The Man Upstairs and Other Stories
by P. G. Wodehouse
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Yet now he was sitting in his office, long after the last clerk had left, long after the hour at which he himself was wont to leave, his mind full of his late employee.

Was this remorse? Was he longing for the touch of the vanished hand, the gleam of the departed spectacles? He was not. His mind was full of Master Bean because Master Bean was waiting for him in the outer office; and he lingered on at his desk, after the day's work was done, for the same reason. Word had been brought to him earlier in the evening, that Master Roland Bean would like to see him. The answer to that was easy: 'Tell him I'm busy.' Master Bean's admirably dignified reply was that he understood how great was the pressure of Mr Ferguson's work, and that he would wait till he was at liberty. Liberty! Talk of the liberty of the treed possum, but do not use the word in connexion with a man bottled up in an office, with Roland Bean guarding the only exit.

Mr Ferguson kicked the waste-paper basket savagely. The unfairness of the thing hurt him. A sacked office-boy ought to stay sacked. He had no business to come popping up again like Banquo's ghost. It was not playing the game.

The reader may wonder what was the trouble—why Mr Ferguson could not stalk out and brusquely dispose of his foe; but then the reader has not employed Master Bean for a month. Mr Ferguson had, and his nerve had broken.

A slight cough penetrated the door between the two offices. Mr Ferguson rose and grabbed his hat. Perhaps a sudden rush—he shot out with the tense concentration of one moving towards the refreshment-room at a station where the train stops three minutes.

'Good evening, sir!' was the watcher's view-hallo.

'Ah, Bean,' said Mr Ferguson, flitting rapidly, 'you still here? I thought you had gone. I'm afraid I cannot stop now. Some other time—'

He was almost through.

'I fear, sir, that you will be unable to get out,' said Master Bean, sympathetically. 'The building is locked up.'

Men who have been hit by bullets say the first sensation is merely a sort of dull shock. So it was with Mr Ferguson. He stopped in his tracks and stared.

'The porter closes the door at seven o'clock punctually, sir. It is now nearly twenty minutes after the hour.'

Mr Ferguson's brain was still in the numbed stage.

'Closes the door?' he said.

'Yes, sir.'

'Then how are we to get out?'

'I fear we cannot get out, sir.'

Mr Ferguson digested this.

'I am no longer in your employment, sir,' said Master Bean, respectfully, 'but I hope that in the circumstances you will permit me to remain here during the night.'

'During the night!'

'It would enable me to sleep more comfortably than on the stairs.'

'But we can't stop here all night,' said Mr Ferguson, feebly.

He had anticipated an unpleasant five minutes in Master Bean's company. Imagination boggled at the thought of an unpleasant thirteen hours.

He collapsed into a chair.

'I called,' said Master Bean, shelving the trivial subject of the prospective vigil, 'in the hope that I might persuade you, sir, to reconsider your decision in regard to my dismissal. I can assure you, sir, that I am extremely anxious to give satisfaction. If you would take me back and inform me how I have fallen short, I would endeavour to improve, I—'

'We can't stop here all night,' interrupted Mr Ferguson, bounding from his chair and beginning to pace the floor.

'Without presumption, sir, I feel that if you were to give me another chance I should work to your satisfaction. I should endeavour—'

Mr Ferguson stared at him in dumb horror. He had a momentary vision of a sleepless night spent in listening to a nicely-polished speech for the defence. He was seized with a mad desire for flight. He could not leave the building, but he must get away somewhere and think.

He dashed from the room and raced up the dark stairs. And as he arrived at the next floor his eye was caught by a thin pencil of light which proceeded from a door on the left.

No shipwrecked mariner on a desert island could have welcomed the appearance of a sail with greater enthusiasm. He bounded at the door. He knew to whom the room belonged. It was the office of one Blaythwayt; and Blaythwayt was not only an acquaintance, but a sportsman. Quite possibly there might be a pack of cards on Blaythwayt's person to help pass the long hours. And if not, at least he would be company and his office a refuge. He flung open the door without going through the formality of knocking. Etiquette is not for the marooned.

'I say, Blaythwayt—' he began, and stopped abruptly.

The only occupant of the room was a girl.

'I beg your pardon,' he said, 'I thought—'

He stopped again. His eyes, dazzled with the light, had not seen clearly. They did so now.

'You!' he cried.

The girl looked at him, first with surprise, then with a cool hostility. There was a long pause. Eighteen months had passed since they had parted, and conversation does not flow easily after eighteen months of silence, especially if the nature of the parting has been bitter and stormy.

He was the first to speak.

'What are you doing here?' he said.

'I thought my doings had ceased to interest you,' she said. 'I am Mr Blaythwayt's secretary, I have been here a fortnight. I have wondered if we should meet. I used to see you sometimes in the street.'

'I never saw you.'

'No?' she said indifferently.

He ran his hand through his hair in a dazed way.

'Do you know we are locked in?' he said.

He had expected wild surprise and dismay. She merely clicked her tongue in an annoyed manner.

'Again!' she said. 'What a nuisance! I was locked in only a week ago.'

He looked at her with unwilling respect, the respect of the novice for the veteran. She was nothing to him now, of course. She had passed out of his life. But he could not help remembering that long ago—eighteen months ago—what he had admired most in her had been this same spirit, this game refusal to be disturbed by Fate's blows. It braced him up.

He sat down and looked curiously at her.

'So you left the stage?' he said.

'I thought we agreed when we parted not to speak to one another,' said she, coldly.

'Did we? I thought it was only to meet as strangers.'

'It's the same thing.'

'Is it? I often talk to strangers.'

'What a bore they must think you!' she said, hiding one-eighth of a yawn with the tips of two fingers. 'I suppose,' she went on, with faint interest, 'you talk to them in trains when they are trying to read their paper?'

'I don't force my conversation on anyone.'

'Don't you?' she said, raising her eyebrows in sweet surprise. 'Only your company—is that it?'

'Are you alluding to the present occasion?'

'Well, you have an office of your own in this building, I believe.'

'I have.'

'Then why—'

'I am at perfect liberty,' he said, with dignity, 'to sit in my friend Blaythwayt's office if I choose. I wish to see Mr Blaythwayt.'

'On business?'

He proved that she had established no corner in raised eyebrows.

'I fear,' he said, 'that I cannot discuss my affairs with Mr Blaythwayt's employees. I must see him personally.'

'Mr Blaythwayt is not here.'

'I will wait.'

'He will not be here for thirteen hours.'

I'll wait.'

'Very well,' she burst out; 'you have brought it on yourself. You've only yourself to blame. If you had been good and had gone back to your office, I would have brought you down some cake and cocoa.'

'Cake and cocoa!' said he, superciliously.

'Yes, cake and cocoa,' she snapped. 'It's all very well for you to turn up your nose at them now, but wait. You've thirteen hours of this in front of you. I know what it is. Last time I had to spend the night here I couldn't get to sleep for hours, and when I did I dreamed that I was chasing chocolate eclairs round and round Trafalgar Square. And I never caught them either. Long before the night was finished I would have given anything for even a dry biscuit. I made up my mind I'd always keep something here in case I ever got locked in again—yes, smile. You'd better while you can.'

He was smiling, but wanly. Nobody but a professional fasting man could have looked unmoved into the Inferno she had pictured. Then he rallied.

'Cake!' he said, scornfully.

She nodded grimly.


Again that nod, ineffably sinister.

'I'm afraid I don't care for either,' he said.

'If you will excuse me,' she said, indifferently, 'I have a little work that I must finish.'

She turned to her desk, leaving him to his thoughts. They were not exhilarating. He had maintained a brave front, but inwardly he quailed. Reared in the country, he had developed at an early age a fine, healthy appetite. Once, soon after his arrival in London, he had allowed a dangerous fanatic to persuade him that the secret of health was to go without breakfast.

His lunch that day had cost him eight shillings, and only decent shame had kept the figure as low as that. He knew perfectly well that long ere the dawn of day his whole soul would be crying out for cake, squealing frantically for cocoa. Would it not be better to—no, a thousand times no! Death, but not surrender. His self-respect was at stake. Looking back, he saw that his entire relations with this girl had been a series of battles of will. So far, though he had certainly not won, he had not been defeated. He must not be defeated now.

He crossed his legs and sang a gay air under his breath.

'If you wouldn't mind,' said the girl, looking up.

'I beg your pardon?'

'Your groaning interrupts my work.'

'I was not groaning. I was singing.'

'Oh, I'm sorry!'

'Not at all.'

Eight bars rest.

Mr Ferguson, deprived of the solace of song, filled in the time by gazing at the toiler's back-hair. It set in motion a train of thought—an express train bound for the Land of Yesterday. It recalled days in the woods, evenings on the lawn. It recalled sunshine—storm. Plenty of storm. Minor tempests that burst from a clear sky, apparently without cause, and the great final tornado. There had been cause enough for that. Why was it, mused Mr Ferguson, that every girl in every country town in every county of England who had ever recited 'Curfew shall not ring tonight' well enough to escape lynching at the hands of a rustic audience was seized with the desire to come to London and go on the stage?

He sighed.

'Please don't snort,' said a cold voice, from behind the back-hair.

There was a train-wreck in the Land of Yesterday. Mr Ferguson, the only survivor, limped back into the Present.

The Present had little charm, but at least it was better than the cakeless Future. He fixed his thoughts on it. He wondered how Master Bean was passing the time. Probably doing deep-breathing exercises, or reading a pocket Aristotle. The girl pushed back her chair and rose.

She went to a small cupboard in the corner of the room, and from it produced in instalments all that goes to make cake and cocoa. She did not speak. Presently, filling Space, there sprang into being an Odour; and as it reached him Mr Ferguson stiffened in his chair, bracing himself as for a fight to the death. It was more than an odour. It was the soul of the cocoa singing to him. His fingers gripped the arms of the chair. This was the test.

The girl separated a section of cake from the parent body. She caught his eye.

'You had better go,' she said. 'If you go now it's just possible that I may—but I forgot, you don't like cocoa.'

'No,' said he, resolutely, 'I don't.'

She seemed now in the mood for conversation.

'I wonder why you came up here at all,' she said.

'There's no reason why you shouldn't know. I came up here because my late office-boy is downstairs.'

'Why should that send you up?'

'You've never met him or you wouldn't ask. Have you ever had to face someone who is simply incarnate Saintliness and Disapproval, who—'

'Are you forgetting that I was engaged to you for several weeks?'

He was too startled to be hurt. The idea of himself as a Roland Bean was too new to be assimilated immediately. It called for meditation.

'Was I like that?' he said at last, almost humbly.

'You know you were. Oh, I'm not thinking only about your views on the stage! It was everything. Whatever I did you were there to disapprove like a—like a—like an aunt,' she concluded triumphantly. 'You were too good for anything. If only you would, just once, have done something wrong. I think I'd have—But you couldn't. You're simply perfect.'

A man will remain cool and composed under many charges. Hint that his tastes are criminal, and he will shrug his shoulders. But accuse him of goodness, and you rouse the lion.

Mr Ferguson's brow darkened.

'As a matter of fact,' he said, haughtily, 'I was to have had supper with a chorus-girl this very night.'

'How very appalling!' said she, languidly.

She sipped her cocoa.

'I suppose you consider that very terrible?' she said.

'For a beginner.'

She crumbled her cake. Suddenly she looked up.

'Who is she?' she demanded, fiercely.

'I beg your pardon?' he said, coming out of a pleasant reverie.

'Who is this girl?'

'She—er—her name—her name is Marie—Marie Templeton.'

She seemed to think for a moment.

'That dear old lady?' she said.' I know her quite well.'


'"Mother" we used to call her. Have you met her son?'

'Her son?'

'A rather nice-looking man. He plays heavy parts on tour. He's married and has two of the sweetest children. Their grandmother is devoted to them. Hasn't she ever mentioned them to you?'

She poured herself out another cup of cocoa. Conversation again languished.

'I suppose you're very fond of her?' she said at length.

'I'm devoted to her.' He paused. 'Dear little thing!' he added.

She rose and moved to the door. There was a nasty gleam in her eyes.

'You aren't going?' he said.

'I shall be back in a moment. I'm just going to bring your poor little office-boy up here. He must be missing you.'

He sprang up, but she had gone. Leaning over the banisters, he heard a door open below, then a short conversation, and finally footsteps climbing the stairs.

It was pitch dark on the landing. He stepped aside, and they passed without seeing him. Master Bean was discoursing easily on cocoa, the processes whereby it was manufactured, and the remarkable distances which natives of Mexico had covered with it as their only food. The door opened, flooding the landing with light, and Mr Ferguson, stepping from ambush, began to descend the stairs.

The girl came to the banisters.

'Mr Ferguson!'

He stopped.

'Did you want me?' he asked.

'Are you going back to your office?'

'I am. I hope you will enjoy Bean's society. He has a fund of useful information on all subjects.'

He went on. After a while she returned to the room and closed the door.

Mr Ferguson went into his office and sat down.

* * * * *

There was once a person of the name of Simeon Stylites, who took up a position on top of a pillar and stayed there, having no other engagements, for thirty years. Mr Ferguson, who had read Tennyson's poem on the subject, had until tonight looked upon this as a pretty good thing. Reading the lines:

...thrice ten years, Thrice multiplied by superhuman pangs, In hunger and in thirsts, fevers and colds, In coughs, aches, stitches, ulcerous throes, and cramps, ... Patient on this tall pillar I have borne. Rain, wind, frost, heat, hail, damp, and sleet, and snow,

he had gathered roughly, as it were, that Simeon had not been comfortable. He had pitied him. But now, sitting in his office-chair, he began to wonder what the man had made such a fuss about. He suspected him of having had a touch of the white feather in him. It was not as if he had not had food. He talked about 'hungers and thirsts', but he must have had something to eat, or he could not have stayed the course. Very likely, if the truth were known, there was somebody below who passed him up regular supplies of cake and cocoa.

He began to look on Simeon as an overrated amateur.

Sleep refused to come to him. It got as far as his feet, but no farther. He rose and stamped to restore the circulation.

It was at this point that he definitely condemned Simeon Stylites as a sybaritic fraud.

If this were one of those realistic Zolaesque stories I would describe the crick in the back that—but let us hurry on.

It was about six hours later—he had no watch, but the numbers of aches, stitches, not to mention cramps, that he had experienced could not possibly have been condensed into a shorter period—that his manly spirit snapped. Let us not judge him too harshly. The girl upstairs had broken his heart, ruined his life, and practically compared him to Roland Bean, and his pride should have built up an impassable wall between them, but—she had cake and cocoa. In similar circumstances King Arthur would have grovelled before Guinevere.

He rushed to the door and tore it open. There was a startled exclamation from the darkness outside.

'I hope I didn't disturb you,' said a meek voice.

Mr Ferguson did not answer. His twitching nostrils were drinking in a familiar aroma.

'Were you asleep? May I come in? I've brought you some cake and cocoa.'

He took the rich gifts from her in silence. There are moments in a man's life too sacred for words. The wonder of the thing had struck him dumb. An instant before and he had had but a desperate hope of winning these priceless things from her at the cost of all his dignity and self-respect. He had been prepared to secure them through a shower of biting taunts, a blizzard of razor-like 'I told you so's'. Yet here he was, draining the cup, and still able to hold his head up, look the world in the face, and call himself a man.

His keen eye detected a crumb on his coat-sleeve. This retrieved and consumed, he turned to her, seeking explanation.

She was changed. The battle-gleam had faded from her eyes. She seemed scared and subdued. Her manner was of one craving comfort and protection. 'That awful boy!' she breathed.

'Bean?' said Mr Ferguson, picking a crumb off the carpet.

'He's frightful.'

'I thought you might get a little tired of him! What has he been doing?'

'Talking. I feel battered. He's like one of those awful encyclopedias that give you a sort of dull leaden feeling in your head directly you open them. Do you know how many tons of water go over Niagara Falls every year?'


'He does.'

'I told you he had a fund of useful information. The Purpose and Tenacity books insist on it. That's how you Catch your Employer's Eye. One morning the boss suddenly wants to know how many horsehair sofas there are in Brixton, the number of pins that would reach from London Bridge to Waterloo. You tell him, and he takes you into partnership. Later you become a millionaire. But I haven't thanked you for the cocoa. It was fine.'

He waited for the retort, but it did not come. A pleased wonderment filled him. Could these things really be thus?

'And it isn't only what he says,' she went on. 'I know what you mean about him now. It's his accusing manner.'

'I've tried to analyse that manner. I believe it's the spectacles.'

'It's frightful when he looks at you; you think of all the wrong things you have ever done or ever wanted to do.'

'Does he have that effect on you?' he said, excitedly. 'Why, that exactly describes what I feel.'

The affinities looked at one another.

She was the first to speak.

'We always did think alike on most things, didn't we?' she said.

'Of course we did.'

He shifted his chair forward.

'It was all my fault,' he said. 'I mean, what happened.'

'It wasn't. It—'

'Yes, it was. I want to tell you something. I don't know if it will make any difference now, but I should like you to know it. It's this. I've altered a good deal since I came to London. For the better, I think. I'm a pretty poor sort of specimen still, but at least I don't imagine I can measure life with a foot-rule. I don't judge the world any longer by the standards of a country town. London has knocked some of the corners off me. I don't think you would find me the Bean type any longer. I don't disapprove of other people much now. Not as a habit. I find I have enough to do keeping myself up to the mark.'

'I want to tell you something, too,' she said. 'I expect it's too late, but never mind. I want you to hear it. I've altered, too, since I came to London. I used to think the Universe had been invented just to look on and wave its hat while I did great things. London has put a large piece of cold ice against my head, and the swelling has gone down. I'm not the girl with ambitions any longer. I just want to keep employed, and not have too bad a time when the day's work is over.'

He came across to where she sat.

'We said we would meet as strangers, and we do. We never have known each other. Don't you think we had better get acquainted?' he said.

There was a respectful tap at the door.

'Come in?' snapped Mr Ferguson. 'Well?' Behind the gold-rimmed spectacles of Master Bean there shone a softer look than usual, a look rather complacent than disapproving.

'I must apologize, sir, for intruding upon you. I am no longer in your employment, but I do hope that in the circumstances you will forgive my entering your private office. Thinking over our situation just now an idea came to me by means of which I fancy we might be enabled to leave the building.'


'It occurred to me, sir, that by telephoning to the nearest police-station—'

'Good heavens!' cried Mr Ferguson.

Two minutes later he replaced the receiver.

'It's all right,' he said. 'I've made them understand the trouble. They're bringing a ladder. I wonder what the time is? It must be about four in the morning.'

Master Bean produced a Waterbury watch.

'The time, sir, is almost exactly half past ten.'

'Half past ten! We must have been here longer than three hours. Your watch is wrong.'

'No, sir, I am very careful to keep it exactly right. I do not wish to run any risk of being unpunctual.'

'Half past ten!' cried Mr Ferguson. 'Why, we're in heaps of time to look in at the Savoy for supper. This is great. I'll phone them to keep a table.'

'Supper! I thought—'

She stopped.

'What's that? Thought what?'

'Hadn't you an engagement for supper?'

He stared at her.

'Whatever gave you that idea? Of course not.'

'I thought you said you were taking Miss Templeton—'

'Miss Temp—Oh!' His face cleared. 'Oh, there isn't such a person. I invented her. I had to when you accused me of being like our friend the Miasma. Legitimate self-defence.'

'I do not wish to interrupt you, sir, when you are busy,' said Master Bean, 'but—'

'Come and see me tomorrow morning,' said Mr Ferguson.

* * * * *

'Bob,' said the girl, as the first threatening mutters from the orchestra heralded an imminent storm of melody, 'when that boy comes tomorrow, what are going to do?'

'Call up the police.'

'No, but you must do something. We shouldn't have been here if it hadn't been for him.'

'That's true!' He pondered. 'I've got it; I'll get him a job with Raikes and Courtenay.'

'Why Raikes and Courtenay?'

'Because I have a pull with them. But principally,' said Mr Ferguson, with a devilish grin, 'because they live in Edinburgh, which, as you are doubtless aware, is a long, long way from London.'

He bent across the table.

'Isn't this like old times?' he said. 'Do you remember the first time I ever ki—'

Just then the orchestra broke out.


Any man under thirty years of age who tells you he is not afraid of an English butler lies. He may not show his fear. Outwardly he may be brave—aggressive even, perhaps to the extent of calling the great man 'Here!' or 'Hi!' But, in his heart, when he meets that, cold, blue, introspective eye, he quakes.

The effect that Keggs, the butler at the Keiths', had on Martin Rossiter was to make him feel as if he had been caught laughing in a cathedral. He fought against the feeling. He asked himself who Keggs was, anyway; and replied defiantly that Keggs was a Menial—and an overfed Menial. But all the while he knew that logic was useless.

When the Keiths had invited him to their country home he had been delighted. They were among his oldest friends. He liked Mr Keith. He liked Mrs Keith. He loved Elsa Keith, and had done so from boyhood.

But things had gone wrong. As he leaned out of his bedroom window at the end of the first week, preparatory to dressing for dinner, he was more than half inclined to make some excuse and get right out of the place next day. The bland dignity of Keggs had taken all the heart out of him.

Nor was it Keggs alone who had driven his thoughts towards flight. Keggs was merely a passive evil, like toothache or a rainy day. What had begun actively to make the place impossible was a perfectly pestilential young man of the name of Barstowe.

The house-party at the Keiths had originally been, from Martin's view-point, almost ideal. The rest of the men were of the speechless, moustache-tugging breed. They had come to shoot, and they shot. When they were not shooting they congregated in the billiard-room and devoted their powerful intellects exclusively to snooker-pool, leaving Martin free to talk undisturbed to Elsa. He had been doing this for five days with great contentment when Aubrey Barstowe arrived. Mrs Keith had developed of late leanings towards culture. In her town house a charge of small-shot, fired in any direction on a Thursday afternoon, could not have failed to bring down a poet, a novelist, or a painter. Aubrey Barstowe, author of The Soul's Eclipse and other poems, was a constant member of the crowd. A youth of insinuating manners, he had appealed to Mrs Keith from the start; and unfortunately the virus had extended to Elsa. Many a pleasant, sunshiny Thursday afternoon had been poisoned for Martin by the sight of Aubrey and Elsa together on a distant settee, matching temperaments. The rest is too painful. It was a rout. The poet did not shoot, so that when Martin returned of an evening his rival was about five hours of soul-to-soul talk up and only two to play. And those two, the after-dinner hours, which had once been the hours for which Martin had lived, were pure torture.

So engrossed was he with his thoughts that the first intimation he had that he was not alone in the room was a genteel cough. Behind him, holding a small can, was Keggs.

'Your 'ot water, sir,' said the butler, austerely but not unkindly.

Keggs was a man—one must use that word, though it seems grossly inadequate—of medium height, pigeon-toed at the base, bulgy half-way up, and bald at the apex. His manner was restrained and dignified, his voice soft and grave.

But it was his eye that quelled Martin. That cold, blue, dukes-have-treated-me-as-an-elder-brother eye.

He fixed it upon him now, as he added, placing the can on the floor. 'It is Frederick's duty, but tonight I hundertook it.'

Martin had no answer. He was dazed. Keggs had spoken with the proud humility of an emperor compelled by misfortune to shine shoes.

'Might I have a word with you, sir?'

'Ye-e-ss, yes,' stammered Martin. 'Won't you take a—I mean, yes, certainly.'

'It is perhaps a liberty,' began Keggs. He paused, and raked Martin with the eye that had rested on dining dukes.

'Not at all,' said Martin, hurriedly.

'I should like,' went on Keggs, bowing, 'to speak to you on a somewhat intimate subject—Miss Elsa.'

Martin's eyes and mouth opened slowly.

'You are going the wrong way to work, if you will allow me to say so, sir.'

Martin's jaw dropped another inch.


'Women, sir,' proceeded Keggs, 'young ladies—are peculiar. I have had, if I may say so, certain hopportunities of observing their ways. Miss Elsa reminds me in some respects of Lady Angelica Fendall, whom I had the honour of knowing when I was butler to her father, Lord Stockleigh. Her ladyship was hinclined to be romantic. She was fond of poetry, like Miss Elsa. She would sit by the hour, sir, listening to young Mr Knox reading Tennyson, which was no part of his duties, he being employed by his lordship to teach Lord Bertie Latin and Greek and what not. You may have noticed, sir, that young ladies is often took by Tennyson, hespecially in the summertime. Mr Barstowe was reading Tennyson to Miss Elsa in the 'all when I passed through just now. The Princess, if I am not mistaken.'

'I don't know what the thing was,' groaned Martin. 'She seemed to be enjoying it.'

'Lady Angelica was greatly addicted to The Princess. Young Mr Knox was reading portions of that poem to her when his lordship come upon them. Most rashly his lordship made a public hexpose and packed Mr Knox off next day. It was not my place to volunteer advice, but I could have told him what would happen. Two days later her ladyship slips away to London early in the morning, and they're married at a registry-office. That is why I say that you are going the wrong way to work with Miss Elsa, sir. With certain types of 'igh spirited young lady hopposition is useless. Now, when Mr Barstowe was reading to Miss Elsa on the occasion to which I 'ave alluded, you were sitting by, trying to engage her attention. It's not the way, sir. You should leave them alone together. Let her see so much of him, and nobody else but him, that she will grow tired of him. Fondness for poetry, sir, is very much like the whisky 'abit. You can't cure a man what has got that by hopposition. Now, if you will permit me to offer a word of advice, sir, I say, let Miss Elsa 'ave all the poetry she wants.'

Martin was conscious of one coherent feeling at the conclusion of this address, and that was one of amazed gratitude. A lesser man who had entered his room and begun to discuss his private affairs would have had reason to retire with some speed; but that Keggs should descend from his pedestal and interest himself in such lowly matters was a different thing altogether.

'I'm very much obliged—' he was stammering, when the butler raised a deprecatory hand.

'My interest in the matter,' he said, smoothly, 'is not entirely haltruistic. For some years back, in fact, since Miss Elsa came out, we have had a matrimonial sweepstake in the servants' hall at each house-party. The names of the gentlemen in the party are placed in a hat and drawn in due course. Should Miss Elsa become engaged to any member of the party, the pool goes to the drawer of his name. Should no engagement occur, the money remains in my charge until the following year, when it is added to the new pool. Hitherto I have 'ad the misfortune to draw nothing but married gentlemen, but on this occasion I have secured you, sir. And I may tell you, sir,' he added, with stately courtesy, 'that, in the opinion of the servants' hall, your chances are 'ighly fancied,—very 'ighly. The pool has now reached considerable proportions, and, 'aving had certain losses on the Turf very recent, I am extremely anxious to win it. So I thought, if I might take the liberty, sir, I would place my knowledge of the sex at your disposal. You will find it sound in every respect. That is all. Thank you, sir.'

Martin's feelings had undergone a complete revulsion. In the last few minutes the butler had shed his wings and grown horns, cloven feet, and a forked tail. His rage deprived him of words. He could only gurgle.

'Don't thank me, sir,' said the butler, indulgently. 'I ask no thanks. We are working together for a common hobject, and any little 'elp I can provide is given freely.'

'You old scoundrel!' shouted Martin, his wrath prevailing even against that blue eye. 'You have the insolence to come to me and—'

He stopped. The thought of these hounds, these demons, coolly gossiping and speculating below stairs about Elsa, making her the subject of little sporting flutters to relieve the monotony of country life, choked him.

'I shall tell Mr Keith,' he said.

The butler shook his bald head gravely.

'I shouldn't, sir. It is a 'ighly fantastic story, and I don't think he would believe it.'

'Then I'll—Oh, get out!'

Keggs bowed deferentially.

'If you wish it, sir,' he said, 'I will withdraw. If I may make the suggestion, sir, I think you should commence to dress. Dinner will be served in a few minutes. Thank you, sir.'

He passed softly out of the room.

* * * * *

It was more as a demonstration of defiance against Keggs than because he really hoped that anything would come of it that Martin approached Elsa next morning after breakfast. Elsa was strolling on the terrace in front of the house with the bard, but Martin broke in on the conference with the dogged determination of a steam-drill.

'Coming out with the guns today, Elsa?' he said.

She raised her eyes. There was an absent look in them.

'The guns?' she said. 'Oh, no; I hate watching men shoot.'

'You used to like it.'

'I used to like dolls,' she said, impatiently.

Mr Barstowe gave tongue. He was a slim, tall, sickeningly beautiful young man, with large, dark eyes, full of expression.

'We develop,' he said. 'The years go by, and we develop. Our souls expand—timidly at first, like little, half-fledged birds stealing out from the—'

'I don't know that I'm so set on shooting today, myself,' said Martin. 'Will you come round the links?'

'I am going out in the motor with Mr Barstowe,' said Elsa.

'The motor!' cried Mr Barstowe. 'Ah, Rossiter, that is the very poetry of motion. I never ride in a motor-car without those words of Shakespeare's ringing in my mind: "I'll put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes."'

'I shouldn't give way to that sort of thing if I were you,' said Martin. 'The police are pretty down on road-hogging in these parts.'

'Mr Barstowe was speaking figuratively,' said Elsa, with disdain.

'Was he?' grunted Martin, whose sorrows were tending to make him every day more like a sulky schoolboy. 'I'm afraid I haven't got a poetic soul.'

'I'm afraid you haven't,' said Elsa.

There was a brief silence. A bird made itself heard in a neighbouring tree.

'"The moan of doves in immemorial elms,"' quoted Mr Barstowe, softly.

'Only it happens to be a crow in a beech,' said Martin, as the bird flew out.

Elsa's chin tilted itself in scorn. Martin turned on his heel and walked away.

'It's the wrong way, sir; it's the wrong way,' said a voice. 'I was hobserving you from a window, sir. It's Lady Angelica over again. Hopposition is useless, believe me, sir.'

Martin faced round, flushed and wrathful. The butler went on unmoved: 'Miss Elsa is going for a ride in the car today, sir.'

'I know that.'

'Uncommonly tricky things, these motor-cars. I was saying so to Roberts, the chauffeur, just as soon as I 'eard Miss Elsa was going out with Mr Barstowe. I said, "Roberts, these cars is tricky; break down when you're twenty miles from hanywhere as soon as look at you. Roberts," I said, slipping him a sovereign, "'ow awful it would be if the car should break down twenty miles from hanywhere today!"'

Martin stared.

'You bribed Roberts to—'

'Sir! I gave Roberts the sovereign because I am sorry for him. He is a poor man, and has a wife and family to support.'

'Very well,' said Martin, sternly; 'I shall go and warn Miss Keith.'

'Warn her, sir!'

'I shall tell her that you have bribed Roberts to make the car break down so that—'

Keggs shook his head.

'I fear she would hardly credit the statement, sir. She might even think that you was trying to keep her from going for your own pussonal ends.'

'I believe you are the devil,' said Martin.

'I 'ope you will come to look on me, sir,' said Keggs, unctuously, 'as your good hangel.'

Martin shot abominably that day, and, coming home in the evening gloomy and savage, went straight to his room, and did not reappear till dinner-time. Elsa had been taken in by one of the moustache-tuggers. Martin found himself seated on her other side. It was so pleasant to be near her, and to feel that the bard was away at the other end of the table, that for the moment his spirits revived.

'Well, how did you like the ride?' he asked, with a smile. 'Did you put that girdle round the world?'

She looked at him—once. The next moment he had an uninterrupted view of her shoulder, and heard the sound of her voice as she prattled gaily to the man on her other side.

His heart gave a sudden bound. He understood now. The demon butler had had his wicked way. Good heavens! She had thought he was taunting her! He must explain at once. He—

'Hock or sherry, sir?'

He looked up into Kegg's expressionless eyes. The butler was wearing his on-duty mask. There was no sign of triumph in his face.

'Oh, sherry. I mean hock. No, sherry. Neither.'

This was awful. He must put this right.

'Elsa,' he said.

She was engrossed in her conversation with her neighbour.

From down the table in a sudden lull in the talk came the voice of Mr Barstowe. He seemed to be in the middle of a narrative.

'Fortunately,' he was saying, 'I had with me a volume of Shelley, and one of my own little efforts. I had read Miss Keith the whole of the latter and much of the former before the chauffeur announced that it was once more possible—'

'Elsa,' said the wretched man, 'I had no idea—you don't think—'

She turned to him.

'I beg your pardon?' she said, very sweetly.

'I swear I didn't know—I mean, I'd forgotten—I mean—'

She wrinkled her forehead.

'I'm really afraid I don't understand.'

'I mean, about the car breaking down.'

'The car? Oh, yes. Yes, it broke down. We were delayed quite a little while. Mr Barstowe read me some of his poems. It was perfectly lovely. I was quite sorry when Roberts told us we could go on again. But do you really mean to tell me, Mr Lambert, that you—'

And once more the world became all shoulder.

When the men trailed into the presence of the ladies for that brief seance on which etiquette insisted before permitting the stampede to the billiard-room, Elsa was not to be seen.

'Elsa?' said Mrs Keith in answer to Martin's question. 'She has gone to bed. The poor child has a headache. I am afraid she had a tiring day.'

There was an early start for the guns next morning, and as Elsa did not appear at breakfast Martin had to leave without seeing her. His shooting was even worse than it had been on the previous day.

It was not until late in the evening that the party returned to the house. Martin, on the way to his room, met Mrs Keith on the stairs. She appeared somewhat agitated.

'Oh, Martin,' she said. 'I'm so glad you're back. Have you seen anything of Elsa?'


'Wasn't she with the guns?'

'With the guns' said Martin, puzzled. 'No.'

'I have seen nothing of her all day. I'm getting worried. I can't think what can have happened to her. Are you sure she wasn't with the guns?'

'Absolutely certain. Didn't she come in to lunch?'

'No. Tom,' she said, as Mr Keith came up, 'I'm so worried about Elsa. I haven't seen her all day. I thought she must be out with the guns.'

Mr Keith was a man who had built up a large fortune mainly by consistently refusing to allow anything to agitate him. He carried this policy into private life.

'Wasn't she in at lunch?' he asked, placidly.

'I tell you I haven't seen her all day. She breakfasted in her room—'


'Yes. She was tired, poor girl.'

'If she breakfasted late,' said Mr Keith, 'she wouldn't need any lunch. She's gone for a stroll somewhere.'

'Would you put back dinner, do you think?' inquired Mrs Keith, anxiously.

'I am not good at riddles,' said Mr Keith, comfortably, 'but I can answer that one. I would not put back dinner. I would not put back dinner for the King.'

Elsa did not come back for dinner. Nor was hers the only vacant place. Mr Barstowe had also vanished. Even Mr Keith's calm was momentarily ruffled by this discovery. The poet was not a favourite of his—it was only reluctantly that he had consented to his being invited at all; and the presumption being that when two members of a house-party disappear simultaneously they are likely to be spending the time in each other's society, he was annoyed. Elsa was not the girl to make a fool of herself, of course, but—He was unwontedly silent at dinner.

Mrs Keith's anxiety displayed itself differently. She was frankly worried, and mentioned it. By the time the fish had been reached conversation at the table had fixed itself definitely on the one topic.

'It isn't the car this time, at any rate,' said Mr Keith. 'It hasn't been out today.'

'I can't understand it,' said Mrs Keith for the twentieth time. And that was the farthest point reached in the investigation of the mystery.

By the time dinner was over a spirit of unrest was abroad. The company sat about in uneasy groups. Snooker-pool was, if not forgotten, at any rate shelved. Somebody suggested search-parties, and one or two of the moustache-tuggers wandered rather aimlessly out into the darkness.

Martin was standing in the porch with Mr Keith when Keggs approached. As his eyes lit on him, Martin was conscious of a sudden solidifying of the vague suspicion which had been forming in his mind. And yet that suspicion seemed so wild. How could Keggs, with the worst intentions, have had anything to do with this? He could not forcibly have abducted the missing pair and kept them under lock and key. He could not have stunned them and left them in a ditch. Nevertheless, looking at him standing there in his attitude of deferential dignity, with the light from the open door shining on his bald head, Martin felt perfectly certain that he had in some mysterious fashion engineered the whole thing.

'Might I have a word, sir, if you are at leisure?'

'Well, Keggs?'

'Miss Elsa, sir.'


Kegg's voice took on a sympathetic softness.

'It was not my place, sir, to make any remark while in the dining-room, but I could not 'elp but hoverhear the conversation. I gathered from remarks that was passed that you was somewhat hat a loss to account for Miss Elsa's non-appearance, sir.'

Mr Keith laughed shortly.

'You gathered that, eh?'

Keggs bowed.

'I think, sir, that possibly I may be hable to throw light on the matter.'

'What!' cried Mr Keith. 'Great Scott, man! then why didn't you say so at the time? Where is she?'

'It was not my place, sir, to henter into the conversation of the dinner-table,' said the butler, with a touch of reproof. 'If I might speak now, sir?'

Mr Keith clutched at his forehead.

'Heavens above! Do you want a signed permit to tell me where my daughter is? Get on, man, get on!'

'I think it 'ighly possible, sir, that Miss Elsa and Mr Barstowe may be on the hisland in the lake, sir.' About half a mile from the house was a picturesque strip of water, some fifteen hundred yards in width and a little less in length, in the centre of which stood a small and densely wooded island. It was a favourite haunt of visitors at the house when there was nothing else to engage their attention, but during the past week, with shooting to fill up the days, it had been neglected.

'On the island?' said Mr Keith. 'What put that idea into your head?'

'I 'appened to be rowing on the lake this morning, sir. I frequently row of a morning, sir, when there are no duties to detain me in the 'ouse. I find the hexercise hadmirable for the 'ealth. I walk briskly to the boat-'ouse, and—'

'Yes, yes. I don't want a schedule of your daily exercises. Cut out the athletic reminiscences and come to the point.'

'As I was rowing on the lake this morning, sir, I 'appened to see a boat 'itched up to a tree on the hisland. I think that possibly Miss Elsa and Mr Barstowe might 'ave taken a row out there. Mr Barstowe would wish to see the hisland, sir, bein' romantic.'

'But you say you saw the boat there this morning?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Well, it doesn't take all day to explore a small island. What's kept them all this while?'

'It is possible, sir, that the rope might not have 'eld. Mr Barstowe, if I might say so, sir, is one of those himpetuous literary pussons, and possibly he homitted to see that the knot was hadequately tied. Or'—his eye, grave and inscrutable, rested for a moment on Martin's—'some party might 'ave come along and huntied it a-puppus.'

'Untied it on purpose?' said Mr Keith. 'What on earth for?'

Keggs shook his head deprecatingly, as one who, realizing his limitations, declines to attempt to probe the hidden sources of human actions.

'I thought it right, sir, to let you know,' he said.

'Right? I should say so. If Elsa has been kept starving all day on that island by that long-haired—Here, come along, Martin.'

He dashed off excitedly into the night. Martin remained for a moment gazing fixedly at the butler.

'I 'ope, sir,' said Keggs, cordially, 'that my hinformation will prove of genuine hassistance.'

'Do you know what I should like to do to you?' said Martin slowly.

'I think I 'ear Mr Keith calling you, sir.'

'I should like to take you by the scruff of your neck and—'

'There, sir! Didn't you 'ear 'im then? Quite distinct it was.'

Martin gave up the struggle with a sense of blank futility. What could you do with a man like this? It was like quarrelling with Westminster Abbey.

'I should 'urry, sir,' suggested Keggs, respectfully. 'I think Mr Keith must have met with some haccident.'

His surmise proved correct. When Martin came up he found his host seated on the ground in evident pain.

'Twisted my ankle in a hole,' he explained, briefly. 'Give me an arm back to the house, there's a good fellow, and then run on down to the lake and see if what Keggs said is true.'

Martin did as he was requested—so far, that is to say, as the first half of the commission was concerned. As regarded the second, he took it upon himself to make certain changes. Having seen Mr Keith to his room, he put the fitting-out of the relief ship into the good hands of a group of his fellow guests whom he discovered in the porch. Elsa's feelings towards her rescuer might be one of unmixed gratitude; but it might, on the other hand, be one of resentment. He did not wish her to connect him in her mind with the episode in any way whatsoever. Martin had once released a dog from a trap, and the dog had bitten him. He had been on an errand of mercy, but the dog had connected him with his sufferings and acted accordingly. It occurred to Martin that Elsa's frame of mind would be uncommonly like that dog's.

The rescue-party set off. Martin lit a cigarette, and waited in the porch.

It seemed a very long time before anything happened, but at last, as he was lighting his fifth cigarette, there came from the darkness the sound of voices. They drew nearer. Someone shouted:

'It's all right. We've found them.'

Martin threw away his cigarette and went indoors.

* * * * *

Elsa Keith sat up as her mother came into the room. Two nights and a day had passed since she had taken to her bed.

'How are you feeling today, dear?'

'Has he gone, mother?'


'Mr Barstowe?'

'Yes, dear. He left this morning. He said he had business with his publisher in London.'

'Then I can get up,' said Elsa, thankfully.

'I think you're a little hard on poor Mr Barstowe, Elsa. It was just an accident, you know. It was not his fault that the boat slipped away.'

'It was, it was, it was!' cried Elsa, thumping the pillow malignantly. 'I believe he did it on purpose, so that he could read me his horrid poetry without my having a chance to escape. I believe that's the only way he can get people to listen to it.'

'But you used to like it, darling. You said he had such a musical voice.'

'Musical voice!' The pillow became a shapeless heap. 'Mother, it was like a nightmare! If I had seen him again I should have had hysterics. It was awful! If he had been even the least bit upset himself I think I could have borne up. But he enjoyed it! He revelled in it! He said it was like Omar Khayyam in the Wilderness and Shelley's Epipsychidion, whatever that is; and he prattled on and on and read and read till my head began to split. Mother'—her voice sank to a whisper—'I hit him!'


'I did!' she went on, defiantly. 'I hit him as hard as I could, and he—he'—she broke off into a little gurgle of laughter—'he tripped over a bush and fell right down; and I wasn't a bit ashamed. I didn't think it unladylike or anything. I was just as proud as I could be. And it stopped him talking.'

'But, Elsa, dear! Why?'

'The sun had just gone down; and it was a lovely sunset, and the sky looked like a great, beautiful slice of underdone beef; and I said so to him, and he said, sniffily, that he was afraid he didn't see the resemblance. And I asked him if he wasn't starving. And he said no, because as a rule all that he needed was a little ripe fruit. And that was when I hit him.'


'Oh, I know it was awfully wrong, but I just had to. And now I'll get up. It looks lovely out.'

Martin had not gone out with the guns that day. Mrs Keith had assured him that there was nothing wrong with Elsa, that she was only tired, but he was anxious, and had remained at home, where bulletins could reach him. As he was returning from a stroll in the grounds he heard his name called, and saw Elsa lying in the hammock under the trees near the terrace.

'Why, Martin, why aren't you out with the guns?' she said.

'I wanted to be on the spot so that I could hear how you were.'

'How nice of you! Why don't you sit down?'

'May I?'

Elsa fluttered the pages of her magazine.

'You know, you're a very restful person, Martin. You're so big and outdoory. How would you like to read to me for a while? I feel so lazy.'

Martin took the magazine.

'What shall I read? Here's a poem by—'

Elsa shuddered.

'Oh, please, no,' she cried. 'I couldn't bear it. I'll tell you what I should love—the advertisements. There's one about sardines. I started it, and it seemed splendid. It's at the back somewhere.'

'Is this it—Langley and Fielding's sardines?'

'That's it.'

Martin began to read.

'"Langley and Fielding's sardines. When you want the daintiest, most delicious sardines, go to your grocer and say, 'Langley and Fielding's, please!' You will then be sure of having the finest Norwegian smoked sardines, packed in the purest olive oil."'

Elsa was sitting with her eyes closed and a soft smile of pleasure curving her mouth.

'Go on,' she said, dreamily.

'"Nothing nicer."' resumed Martin, with an added touch of eloquence as the theme began to develop, '"for breakfast, lunch, or supper. Probably your grocer stocks them. Ask him. If he does not, write to us. Price fivepence per tin. The best sardines and the best oil!"'

'Isn't it lovely?' she murmured.

Her hand, as it swung, touched his. He held it. She opened her eyes.

'Don't stop reading,' she said. 'I never heard anything so soothing.'


He bent towards her. She smiled at him. Her eyes were dancing.

'Elsa, I—'

'Mr Keith,' said a quiet voice, 'desired me to say—'

Martin started away. He glared up furiously. Gazing down upon them stood Keggs. The butler's face was shining with a gentle benevolence.

'Mr Keith desired me to say that he would be glad if Miss Elsa would come and sit with him for a while.'

'I'll come at once,' said Elsa, stepping from the hammock.

The butler bowed respectfully and turned away. They stood watching him as he moved across the terrace.

'What a saintly old man Keggs looks,' said Elsa. 'Don't you think so? He looks as if he had never even thought of doing anything he shouldn't. I wonder if he ever has?'

'I wonder!' said Martin.

'He looks like a stout angel. What were you saying, Martin, when he came up?'


Owen Bentley was feeling embarrassed. He looked at Mr Sheppherd, and with difficulty restrained himself from standing on one leg and twiddling his fingers. At one period of his career, before the influence of his uncle Henry had placed him in the London and Suburban Bank, Owen had been an actor. On the strength of a batting average of thirty-three point nought seven for Middlesex, he had been engaged by the astute musical-comedy impresario to whom the idea first occurred that, if you have got to have young men to chant 'We are merry and gay, tra-la, for this is Bohemia,' in the Artists' Ball scene, you might just as well have young men whose names are known to the public. He had not been an actor long, for loss of form had put him out of first-class cricket, and the impresario had given his place in the next piece to a googly bowler who had done well in the last Varsity match; but he had been one long enough to experience that sinking sensation which is known as stage-fright. And now, as he began to explain to Mr Sheppherd that he wished for his consent to marry his daughter Audrey, he found himself suffering exactly the same symptoms.

From the very start, from the moment when he revealed the fact that his income, salary and private means included, amounted to less than two hundred pounds, he had realized that this was going to be one of his failures. It was the gruesome Early Victorianness of it all that took the heart out of him. Mr Sheppherd had always reminded him of a heavy father out of a three-volume novel, but, compared with his demeanour as he listened now, his attitude hitherto had been light and whimsical. Until this moment Owen had not imagined that this sort of thing ever happened nowadays outside the comic papers. By the end of the second minute he would not have been surprised to find himself sailing through the air, urged by Mr Sheppherd's boot, his transit indicated by a dotted line and a few stars.

Mr Sheppherd's manner was inclined to bleakness.

'This is most unfortunate,' he said. 'Most unfortunate. I have my daughter's happiness to consider. It is my duty as a father.' He paused. 'You say you have no prospects? I should have supposed that your uncle—? Surely, with his influence—?'

'My uncle shot his bolt when he got me into the bank. That finished him, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not his only nephew, you know. There are about a hundred others, all trailing him like bloodhounds.'

Mr Sheppherd coughed the small cough of disapproval. He was feeling more than a little aggrieved.

He had met Owen for the first time at dinner at the house of his uncle Henry, a man of unquestioned substance, whose habit it was to invite each of his eleven nephews to dinner once a year. But Mr Sheppherd did not know this. For all he knew, Owen was in the habit of hobnobbing with the great man every night. He could not say exactly that it was sharp practice on Owen's part to accept his invitation to call, and, having called, to continue calling long enough to make the present deplorable situation possible; but he felt that it would have been in better taste for the young man to have effaced himself and behaved more like a bank-clerk and less like an heir.

'I am exceedingly sorry for this, Mr Bentley,' he said, 'but you will understand that I cannot—It is, of course, out of the question. It would be best, in the circumstances, I think, if you did not see my daughter again—'

'She's waiting in the passage outside,' said Owen, simply.

'—after today. Good-bye.'

Owen left the room. Audrey was hovering in the neighbourhood of the door. She came quickly up to him, and his spirits rose, as they always did, at the sight of her.

'Well?' she said.

He shook his head.

'No good,' he said.

Audrey considered the problem for a moment, and was rewarded with an idea.

'Shall I go in and cry?'

'It wouldn't be of any use.'

'Tell me what happened.'

'He said I mustn't see you again.'

'He didn't mean it.'

'He thinks he did.'

Audrey reflected.

'We shall simply have to keep writing, then. And we can talk on the telephone. That isn't seeing each other. Has your bank a telephone?'

'Yes. But—'

'That's all right, then. I'll ring you up every day.'

'I wish I could make some money,' said Owen, thoughtfully. 'But I seem to be one of those chaps who can't. Nothing I try comes off. I've never drawn anything except a blank in a sweep. I spent about two pounds on sixpenny postal orders when the Limerick craze was on, and didn't win a thing. Once when I was on tour I worked myself to a shadow, dramatizing a novel. Nothing came of that, either.'

'What novel?'

'A thing called White Roses, by a woman named Edith Butler.'

Audrey looked up quickly.

'I suppose you knew her very well? Were you great friends?'

'I didn't know her at all. I'd never met her. I just happened to buy the thing at a bookstall, and thought it would make a good play. I expect it was pretty bad rot. Anyhow, she never took the trouble to send it back or even to acknowledge receipt.'

'Perhaps she never got it?'

'I registered it.'

'She was a cat,' said Audrey, decidedly. 'I'm glad of it, though. If another woman had helped you make a lot of money, I should have died of jealousy.'

Routine is death to heroism. For the first few days after his parting with Mr Sheppherd, Owen was in heroic mood, full of vaguely dashing schemes, regarding the world as his oyster, and burning to get at it, sword in hand. But routine, with its ledgers and its copying-ink and its customers, fell like a grey cloud athwart his horizon, blotting out rainbow visions of sudden wealth, dramatically won. Day by day the glow faded and hopelessness grew.

If the glow did not entirely fade it was due to Audrey, who more than fulfilled her promise of ringing him up on the telephone. She rang him up at least once, frequently several times, every day, a fact which was noted and commented upon in a harshly critical spirit by the head of his department, a man with no soul and a strong objection to doing his subordinates' work for them.

As a rule, her conversation, though pleasing, was discursive and lacked central motive, but one morning she had genuine news to impart.

'Owen'—her voice was excited—'have you seen the paper today? Then listen. I'll read it out. Are you listening? This is what it says: "The Piccadilly Theatre will reopen shortly with a dramatized version of Miss Edith Butler's popular novel, White Roses, prepared by the authoress herself. A strong cast is being engaged, including—" And then a lot of names. What are you going to do about it, Owen?'

'What am I going to do?'

'Don't you see what's happened? That awful woman has stolen your play. She has waited all these years, hoping you would forget. What are you laughing at?'

'I wasn't laughing.'

'Yes, you were. It tickled my ear. I'll ring off if you do it again. You don't believe me. Well, you wait and see if I'm not—'

'Edith Butler's incapable of such a thing.'

There was a slight pause at the other end of the wire.

'I thought you said you didn't know her,' said Audrey, jealously.

'I don't—I don't,' said Owen, hastily. 'But I've read her books. They're simply chunks of superfatted sentiment. She's a sort of literary onion. She compels tears. A woman like that couldn't steal a play if she tried.'

'You can't judge authors from their books. You must go and see the play when it comes on. Then you'll see I'm right. I'm absolutely certain that woman is trying to swindle you. Don't laugh in that horrid way. Very well, I told you I should ring off, and now I'm going to.'

At the beginning of the next month Owen's annual holiday arrived. The authorities of the London and Suburban Bank were no niggards. They recognized that a man is not a machine. They gave their employees ten days in the year in which to tone up their systems for another twelve months' work.

Owen spent his boyhood in the Shropshire village of which his father had been rector, and thither he went when his holiday came round, to the farm of one Dorman. He was glad of the chance to get to Shropshire. There is something about the country there, with its green fields and miniature rivers, that soothes the wounded spirit and forms a pleasant background for sentimental musings.

It was comfortable at the farm. The household consisted of Mr Dorman, an old acquaintance, his ten-year-old son George, and Mr Dorman's mother, an aged lady with a considerable local reputation as a wise woman. Rumour had it that the future held no mysteries for her, and it was known that she could cure warts, bruised fingers, and even the botts by means of spells.

Except for these, Owen had fancied that he was alone in the house. It seemed not, however. There was a primeval piano in his sitting-room, and on the second morning it suited his mood to sit down at this and sing 'Asthore', the fruity pathos of which ballad appealed to him strongly at this time, accompanying himself by an ingenious arrangement in three chords. He had hardly begun, however, when Mr Dorman appeared, somewhat agitated.

'If you don't mind, Mr Owen,' he said. 'I forgot to tell you. There's a lit'ery gent boarding with me in the room above, and he can't bear to be disturbed.'

A muffled stamping from the ceiling bore out his words.

'Writing a book he is,' continued Mr Dorman. 'He caught young George a clip over the ear-'ole yesterday for blowing his trumpet on the stairs. Gave him sixpence afterwards, and said he'd skin him if he ever did it again. So, if you don't mind—'

'Oh, all right,' said Owen. 'Who is he?'

'Gentleman of the name of Prosser.'

Owen could not recollect having come across any work by anyone of that name; but he was not a wide reader; and, whether the man above was a celebrity or not, he was entitled to quiet.

'I never heard of him,' he said, 'but that's no reason why I should disturb him. Let him rip. I'll cut out the musical effects in future.'

The days passed smoothly by. The literary man remained invisible, though occasionally audible, tramping the floor in the frenzy of composition. Nor, until the last day of his visit, did Owen see old Mrs Dorman.

That she was not unaware of his presence in the house, however, was indicated on the last morning. He was smoking an after-breakfast pipe at the open window and waiting for the dog-cart that was to take him to the station, when George, the son of the house, entered.

George stood in the doorway, grinned, and said:


'Eh?' said Owen.

The youth repeated the word.

'Once again.'

On the second repetition light began to creep in. A boyhood spent in the place, added to this ten days' stay, had made Owen something of a linguist.

'Father says would I like grandma to do what?'

'Tell yer forch'n by ther cards.'

'Where is she?'


Owen followed him into the kitchen, where he found Mr Dorman, the farmer, and, seated at the table, fumbling with a pack of cards, an old woman, whom he remembered well.

'Mother wants to tell your fortune,' said Mr Dorman, in a hoarse aside. 'She always will tell visitors' fortunes. She told Mr Prosser's, and he didn't half like it, because she said he'd be engaged in two months and married inside the year. He said wild horses wouldn't make him do it.'

'She can tell me that if she likes. I shan't object.'

'Mother, here's Mr Owen.'

'I seed him fast enough,' said the old woman, briskly. 'Shuffle, an' cut three times.'

She then performed mysterious manoeuvres with the cards.

'I see pots o' money,' announced the sibyl.

'If she says it, it's there right enough,' said her son.

'She means my bonus,' said Owen. 'But that's only ten pounds. And I lose it if I'm late twice more before Christmas.'

'It'll come sure enough.'

'Pots,' said the old woman, and she was still mumbling the encouraging word when Owen left the kitchen and returned to the sitting-room.

He laughed rather ruefully. At that moment he could have found a use for pots o' money.

He walked to the window, and looked out. It was a glorious morning. The heat-mist was dancing over the meadow beyond the brook, and from the farmyard came the liquid charawks of care-free fowls. It seemed wicked to leave these haunts of peace for London on such a day.

An acute melancholy seized him. Absently, he sat down at the piano. The prejudices of literary Mr Prosser had slipped from his mind. Softly at first, then gathering volume as the spirit of the song gripped him, he began to sing 'Asthore'. He became absorbed.

He had just, for the sixth time, won through to 'Iyam-ah waiting for-er theeee-yass-thorre,' and was doing some intricate three-chord work preparatory to starting over again, when a loaf of bread whizzed past his ear. It missed him by an inch, and crashed against a plaster statuette of the Infant Samuel on the top of the piano.

It was a standard loaf, containing eighty per cent of semolina, and it practically wiped the Infant Samuel out of existence. At the same moment, at his back, there sounded a loud, wrathful snort.

He spun round. The door was open, and at the other side of the table was standing a large, black-bearded, shirt-sleeved man, in an attitude rather reminiscent of Ajax defying the lightning. His hands trembled. His beard bristled. His eyes gleamed ferociously beneath enormous eyebrows. As Owen turned, he gave tongue in a voice like the discharge of a broadside.

'Stop it!'

Owen's mind, wrenched too suddenly from the dreamy future to the vivid present, was not yet completely under control. He gaped.

'Stop—that—infernal—noise!' roared the man.

He shot through the door, banging it after him, and pounded up the stairs.

Owen was annoyed. The artistic temperament was all very well, but there were limits. It was absurd that obscure authors should behave in this way. Prosser! Who on earth was Prosser? Had anyone ever heard of him? No! Yet here he was going about the country clipping small boys over the ear-hole, and flinging loaves of bread at bank-clerks as if he were Henry James or Marie Corelli. Owen reproached himself bitterly for his momentary loss of presence of mind. If he had only kept his head, he could have taken a flying shot at the man with the marmalade-pot. It had been within easy reach. Instead of which, he had merely stood and gaped. Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.'

His manly regret was interrupted by the entrance of Mr Dorman with the information that the dog-cart was at the door.

* * * * *

Audrey was out of town when Owen arrived in London, but she returned a week later. The sound of her voice through the telephone did much to cure the restlessness from which he had been suffering since the conclusion of his holiday. But the thought that she was so near yet so inaccessible produced in him a meditative melancholy which enveloped him like a cloud that would not lift. His manner became distrait. He lost weight.

If customers were not vaguely pained by his sad, pale face, it was only because the fierce rush of modern commercial life leaves your business man little leisure for observing pallor in bank-clerks. What did pain them was the gentle dreaminess with which he performed his duties. He was in the Inward Bills Department, one of the features of which was the sudden inrush, towards the end of each afternoon, of hatless, energetic young men with leather bags strapped to their left arms, clamouring for mysterious crackling documents, much fastened with pins. Owen had never quite understood what it was that these young men did want, and now his detached mind refused even more emphatically to grapple with the problem. He distributed the documents at random with the air of a preoccupied monarch scattering largess to the mob, and the subsequent chaos had to be handled by a wrathful head of the department in person.

Man's power of endurance is limited. At the end of the second week the overwrought head appealed passionately for relief, and Owen was removed to the Postage Department, where, when he had leisure from answering Audrey's telephone calls, he entered the addresses of letters in a large book and took them to the post. He was supposed also to stamp them, but a man in love cannot think of everything, and he was apt at times to overlook this formality.

One morning, receiving from one of the bank messengers the usual intimation that a lady wished to speak to him on the telephone, he went to the box and took up the receiver.

'Is that you, Owen? Owen, I went to White Roses last night. Have you been yet?'

'Not yet.'

'Then you must go tonight. Owen, I'm certain you wrote it. It's perfectly lovely. I cried my eyes out. If you don't go tonight, I'll never speak to you again, even on the telephone. Promise.'

'Must I?'

'Yes, you must. Why, suppose it is yours! It may mean a fortune. The stalls were simply packed. I'm going to ring up the theatre now and engage a seat for you, and pay for it myself.'

'No—I say—' protested Owen.

'Yes, I shall. I can't trust you to go if I don't. And I'll ring up early tomorrow to hear all about it. Good-bye.'

Owen left the box somewhat depressed. Life was quite gloomy enough as it was, without going out of one's way to cry one's eyes out over sentimental plays.

His depression was increased by the receipt, on his return to his department, of a message from the manager, stating that he would like to see Mr Bentley in his private room for a moment. Owen never enjoyed these little chats with Authority. Out of office hours, in the circle of his friends, he had no doubt the manager was a delightful and entertaining companion; but in his private room his conversation was less enjoyable.

The manager was seated at his table, thoughtfully regarding the ceiling. His resemblance to a stuffed trout, always striking, was subtly accentuated, and Owen, an expert in these matters, felt that his fears had been well founded—there was trouble in the air. Somebody had been complaining of him, and he was now about, as the phrase went, to be 'run-in'.

A large man, seated with his back to the door, turned as he entered, and Owen recognized the well-remembered features of Mr Prosser, the literary loaf-slinger.

Owen regarded him without resentment. Since returning to London he had taken the trouble of looking up his name in Who's Who and had found that he was not so undistinguished as he had supposed. He was, it appeared, a Regius Professor and the author of some half-dozen works on sociology—a record, Owen felt, that almost justified loaf-slinging and earhole clipping in moments of irritation.

The manager started to speak, but the man of letters anticipated him.

'Is this the fool?' he roared. 'Young man, I have no wish to be hard on a congenital idiot who is not responsible for his actions, but I must insist on an explanation. I understand that you are in charge of the correspondence in this office. Well, during the last week you have three times sent unstamped letters to my fiancee, Miss Vera Delane, Woodlands, Southbourne, Hants. What's the matter with you? Do you think she likes paying twopence a time, or what is it?'

Owen's mind leaped back at the words. They recalled something to him. Then he remembered.

He was conscious of a not unpleasant thrill. He had not known that he was superstitious, but for some reason he had not been able to get those absurd words of Mr Dorman's mother out of his mind. And here was another prediction of hers, equally improbable, fulfilled to the letter.

'Great Scott!' he cried. 'Are you going to be married?'

Mr Prosser and the manager started simultaneously.

'Mrs Dorman said you would be,' said Owen. 'Don't you remember?'

Mr Prosser looked keenly at him.

'Why, I've seen you before,' he said. 'You're the young turnip-headed scallywag at the farm.'

'That's right,' said Owen.

'I've been wanting to meet you again. I thought the whole thing over, and it struck me,' said Mr Prosser, handsomely, 'that I may have seemed a little abrupt at our last meeting.'

'No, no.'

'The fact is, I was in the middle of an infernally difficult passage of my book that morning, and when you began—'

'It was my fault entirely. I quite understand.'

Mr Prosser produced a card-case.

'We must see more of each other,' he said. 'Come and have a bit of dinner some night. Come tonight.'

'I'm very sorry. I have to go to the theatre tonight.'

'Then come and have a bit of supper afterwards. Excellent. Meet me at the Savoy at eleven-fifteen. I'm glad I didn't hit you with that loaf. Abruptness has been my failing through life. My father was just the same. Eleven-fifteen at the Savoy, then.'

The manager, who had been listening with some restlessness to the conversation, now intervened. He was a man with a sense of fitness of things, and he objected to having his private room made the scene of what appeared to be a reunion of old college chums. He hinted as much.

'Ha! Prrumph!' he observed, disapprovingly. 'Er—Mr Bentley, that is all. You may return to your work—ah'mmm! Kindly be more careful another time in stamping the letters.'

'Yes, by Jove,' said Mr Prosser, suddenly reminded of his wrongs, 'that's right. Exercise a little ordinary care, you ivory-skulled young son of a gun. Do you think Miss Delane is made of twopences? Keep an eye on him,' he urged the manager. 'These young fellows nowadays want someone standing over them with a knout all the time. Be more careful another time, young man. Eleven-fifteen, remember. Make a note of it, or you'll go forgetting that.'

* * * * *

The seat Audrey had bought for him at the Piccadilly Theatre proved to be in the centre of the sixth row of stalls—practically a death-trap. Whatever his sufferings might be, escape was impossible. He was securely wedged in.

The cheaper parts of the house were sparsely occupied, but the stalls were full. Owen, disapproving of the whole business, refused to buy a programme, and settled himself in his seat prepared for the worst. He had a vivid recollection of White Roses, the novel, and he did not anticipate any keen enjoyment from it in its dramatized form. He had long ceased to be a, member of that large public for which Miss Edith Butler catered. The sentimental adventures of governesses in ducal houses—the heroine of White Roses was a governess—no longer contented his soul.

There is always a curiously dream-like atmosphere about a play founded on a book. One seems to have seen it all before. During the whole of the first act Owen attributed to this his feeling of familiarity with what was going on on the stage. At the beginning of the second act he found himself anticipating events. But it was not till the third act that the truth sank in.

The third was the only act in which, in his dramatization, he had taken any real liberties with the text of the novel. But in this act he had introduced a character who did not appear in the novel—a creature of his own imagination. And now, with bulging eyes, he observed this creature emerge from the wings, and heard him utter lines which he now clearly remembered having written.

Audrey had been right! Serpent Edith Butler had stolen his play.

His mind, during the remainder of the play, was active. By the time the final curtain fell and he passed out into the open air he had perceived some of the difficulties of the case. To prove oneself the author of an original play is hard, but not impossible. Friends to whom one had sketched the plot may come forward as witnesses. One may have preserved rough notes. But a dramatization of a novel is another matter. All dramatizations of any given novel must necessarily be very much alike.

He started to walk along Piccadilly, and had reached Hyde Park Corner before he recollected that he had an engagement to take supper with Mr Prosser at the Savoy Hotel. He hailed a cab.

'You're late,' boomed the author of sociological treatises, as he appeared. 'You're infernally late. I suppose, in your woollen-headed way, you forgot all about it. Come along. We'll just have time for an olive and a glass of something before they turn the lights out.'

Owen was still thinking deeply as he began his supper. Surely there was some way by which he could prove his claims. What had he done with the original manuscript? He remembered now. He had burnt it. It had seemed mere useless litter then. Probably, he felt bitterly, the woman Butler had counted on this.

Mr Prosser concluded an animated conversation with a waiter on the subject of the wines of France, leaned forward, and, having helped himself briskly to anchovies, began to talk. He talked loudly and rapidly. Owen, his thoughts far away, hardly listened.

Presently the waiter returned with the selected brand. He filled Owen's glass, and Owen drank, and felt better. Finding his glass magically full once more, he emptied it again. And then suddenly he found himself looking across the table at his Host, and feeling a sense of absolute conviction that this was the one man of all others whom he would have selected as a confidant. How kindly, though somewhat misty, his face was! How soothing, if a little indistinct, his voice!

'Prosser,' he said, 'you are a man of the world, and I should like your advice. What would you do in a case like this? I go to a theatre to see a play, and what do I find?'

He paused, and eyed his host impressively.

'What's that tune they're playing?' said Mr Prosser. 'You hear it everywhere. One of these Viennese things, I suppose.'

Owen was annoyed. He began to doubt whether, after all, Mr Prosser's virtues as a confidant were not more apparent than real.

'I find, by Jove,' he continued, 'that I wrote the thing myself.'

'It's not a patch on The Merry Widow,' said Mr Prosser.

Owen thumped the table.

'I tell you I find I wrote the thing myself.'

'What thing?'

'This play I'm telling you about. This White Roses thing.'

He found that he had at last got his host's ear. Mr Prosser seemed genuinely interested.

'What do you mean?'

Owen plunged on with his story. He started from its dim beginning, from the days when he had bought the novel on his journey from Bath to Cheltenham. He described his methods of work, his registering of the package, his suspense, his growing resignation. He sketched the progress of his life. He spoke of Audrey and gave a crisp character-sketch of Mr Sheppherd. He took his hearer right up to the moment when the truth had come home to him.

Towards the end of his narrative the lights went out, and he finished his story in the hotel courtyard. In the cool air he felt revived. The outlines of Mr Prosser became sharp and distinct again.

The sociologist listened admirably. He appeared absorbed, and did not interrupt once.

'What makes you so certain that this was your version?' he asked, as they passed into the Strand.

Owen told him of the creature of his imagination in Act III.

'But you have lost your manuscript?'

'Yes; I burnt it.'

'Just what one might have expected you to do,' said Mr Prosser, unkindly. 'Young man, I begin to believe that there may be something in this. You haven't got a ghost of a proof that would hold water in a court of law, of course; but still, I'm inclined to believe you. For one thing, you haven't the intelligence to invent such a story.'

Owen thanked him.

'In fact, if you can answer me one question I shall be satisfied.'

It seemed to Owen that Mr Prosser was tending to get a little above himself. As an intelligent listener he had been of service, but that appeared to be no reason why he should constitute himself a sort of judge and master of the ceremonies.

'That's very good of you,' he said; 'but will Edith Butler be satisfied? That's more to the point.'

'I am Edith Butler,' said Mr Prosser.

Owen stopped. 'You?'

'You need not babble it from the house-tops. You are the only person besides my agent who knows it, and I wouldn't have told you if I could have helped it. It isn't a thing I want known. Great Scott, man, don't goggle at me like a fish! Haven't you heard of pseudonyms before?'

'Yes, but—'

'Well, never mind. Take it from me that I am Edith Butler. Now listen to me. That manuscript reached me when I was in the country. There was no name on it. That in itself points strongly to the fact that you were its author. It was precisely the chuckle-headed sort of thing you would have done, to put no name on the thing.'

'I enclosed a letter, anyhow.'

'There was a letter enclosed. I opened the parcel out of doors. There was a fresh breeze blowing at the time. It caught the letter, and that was the last I saw of it. I had read as far as "Dear Madam". But one thing I do remember about it, and that was that it was sent from some hotel in Cheltenham, and I could remember it if I heard it. Now, then?'

'I can tell it you. It was Wilbraham's. I was stopping there.'

'You pass,' said Mr Prosser. 'It was Wilbraham's.'

Owen's heart gave a jump. For a moment he walked on air.

'Then do you mean to say that it's all right—that you believe—'

'I do,' said Mr Prosser. 'By the way,' he said, 'the notice of White Roses went up last night.'

Owen's heart turned to lead.

'But—but—' he stammered. 'But tonight the house was packed.'

'It was. Packed with paper. All the merry dead-heads in London were there. It has been the worst failure this season. And, by George,' he cried, with sudden vehemence, 'serve 'em right. If I told them once it would fail in England, I told them a hundred times. The London public won't stand that sort of blithering twaddle.'

Owen stopped and looked round. A cab was standing across the road. He signalled to it. He felt incapable of walking home. No physical blow could have unmanned him more completely than this hideous disappointment just when, by a miracle, everything seemed to be running his way.

'Sooner ride than walk,' said Mr Prosser, pushing his head through the open window. 'Laziness—slackness—that's the curse of the modern young man. Where shall I tell him to drive to?'

Owen mentioned his address. It struck him that he had not thanked his host for his hospitality.

'It was awfully good of you to give me supper, Mr Prosser,' he said. 'I've enjoyed it tremendously.'

'Come again,' said Mr Prosser. 'I'm afraid you're disappointed about the play?'

Owen forced a smile.

'Oh, no, that's all right,' he said. 'It can't be helped.'

Mr Prosser half turned, then thrust his head through the window again.

'I knew there was something I had forgotten to say,' he said. 'I ought to have told you that the play was produced in America before it came to London. It ran two seasons in New York and one in Chicago, and there are three companies playing it still on the road. Here's my card. Come round and see me tomorrow. I can't tell you the actual figures off-hand, but you'll be all right. You'll have pots o' money.'


Mark you, I am not defending James Datchett. I hold no brief for James. On the contrary, I am very decidedly of the opinion that he should not have done it. I merely say that there were extenuating circumstances. Just that. Ext. circ. Nothing more.

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