Something New (Wodehouse)/Chapter 8
"'Put the butter or drippings in a kettle on the range, and when hot add the onions and fry them; add the veal and cook until brown. Add the water, cover closely, and cook very slowly until the meat is tender; then add the seasoning and place the potatoes on top of the meat. Cover and cook until the potatoes are tender, but not falling to pieces.'"
"Sure," said Mr. Peters—"not falling to pieces. That's right. Go on."
"'Then add the cream and cook five minutes longer'" read Ashe.
"Is that all?"
"That's all of that one."
Mr. Peters settled himself more comfortably in bed.
"Read me the piece where it tells about curried lobster."
Ashe cleared his throat.
"'Curried Lobster,'" he read. "'Materials: Two one-pound lobsters, two teaspoonfuls lemon juice, half a spoonful curry powder, two tablespoonfuls butter, a tablespoonful flour, one cupful scalded milk, one cupful cracker crumbs, half teaspoonful salt, quarter teaspoonful pepper.'"
"'Way of Preparing: Cream the butter and flour and add the scalded milk; then add the lemon juice, curry powder, salt and pepper. Remove the lobster meat from the shells and cut into half-inch cubes.'"
"Half-inch cubes," sighed Mr. Peters wistfully. "Yes?"
"'Add the latter to the sauce.'"
"You didn't say anything about the latter. Oh, I see; it means the half-inch cubes. Yes?"
"'Refill the lobster shells, cover with buttered crumbs, and bake until the crumbs are brown. This will serve six persons.'"
"And make them feel an hour afterward as though they had swallowed a live wild cat," said Mr. Peters ruefully.
"Not necessarily," said Ashe. "I could eat two portions of that at this very minute and go off to bed and sleep like a little child."
Mr. Peters raised himself on his elbow and stared at him. They were in the millionaire's bedroom, the time being one in the morning, and Mr. Peters had expressed a wish that Ashe should read him to sleep. He had voted against Ashe's novel and produced from the recesses of his suitcase a much-thumbed cookbook. He explained that since his digestive misfortunes had come on him he had derived a certain solace from its perusal.
It may be that to some men sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things; but Mr. Peters had not found that to be the case. In his hour of affliction it soothed him to read of Hungarian Goulash and escaloped brains, and to remember that he, too, the nut-and-grass eater of today, had once dwelt in Arcadia.
The passage of the days, which had so sapped the stamina of the efficient Baxter, had had the opposite effect on Mr. Peters. His was one of those natures that cannot deal in half measures. Whatever he did, he did with the same driving energy. After the first passionate burst of resistance he had settled down into a model pupil in Ashe's one-man school of physical culture. It had been the same, now that he came to look back on it, at Muldoon's.
Now that he remembered, he had come away from White Plains hoping, indeed, never to see the place again, but undeniably a different man physically. It was not the habit of Professor Muldoon to let his patients loaf; but Mr. Peters, after the initial plunge, had needed no driving. He had worked hard at his cure then, because it was the job in hand. He worked hard now, under the guidance of Ashe, because, once he had begun, the thing interested and gripped him.
Ashe, who had expected continued reluctance, had been astonished and delighted at the way in which the millionaire had behaved. Nature had really intended Ashe for a trainer; he identified himself so thoroughly with his man and rejoiced at the least signs of improvement.
In Mr. Peters' case there had been distinct improvement already. Miracles do not happen nowadays, and it was too much to expect one who had maltreated his body so consistently for so many years to become whole in a day; but to an optimist like Ashe signs were not wanting that in due season Mr. Peters would rise on stepping-stones of his dead self to higher things, and though never soaring into the class that devours lobster a la Newburg and smiles after it, might yet prove himself a devil of a fellow among the mutton chops.
"You're a wonder!" said Mr. Peters. "You're fresh, and you have no respect for your elders and betters; but you deliver the goods. That's the point. Why, I'm beginning to feel great! Say, do you know I felt a new muscle in the small of my back this morning? They are coming out on me like a rash."
"That's the Larsen Exercises. They develop the whole body."
"Well, you're a pretty good advertisement for them if they need one. What were you before you came to me—a prize-fighter?"
"That's the question everybody I have met since I arrived here has asked me. I believe it made the butler think I was some sort of crook when I couldn't answer it. I used to write stories—detective stories."
"What you ought to be doing is running a place over here in England like Muldoon has back home. But you will be able to write one more story out of this business here, if you want to. When are you going to have another try for my scarab?"
"To-night? How about Baxter?"
"I shall have to risk Baxter."
Mr. Peters hesitated. He had fallen out of the habit of being magnanimous during the past few years, for dyspepsia brooks no divided allegiance and magnanimity has to take a back seat when it has its grip on you.
"See here," he said awkwardly; "I've been thinking this over lately—and what's the use? It's a queer thing; and if anybody had told me a week ago that I should be saying it I wouldn't have believed him; but I am beginning to like you. I don't want to get you into trouble. Let the old scarab go. What's a scarab anyway? Forget about it and stick on here as my private Muldoon. If it's the five thousand that's worrying you, forget that too. I'll give it to you as your fee."
Ashe was astounded. That it could really be his peppery employer who spoke was almost unbelievable. Ashe's was a friendly nature and he could never be long associated with anyone without trying to establish pleasant relations; but he had resigned himself in the present case to perpetual warfare.
He was touched; and if he had ever contemplated abandoning his venture, this, he felt, would have spurred him on to see it through. This sudden revelation of the human in Mr. Peters was like a trumpet call.
"I wouldn't think of it," he said. "It's great of you to suggest such a thing; but I know just how you feel about the thing, and I'm going to get it for you if I have to wring Baxter's neck. Probably Baxter will have given up waiting as a bad job by now if he has been watching all this while. We've given him ten nights to cool off. I expect he is in bed, dreaming pleasant dreams. It's nearly two o'clock. I'll wait another ten minutes and then go down." He picked up the cookbook. "Lie back and make yourself comfortable, and I'll read you to sleep first."
"You're a good boy," said Mr. Peters drowsily.
"Are you ready? 'Pork Tenderloin Larded. Half pound fat pork—'" A faint smile curved Mr. Peters' lips. His eyes were closed and he breathed softly. Ashe went on in a low voice: "'four large pork tenderloins, one cupful cracker crumbs, one cupful boiling water, two tablespoonfuls butter, one teaspoonful salt, half teaspoonful pepper, one teaspoonful poultry seasoning.'"
A little sigh came from the bed.
"'Way of Preparing: Wipe the tenderloins with a damp cloth. With a sharp knife make a deep pocket lengthwise in each tenderloin. Cut your pork into long thin strips and, with a needle, lard each tenderloin. Melt the butter in the water, add the seasoning and the cracker crumbs, combining all thoroughly. Now fill each pocket in the tenderloin with this stuffing. Place the tenderloins—'"
A snore sounded from the pillows, punctuating the recital like a mark of exclamation. Ashe laid down the book and peered into the darkness beyond the rays of the bed lamp. His employer slept.
Ashe switched off the light and crept to the door. Out in the passage he stopped and listened. All was still. He stole downstairs.
* * *
George Emerson sat in his bedroom in the bachelors' wing of the castle smoking a cigarette. A light of resolution was in his eyes. He glanced at the table beside his bed and at what was on that table, and the light of resolution flamed into a glare of fanatic determination. So might a medieval knight have looked on the eve of setting forth to rescue a maiden from a dragon.
His cigarette burned down. He looked at his watch, put it back, and lit another cigarette. His aspect was the aspect of one waiting for the appointed hour. Smoking his second cigarette, he resumed his meditations. They had to do with Aline Peters.
George Emerson was troubled about Aline Peters. Watching over her, as he did, with a lover's eye, he had perceived that about her which distressed him. On the terrace that morning she had been abrupt to him—what in a girl of less angelic disposition one might have called snappy. Yes, to be just, she had snapped at him. That meant something. It meant that Aline was not well. It meant what her pallor and tired eyes meant—that the life she was leading was doing her no good.
Eleven nights had George dined at Blandings Castle, and on each of the eleven nights he had been distressed to see the manner in which Aline, declining the baked meats, had restricted herself to the miserable vegetable messes which were all that doctor's orders permitted to her suffering father. George's pity had its limits. His heart did not bleed for Mr. Peters. Mr. Peters' diet was his own affair. But that Aline should starve herself in this fashion, purely by way of moral support for her parent, was another matter.
George was perhaps a shade material. Himself a robust young man and taking what might be called an outsize in meals, he attached perhaps too much importance to food as an adjunct to the perfect life. In his survey of Aline he took a line through his own requirements; and believing that eleven such dinners as he had seen Aline partake of would have killed him he decided that his loved one was on the point of starvation.
No human being, he held, could exist on such Barmecide feasts. That Mr. Peters continued to do so did not occur to him as a flaw in his reasoning. He looked on Mr. Peters as a sort of machine. Successful business men often give that impression to the young. If George had been told that Mr. Peters went along on gasoline, like an automobile, he would not have been much surprised. But that Aline—his Aline—should have to deny herself the exercise of that mastication of rich meats which, together with the gift of speech, raises man above the beasts of the field—— That was what tortured George.
He had devoted the day to thinking out a solution of the problem. Such was the overflowing goodness of Aline's heart that not even he could persuade her to withdraw her moral support from her father and devote herself to keeping up her strength as she should do. It was necessary to think of some other plan.
And then a speech of hers had come back to him. She had said—poor child:
"I do get a little hungry sometimes—late at night generally."
The problem was solved. Food should be brought to her late at night.
On the table by his bed was a stout sheet of packing paper. On this lay, like one of those pictures in still life that one sees on suburban parlor walls, a tongue, some bread, a knife, a fork, salt, a corkscrew and a small bottle of white wine.
It is a pleasure, when one has been able hitherto to portray George's devotion only through the medium of his speeches, to produce these comestibles as Exhibit A, to show that he loved Aline with no common love; for it had not been an easy task to get them there. In a house of smaller dimensions he would have raided the larder without shame, but at Blandings Castle there was no saying where the larder might be. All he knew was that it lay somewhere beyond that green-baize door opening on the hall, past which he was wont to go on his way to bed. To prowl through the maze of the servants' quarters in search of it was impossible. The only thing to be done was to go to Market Blandings and buy the things.
Fortune had helped him at the start by arranging that the Honorable Freddie, also, should be going to Market Blandings in the little runabout, which seated two. He had acquiesced in George's suggestion that he, George, should occupy the other seat, but with a certain lack of enthusiasm it seemed to George. He had not volunteered any reason as to why he was going to Market Blandings in the little runabout, and on arrival there had betrayed an unmistakable desire to get rid of George at the earliest opportunity.
As this had suited George to perfection, he being desirous of getting rid of the Honorable Freddie at the earliest opportunity, he had not been inquisitive, and they had parted on the outskirts of the town without mutual confidences.
George had then proceeded to the grocer's, and after that to another of the Market Blandings inns, not the Emsworth Arms, where he had bought the white wine. He did not believe in the local white wine, for he was a young man with a palate and mistrusted country cellars, but he assumed that, whatever its quality, it would cheer Aline in the small hours.
He had then tramped the whole five miles back to the castle with his purchases. It was here that his real troubles began and the quality of his love was tested. The walk, to a heavily laden man, was bad enough; but it was as nothing compared with the ordeal of smuggling the cargo up to his bedroom. Superhuman though he was, George was alive to the delicacy of the situation. One cannot convey food and drink to one's room in a strange house without, if detected, seeming to cast a slur on the table of the host. It was as one who carries dispatches through an enemy's lines that George took cover, emerged from cover, dodged, ducked and ran; and the moment when he sank down on his bed, the door locked behind him, was one of the happiest of his life.
The recollection of that ordeal made the one he proposed to embark on now seem slight in comparison. All he had to do was to go to Aline's room on the other side of the house, knock softly on the door until signs of wakefulness made themselves heard from within, and then dart away into the shadows whence he had come, and so back to bed. He gave Aline credit for the intelligence that would enable her, on finding a tongue, some bread, a knife, a fork, salt, a corkscrew and a bottle of white wine on the mat, to know what to do with them—and perhaps to guess whose was the loving hand that had laid them there.
The second clause, however, was not important, for he proposed to tell her whose was the hand next morning. Other people might hide their light under a bushel—not George Emerson.
It only remained now to allow time to pass until the hour should be sufficiently advanced to insure safety for the expedition. He looked at his watch again. It was nearly two. By this time the house must be asleep.
He gathered up the tongue, the bread, the knife, the fork, the salt, the corkscrew and the bottle of white wine, and left the room. All was still. He stole downstairs.
* * *
On his chair in the gallery that ran round the hall, swathed in an overcoat and wearing rubber-soled shoes, the Efficient Baxter sat and gazed into the darkness. He had lost the first fine careless rapture, as it were, which had helped him to endure these vigils, and a great weariness was on him. He found difficulty in keeping his eyes open, and when they were open the darkness seemed to press on them painfully. Take him for all in all, the Efficient Baxter had had about enough of it.
Time stood still. Baxter's thoughts began to wander. He knew that this was fatal and exerted himself to drag them back. He tried to concentrate his mind on some one definite thing. He selected the scarab as a suitable object, but it played him false. He had hardly concentrated on the scarab before his mind was straying off to ancient Egypt, to Mr. Peters' dyspepsia, and on a dozen other branch lines of thought.
He blamed the fat man at the inn for this. If the fat man had not thrust his presence and conversation on him he would have been able to enjoy a sound sleep in the afternoon, and would have come fresh to his nocturnal task. He began to muse on the fat man. And by a curious coincidence whom should he meet a few moments later but this same man!
It happened in a somewhat singular manner, though it all seemed perfectly logical and consecutive to Baxter. He was climbing up the outer wall of Westminster Abbey in his pyjamas and a tall hat, when the fat man, suddenly thrusting his head out of a window which Baxter had not noticed until that moment, said, "Hello, Freddie!"
Baxter was about to explain that his name was not Freddie when he found himself walking down Piccadilly with Ashe Marson. Ashe said to him: "Nobody loves me. Everybody steals my grapefruit!" And the pathos of it cut the Efficient Baxter like a knife. He was on the point of replying; when Ashe vanished and Baxter discovered that he was not in Piccadilly, as he had supposed, but in an aeroplane with Mr. Peters, hovering over the castle.
Mr. Peters had a bomb in his hand, which he was fondling with loving care. He explained to Baxter that he had stolen it from the Earl of Emsworth's museum. "I did it with a slice of cold beef and a pickle," he explained; and Baxter found himself realizing that that was the only way. "Now watch me drop it," said Mr. Peters, closing one eye and taking aim at the castle. "I have to do this by the doctor's orders."
He loosed the bomb and immediately Baxter was lying in bed watching it drop. He was frightened, but the idea of moving did not occur to him. The bomb fell very slowly, dipping and fluttering like a feather. It came closer and closer. Then it struck with a roar and a sheet of flame.
Baxter woke to a sound of tumult and crashing. For a moment he hovered between dreaming and waking, and then sleep passed from him, and he was aware that something noisy and exciting was in progress in the hall below.
* * *
Coming down to first causes, the only reason why collisions of any kind occur is because two bodies defy Nature's law that a given spot on a given plane shall at a given moment of time be occupied by only one body.
There was a certain spot near the foot of the great staircase which Ashe, coming downstairs from Mr. Peters' room, and George Emerson, coming up to Aline's room, had to pass on their respective routes. George reached it at one minute and three seconds after two a.m., moving silently but swiftly; and Ashe, also maintaining a good rate of speed, arrived there at one minute and four seconds after the hour, when he ceased to walk and began to fly, accompanied by George Emerson, now going down. His arms were round George's neck and George was clinging to his waist.
In due season they reached the foot of the stairs and a small table, covered with occasional china and photographs in frames, which lay adjacent to the foot of the stairs. That—especially the occasional china—was what Baxter had heard.
George Emerson thought it was a burglar. Ashe did not know what it was, but he knew he wanted to shake it off; so he insinuated a hand beneath George's chin and pushed upward. George, by this time parted forever from the tongue, the bread, the knife, the fork, the salt, the corkscrew and the bottle of white wine, and having both hands free for the work of the moment, held Ashe with the left and punched him in the ribs with the right.
Ashe, removing his left arm from George's neck, brought it up as a reinforcement to his right, and used both as a means of throttling George. This led George, now permanently underneath, to grasp Ashe's ears firmly and twist them, relieving the pressure on his throat and causing Ashe to utter the first vocal sound of the evening, other than the explosive Ugh! that both had emitted at the instant of impact.
Ashe dislodged George's hands from his ears and hit George in the ribs with his elbow. George kicked Ashe on the left ankle. Ashe rediscovered George's throat and began to squeeze it afresh; and a pleasant time was being had by all when the Efficient Baxter, whizzing down the stairs, tripped over Ashe's legs, shot forward and cannoned into another table, also covered with occasional china and photographs in frames.
The hall at Blandings Castle was more an extra drawing-room than a hall; and, when not nursing a sick headache in her bedroom, Lady Ann Warblington would dispense afternoon tea there to her guests. Consequently it was dotted pretty freely with small tables. There were, indeed, no fewer than five more in various spots, waiting to be bumped into and smashed.
The bumping into and smashing of small tables, however, is a task that calls for plenty of time, a leisured pursuit; and neither George nor Ashe, a third party having been added to their little affair, felt a desire to stay on and do the thing properly. Ashe was strongly opposed to being discovered and called on to account for his presence there at that hour; and George, conscious of the tongue and its adjuncts now strewn about the hall, had a similar prejudice against the tedious explanations that detection must involve.
As though by mutual consent each relaxed his grip. They stood panting for an instant; then, Ashe in the direction where he supposed the green-baize door of the servants' quarters to be, George to the staircase that led to his bedroom, they went away from that place.
They had hardly done so when Baxter, having disassociated himself from the contents of the table he had upset, began to grope his way toward the electric-light switch, the same being situated near the foot of the main staircase. He went on all fours, as a safer method of locomotion, though slower, than the one he had attempted before.
Noises began to make themselves heard on the floors above. Roused by the merry crackle of occasional china, the house party was bestirring itself to investigate. Voices sounded, muffled and inquiring.
Meantime Baxter crawled steadily on his hands and knees toward the light switch. He was in much the same condition as one White Hope of the ring is after he has put his chin in the way of the fist of a rival member of the Truck Drivers' Union. He knew that he was still alive. More he could not say. The mists of sleep, which still shrouded his brain, and the shake-up he had had from his encounter with the table, a corner of which he had rammed with the top of his head, combined to produce a dreamlike state.
And so the Efficient Baxter crawled on; and as he crawled his hand, advancing cautiously, fell on something—something that was not alive; something clammy and ice-cold, the touch of which filled him with a nameless horror.
To say that Baxter's heart stood still would be physiologically inexact. The heart does not stand still. Whatever the emotions of its owner, it goes on beating. It would be more accurate to say that Baxter felt like a man taking his first ride in an express elevator, who has outstripped his vital organs by several floors and sees no immediate prospect of their ever catching up with him again. There was a great cold void where the more intimate parts of his body should have been. His throat was dry and contracted. The flesh of his back crawled, for he knew what it was he had touched.
Painful and absorbing as had been his encounter with the table, Baxter had never lost sight of the fact that close beside him a furious battle between unseen forces was in progress. He had heard the bumping and the thumping and the tense breathing even as he picked occasional china from his person. Such a combat, he had felt, could hardly fail to result in personal injury to either the party of the first part or the party of the second part, or both. He knew now that worse than mere injury had happened, and that he knelt in the presence of death.
There was no doubt that the man was dead. Insensibility alone could never have produced this icy chill. He raised his head in the darkness, and cried aloud to those approaching. He meant to cry: "Help! Murder!" But fear prevented clear articulation. What he shouted was: "Heh! Mer!" On which, from the neighborhood of the staircase, somebody began to fire a revolver.
The Earl of Emsworth had been sleeping a sound and peaceful sleep when the imbroglio began downstairs. He sat up and listened. Yes; undoubtedly burglars! He switched on his light and jumped out of bed. He took a pistol from a drawer, and thus armed went to look into the matter. The dreamy peer was no poltroon.
It was quite dark when he arrived on the scene of conflict, in the van of a mixed bevy of pyjamaed and dressing-gowned relations. He was in the van because, meeting these relations in the passage above, he had said to them: "Let me go first. I have a pistol." And they had let him go first. They were, indeed, awfully nice about it, not thrusting themselves forward or jostling or anything, but behaving in a modest and self-effacing manner that was pretty to watch.
When Lord Emsworth said, "Let me go first," young Algernon Wooster, who was on the very point of leaping to the fore, said, "Yes, by Jove! Sound scheme, by Gad!"—and withdrew into the background; and the Bishop of Godalming said: "By all means, Clarence undoubtedly; most certainly precede us."
When his sense of touch told him he had reached the foot of the stairs, Lord Emsworth paused. The hall was very dark and the burglars seemed temporarily to have suspended activities. And then one of them, a man with a ruffianly, grating voice, spoke. What it was he said Lord Emsworth could not understand. It sounded like "Heh! Mer!"—probably some secret signal to his confederates. Lord Emsworth raised his revolver and emptied it in the direction of the sound.
Extremely fortunately for him, the Efficient Baxter had not changed his all-fours attitude. This undoubtedly saved Lord Emsworth the worry of engaging a new secretary. The shots sang above Baxter's head one after the other, six in all, and found other billets than his person. They disposed themselves as follows: The first shot broke a window and whistled out into the night; the second shot hit the dinner gong and made a perfectly extraordinary noise, like the Last Trump; the third, fourth and fifth shots embedded themselves in the wall; the sixth and final shot hit a life-size picture of his lordship's grandmother in the face and improved it out of all knowledge.
One thinks no worse of Lord Emsworth's grandmother because she looked like Eddie Foy, and had allowed herself to be painted, after the heavy classic manner of some of the portraits of a hundred years ago, in the character of Venus—suitably draped, of course, rising from the sea; but it was beyond the possibility of denial that her grandson's bullet permanently removed one of Blandings Castle's most prominent eyesores.
Having emptied his revolver, Lord Emsworth said, "Who is there? Speak!" in rather an aggrieved tone, as though he felt he had done his part in breaking the ice, and it was now for the intruder to exert himself and bear his share of the social amenities.
The Efficient Baxter did not reply. Nothing in the world could have induced him to speak at that moment, or to make any sound whatsoever that might betray his position to a dangerous maniac who might at any instant reload his pistol and resume the fusillade. Explanations, in his opinion, could be deferred until somebody had the presence of mind to switch on the lights. He flattened himself on the carpet and hoped for better things. His cheek touched the corpse beside him; but though he winced and shuddered he made no outcry. After those six shots he was through with outcries.
A voice from above, the bishop's voice, said: "I think you have killed him, Clarence."
Another voice, that of Colonel Horace Mant, said: "Switch on those dashed lights! Why doesn't somebody? Dash it!"
The whole strength of the company began to demand light.
When the lights came, it was from the other side of the hall. Six revolver shots, fired at quarter past two in the morning, will rouse even sleeping domestics. The servants' quarters were buzzing like a hive. Shrill feminine screams were puncturing the air. Mr. Beach, the butler, in a suit of pink silk pajamas, of which no one would have suspected him, was leading a party of men servants down the stairs—not so much because he wanted to lead them as because they pushed him.
The passage beyond the green-baize door became congested, and there were cries for Mr. Beach to open it and look through and see what was the matter; but Mr. Beach was smarter than that and wriggled back so that he no longer headed the procession. This done, he shouted:
"Open that door there! Open that door! Look and see what the matter is."
Ashe opened the door. Since his escape from the hall he had been lurking in the neighborhood of the green-baize door and had been engulfed by the swirling throng. Finding himself with elbowroom for the first time, he pushed through, swung the door open and switched on the lights.
They shone on a collection of semi-dressed figures, crowding the staircase; on a hall littered with china and glass; on a dented dinner gong; on an edited and improved portrait of the late Countess of Emsworth; and on the Efficient Baxter, in an overcoat and rubber-soled shoes, lying beside a cold tongue. At no great distance lay a number of other objects—a knife, a fork, some bread, salt, a corkscrew and a bottle of white wine.
Using the word in the sense of saying something coherent, the Earl of Emsworth was the first to speak. He peered down at his recumbent secretary and said:
"Baxter! My dear fellow—what the devil?"
The feeling of the company was one of profound disappointment. They were disgusted at the anticlimax. For an instant, when the Efficient one did not move, a hope began to stir; but as soon as it was seen that he was not even injured, gloom reigned. One of two things would have satisfied them—either a burglar or a corpse. A burglar would have been welcome, dead or alive; but, if Baxter proposed to fill the part adequately it was imperative that he be dead. He had disappointed them deeply by turning out to be the object of their quest. That he should not have been even grazed was too much.
There was a cold silence as he slowly raised himself from the floor. As his eyes fell on the tongue, he started and remained gazing fixedly at it. Surprise paralyzed him.
Lord Emsworth was also looking at the tongue and he leaped to a not unreasonable conclusion. He spoke coldly and haughtily; for he was not only annoyed, like the others, at the anticlimax, but offended. He knew that he was not one of your energetic hosts who exert themselves unceasingly to supply their guests with entertainment; but there was one thing on which, as a host, he did pride himself—in the material matters of life he did his guests well; he kept an admirable table.
"My dear Baxter," he said in the tones he usually reserved for the correction of his son Freddie, "if your hunger is so great that you are unable to wait for breakfast and have to raid my larder in the middle of the night, I wish to goodness you would contrive to make less noise about it. I do not grudge you the food—help yourself when you please—but do remember that people who have not such keen appetites as yourself like to sleep during the night. A far better plan, my dear fellow, would be to have sandwiches or buns—or whatever you consider most sustaining—sent up to your bedroom."
Not even the bullets had disordered Baxter's faculties so much as this monstrous accusation. Explanations pushed and jostled one another in his fermenting brain, but he could not utter them. On every side he met gravely reproachful eyes. George Emerson was looking at him in pained disgust. Ashe Marson's face was the face of one who could never have believed this had he not seen it with his own eyes. The scrutiny of the knife-and-shoe boy was unendurable.
He stammered. Words began to proceed from him, tripping and stumbling over each other. Lord Emsworth's frigid disapproval did not relax.
"Pray do not apologize, Baxter. The desire for food is human. It is your boisterous mode of securing and conveying it that I deprecate. Let us all go to bed."
"But, Lord Emsworth——"
"To bed!" repeated his lordship firmly.
The company began to stream moodily upstairs. The lights were switched off. The Efficient Baxter dragged himself away. From the darkness in the direction of the servants' door a voice spoke.
"Greedy pig!" said the voice scornfully.
It sounded like the fresh young voice of the knife-and-shoe boy, but Baxter was too broken to investigate. He continued his retreat without pausing.
"Stuffin' of 'isself at all hours!" said the voice.
There was a murmur of approval from the unseen throng of domestics.