"Morning, Giles," I said.
"Good Morning, miss," said Giles.
Every other maid I've ever had would barge into my room in the morning while I was still asleep, causing much misery: but Giles seemed to know when I was awake by a sort of telepathy. He floated in exactly two minutes after I came to life and set a good old cup of tea softly on the table by my bed. Makes a deuce of a difference in a girl's day.
"How's the weather, Giles?"
"Exceptionally clement, miss."
I took a refreshing sip. Just right. Not too hot, not too sweet, not too weak, not too strong, not too much milk and not a drop spilled on the saucer. Dashed competent this fellow, Giles.
"Might I ask you something, Giles?"
"I am open to all inquiries, miss."
"What do you think of this Maclay girl? For my cousin, Lumpy, I mean."
"She seems to be an admirable young lady of both intelligence and spirit, miss. A gentleman such as your cousin would be quite lucky to have her at his side."
I bit my lip a moment and considered.
"Yes, I'd say you're right." I hated to concede the notion, but there it was for the world to see.
He started to put out my things, and there was an awkward sort of silence.
"Not those stockings, Giles," I said, gulping a bit but having a dash at the careless, off-hand tone. "Give me the purple ones."
"I beg your pardon, miss?"
"Those jolly purple ones."
"Very good, miss."
He lugged them out of the drawer as if he were a vegetarian fishing a caterpillar out of the salad. You could see he was feeling deeply. Deuced painful and all that, this sort of thing, but a person has got to assert herself every now and then.
I took breakfast in my room, and as I sat champing on my egg, I set a keen stare on the chest of drawers harboring my Uncle's manuscript.
Daniel had talked in an airy sort of way about destroying the piece of work; but when it came down to it, how the deuce can a girl destroy a great chunky mass of paper in somebody else's house in the middle of the summer? I couldn't ask to have a fire in my bedroom with the thermometer in the eighties. And if I didn't burn the thing, how else could I get rid of it? Fellows on the battlefield eat dispatches to keep them from falling into the hands of the enemy, but it would have taken me a year to eat Uncle Willoughby's Recollections.
I'm bound to say the problem absolutely baffled me. The only thing seemed to be to leave the parcel in the drawer and hope for the best.
Giles filtered into the room.
"Excuse, miss, but Mr. Harrison-Phipps and company has arrived."
"Lumpy's finally about, you say? But what's this 'and company' business, Giles?"
"An elder, portly gentleman and a rather alert young lady have arrived with him, miss. I'm sorry to report I have not yet acquired their names. Mr. Oakshott appeared quite agitated at the prospect of readying two additional rooms."
"He gave that impression, miss."
"It's no wonder, what with American girls loitering about hallways and now guests showing up unannounced."
"Well, I suppose I ought to rally round and meet the old cos."
"Very good, miss."
After a brief search of the house, I discovered Lumpy outside in the garden, knocking at some golf-balls with a crochet mallet. I called after him, but he didn't hear me, so I legged it over and gave his shoulder a keen tap.
He turned and stared at me.
"Willow! What on Earth are you doing? Where have you sprung from? When did you arrive?"
"Dearest Lumpy, hadn't Aunt Sheila told you?"
"Told me what?"
"That you were sent here that you and I might have a word?"
"No." He said, "the telegram merely stated that I was to come to Easeby at once."
He paused, and his face seemed to adopt a softened expression.
"It is terribly good to see you, Willow."
He wrapped an arm about my shoulders and gave a warm squeeze.
"You too, my dear old Lumpy."
His soft expression turned to one of mild annoyance. He stepped away and straightened up a bit.
"Please don't call me that. I'm going by Nick Wilson now."
"Why on Earth?"
"Well, you try calling yourself Lumpy Harrison-Phipps when you're getting into the 'biz' and see how it strikes you. You feel a perfect ass."
"The 'biz'?" I had no idea what he was going on about.
"I'll explain later. Willow, I've fallen in love with the dearest girl in the world."
The poor old nut looked at me in such a deuced cat-like way, standing with his mouth open, waiting to be congratulated, that I simply hadn't the heart to tell him I already knew, and had been instructed with the express purpose of laying him a stymie.
So I congratulated him.
"Thanks awfully, old girl," he said. "It's a bit premature, but I fancy it's going to be alright. Come along and I'll tell you all about it."
We started off toward the manse, Lumpy happily telling the story of how he had fallen for this bird called Anya Jenkins, their courtship, and his meeting her father.
"Well, you see," he said, "Anya's father used to be in the Music Hall profession. It was before our time, but I remember hearing about him - Dan Jenkins. He used be quite well-known in London, and even did a tour of America for a while. Well, he's a fine old boy, but as obstinate as a mule, and he didn't like the idea of Anya marrying me because I wasn't a performer. Wouldn't hear of it. Well, you remember at Oxford I could always sing a song pretty well; So Anya got hold of a producer and made him promise to come and hear me rehearse and get me bookings if he liked my work. She stands high with him. She coached me for weeks, the darling. And now, he's booked me in the small time at thirty-five pounds a week."
I steadied myself against the nearest wall. Through sort of a mist I seemed to have a vision of Aunt Sheila hearing that the head of the Harrison-Phippses was about to appear on the vaudeville stage. Aunt Sheila's worship of the family name amounts to an obsession. The Harrison-Phippses were an old-established clan when William the Conqueror was a small boy going round with bare legs and a catapult. For centuries they have called kings by their first names and helped dukes with their weekly rent; and there's practically nothing a Harrison-Phipps can do that doesn't blot his escutcheon. So what Aunt Sheila would say - beyond that it was all my fault-when she learned the horrid news, it was beyond me to imagine.
"Go on into the house, Lumpy," I said, "My man Giles makes this thing I call a 'life-saver'. Something tells me I need one now. And excuse me for one minute, Lumpy. I just remembered I needed Oakshott to send a cable."
"Hurry back, old girl. I'd forgotten to tell you that I'd brought Anya and her old man with me. They're just getting settled in now. I can't wait for you to meet them."
It was clear to me now that Aunt Sheila had picked the wrong bird for this job of disentangling Lumpy from the clutches of the vaudeville profession. How could I possibly steer his eye to Miss Maclay if he had brought with him the girl he was supposed to have left behind? What I needed were reinforcements. For a moment I thought of cabling Aunt Sheila, but reason told me that this would be overdoing. I wanted assistance, but not so badly as that. I hit what seemed to be a happy mean. I had Oakshott cable to Lumpy's mother and made it urgent.
I was so concerned with the situation of Lumps and the show-girl, I had all but forgotten about the business with my Uncle Willoughby's manuscript. When I had pinched it the day before, I didn't think that the old fellow would have had time to suspect that anything had gone wrong until Saturday morning, when he would be expecting, of course, to get the acknowledgement of the manuscript from the publishers. But he came out of the library as I was passing on my way back to find Lumpy and asked me to step in. He looked considerably rattled.
"Willow," he said - he always spoke in a precise sort of pompous kind of way - "an exceedingly disturbing thing has happened. As you know, I dispatched the manuscript of my book to Messrs. Wolfram and Hart, the publishers, yesterday afternoon. It should have reached them by first post this morning. Why I should have been uneasy I cannot say, but my mind was not altogether at rest respecting the safety of the parcel. I therefore telephoned to Messrs. Wolfram and Hart a few moments back to make inquiries. To my consternation they informed me that they were not yet in receipt of my manuscript."
"I recollect distinctly placing it myself on the hall table in good time to be taken to the village. But here is the sinister thing. I have spoken to Oakshott, who took the rest of the letters to the post office, and he cannot recall seeing it there. He is, indeed, unswerving in his assertions that when he went into the hall to collect the letters there was no parcel among them."
"Willow, shall I tell you what I suspect?"
"What's that?" I tried not to swallow too plainly.
"The suspicion will no doubt sound to you incredible, but it alone seems to fit the facts as we know them. I incline to the belief that the parcel has been stolen."
"Oh, I say! Surely not!"
"Wait! Hear me out. Though I have said nothing to you before, or to anyone else, concerning the matter, the fact remains that during the past few weeks a number of objects-some valuable, others not-have disappeared in this house. The conclusion to which one is irresistibly impelled is that we have a kleptomaniac in our midst. It is a peculiarity of kleptomania, as you are no doubt aware, that the subject is unable to differentiate between the intrinsic value of objects. He will purloin an old coat as readily as a diamond ring, or a tobacco pipe costing a few shillings with the same eagerness as a purse of gold. The fact that this manuscript of mine could be of no possible value to any outside person convinces me that-"
"But, Uncle, one moment; I know all about those things that were stolen. It was Dawn, my maid, who pinched them. I caught her snaffling my silk stockings! Right in the act, by Jove!"
He was tremendously impressed.
"You amaze me, Willow! Send for the girl at once and question her!"
"But she isn't here. You see, directly I found that she was a sock-sneaker I gave her the boot. That's why I went to London - to get a new maid. But they were out of maids, so I took on this fellow, Giles, you see."
"Then if the maid Dawn is no longer in the house it could not be she who purloined my manuscript. The whole thing is inexplicable."
After which we brooded for a bit. Uncle Willoughby pottered about the room while I sat feeling rather like a chappie I'd once read about in a book, who murdered another cove and hid the body under the dining room table, and then had to be the life and soul of the party, with it there all the time. My guilty secret oppressed me to such an extent that after a while I couldn't stick it any longer. I excused myself from the library and set off again to find Lumpy.
Once in the hall, a tap on my shoulder caused me to break the record for the standing high-jump.
"It wasn't me!" I said, spinning around.
"It wasn't you, what?"
"Miss Maclay, I say, you gave me quite a start."
"No, no, it's quite alright. A bird needs one good fright a day; I should think it rather bracing, rather like a cold bath, you know. Many's the day I've had my maid draw up a chilly tub so I might have a decently pipping wash."
"Are you speaking in code?"
Tara seemed to glance about the area before turning her marvelous gaze back to me.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Out here in the hall."
She seemed to be getting at something, only I hadn't the flightiest clue what that something might be.
"Nothing." I said, then suddenly remembering, "Well, I am on my way to find old Lumps. Topping fellow, don't you know. In fact, he's the man you're meant to meet. You really ought to join me. Although, he does have that Anya person with him, and her father to boot. It certainly seems a great load of stone to lay on two birds at once, wouldn't you say? My, that's rather like that old saying, what? Now how does it go? Something, something, thingummy, something, something? Rot, the old bean's frightfully vexed these days. I shall take a lengthy vacation once all this is over."
There was another of those frightfully enormous pauses.
"Has anyone ever told you that you speak very strangely?"
"Oh yes, loads in fact. My Aunt Sheila often says she hasn't a clue what I'm saying."
I smiled gamely as this was a point I was particularly proud of. She seemed to consider this a moment before continuing on.
I couldn't help but stand a bit taller at such an open declaration.
"Yes. Ridiculous, and adorable."
She looped her arm through my own and I'd like to have fainted from joy right there.
"Take me," she said.
"I'm sorry?" I said, trying my best not to stutter.
"To this Lumpy character, or man, or whatever he is."
"Oh." The light-bulb popped on. "I'm sure he's about somewhere. I was about to have a look 'round."
"Mind if I join you? Since I'm supposed to meet him anyway."
"No, no not all. Topping idea!"
I started slowly down the hall, not entirely sure of my footing. She glided along next to me, graceful as a swan on the Thames.
"Willow," she said. "May I call you that?"
"Yes! Yes, of course!"
"And you may call me Tara."
"Oh, well, thanks very much." I smiled.
"May I ask you something?"
"Why am I meant to meet him?"
I stopped my forward advancement and looked at her peculiarly.
"I thought it had been explained to you." I said. Before she could answer I went on. "Oh, of course, they wouldn't have called him 'Lumpy' would they? Silly me. You know him as Alexander Harrison-Phipps. And yes, that's THE Harrison-Phippses. He's really an upright chappie, as I've said. I'm sure you'll get on famously with him."
"Who is the 'they' that wouldn't have called him Lumpy?"
"You know, your father and my Aunt Sheila."
I was beginning to worry that the girl might be a trifle slow.
"My father-but, Willow-"
"Aunt Sheila told me she'd met you at Barton Park, and was sending you here to meet ol' Lumps."
Her eyes lit up with the light of recognition. "You're referring to Mrs. Rosenby-Gregson?"
"But, Willow, when she suggested I visit Easeby she only gave me you as the person I was to meet. She didn't mention anyone else. I'd certainly remember a name like Lumpy, or Alexander Harrison-Phipps. Who wouldn't?"
"And your father hasn't given you any instruction on agreements?"
She regarded me quite seriously.
"My father and I haven't spoken in a very long time."
"So, am I right in guessing, that he hasn't send you to England to find a husband?"
She laughed. A beautiful full-throated laugh that, had there been any songbirds present, the blighters would have given their resignation, packed up their vocal bits, and popped off with the knowledge they had been thoroughly out-sung.
"No, I haven't come to England looking to marry. I'm-well, you might say that I'm sort of divorced."
"Oh. I see. No dowry then; that would make it more difficult."
"It wasn't that sort of marriage, Willow. It was what you'd call a 'Boston Marriage'."
She gazed at me quite keenly, as if she'd meant to go on, but had suddenly forgotten how to form vowels.
"Well, that certainly makes sense." I said.
"It does?" She asked, seeming to find it odd that I could see the logic in it.
"Of course. You being from Boston, and everything, that would make it a Boston marriage. Just as, say, if you were to marry here, it might be called a Shropshire marriage, what?"
"No, that's not-"
Lumpy came suddenly bounding down the hall like a wild hare escaping the hunt.
"Willow, chum! There you are!" He said. "I've been looking the world for you! Oh, hello."
He nodded in Tara's direction.
"Lumps, this is Miss Tara Maclay of Boston. Tara, this is Alexander Harrison-Phipps."
"A pleasure," he said.
"Hurry, Willow. I've got them in the sitting room. I think you'll find them absolutely charming. You shall come as well, Miss Maclay."
He was so excited he practically hummed with electric energy, much like one of the machines you find at the penny arcade, where you feed it a two-pence, grab the lever, and get a hearty zap for no good reason.
The first sight that firmly grabbed hold of my eyeballs upon entering the room was the extraordinarily stout chappie taking up one of the couches, chewing a cigar and peering solemnly at us over his zareba of chins. I wanted so badly to inform him that cigars were meant to be enjoyed only in the smoking room, but I feared he might sit on me in protest. I looked to Miss Maclay and her expression proved that I was not the only one surprised at the portliness of the fellow.
"Willow, this is Anya Jenkins, my fiancée," Lumpy proudly introduced, thrusting the young girl into my line of sight. I was grateful for the change of scenery.
She was a small girl, smaller than me, I might add, sort of a brunette with blonde aspirations, her doe eyes gazed up at me and her lips formed into an anticipatory smile even as her eyebrows rose to meet her hairline. It was clear that Lumpy had informed her she was to meet with my approval.
"A pleasure, I'm sure," I said.
"It's so wonderful to finally meet you. " She said, "Nick has told me so much about you, I feel as though we were sisters." If she was anything, energetic would be the word.
"Nick? Oh, yes, Lumpy, of course."
At that moment, Lumps drew my attention back to the odd mass in the suit.
"And this is her father, the famous Mr. Dan Jenkins."
"The Dan Jenkins?" Tara spoke up. "The song and dance man?" She instantly paled. "I'm sorry, I've spoken out of turn."
"No bother, no bother," I said, rather hastily. I introduced her to the group.
"You've heard of me, young lady," Mr. Jenkins said, his cigar rolling about his mouth as he spoke.
"I've seen you," she said. "You came through Boston when I was eight years old. My mother brought my brother and I to the theatre."
"Well, that's rather novel, wouldn't you say?" I said. "Makes the bally world seem a bit smaller, what?"
"Oh, Miss Rosenby, you're so clever," Anya said in a sort of chirrupy fashion, and followed her statement with a high-pitched squeal of a laugh that would have deafened a poodle within a quarter mile.
"Have you lot had your tea?" I asked, smiling through gritted teeth.
"Oh yes," said Lumpy. "Oakshott delivered to us ages ago. We'd waited, old chum, but you seemed to had disappeared into thin air."
We all sat down and I rang for tea for Miss Maclay and myself. Mr. Jenkins set about telling stories of his travels in America, having seemingly found a captive audience in Miss Maclay. I wasn't all that certain Tara was particularly interested, but if she wasn't, she certainly was too kind to show it.
The formidable Miss Jenkins continued her efforts to arrive on my good side, and I tried, for Lumpy's sake, to like the girl at least a little, but every time she pierced the air with that ridiculous laugh, the train of good intentions promptly derailed.
Oakshott arrived and announced that dinner would be served at seven. We retired to our rooms to prepare for the feast.
I was simply exhausted. The grey-matter was frightfully overloaded with schemes, American girls, rotund former dancers and squealing actresses. I decided I simply couldn't shoulder the burden alone any longer. I was going to have to share some of it, and Giles was the only fellow available. I related the business of young Lumpy and my Aunt's designs on him, keeping the manuscript business, which I felt was far too rummy to risk letting him in on, to myself. Don't want too many hands in the kettle, what?
"And that's how the matter stands, Giles," I said as I finished dressing behind a screen.
"A rather curious situation, miss."
"What are we going to do about it?"
"Time may provide a solution, miss."
"On the other hand, it mayn't, what?"
"Extremely true, miss."
"Giles, Mr. Harrison-Phipps is going on the stage!"
"Ah! The thing doesn't hit you! You don't get it properly! Here's the point. The family is most fearfully dead against his going on the stage. There's going to be no end of trouble if he isn't headed off. And what's worse, My Aunt Sheila will blame me, you see."
"I see, miss."
"Well, can't you think of some way of stopping him?"
"Not, I confess, at the moment, miss."
"Well, have a stab at it."
"I will give the matter my best consideration, miss. Will there be anything further?"
"I hope not! I've had all I can stand, already!"
"Very good, miss."
He popped off.
Well, if he was going to be bally unsympathetic as that there was nothing to be done. But if he was letting those purple stockings rankle him to that extent, the good old noblesse oblige of the Rosenby's couldn't lower much to the extent of pleading with the man. Absolutely not. So I gave it a miss.