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Home -> P.G. Wodehouse -> A Damsel in Distress -> Chapter 8

A Damsel in Distress - Chapter 8

1. Chapter 1

2. Chapter 2

3. Chapter 3

4. Chapter 4

5. Chapter 5

6. Chapter 6

7. Chapter 7

8. Chapter 8

9. Chapter 9

10. Chapter 10

11. Chapter 11

12. Chapter 12

13. Chapter 13

14. Chapter 14

15. Chapter 15

16. Chapter 16

17. Chapter 17

18. Chapter 18

19. Chapter 19

20. Chapter 20

21. Chapter 21

22. Chapter 22

23. Chapter 23

24. Chapter 24

25. Chapter 25

26. Chapter 26

27. Chapter 27


The following day was a Thursday and on Thursdays, as has been
stated, Belpher Castle was thrown open to the general public between
the hours of two and four. It was a tradition of long standing, this
periodical lowering of the barriers, and had always been faithfully
observed by Lord Marshmoreton ever since his accession to the title.
By the permanent occupants of the castle the day was regarded with
mixed feelings. Lord Belpher, while approving of it in theory, as he
did of all the family traditions--for he was a great supporter of
all things feudal, and took his position as one of the hereditary
aristocracy of Great Britain extremely seriously--heartily disliked
it in practice. More than once he had been obliged to exit hastily
by a further door in order to keep from being discovered by a drove
of tourists intent on inspecting the library or the great
drawing-room; and now it was his custom to retire to his bedroom
immediately after lunch and not to emerge until the tide of invasion
had ebbed away.

Keggs, the butler, always looked forward to Thursdays with
pleasurable anticipation. He enjoyed the sense of authority which
it gave him to herd these poor outcasts to and fro among the
surroundings which were an every-day commonplace to himself. Also
he liked hearing the sound of his own voice as it lectured in
rolling periods on the objects of interest by the way-side. But
even to Keggs there was a bitter mixed with the sweet. No one was
better aware than himself that the nobility of his manner,
excellent as a means of impressing the mob, worked against him when
it came to a question of tips. Again and again had he been harrowed
by the spectacle of tourists, huddled together like sheep, debating
among themselves in nervous whispers as to whether they could offer
this personage anything so contemptible as half a crown for himself
and deciding that such an insult was out of the question. It was
his endeavour, especially towards the end of the proceedings, to
cultivate a manner blending a dignity fitting his position with a
sunny geniality which would allay the timid doubts of the tourist
and indicate to him that, bizarre as the idea might seem, there was
nothing to prevent him placing his poor silver in more worthy

Possibly the only member of the castle community who was absolutely
indifferent to these public visits was Lord Marshmoreton. He made
no difference between Thursday and any other day. Precisely as
usual he donned his stained corduroys and pottered about his
beloved garden; and when, as happened on an average once a quarter,
some visitor, strayed from the main herd, came upon him as he
worked and mistook him for one of the gardeners, he accepted the
error without any attempt at explanation, sometimes going so far as
to encourage it by adopting a rustic accent in keeping with his
appearance. This sort thing tickled the simple-minded peer.

George joined the procession punctually at two o'clock, just as
Keggs was clearing his throat preparatory to saying, "We are now in
the main 'all, and before going any further I would like to call
your attention to Sir Peter Lely's portrait of--" It was his custom
to begin his Thursday lectures with this remark, but today it was
postponed; for, no sooner had George appeared, than a breezy voice
on the outskirts of the throng spoke in a tone that made
competition impossible.

"For goodness' sake, George."

And Billie Dore detached herself from the group, a trim vision in
blue. She wore a dust-coat and a motor veil, and her eyes and
cheeks were glowing from the fresh air.

"For goodness' sake, George, what are you doing here?"

"I was just going to ask you the same thing."

"Oh, I motored down with a boy I know. We had a breakdown just
outside the gates. We were on our way to Brighton for lunch. He
suggested I should pass the time seeing the sights while he fixed
up the sprockets or the differential gear or whatever it was. He's
coming to pick me up when he's through. But, on the level, George,
how do you get this way? You sneak out of town and leave the show
flat, and nobody has a notion where you are. Why, we were thinking
of advertising for you, or going to the police or something. For
all anybody knew, you might have been sandbagged or dropped in the

This aspect of the matter had not occurred to George till now. His
sudden descent on Belpher had seemed to him the only natural course
to pursue. He had not realized that he would be missed, and that
his absence might have caused grave inconvenience to a large number
of people.

"I never thought of that. I--well, I just happened to come here."

"You aren't living in this old castle?"

"Not quite. I've a cottage down the road. I wanted a few days in
the country so I rented it."

"But what made you choose this place?"

Keggs, who had been regarding these disturbers of the peace with
dignified disapproval, coughed.

"If you would not mind, madam. We are waiting."

"Eh? How's that?" Miss Dore looked up with a bright smile. "I'm
sorry. Come along, George. Get in the game." She nodded cheerfully
to the butler. "All right. All set now. You may fire when ready,

Keggs bowed austerely, and cleared his throat again.

"We are now in the main 'all, and before going any further I would
like to call your attention to Sir Peter Lely's portrait of the
fifth countess. Said by experts to be in his best manner."

There was an almost soundless murmur from the mob, expressive of
wonder and awe, like a gentle breeze rustling leaves. Billie Dore
resumed her conversation in a whisper.

"Yes, there was an awful lot of excitement when they found that you
had disappeared. They were phoning the Carlton every ten minutes
trying to get you. You see, the summertime number flopped on the
second night, and they hadn't anything to put in its place. But
it's all right. They took it out and sewed up the wound, and now
you'd never know there had been anything wrong. The show was ten
minutes too long, anyway."

"How's the show going?"

"It's a riot. They think it will run two years in London. As far
as I can make it out you don't call it a success in London unless
you can take your grandchildren to see the thousandth night."

"That's splendid. And how is everybody? All right?"

"Fine. That fellow Gray is still hanging round Babe. It beats me
what she sees in him. Anybody but an infant could see the man
wasn't on the level. Well, I don't blame you for quitting London,
George. This sort of thing is worth fifty Londons."

The procession had reached one of the upper rooms, and they were
looking down from a window that commanded a sweep of miles of the
countryside, rolling and green and wooded. Far away beyond the last
covert Belpher Bay gleamed like a streak of silver. Billie Dore
gave a little sigh.

"There's nothing like this in the world. I'd like to stand here for
the rest of my life, just lapping it up."

"I will call your attention," boomed Keggs at their elbow, "to this
window, known in the fem'ly tredition as Leonard's Leap. It was in
the year seventeen 'undred and eighty-seven that Lord Leonard
Forth, eldest son of 'Is Grace the Dook of Lochlane, 'urled 'imself
out of this window in order to avoid compromising the beautiful
Countess of Marshmoreton, with oom 'e is related to 'ave 'ad a
ninnocent romance. Surprised at an advanced hour by 'is lordship
the earl in 'er ladyship's boudoir, as this room then was, 'e
leaped through the open window into the boughs of the cedar tree
which stands below, and was fortunate enough to escape with a few
'armless contusions."

A murmur of admiration greeted the recital of the ready tact of
this eighteenth-century Steve Brodie.

"There," said Billie enthusiastically, "that's exactly what I mean
about this country. It's just a mass of Leonard's Leaps and things.
I'd like to settle down in this sort of place and spend the rest of
my life milking cows and taking forkfuls of soup to the deserving

"We will now," said Keggs, herding the mob with a gesture, "proceed
to the Amber Drawing-Room, containing some Gobelin Tapestries
'ighly spoken of by connoozers."

The obedient mob began to drift out in his wake.

"What do you say, George," asked Billie in an undertone, "if we
side-step the Amber Drawing-Room? I'm wild to get into that garden.
There's a man working among those roses. Maybe he would show us

George followed her pointing finger. Just below them a sturdy,
brown-faced man in corduroys was pausing to light a stubby pipe.

"Just as you like."

They made their way down the great staircase. The voice of Keggs,
saying complimentary things about the Gobelin Tapestry, came to
their ears like the roll of distant drums. They wandered out
towards the rose-garden. The man in corduroys had lit his pipe and
was bending once more to his task.

"Well, dadda," said Billie amiably, "how are the crops?"

The man straightened himself. He was a nice-looking man of middle
age, with the kind eyes of a friendly dog. He smiled genially, and
started to put his pipe away.

Billie stopped him.

"Don't stop smoking on my account," she said. "I like it. Well,
you've got the right sort of a job, haven't you! If I was a man,
there's nothing I'd like better than to put in my eight hours in a
rose-garden." She looked about her. "And this," she said with
approval, "is just what a rose-garden ought to be."

"Are you fond of roses--missy?"

"You bet I am! You must have every kind here that was ever
invented. All the fifty-seven varieties."

"There are nearly three thousand varieties," said the man in
corduroys tolerantly.

"I was speaking colloquially, dadda. You can't teach me anything
about roses. I'm the guy that invented them. Got any Ayrshires?"

The man in corduroys seemed to have come to the conclusion that
Billie was the only thing on earth that mattered. This revelation
of a kindred spirit had captured him completely. George was merely
among those present.

"Those--them--over there are Ayrshires, missy."

"We don't get Ayrshires in America. At least, I never ran across
them. I suppose they do have them."

"You want the right soil."

"Clay and lots of rain."

"You're right."

There was an earnest expression on Billie Dore's face that George
had never seen there before.

"Say, listen, dadda, in this matter of rose-beetles, what would you
do if--"

George moved away. The conversation was becoming too technical for
him, and he had an idea that he would not be missed. There had come
to him, moreover, in a flash one of those sudden inspirations which
great generals get. He had visited the castle this afternoon
without any settled plan other than a vague hope that he might
somehow see Maud. He now perceived that there was no chance of
doing this. Evidently, on Thursdays, the family went to earth and
remained hidden until the sightseers had gone. But there was
another avenue of communication open to him. This gardener seemed
an exceptionally intelligent man. He could be trusted to deliver a
note to Maud.

In his late rambles about Belpher Castle in the company of Keggs
and his followers, George had been privileged to inspect the
library. It was an easily accessible room, opening off the main
hail. He left Billie and her new friend deep in a discussion of
slugs and plant-lice, and walked quickly back to the house. The
library was unoccupied.

George was a thorough young man. He believed in leaving nothing to
chance. The gardener had seemed a trustworthy soul, but you never
knew. It was possible that he drank. He might forget or lose the
precious note. So, with a wary eye on the door, George hastily
scribbled it in duplicate. This took him but a few minutes. He went
out into the garden again to find Billie Dore on the point of
stepping into a blue automobile.

"Oh, there you are, George. I wondered where you had got to. Say, I
made quite a hit with dadda. I've given him my address, and he's
promised to send me a whole lot of roses. By the way, shake hands
with Mr. Forsyth. This is George Bevan, Freddie, who wrote the
music of our show."

The solemn youth at the wheel extended a hand.

"Topping show. Topping music. Topping all round."

"Well, good-bye, George. See you soon, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes. Give my love to everybody."

"All right. Let her rip, Freddie. Good-bye."


The blue car gathered speed and vanished down the drive. George
returned to the man in corduroys, who had bent himself double in
pursuit of a slug.

"Just a minute," said George hurriedly. He pulled out the first of
the notes. "Give this to Lady Maud the first chance you get. It's
important. Here's a sovereign for your trouble."

He hastened away. He noticed that gratification had turned the
other nearly purple in the face, and was anxious to leave him. He
was a modest young man, and effusive thanks always embarrassed him.

There now remained the disposal of the duplicate note. It was
hardly worth while, perhaps, taking such a precaution, but George
knew that victories are won by those who take no chances. He had
wandered perhaps a hundred yards from the rose-garden when he
encountered a small boy in the many-buttoned uniform of a page. The
boy had appeared from behind a big cedar, where, as a matter of
fact, he had been smoking a stolen cigarette.

"Do you want to earn half a crown?" asked George.

The market value of messengers had slumped.

The stripling held his hand out.

"Give this note to Lady Maud."

"Right ho!"

"See that it reaches her at once."

George walked off with the consciousness of a good day's work done.
Albert the page, having bitten his half-crown, placed it in his
pocket. Then he hurried away, a look of excitement and gratification
in his deep blue eyes.

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