lionel Carr, only son of the Earl of Drexdale, the well known sporting peer, was quietly married to Margaret, daughter of Nathaniel J. Trenton of Austinville, Texas, U.S.A. Mr. Keeling, a friend of the bridegroom, acted as best man. The bride was given away by her father. Both Mr. Trenton and the Hon. Mrs. Carr are members of Colonel Wilberforce’s ‘Prairie Days’ company, now performing at Olympia, where the bride’s wonderful feats in the saddle have been attracting so much attention. After the ceremony the happy pair left in an automobile for Wales, where the honeymoon will be spent.”
At eleven o’clock precisely Lord Drexdale made a coherent remark—his first. That remark was “When Keeling returns, send him to me.”
In rehearsing scenes in our minds before they take place, we are apt to err chiefly as regards the attitude of the other party. We assign to him a certain deportment and allow our imaginations to run accordingly. Such scenes, as a rule, turn out otherwise than we had anticipated, owing to the other actor’s treatment of his role. Lord Drexdale made this mistake. Even when he had a clear conscience Keeling’s demeanor was wont to be humble. With this frightful burden on his soul, Lord Drexdale expected him to cringe. And he did not cringe.
The Keeling who entered the room at five-thirty that evening was subtly different from the Keeling who had left the castle three days before. His back seemed straighter. There was a curious light in his mild eye. Almost the light of battle. No good butler is ever perky. If he were perky, he would not be a good butler. But truth compels one to admit that Keeling, as he met the Basilick stare in his lordship’s protruding eyes, came as near to being perky as it is possible for a good butler to come.
“Well?” said Lord Drexdale in a calm-before-the-storm voice, which might have occasioned the boldest a tremor.
“Your lordship has read the announcement?”
Lord Drexdale’s feelings burst their dam. He spoke his mind. Years of acquaintance with turf circles had given him the power of expressing himself with a certain generous strength.
“You old fool!” he shouted. “You moth-eaten monument of imbecility. You stand there and calmly—You mummy! You dodderer! You—!”
“If your lordship—”
“What did you get out of it? What did they pay you? Eh? No! You’re too great a fool to be a knave. They twisted you round their fingers. They—”
“If your lordship will allow me—?”
“Well? Go on. If you’ve anything to say which will make your bungling seem better, say it. I shall be glad to listen. ’Pon my soul it will be worth hearing. Go on.”
“I acted for the best, your lordship.”
“Your lordship instructed me to use my discretion. Have I your lordship’s permission to explain?”
Lord Drexdale tugged at his grey beard. The action seemed to afford him a temporary relief. He nodded.
“I delivered your lordship’s wishes to Master Lionel immediately upon my arrival. Master Lionel declined to express an opinion. He took me to the place where the young lady was performing, and I am bound to say, your lordship, that I was greatly struck by her command of her horse. After the performance Master Lionel did me the honor of presenting me to her. I can assure your lordship that this young lady is most satisfactory in every respect. I feel confident that your lordship will have no reason to complain of the manner in which she fits her position.”
“Damn it, you talk as if you had been engaging a scullery-maid. Do you realize that this bounding, buck-jumping female will be Lady Drexdale one day?”
“They are extremely fond of each other, your lordship. The young lady seems devoted to Master Lionel.”
“Devoted!” A strand of the grey beard came away in Lord Drexdale’s hand.
“She is an extremely sensible, good-hearted young lady, your lordship. She was opposed all the time to marrying Master Lionel without your lordship’s consent. She had even persuaded Master Lionel on the point.”
“But apparently they changed their minds.”
“I induced them to do so, your lordship.”
“I induced them to do so.”
“Then—then.” His lordship stammered. “Then it was you—”
Keeling bowed gravely; and the storm broke out again. It was generally conceded at the castle that his lordship, when he started to deliver one of his militant harangues, did not leave out much. On this occasion he eclipsed himself. He rent Keeling. He savaged Keeling. He tore Keeling to shreds. The butler waited patiently for him to finish.
“And you can get out of here tonight,” concluded Lord Drexdale. “I don’t care if you had been with us for half a century. Out you go. That’s all. Shut the door after you.”
“I am to leave your lordship’s service?”
“You left it a minute ago. Get out.”
The light of battle shone in the butler’s eyes. The years rolled away from him. His voice shook.
LORD Drexdale started at the once familiar address. How many years had slipped by since Keeling had last called him Master Jack? And he looked just the same way now as he had looked then. Something—he could not say what—kept Lord Drexdale silent at that moment; and the butler went on, his voice growing stronger and fiercer as he spoke.
“Master Jack, listen to me. It’s sixty years, just sixty years next October, since I entered the service of the Drexdales. I was a bit of a boy then, and I helped in the stables. And my father, he was butler to his lordship your grandfather, he used to keep on telling me how the Drexdales were the greatest family in England and how, now I was in service at the castle, I must be a credit to them. He taught me to look up to the Drexdale name as if it was my own, and be proud of their history and their future as if they belonged to me. And when he died, I took his place, his lordship your father was the earl then, Master Jack. He was a proper Drexdale! He’d ha’ cut his right hand off, he would, for the sake of the name. Then he died, and you became master at the castle. You!” His voice rose higher. “You dragged the name down, Master Jack! You filled the castle with men who weren’t fit to chop wood for its fires. Do you think I didn’t feel it, seeing that scum sitting round the table, and waiting on ’em? Waiting on ’em! Do you think I didn’t feel it, reading of Lord Drexdale this and Lord Drexdale that in the papers, and seeing the name dragged in the mud? And then you marrying that cold, bloodless woman, caring for her no more than for the name. And Master Lionel born, all delicate and all. And his lordship your father a man who could hunt all day, and come in fresh as paint!” He stopped, shaking; then went on in a weaker voice. “When Master Lionel showed me this girl he’s married, I says to myself, ‘You’ll do!’ I says, ‘It isn’t rank the Drexdales want, nor it isn’t money. It’s health. Body and mind. Then maybe the next Drexdale will be a Drexdale. She’s not one of your London society girls. She’s a woman, she is. She’s got blood in her, she has. She—”
His voice trailed away into a whisper. His hand went up to his throat. He turned half round, groping for the door, and fell with a crash.
Lord Drexdale, gouty foot and all, flew from his chair and tugged at the bell.
THE concluding passage, the postscript as it were, to this episode in the history of an ancient family may be said to be dated at about five o’clock on a spring evening some eighteen months later, when Keeling, still butler to the Earl of Drexdale, might have been observed to toddle along the corridor and knock on the door of his lordship’s study. He knocked again. There was no answer. He went in.
Lord Drexdale’s back was turned to the door.
“Shall I remove Master John, your lordship?”
Lord Drexdale looked up.
“Can’t you see he’s got hold of my finger?” he said. “You’re a perfect nuisance sometimes, Keeling.”
The butler inspected the infant gravely.
“A fine boy, your lordship,” he said.
A sudden yell rent the air. The baby had taken a dislike to the pattern of the carpet. Keeling stooped and lifted the malcontent.
“Those,” said Lord Drexdale complacently, eyeing the roaring bundle in the butler’s arms, “are lungs. Keeling, you were right. The next Drexdale will be a Drexdale.”