The Strand Magazine, June 1926
THE housekeeper’s room at Blandings Castle, G.H.Q. of the domestic staff that ministered to the needs of that amiable but woollen-headed peer, the Earl of Emsworth, was in normal circumstances a pleasant and cheerful apartment. It caught the afternoon sun; and the paper which covered its walls had been conceived in a jovial spirit by someone who held that the human eye, resting on ninety-seven simultaneous pink birds perched upon ninety-seven blue rose-bushes, could not but be agreeably stimulated and refreshed. Yet, with the entry of Beach, the butler, it was as though there had crept into its atmosphere a chill dreariness; and Mrs. Twemlow, the housekeeper, laying down her knitting, gazed at him in alarm.
“Whatever is the matter, Mr. Beach?”
The butler stared moodily out of the window. His face was drawn and he breathed heavily, as a man will who is suffering from a combination of strong emotion and adenoids. A ray of sunshine, which had been advancing jauntily along the carpet, caught sight of his face and slunk out, abashed.
“I have come to a decision, Mrs. Twemlow.”
“Ever since his lordship started to grow it I have seen the writing on the wall plainer and plainer, and now I have made up my mind. The moment his lordship returns from London, I tender my resignation. Eighteen years have I served in his lordship’s household, commencing as under-footman and rising to my present position, but now the end has come.”
“You don’t mean you’re going just because his lordship has grown a beard?”
“It is the only way, Mrs. Twemlow. That beard is weakening his lordship’s position throughout the entire countryside. Are you aware that at the recent Sunday-school treat I heard cries of ‘Beaver!’?”
“Yes! And this spirit of mockery and disrespect will spread. And, what is more, that beard is alienating the best elements in the County. I saw Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe look very sharp at it when he dined with us last Friday.”
“It is not a handsome beard,” admitted the housekeeper.
“It is not. It looks like some sort of fungus. And his lordship must be informed. As long as I remain in his lordship’s service, it is impossible for me to speak. So I shall tender my resignation. Once that is done, my lips will no longer be sealed. Is that buttered toast under that dish, Mrs. Twemlow?”
“Yes, Mr. Beach. Take a slice. It will cheer you up.”
“Cheer me up!” said the butler, with a hollow laugh that sounded like a knell.
IT was fortunate that Lord Emsworth, seated at the time of this conversation in the smoking-room of the Senior Conservative Club in London, had no suspicion of the supreme calamity that was about to fall upon him; for there was already much upon his mind.
In the last few days, indeed, everything seemed to have gone wrong. Angus McAllister, his head-gardener, had reported an alarming invasion of green-fly among the roses. A favourite and respected cow, strongly fancied for the Milk-Giving Jerseys event at the forthcoming Cattle Show, had contracted a mysterious ailment which was baffling the skill of the local vet. And on top of all this a telegram had arrived from his lordship’s younger son, the Hon. Frederick Threepwood, announcing that he was back in England and desirous of seeing his father immediately.
This, felt Lord Emsworth, as he stared bleakly before him at the little groups of happy Senior Conservatives, was the most unkindest cut of all. What on earth was Freddie doing in England? Eighteen months before he had married the only daughter of Donaldson’s Dog-Biscuits, of Long Island City, in the United States of America; and in Long Island City he ought now to have been, sedulously promoting the dog-biscuit industry’s best interests. Instead of which, here he was in London—and, according to his telegram, in trouble.
Lord Emsworth passed a hand over his chin, to assist thought, and was vaguely annoyed by some obstacle that intruded itself in the path of his fingers. Concentrating his faculties, such as they were, on this obstacle, he discovered it to be his beard. It irritated him. Hitherto, in moments of stress, he had always derived comfort from the feel of a clean-shaven chin. He felt now as if he were rubbing his hand over seaweed; and most unjustly—for it was certainly not that young man’s fault that he had decided to grow a beard—he became aware of an added sense of grievance against the Hon. Freddie.
It was at this moment that he perceived his child approaching him across the smoking-room floor.
“Hullo, guv’nor!” said Freddie.
“Well, Frederick?” said Lord Emsworth.
THERE followed a silence. Freddie was remembering that he had not met his father since the day when he had slipped into the latter’s hand a note announcing his marriage to a girl whom Lord Emsworth had never seen—except once, through a telescope, when he, Freddie, was kissing her in the grounds of Blandings Castle. Lord Emsworth, on his side, was brooding on that phrase “in trouble,” which had formed so significant a part of his son’s telegram. For twenty years he had been reluctantly helping Freddie out of trouble; and now, when it had seemed that he was off his hands for ever, the thing had started all over again.
“Do sit down,” he said, testily.
Freddie had been standing on one leg, and his constrained attitude annoyed Lord Emsworth. It is a peculiarity of many fathers in the ranks of Britain’s aristocracy that practically every action on the part of their younger sons has the power to annoy them. Unlike the male codfish, which, suddenly becoming the parent of three million five hundred thousand little codfish, cheerfully resolves to love them all, the British aristocracy is apt to look with a jaundiced eye on its younger sons.
“Right-ho,” said Freddie, taking a chair. “I say, guv’nor, since when the foliage?”
“The beard. I hardly recognized you.”
Another spasm of irritation shot through his lordship.
“Never mind my beard!”
“I don’t if you don’t,” said Freddie, agreeably. “It was dashed good of you, guv’nor, to come bounding up to town so promptly.”
“I came because your telegram said that you were in trouble.”
“British,” said Freddie, approvingly. “Very British.”
“Though what trouble you can be in I cannot imagine. It is surely not money again?”
“Oh, no. Not money. If that had been all, I would have applied to the good old pop-in-law. Old Donaldson’s an ace. He thinks the world of me.”
“Indeed? I met Mr. Donaldson only once, but he struck me as a man of sound judgment.”
“That’s what I say. He thinks I’m a wonder. If it were simply a question of needing a bit of the ready, I could touch him like a shot. But it isn’t money that’s the trouble. It’s Aggie. My wife, you know.”
“She’s left me.”
“Absolutely flat. Buzzed off, and the note pinned to the pin-cushion. She’s now at the Savoy and won’t let me come near her; and I’m at a service-flat in King Street, eating my jolly old heart out, if you know what I mean.”
Lord Emsworth uttered a deep sigh. He gazed drearily at his son, marvelling that it should be in the power of any young man, even a specialist like Freddie, so consistently to make a mess of his affairs. By what amounted to a miracle this offspring of his had contrived to lure a millionaire’s daughter into marrying him; and now, it seemed, he had let her get away. Years before, when a boy, and romantic as most boys are, his lordship had sometimes regretted that the Emsworths, though an ancient clan, did not possess a Family Curse. How little he had suspected that he was shortly about to become the father of it!
“The fault,” he said, tonelessly, “was, I suppose, yours?”
“In a way, yes. But——”
“What precisely occurred?”
“Well, it was like this, guv’nor. You know how keen I’ve always been on the movies. Going to every picture I could manage, and so forth. Well, one night, as I was lying awake, I suddenly got the idea for a scenario of my own. And dashed good it was, too. It was about a poor man who had an accident, and the coves at the hospital said that an operation was the only thing that could save his life. But they wouldn’t operate without five hundred dollars down in advance, and he hadn’t got five hundred dollars. So his wife got hold of a millionaire.”
“What,” inquired Lord Emsworth, “is all this drivel?”
“Drivel, guv’nor?” said Freddie, wounded. “I’m only telling you my scenario.”
“I have no wish to hear it. What I am anxious to learn from you—in as few words as possible—is the reason for the breach between your wife and yourself.”
“Well, I’m telling you. It all started with the scenario. When I’d written it, I naturally wanted to sell it to somebody; and just about then Pauline Petite came East and took a house at Great Neck, and a pal of mine introduced me to her.”
“Who is Pauline Petite?”
“Good heavens, guv’nor!” Freddie stared, amazed. “You don’t mean to sit there and tell me you’ve never heard of Pauline Petite! The movie star. Didn’t you see ‘Passion’s Slaves’?”
“I did not.”
“Nor ‘Silken Fetters’?”
“Nor ‘Purple Passion’? Nor ‘Bonds of Gold’? Nor ‘Seduction’? Great Scott, guv’nor, you haven’t lived!”
“What about this woman?”
“Well, a pal introduced me to her, you see, and I started to pave the way to getting her interested in this scenario of mine. Because, if she liked it, of course it meant everything. Well, this involved seeing a good deal of her, you understand, and one night Jane Yorke happened to come on us having a bite together at an inn.”
“Oh, it was all perfectly respectable, guv’nor. All strictly on the up-and-up. Purely a business relationship. But the trouble was I had kept the thing from Aggie because I wanted to surprise her. I wanted to be able to come to her with the scenario accepted and tell her I wasn’t such a fool as I looked.”
“Any woman capable of believing that——”
“And most unfortunately I had said that I had to go to Chicago that night on business. So, what with one thing and another—— Well, as I said just now, she’s at the Savoy and I’m——”
“Who is Jane Yorke?”
A scowl marred Freddie’s smooth features.
“A pill, guv’nor. One of the worst. A Jebusite and Amalekite. If it hadn’t been for her, I believe I could have fixed the thing. But she got hold of Aggie and whisked her away and poisoned her mind. This woman, guv’nor, has got a brother in the background, and she wanted Aggie to marry the brother. And my belief is that she is trying to induce Aggie to pop over to Paris and get a divorce, so as to give the blighted brother another look in, dash him! So now, guv’nor, is the time for action. Now is the moment to rally round as never before. I rely on you.”
“Me? What on earth do you expect me to do?”
“Why, go to her and plead with her. They do it in the movies. I’ve seen thousands of pictures where the white-haired old father——”
“Stuff and nonsense!” said Lord Emsworth, stung to the quick—for, like so many well-preserved men of ripe years, he was under the impression that he was merely slightly brindled. “You have made your bed, and you must stew in it.”
“I mean, you must stew in your own juice. You have brought this trouble on yourself by your own idiotic behaviour, and you must bear the consequences.”
“You mean you won’t go and plead?”
“You mean yes?”
“I mean no.”
“Not plead?” said Freddie, desiring to get this thing clear.
“I refuse to allow myself to be drawn into the matter.”
“You won’t even give her a ring on the telephone?”
“I will not.”
“Oh, come, guv’nor. Be a sport. Her suite’s Number Sixty-Seven. You can get her in a second and state my case, all for the cost of twopence. Have a pop at it.”
Freddie rose with set face. He looked like a sheep that has had bad news.
“Very well,” he said, tensely. “Then I may as well tell you, guv’nor, that my life is as good as over. The future holds nothing for me. I am a spent egg. If Aggie goes to Paris and gets that divorce, I shall retire to some quiet spot and there pass the few remaining years of my existence, a blighted wreck. Good-bye, guv’nor.”
“Honk-honk!” said Freddie, moodily.
AS a general rule, Lord Emsworth was an early and a sound sleeper, one of the few qualities which he shared with Napoleon Bonaparte being the ability to slumber the moment his head touched the pillow. But that night, weighed down with his troubles, he sought unconsciousness in vain. And somewhere in the small hours of the morning he sat up in bed, quaking. A sudden grisly thought had occurred to him.
Freddie had stated that, in the event of his wife obtaining a divorce, he proposed to retire for the rest of his life to some quiet spot. Suppose by “quiet spot” he meant Blandings Castle! The possibility shook Lord Emsworth like an ague. Freddie had visited Blandings for extended periods before, and it was his lordship’s considered opinion that the boy was a worse menace to the happy life of rural England than botts, green-fly, or foot-and-mouth disease. The prospect of having him at Blandings indefinitely affected Lord Emsworth like a blow on the base of the skull.
An entirely new line of thought was now opened. Had he in the recent interview, he asked himself, been as kind as he should have been? Had he not been a little harsh? Had he been just a shade lacking in sympathy? Had he played quite the part a father ought to have played?
The answers to the questions, in the order stated, were as follows: No. Yes. Yes. And No.
Waking after a belated sleep and sipping his early tea, Lord Emsworth found himself full of a new resolve. He had changed his mind. It was his intention now to go to this daughter-in-law of his and plead with her as no father-in-law had ever pleaded yet.
A MAN who has had a disturbed night is not at his best on the following morning. Until after luncheon Lord Emsworth felt much too heavy-headed to do himself justice as a pleader. But a visit to the flowers at Kensington Gardens, followed by a capital chop and half a bottle of claret at the Regent Grill, put him into excellent shape. The heaviness had vanished, and he felt alert and quick-witted.
So much so that, on arriving at the Savoy Hotel, he behaved with a cunning of which he had never hitherto suspected himself capable. On the very verge of giving his name to the desk-clerk, he paused. It might well be, he reflected, that this daughter-in-law of his, including the entire Emsworth family in her feud, would, did she hear that he was waiting below, nip the whole programme in the bud by refusing to see him. Better, he decided, not to risk it. Moving away from the desk, he headed for the lift, and presently found himself outside the door of Suite Sixty-Seven.
He tapped on the door. There was no answer. He tapped again, and, once more receiving no reply, felt a little nonplussed. He was not a very far-seeing man, and the possibility that his daughter-in-law might not be at home had not occurred to him. He was about to go away when, peering at the door, he perceived that it was ajar. He pushed it open; and, ambling in, found himself in a cosy sitting-room, crowded, as feminine sitting-rooms are apt to be, with flowers of every description.
Flowers were always a magnet to Lord Emsworth, and for some happy minutes he pottered from vase to vase, sniffing.
It was after he had sniffed for perhaps the twentieth time that the impression came to him that the room contained a curious echo. It was almost as though, each time he sniffed, some other person sniffed too. And yet the place was apparently empty. To submit the acoustics to a final test, his lordship sniffed once more. But this time the sound that followed was of a more sinister character. It sounded to Lord Emsworth exactly like a snarl.
It was a snarl. Chancing to glance floorwards, he became immediately aware, in close juxtaposition to his ankles, of what appeared at first sight to be a lady’s muff. But, this being one of his bright afternoons, he realized in the next instant that it was no muff, but a toy dog of the kind which women are only too prone to leave lying about their sitting-rooms.
“God bless my soul!” exclaimed Lord Emsworth, piously commending his safety to Heaven, as so many of his rugged ancestors had done in rather similar circumstances on the battlefields of the Middle Ages.
He backed uneasily. The dog followed him. It appeared to have no legs, but to move by faith alone.
“Go away, sir!” said Lord Emsworth.
He hated small dogs. They nipped you. Take your eye off them, and they had you by the ankle before you knew where you were. Discovering that his manœuvres had brought him to a door, he decided to take cover. He opened the door and slipped through. Blood will tell. An Emsworth had taken cover at Agincourt.
He was now in a bedroom, and, judging by the look of things, likely to remain there for some time. The woolly dog, foiled by superior intelligence, was now making no attempt to conceal its chagrin. It had cast off all pretence of armed neutrality and was yapping with a hideous intensity and shrillness. And ever and anon it scratched with baffled fury at the lower panels.
“Go away, sir!” thundered his lordship.
Lord Emsworth leaped like a jumping bean. So convinced had he been of the emptiness of this suite of rooms that the voice, speaking where no voice should have been, crashed into his nerve centres like a shell.
“Who is there?”
The mystery, which had begun to assume an aspect of the supernatural, was solved. On the other side of the room was a door, and it was from behind this that the voice had spoken. It occurred to Lord Emsworth that it was merely part of the general malignity of Fate that he should have selected for a formal father-in-lawful call the moment when his daughter-in-law was taking a bath.
He approached the door, and spoke soothingly.
“Pray do not be alarmed, my dear.”
“Who are you? What are you doing in my room?”
“There is no cause for alarm——”
He broke off abruptly, for his words had suddenly been proved fundamentally untrue. There was very vital cause for alarm. The door of the bedroom had opened, and the muff-like dog, shrilling hate, was scuttling in its peculiar legless manner straight for his ankles.
Peril brings out unsuspected qualities in every man. Lord Emsworth was not a professional acrobat, but the leap he gave in this crisis would have justified his being mistaken for one. He floated through the air like a homing bird. From where he had been standing the bed was a considerable distance away, but he reached it with inches to spare, and stood there, quivering. Below him, the woolly dog raged like the ocean at the base of a cliff.
It was at this point that his lordship became aware of a young woman standing in the doorway through which he had just passed.
About this young woman there were many points which would have found little favour in the eyes of a critic of feminine charm. She was too short, too square, and too solid. She had a much too determined chin. And her hair was of an unpleasing gingery hue. But the thing Lord Emsworth liked least about her was the pistol she was pointing at his head.
A plaintive voice filtered through the bathroom door.
“It’s a man,” said the girl behind the gun.
“I know it’s a man. He spoke to me. Who is he?”
“I don’t know. A nasty-looking fellow. I saw him hanging about the passage outside your door, and I got my gun and came along. Come on out.”
“I can’t. I’m all wet.”
It is not easy for a man who is standing on a bed with his hands up to achieve dignity, but Lord Emsworth did the best he could.
“My dear madam!”
“What are you doing here?”
“I found the door ajar——”
“And walked in to see if there were any jewel-cases ajar, too. I think,” added the young woman, raising her voice so as to make herself audible to the unseen bather, “it’s Dopey Smith.”
“Dopey Smith. The fellow the cops said tried for your jewels in New York. He must have followed you over here.”
“I am not Dopey Smith, madam,” cried his lordship. “I am the Earl of Emsworth.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Yes, you are!”
“I came to see my daughter-in-law.”
“Well, here she is.”
THE bathroom door opened, and there emerged a charming figure draped in a kimono. Even in that tense moment Lord Emsworth was conscious of a bewildered astonishment that such a girl could ever have stooped to mate with his son Frederick.
“Who did you say he was?” she asked, recommending herself still more strongly to his lordship’s esteem by scooping up the woolly dog and holding it securely in her arms.
“He says he’s the Earl of Emsworth.”
“I am the Earl of Emsworth.”
The girl in the kimono looked keenly at him as he descended from the bed.
“You know, Jane,” she said, a note of uncertainty in her voice, “it might be. He looks very like Freddie.”
The appalling slur on his personal appearance held Lord Emsworth dumb. Like other men, he had had black moments when his looks had not altogether satisfied him, but he had never supposed that he had a face like Freddie’s.
The girl with the pistol uttered a stupefying whoop.
“Jiminy Christmas!” she cried. “Don’t you see?”
“Why, it is Freddie. Disguised. Trying to get at you this way. It’s just the sort of movie stunt he would think clever. Take them off, Ralph Vandeleur—I know you!”
She reached out a clutching hand, seized his lordship’s beard in a vice-like grip, and tugged with all the force of a modern girl, trained from infancy at hockey, tennis, and Swedish exercises.
It had not occurred to Lord Emsworth a moment before that anything could possibly tend to make his situation more uncomfortable than it already was. He saw now that he had been mistaken in this view. Agony beyond his liveliest dreams flamed through his shrinking frame.
The girl regarded him with a somewhat baffled look.
“H’m!” she said, disappointedly. “It seems to be real. Unless,” she continued, on a more optimistic note, “he’s fixed it on with specially strong fish-glue or something. I’d better try again.”
“No, don’t,” said his lordship’s daughter-in-law. “It isn’t Freddie. I would have recognized him at once.”
“Then he’s a crook after all. Kindly step into that cupboard, George, while I ’phone for the constabulary.”
Lord Emsworth danced a few steps.
“I will not step into cupboards. I insist on being heard. I don’t know who this woman is——”
“My name’s Jane Yorke, if you’re curious.”
“Ah! The woman who poisons my son’s wife’s mind against him! I know all about you.” He turned to the girl in the kimono. “Yesterday my son Frederick implored me by telegram to come to London. I saw him at my club. Stop that dog barking!”
“Why shouldn’t he bark?” said Miss Yorke. “He’s in his own home.”
“He told me,” proceeded Lord Emsworth, raising his voice, “that there had been a little misunderstanding between you——”
“Little misunderstanding is good,” said Miss Yorke.
“He dined with that woman for a purpose.”
“And directly I saw them,” said Miss Yorke, “I knew what the purpose was.”
The Hon. Mrs. Threepwood looked at her friend, wavering.
“I believe it’s true,” she said, “and he really is Lord Emsworth. He seems to know all that happened. How could he know if Freddie hadn’t told him?”
“If this fellow is a crook from the other side, of course he would know. The thing was in Broadway Whispers and Town Gossip, wasn’t it?”
“All the same——”
The telephone-bell rang sharply.
“I assure you——” began Lord Emsworth.
“Right!” said the unpleasant Miss Yorke, at the receiver. “Send him right up.” She regarded his lordship with a brightly triumphant eye. “You’re out of luck, my friend,” she said. “Lord Emsworth has just arrived, and he’s on his way up now.”
THERE are certain situations in which the human brain may be excused for reeling. Lord Emsworth’s did not so much reel as perform a kind of shimmy, as if it were in danger of coming unstuck. Always a dreamy and absent-minded man, unequal to the rough hurly-burly of life, he had passed this afternoon through an ordeal which might well have unsettled the most practical. And this extraordinary announcement, coming on top of all he had been through, was too much for him. He tottered into the sitting-room and sank into a chair. It seemed to him that he was living in a nightmare.
And certainly in the figure that entered a few moments later there was nothing whatever to correct this impression. It might have stepped straight into anybody’s nightmare and felt perfectly at home right from the start.
The figure was that of a tall, thin man with white hair and a long and flowing beard of the same venerable hue. Strange as it seemed that a person of such appearance should not have been shot on sight early in his career, he had obviously reached an extremely advanced age. He was either a man of about a hundred and fifty who was rather young for his years or a man of about a hundred and ten who had been aged by trouble.
“My dear child!” piped the figure in a weak, quavering voice.
“Freddie!” cried the girl in the kimono.
“Oh, dash it!” said the figure.
There was a pause, broken by a sort of gasping moan from Lord Emsworth. More and more every minute his lordship was feeling the strain.
“Good God, guv’nor!” said the figure, sighting him. His wife pointed at Lord Emsworth.
“Freddie, is that your father?”
“Oh, yes. Rather! Of course. Absolutely. But he said he wasn’t coming.”
“I changed my mind,” said Lord Emsworth in a low, stricken voice.
“I told you so, Jane,” said the girl. “I thought he was Lord Emsworth all the time. Surely you can see the likeness now?”
A kind of wail escaped his lordship.
“Do I look like that?” he said brokenly. He gazed at his son once more and shut his eyes.
“Well,” said Miss Yorke, in her detestable managing way, turning her forceful personality on the new-comer, “now that you are here, Freddie Threepwood, looking like Father Christmas, what’s the idea? Aggie told you never to come near her again.”
A young man of his natural limpness of character might well have retired in disorder before this attack, but Love had apparently made Frederick Threepwood a man of steel. Removing his beard and eyebrows, he directed a withering glance at Miss Yorke.
“I don’t want to talk to you,” he said. “You’re a serpent in the bosom. I mean a snake in the grass.”
“Oh, am I?”
“Yes, you are. You poisoned Aggie’s jolly old mind against me. If it hadn’t been for you, I could have got her alone and told her my story as man to man.”
“Well, let’s hear it now. You’ve had plenty of time to rehearse it.”
Freddie turned to his wife with a sweeping gesture.
“I——” He paused. “I say, Aggie, old thing, you look perfectly topping in that kimono.”
“Stick to the point,” said Miss Yorke.
“That is the point,” said Mrs. Freddie, not without a certain softness. “But if you think I look perfectly topping, why do you go running around with movie-actresses with carroty hair?”
“Red-gold,” suggested Freddie, deferentially.
“Carroty it is. You’re absolutely right. I never liked it all along.”
“Then why were you dining with it?”
“Yes, why?” inquired Miss Yorke.
“I wish you wouldn’t butt in,” said Freddie, petulantly. “I’m not talking to you.”
“You might just as well, for all the good it’s going to do you.”
“Be quiet, Jane. Well, Freddie?”
“Aggie,” said the Hon. Freddie, “it was this way.”
“Never believe a man who starts a story like that,” said Miss Yorke.
“Do please be quiet, Jane. Yes, Freddie?”
“I was trying to sell that carroty female a scenario, and I was keeping it from you because I wanted it to be a surprise.”
“Freddie darling! Was that really it?”
“You don’t mean to say——” began Miss Yorke, incredulously.
“Absolutely it. And, in order to keep in with the woman—whom, I may as well tell you, I disliked rather heartily from the start—I had to lush her up a trifle from time to time.”
“You have to with these people.”
“Makes all the difference in the world if you push a bit of food into them preparatory to talking business.”
“All the difference in the world.”
Miss Yorke, who seemed temporarily to have lost her breath, recovered it.
“You don’t mean to tell me,” she cried, turning in a kind of wild despair to the injured wife, “that you really believe this apple sauce?”
“Of course she does,” said Freddie. “Don’t you, precious?”
“Of course I do, sweetie-pie.”
“And, what’s more,” said Freddie, pulling from his breast-pocket a buff-coloured slip of paper with the air of one who draws from his sleeve that extra ace which makes all the difference in a keenly-contested game, “I can prove it. Here’s a cable that came this morning from the Super-Ultra-Art Film Company, offering me a thousand merry dollars for the scenario. So another time, you, will you kindly refrain from judging your—er—fellows by the beastly light of your own—ah—foul imagination?”
“Yes,” said his wife, “I must say, Jane, that you have made as much mischief as anyone ever did. I wish in future you would stop interfering in other people’s concerns.”
“Spoken,” said Freddie, “with vim and not a little terse good sense. And I may add——”
“If you ask me,” said Miss Yorke, “I think it’s a fake.”
“What’s a fake?”
“What do you mean, a fake?” cried Freddie, indignantly. “Read it for yourself.”
“It’s quite easy to get cables cabled you by cabling a friend in New York to cable them.”
“I don’t get that,” said Freddie, puzzled.
“I do,” said his wife; and there shone in her eyes the light that shines only in the eyes of wives who, having swallowed their husband’s story, resent destructive criticism from outsiders. “And I never want to see you again, Jane Yorke.”
“Same here,” agreed Freddie. “In Turkey they’d have shoved a girl like that in a sack and dropped her in the Bosphorus.”
“I might as well go,” said Miss Yorke.
“And don’t come back,” said Freddie. “The door is behind you.”
THE species of trance which had held Lord Emsworth in its grip during the preceding conversational exchanges was wearing off. And now, perceiving that Miss Yorke was apparently as unpopular with the rest of the company as with himself, he came gradually to life again. His recovery was hastened by the slamming of the door and the spectacle of his son Frederick clasping in his arms a wife who, his lordship had never forgotten, was the daughter of probably the only millionaire in existence who had that delightful willingness to take Freddie off his hands which was, in Lord Emsworth’s eyes, the noblest quality a millionaire could possess.
He sat up and blinked feebly. Though much better, he was still weak.
“What was your scenario about, sweetness?” asked Mrs. Freddie.
“I’ll tell you, angel-face. Or should we stir up the guv’nor? He seems a bit under the weather.”
“Better leave him to rest for awhile. That woman Jane Yorke upset him.”
“She would upset anybody. If there’s one person I bar, it’s the blister who comes between man and wife. Not right, I mean, coming between man and wife. My scenario’s about a man and wife. This fellow, you understand, is a poor cove—no money, if you see what I mean—and he has an accident, and the hospital coves say they won’t operate unless he can chip in with five hundred dollars down in advance. But where to get it? You see the situation?”
“Well, it’s nothing to how strong it gets later on. The cove’s wife gets hold of a millionaire bloke and vamps him and lures him to the flat and gets him to promise he’ll cough up the cash. Meanwhile, cut-backs of the doctor at the hospital on the ’phone. Sub-title: Have you got the money? And she laughing merrily so as not to let the millionaire bloke guess that her heart is aching. I forgot to tell you the cove had to be operated on immediately or he would hand in his dinner-pail. Dramatic, eh?”
“Well, then the millionaire bloke demands his price. I thought of calling it ‘A Woman’s Price.’ ”
“And now comes the blow-out. They go into the bedroom and—— Oh, hullo, guv’nor! Feeling better?”
Lord Emsworth had risen. He was tottering a little as he approached them, but his mind was at rest.
“Much better, thank you.”
“You know my wife, what?”
“Oh, Lord Emsworth,” said Mrs. Freddie, “I’m so dreadfully sorry. I wouldn’t have had anything like this happen for the world. But——”
Lord Emsworth patted her hand paternally. Once more he was overcome with astonishment that his son Frederick should have been able to win the heart of a girl so beautiful, so sympathetic, so extraordinarily rich.
“The fault was entirely mine, my dear child. But——” He paused. Something was plainly troubling him. “Tell me, when Frederick was wearing that beard—when Frederick was—was—when he was wearing that beard, did he really look like me?”
“Oh, yes. Very like.”
“Thank you, my dear. That was all I wanted to know. I will leave you now. You will want to be alone. You must come down to Blandings, my dear child, at the very earliest opportunity.”
He walked thoughtfully from the room.
“Does this hotel,” he inquired of the man who took him down in the lift, “contain a barber’s shop?”
“I wonder if you would direct me to it?” said his lordship.
LORD EMSWORTH sat in his library at Blandings Castle, drinking that last restful whisky-and-soda of the day. Through the open window came the scent of flowers and the little noises of the summer night.
He should have been completely at rest, for much had happened since his return to sweeten life for him. Angus McAllister had reported that the green-fly were yielding to treatment with whale-oil solution; and the stricken cow had taken a sudden turn for the better, and at last advices was sitting up and taking nourishment with something of the old appetite. Moreover, as he stroked his shaven chin, his lordship felt a better, lighter man, as if some burden had fallen from him.
And yet, as he sat there, a frown was on his forehead.
He rang the bell.
Lord Emsworth looked at his faithful butler with appreciation. Deuce of a long time Beach had been at the Castle, and would, no doubt, be there for many a year to come. A good fellow. Lord Emsworth had liked the way the man’s eyes had lighted up on his return, as if the sight of his employer had removed a great weight from his mind.
“Oh, Beach,” said his lordship, “kindly put in a trunk-call to London on the telephone.”
“Very good, your lordship.”
“Get through to Suite Number Sixty-Seven at the Savoy Hotel, and speak to Mr. Frederick.”
“Yes, your lordship.”
“Say that I particularly wish to know how that scenario of his ended.”
“Scenario, your lordship?”
“Very good, your lordship.”
Lord Emsworth returned to his reverie. Time passed. The butler returned.
“I have spoken to Mr. Frederick, your lordship.”
“He instructed me to give your lordship his best wishes, and to tell you that, when the millionaire and Mr. Cove’s wife entered the bedroom, there was a black jaguar tied to the foot of the bed.”
“A jaguar, your lordship. Mrs. Cove stated that it was there to protect her honour, whereupon the millionaire, touched by this, gave her the money. Mr. Cove made a satisfactory recovery after his operation, your lordship.”
“Ah!” said Lord Emsworth, expelling a deep breath. “Thank you, Beach, that is all.”
Annotations to this story as it appeared in volume form may be found in the notes for the 1935 story collection Blandings Castle and Elsewhere.
Unlike the male codfish … look with a jaundiced eye on its younger sons.
When it came time to publish this 1926 story and its 1924 prequel ‘The Custody of the Pumpkin’ in the 1935 book Blandings Castle this famous and oft-quoted line was cut from this story and given to the earlier one. This line was among the 1,900 words cut from the story in its American magazine appearance in Liberty.
perform a kind of shimmy
When this story was published in the 1935 book Blandings Castle Lord Emsworth’s brain “performed a kind of dance,” the shimmy, well known in 1926, apparently having become passé in the intervening nine years.
Sub-title: Have you got the money?
This line was cut when the story appeared in the 1935 book, silent film sub-titles having been replaced by talking pictures by that time. In the book an additional line was added to the story’s penultimate paragraph as Freddie’s scenario concluded with the millionaire and Mrs. Cove singing the movie’s Theme Song as a duet.