Three Men and a Maid/Chapter 10
AT about the time when Sam Marlowe was having the momentous interview with his father, described in the last chapter, Mr. Rufus Bennett woke from an after-luncheon nap in Mrs. Hignett's delightful old-world mansion, Windles, in the county of Hampshire. He had gone to his room after lunch, because there seemed nothing else to do. It was still raining hard, so that a ramble in the picturesque garden was impossible, and the only alternative to sleep, the society of Mr. Henry Mortimer, had become peculiarly distasteful to Mr. Bennett.
Much has been written of great friendships between man and man, friendships which neither woman can mar nor death destroy. Rufus Bennett had always believed that his friendship for Mr. Mortimer was of this order. They had been boys together in the same small town, and had kept together in after years. They had been Damon and Pythias, David and Jonathan. But never till now had they been cooped up together in an English country-house in the middle of a bad patch of English summer weather. So this afternoon Mr. Bennett, in order to avoid his life-long friend, had gone to bed.
He awoke now with a start, and a moment later realized what it was that had aroused him. There was music in the air. The room was full of it. It seemed to be coming up through the floor and rolling about in chunks all round his bed. He blinked the last fragments of sleep out of his system, and became filled with a restless irritability.
He rang the bell violently, and presently there entered a grave, thin, intellectual man who looked like a duke, only more respectable. This was Webster, Mr. Bennett's English valet.
“Is that Mr. Mortimer?” he barked, as the door opened.
“No, sir. It is I—Webster.” Not even the annoyance of being summoned like this from an absorbing game of penny nap in the housekeeper's room had the power to make the valet careless of his grammar. “I fancied that I heard your bell ring, sir.”
“I wonder you could hear anything with that infernal noise going on,” snapped Mr. Bennett, “Is Mr. Mortimer playing that—that damned gas-engine in the drawing-room?”
“Yes, sir. Tosti's Goodbye. A charming air, sir.”
“Charming air be—! Tell him to stop it.”
“Very good, sir.”
The valet withdrew like a duke leaving the royal presence, not actually walking backwards, but giving the impression of doing so. Mr. Bennett lay in bed and fumed. Presently the valet returned. The music still continued to roll about the room.
“I am sorry to have to inform you, sir,” said Webster, “that Mr. Mortimer declines to accede to your request.”
“Oh, he said that, did he!”
“That is the gist of his remarks, sir.”
“Did you tell him I was trying to get to sleep?”
“Yes, sir. I understood him to reply that he should worry and get a pain in the neck.”
“Go down again and say that I insist on his stopping the thing. It's an outrage.”
“Very good, sir.”
In a few minutes, Webster, like the dove despatched from the Ark, was back again.
“I fear my mission has been fruitless, sir. Mr. Mortimer appears adamant on the point at issue.”
“You gave him my message?”
“Verbatim, sir. In reply Mr. Mortimer desired me to tell you that, if you did not like it, you could do the other thing. I quote the exact words, sir.”
“He did, did he?”
“Very good! Webster!”
“When is the next train to London?”
“I will ascertain, sir. Cook, I believe has a time-table.”
“Go and see, then. I want to know. And send Miss Wilhelmina to me.”
“Very good, sir.”
Somewhat consoled by the thought that he was taking definite action, Mr. Bennett lay back and waited for Billie.
“I want you to go to London,” he said, when she appeared.
“To London? Why?”
“I'll tell you why,” said Mr. Bennett vehemently. “Because of that pest Mortimer. I must have legal advice. I want you to go and see Sir Mallaby Marlowe. Here's his address. Tell him the whole story. Tell him that this man is annoying me in every possible way and ask if he can't be stopped. If you can't see Sir Mallaby himself, see someone else in the firm. Go up to-night, so that you can see him first thing in the morning. You can stop the night at the Savoy. I've sent Webster to look out a train.”
“There's a splendid train in about an hour. I'll take that.” “It's giving you a lot of trouble,” said Mr. Bennett with belated consideration.
“Oh no!” said Billie. “I'm only too glad to be able to do something for you, father dear. This noise is a terrible nuisance, isn't it.”
“You're a good girl,” said Mr. Bennett.