Damsel in Distress
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While George and Billie Dore wandered to the rose garden to
interview the man in corduroys, Maud had been seated not a hundred
yards away--in a very special haunt of her own, a cracked stucco
temple set up in the days of the Regency on the shores of a little
lily-covered pond. She was reading poetry to Albert the page.
Albert the page was a recent addition to Maud's inner circle. She
had interested herself in him some two months back in much the same
spirit as the prisoner in his dungeon cell tames and pets the
conventional mouse. To educate Albert, to raise him above his
groove in life and develop his soul, appealed to her romantic
nature as a worthy task, and as a good way of filling in the time.
It is an exceedingly moot point--and one which his associates of
the servants' hall would have combated hotly--whether Albert
possessed a soul. The most one could say for certain is that he
looked as if he possessed one. To one who saw his deep blue eyes
and their sweet, pensive expression as they searched the middle
distance he seemed like a young angel. How was the watcher to know
that the thought behind that far-off gaze was simply a speculation
as to whether the bird on the cedar tree was or was not within
range of his catapult? Certainly Maud had no such suspicion. She
worked hopefully day by day to rouse Albert to an appreciation of
the nobler things of life.
Not but what it was tough going. Even she admitted that. Albert's
soul did not soar readily. It refused to leap from the earth. His
reception of the poem she was reading could scarcely have been
called encouraging. Maud finished it in a hushed voice, and looked
pensively across the dappled water of the pool. A gentle breeze
stirred the water-lilies, so that they seemed to sigh.
"Isn't that beautiful, Albert?" she said.
Albert's blue eyes lit up. His lips parted eagerly,
"That's the first hornet I seen this year," he said pointing.
Maud felt a little damped.
"Haven't you been listening, Albert?"
"Oh, yes, m'lady! Ain't he a wopper, too?"
"Never mind the hornet, Albert."
"Very good, m'lady."
"I wish you wouldn't say 'Very good, m'lady'. It's like--like--"
She paused. She had been about to say that it was like a butler,
but, she reflected regretfully, it was probably Albert's dearest
ambition to be like a butler. "It doesn't sound right. Just say
Maud was not enthusiastic about the 'M'lady', but she let it go.
After all, she had not quite settled in her own mind what exactly
she wished Albert's attitude towards herself to be. Broadly
speaking, she wanted him to be as like as he could to a medieval
page, one of those silk-and-satined little treasures she had read
about in the Ingoldsby Legends. And, of course, they presumably
said 'my lady'. And yet--she felt--not for the first time--that it
is not easy, to revive the Middle Ages in these curious days. Pages
like other things, seem to have changed since then.
"That poem was written by a very clever man who married one of my
ancestresses. He ran away with her from this very castle in the
"Lor'", said Albert as a concession, but he was still interested n
"He was far below her in the eyes of the world, but she knew what a
wonderful man he was, so she didn't mind what people said about her
marrying beneath her."
"Like Susan when she married the pleeceman."
"Who was Susan?"
"Red-'eaded gel that used to be cook 'ere. Mr. Keggs says to 'er,
'e says, 'You're marrying beneath you, Susan', 'e says. I 'eard
'im. I was listenin' at the door. And she says to 'im, she says,
'Oh, go and boil your fat 'ead', she says."
This translation of a favourite romance into terms of the servants'
hall chilled Maud like a cold shower. She recoiled from it.
"Wouldn't you like to get a good education, Albert," she said
perseveringly, "and become a great poet and write wonderful poems?"
Albert considered the point, and shook his head.
It was discouraging. But Maud was a girl of pluck. You cannot leap
into strange cabs in Piccadilly unless you have pluck. She picked
up another book from the stone seat.
"Read me some of this," she said, "and then tell me if it doesn't
make you feel you want to do big things."
Albert took the book cautiously. He was getting a little fed up
with all this sort of thing. True, 'er ladyship gave him chocolates
to eat during these sessions, but for all that it was too much like
school for his taste. He regarded the open page with disfavour.
"Go on," said Maud, closing her eyes. "It's very beautiful."
Albert began. He had a husky voice, due, it is to be feared,
to precocious cigarette smoking, and his enunciation was not as
good as it might have been.
"Wiv' blekest morss the flower-ports
Was-I mean were-crusted one and orl;
Ther rusted niles fell from the knorts
That 'eld the pear to the garden-worll.
Ther broken sheds looked sed and stringe;
Unlifted was the clinking latch;
Weeded and worn their ancient thatch
Er-pon ther lownely moated gringe,
She only said 'Me life is dreary,
'E cometh not,' she said."
Albert rather liked this part. He was never happy in narrative
unless it could be sprinkled with a plentiful supply of "he said's"
and "she said's." He finished with some gusto.
"She said - I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I was dead."
Maud had listened to this rendition of one of her most adored poems
with much the same feeling which a composer with an over-sensitive
ear would suffer on hearing his pet opus assassinated by a
schoolgirl. Albert, who was a willing lad and prepared, if such
should be her desire, to plough his way through the entire seven
stanzas, began the second verse, but Maud gently took the book away
from him. Enough was sufficient.
"Now, wouldn't you like to be able to write a wonderful thing like
"Not me, m'lady."
"You wouldn't like to be a poet when you grow up?"
Albert shook his golden head.
"I want to be a butcher when I grow up, m'lady."
Maud uttered a little cry.
"Yus, m'lady. Butchers earn good money," he said, a light of
enthusiasm in his blue eyes, for he was now on his favourite
subject. "You've got to 'ave meat, yer see, m'lady. It ain't like
poetry, m'lady, which no one wants."
"But, Albert," cried Maud faintly. "Killing poor animals. Surely
you wouldn't like that?"
Albert's eyes glowed softly, as might an acolyte's at the sight of
"Mr. Widgeon down at the 'ome farm," he murmured reverently, "he
says, if I'm a good boy, 'e'll let me watch 'im kill a pig
He gazed out over the water-lilies, his thoughts far away. Maud
shuddered. She wondered if medieval pages were ever quite as earthy
"Perhaps you had better go now, Albert. They may be needing you in
"Very good, m'lady."
Albert rose, not unwilling to call it a day. He was conscious of
the need for a quiet cigarette. He was fond of Maud, but a man
can't spend all his time with the women.
"Pigs squeal like billy-o, m'lady!" he observed by way of adding a
parting treasure to Maud's stock of general knowledge. "Oo! 'Ear
'em a mile orf, you can!"
Maud remained where she was, thinking, a wistful figure.
Tennyson's "Mariana" always made her wistful even when rendered by
Albert. In the occasional moods of sentimental depression which
came to vary her normal cheerfulness, it seemed to her that the
poem might have been written with a prophetic eye to her special
case, so nearly did it crystallize in magic words her own story.
"With blackest moss the flower-pots
Were thickly crusted, one and all."
Well, no, not that particular part, perhaps. If he had found so
much as one flower-pot of his even thinly crusted with any foreign
substance, Lord Marshmoreton would have gone through the place like
an east wind, dismissing gardeners and under-gardeners with every
"She only said 'My life is dreary,
He cometh not,' she said.
She said 'I am aweary, aweary.
I would that I were dead!"
How exactly--at these moments when she was not out on the links
picking them off the turf with a midiron or engaged in one of those
other healthful sports which tend to take the mind off its
troubles--those words summed up her case.
Why didn't Geoffrey come? Or at least write? She could not write to
him. Letters from the castle left only by way of the castle
post-bag, which Rogers, the chauffeur, took down to the village
every evening. Impossible to entrust the kind of letter she wished
to write to any mode of delivery so public--especially now, when
her movements were watched. To open and read another's letters is a
low and dastardly act, but she believed that Lady Caroline would do
it like a shot. She longed to pour out her heart to Geoffrey in a
long, intimate letter, but she did not dare to take the risk of
writing for a wider public. Things were bad enough as it was, after
that disastrous sortie to London.
At this point a soothing vision came to her--the vision of George
Bevan knocking off her brother Percy's hat. It was the only
pleasant thing that had happened almost as far back as she could
remember. And then, for the first time, her mind condescended to
dwell for a moment on the author of that act, George Bevan, the
friend in need, whom she had met only the day before in the lane.
What was George doing at Belpher? His presence there was
significant, and his words even more so. He had stated explicitly
that he wished to help her.
She found herself oppressed by the irony of things. A knight had
come to the rescue--but the wrong knight. Why could it not have
been Geoffrey who waited in ambush outside the castle, and not a
pleasant but negligible stranger? Whether, deep down in her
consciousness, she was aware of a fleeting sense of disappointment
in Geoffrey, a swiftly passing thought that he had failed her, she
could hardly have said, so quickly did she crush it down.
She pondered on the arrival of George. What was the use of his
being somewhere in the neighbourhood if she had no means of knowing
where she could find him? Situated as she was, she could not wander
at will about the countryside, looking for him. And, even if she
found him, what then? There was not much that any stranger, however
pleasant, could do.
She flushed at a sudden thought. Of course there was something
George could do for her if he were willing. He could receive,
despatch and deliver letters. If only she could get in touch with
him, she could--through him--get in touch with Geoffrey.
The whole world changed for her. The sun was setting and chill
little winds had begun to stir the lily-pads, giving a depressing
air to the scene, but to Maud it seemed as if all Nature smiled.
With the egotism of love, she did not perceive that what she
proposed to ask George to do was practically to fulfil the humble
role of the hollow tree in which lovers dump letters, to be
extracted later; she did not consider George's feelings at all. He
had offered to help her, and this was his job. The world is full of
Georges whose task it is to hang about in the background and make
themselves unobtrusively useful.
She had reached this conclusion when Albert, who had taken a short
cut the more rapidly to accomplish his errand, burst upon her
dramatically from the heart of a rhododendron thicket.
"M'lady! Gentleman give me this to give yer!"
Maud read the note. It was brief, and to the point.
"I am staying near the castle at a cottage they call 'the
one down by Platt's'. It is a rather new, red-brick place.
You can easily find it. I shall be waiting there if you want
It was signed "The Man in the Cab".
"Do you know a cottage called 'the one down by Platt's', Albert?"
"Yes, m'lady. It's down by Platt's farm. I see a chicken killed
there Wednesday week. Do you know, m'lady, after a chicken's 'ead
is cut orf, it goes running licketty-split?"
Maud shivered slightly. Albert's fresh young enthusiasms frequently
jarred upon her.
"I find a friend of mine is staying there. I want you to take a
note to him from me."
"Very good, m'lady."
"Perhaps it would be as well if you said nothing about this to any
of your friends."
In Lord Marshmoreton's study a council of three was sitting in
debate. The subject under discussion was that other note which
George had written and so ill-advisedly entrusted to one whom he
had taken for a guileless gardener. The council consisted of Lord
Marshmoreton, looking rather shamefaced, his son Percy looking
swollen and serious, and Lady Caroline Byng, looking like a tragedy
"This", Lord Belpher was saying in a determined voice, "settles it.
From now on Maud must not be allowed out of our sight."
Lord Marshmoreton spoke.
"I rather wish", he said regretfully, "I hadn't spoken about the
note. I only mentioned it because I thought you might think it
"Amusing!" Lady Caroline's voice shook the furniture.
"Amusing that the fellow should have handed me of all people a
letter for Maud," explained her brother. "I don't want to get Maud
"You are criminally weak," said Lady Caroline severely. "I really
honestly believe that you were capable of giving the note to that
poor, misguided girl, and saying nothing about it." She flushed.
"The insolence of the man, coming here and settling down at the
very gates of the castle! If it was anybody but this man Platt who
was giving him shelter I should insist on his being turned out. But
that man Platt would be only too glad to know that he is causing us
"Quite!" said Lord Belpher.
"You must go to this man as soon as possible," continued Lady
Caroline, fixing her brother with a commanding stare, "and do your
best to make him see how abominable his behaviour is."
"Oh, I couldn't!" pleaded the earl. "I don't know the fellow. He'd
throw me out."
"Nonsense. Go at the very earliest opportunity."
"Oh, all right, all right, all right. Well, I think I'll be
slipping out to the rose garden again now. There's a clear hour
There was a tap at the door. Alice Faraday entered bearing papers,
a smile of sweet helpfulness on her pretty face.
"I hoped I should find you here, Lord Marshmoreton. You promised to
go over these notes with me, the ones about the Essex branch--"
The hunted peer looked as if he were about to dive through the
"Some other time, some other time. I--I have important matters--"
"Oh, if you're busy--"
"Of course, Lord Marshmoreton will be delighted to work on your
notes, Miss Faraday," said Lady Caroline crisply. "Take this
chair. We are just going."
Lord Marshmoreton gave one wistful glance through the open window.
Then he sat down with a sigh, and felt for his reading-glasses.