Damsel in Distress
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Over this complex situation the mind of Keggs, the butler, played
like a searchlight. Keggs was a man of discernment and sagacity. He
had instinct and reasoning power. Instinct told him that Maud, all
unsuspecting the change that had taken place in Albert's attitude
toward her romance, would have continued to use the boy as a link
between herself and George: and reason, added to an intimate
knowledge of Albert, enabled him to see that the latter must
inevitably have betrayed her trust. He was prepared to bet a
hundred pounds that Albert had been given letters to deliver and
had destroyed them. So much was clear to Keggs. It only remained to
settle on some plan of action which would re-establish the broken
connection. Keggs did not conceal a tender heart beneath a rugged
exterior: he did not mourn over the picture of two loving fellow
human beings separated by a misunderstanding; but he did want to
win that sweepstake.
His position, of course, was delicate. He could not got to Maud and
beg her to confide in him. Maud would not understand his motives,
and might leap to the not unjustifiable conclusion that he had been
at the sherry. No! Men were easier to handle than women. As soon as
his duties would permit--and in the present crowded condition of
the house they were arduous--he set out for George's cottage.
"I trust I do not disturb or interrupt you, sir," he said, beaming
in the doorway like a benevolent high priest. He had doffed his
professional manner of austere disapproval, as was his Custom in
moments of leisure.
"Not at all," replied George, puzzled. "Was there anything . . .?"
"There was, sir."
"Come along in and sit down."
"I would not take the liberty, if it is all the same to you, sir. I
would prefer to remain standing."
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. Uncomfortable, that is
to say, on the part of George, who was wondering if the butler
remembered having engaged him as a waiter only a few nights back.
Keggs himself was at his ease. Few things ruffled this man.
"Fine day," said George.
"Extremely, sir, but for the rain."
"Oh, is it raining?"
"Sharp downpour, sir."
"Good for the crops," said George.
"So one would be disposed to imagine, sir."
Silence fell again. The rain dripped from the eaves.
"If I might speak freely, sir.. .?" said Keggs.
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
"I mean, yes. Go ahead!"
The butler cleared his throat.
"Might I begin by remarking that your little affair of the 'eart,
if I may use the expression, is no secret in the Servants' 'All? I
'ave no wish to seem to be taking a liberty or presuming, but I
should like to intimate that the Servants' 'All is aware of the
"You don't have to tell me that," said George coldly. "I know all
about the sweepstake."
A flicker of embarrassment passed over the butler's large, smooth
face--passed, and was gone.
"I did not know that you 'ad been apprised of that little matter,
sir. But you will doubtless understand and appreciate our point of
view. A little sporting flutter--nothing more--designed to
halleviate the monotony of life in the country."
"Oh, don't apologize," said George, and was reminded of a point
which had exercised him a little from time to time since his vigil
on the balcony. "By the way, if it isn't giving away secrets, who
"Which of you drew a man named Plummer in the sweep?"
"I rather fancy, sir," Keggs' brow wrinkled in thought, "I rather
fancy it was one of the visiting gentlemen's gentlemen. I gave the
point but slight attention at the time. I did not fancy Mr.
Plummer's chances. It seemed to me that Mr. Plummer was a
"Your knowledge of form was sound. Plummer's out!"
"Indeed, sir! An amiable young gentleman, but lacking in many of
the essential qualities. Perhaps he struck you that way, sir?"
"I never met him. Nearly, but not quite!"
"It entered my mind that you might possibly have encountered Mr.
Plummer on the night of the ball, sir."
"Ah, I was wondering if you remembered me!"
"I remember you perfectly, sir, and it was the fact that we had
already met in what one might almost term a social way that
emboldened me to come 'ere today and offer you my services as a
hintermediary, should you feel disposed to avail yourself of them."
George was puzzled.
"Precisely, sir. I fancy I am in a position to lend you what might
be termed an 'elping 'and."
"But that's remarkably altruistic of you, isn't it?"
"I say that is very generous of you. Aren't you forgetting that you
drew Mr. Byng?"
The butler smiled indulgently.
"You are not quite abreast of the progress of events, sir. Since
the original drawing of names, there 'as been a trifling
hadjustment. The boy Albert now 'as Mr. Byng and I 'ave you, sir. A
little amicable arrangement informally conducted in the scullery on
the night of the ball."
"On my part, entirely so."
George began to understand certain things that had been perplexing
"Then all this while. . .?"
"Precisely, sir. All this while 'er ladyship, under the impression
that the boy Albert was devoted to 'er cause, has no doubt been
placing a misguided confidence in 'im . . . The little blighter!"
said Keggs, abandoning for a moment his company manners and
permitting vehemence to take the place of polish. "I beg your
pardon for the expression, sir," he added gracefully. "It escaped
"You think that Lady Maud gave Albert a letter to give to me, and
that he destroyed it?"
"Such, I should imagine, must undoubtedly have been the case. The
boy 'as no scruples, no scruples whatsoever."
"I appreciate your consternation, sir."
"That must be exactly what has happened."
"To my way of thinking there is no doubt of it. It was for that
reason that I ventured to come 'ere. In the 'ope that I might be
hinstrumental in arranging a meeting."
The strong distaste which George had had for plotting with this
overfed menial began to wane. It might be undignified, he told
himself but it was undeniably practical. And, after all, a man who
has plotted with page-boys has little dignity to lose by plotting
with butlers. He brightened up. If it meant seeing Maud again he
was prepared to waive the decencies.
"What do you suggest?" he said.
"It being a rainy evening and everyone indoors playing games and
what not,"--Keggs was amiably tolerant of the recreations of the
aristocracy--"you would experience little chance of a
hinterruption, were you to proceed to the lane outside the heast
entrance of the castle grounds and wait there. You will find in the
field at the roadside a small disused barn only a short way from
the gates, where you would be sheltered from the rain. In the
meantime, I would hinform 'er ladyship of your movements, and no
doubt it would be possible for 'er to slip off."
"It sounds all right."
"It is all right, sir. The chances of a hinterruption may be said
to be reduced to a minimum. Shall we say in one hour's time?"
"Then I will wish you good evening, sir. Thank you, sir. I am glad
to 'ave been of assistance."
He withdrew as he had come, with a large impressiveness. The room
seemed very empty without him. George, with trembling fingers,
began to put on a pair of thick boots.
For some minutes after he had set foot outside the door of the
cottage, George was inclined to revile the weather for having
played him false. On this evening of all evenings, he felt, the
elements should, so to speak, have rallied round and done their
bit. The air should have been soft and clear and scented: there
should have been an afterglow of sunset in the sky to light him on
his way. Instead, the air was full of that peculiar smell of
hopeless dampness which comes at the end of a wet English day. The
sky was leaden. The rain hissed down in a steady flow, whispering
of mud and desolation, making a dreary morass of the lane through
which he tramped. A curious sense of foreboding came upon George.
It was as if some voice of the night had murmured maliciously in
his ear a hint of troubles to come. He felt oddly nervous, as he
entered the barn.
The barn was both dark and dismal. In one of the dark corners an
intermittent dripping betrayed the presence of a gap in its ancient
roof. A rat scurried across the floor. The dripping stopped and
began again. George struck a match and looked at his watch. He was
early. Another ten minutes must elapse before he could hope for her
arrival. He sat down on a broken wagon which lay on its side
against one of the walls.
Depression returned. It was impossible to fight against it in this
beast of a barn. The place was like a sepulchre. No one but a fool
of a butler would have suggested it as a trysting-place. He
wondered irritably why places like this were allowed to get into
this condition. If people wanted a barn earnestly enough to take
the trouble of building one, why was it not worth while to keep the
thing in proper repair? Waste and futility! That was what it was.
That was what everything was, if you came down to it. Sitting here,
for instance, was a futile waste of time. She wouldn't come. There
were a dozen reasons why she should not come. So what was the use
of his courting rheumatism by waiting in this morgue of dead
agricultural ambitions? None whatever--George went on waiting.
And what an awful place to expect her to come to, if by some
miracle she did come--where she would be stifled by the smell of
mouldy hay, damped by raindrops and--reflected George gloomily as
there was another scurry and scutter along the unseen
floor--gnawed by rats. You could not expect a delicately-nurtured
girl, accustomed to all the comforts of a home, to be bright and
sunny with a platoon of rats crawling all over her....
The grey oblong that was the doorway suddenly darkened.
George sprang up. At the sound of her voice every nerve in his body
danced in mad exhilaration. He was another man. Depression fell
from him like a garment. He perceived that he had misjudged all
sorts of things. The evening, for instance, was a splendid
evening--not one of those awful dry, baking evenings which make you
feel you can't breathe, but pleasantly moist and full of a
delightfully musical patter of rain. And the barn! He had been all
wrong about the barn. It was a great little place, comfortable,
airy, and cheerful. What could be more invigorating than that smell
of hay? Even the rats, he felt, must be pretty decent rats, when
you came to know them.
Maud advanced quickly. His eyes had grown accustomed to the murk,
and he could see her dimly. The smell of her damp raincoat came to
him like a breath of ozone. He could even see her eyes shining in
the darkness, so close was she to him.
"I hope you've not been waiting long?"
George's heart was thundering against his ribs. He could scarcely
speak. He contrived to emit a No.
"I didn't think at first I could get away. I had to . . ." She
broke off with a cry. The rat, fond of exercise like all rats, had
made another of its excitable sprints across the floor.
A hand clutched nervously at George's arm, found it and held it.
And at the touch the last small fragment of George's self-control
fled from him. The world became vague and unreal. There remained
of it but one solid fact--the fact that Maud was in his arms and
that he was saying a number of things very rapidly in a voice that
seemed to belong to somebody he had never met before.