Clarence, ninth Earl of Emsworth, was sitting the library of Blandings Castle, entertaining himself with Whiffle on The Care of the Pig. It was a peaceful day, lacking human noise to the extent that one could be tempted to pull up the sash window and tell the bluebirds to keep the racket down. Specifically, there was a marked absence of feminine society that Lord Emsworth rejoiced in. What was more, the prospect of a stroll down to see that supreme animal, the Empress of Blandings hovered tantalisingly on the horizon.
Nonetheless a casual observer of this amiable specimen of England’s aristocracy would have surmised that despite the promising circumstances, he was wrestling with weighty matters of grave and national import. Certainly something must have carved those chasms of worry across his brow, said casual observer would conclude, and the casual observer would not be far wrong.
As so often was the case, it was his secretary that troubled the Earl. While by no means a boil on the rear of humanity as some of his predecessors had been (notably the Efficient Baxter, a young man too prone to prodding Lord Emsworth into appointments and speeches and, moreover, owning to the unfortunate habit of throwing plant pots at his employer) and likeable in himself, his reign was proving wearing. In fact, the constant worry of what he was doing and where he was even when he was not present nagged at Lord Emsworth, who usually found other members of his household forgettable, especially when armed with Whiffle and unpestered by his sister Constance. It made him feel as if he had sat down on a comfortable looking mound of earth that had unexpectedly turned out to be an ant hill.
This latest secretary, John Smith, was blessed with far too much energy, speed and garrulity for one young man. In fact, decided Lord Emsworth, tearing himself away from Whiffle to give some consideration to the matter, despite his skinny proportions, were he divided up between six individuals, he might make half a dozen bearable secretaries. (Leaving aside the question of what one would do with six secretaries when one always seemed too many.)
Smith was currently out of sight and yet the Earl hunched his shoulders and found little comfort in his book, for the question that he had learned to dread forced itself upon him: where was the young man and what was he doing? The answer to this usually involved long and complicated explanations, enough to make his employer’s head spin, invoked much disapproval and shouting from Lady Constance Keeble and on one shocking occasion, a brief and casual reference in passing to that magnificent creature, the Empress, as ‘only a pig’.
He seemed to be always looking for something — ever out in the grounds, digging in places that outraged the head gardener Angus McAllister and turning up in unexpected corners, disturbing Beach, prince among butlers. When he wasn’t doing that, he was forever talking to people.
There were things to be said for him, of course. He rarely interfered with the Earl, threatened to catalogue the library or reminded him of speeches that needed to be made. Still, the whole thing was excessively tiring.
So concluding, the Earl gave up on the matter and resorted to gentle snores to enliven the silence of the room.
The young man in question, John Smith, was ambling alongside the lake, whistling to himself. Even taking into account the wildly differing views upheld on the subject of whistling by the various inhabitants of the castle, the aforesaid casual observer would be quick to question the mental stability of the earl. What’s this? the casual observer would cry. Can this innocent specimen of humanity be the source of all that nervousness and worry? Surely not!
Which goes to show how much the casual observer knows.
Despite Smith’s current cheerful demeanour, he was in fact, contemplating weightier matters than the Earl, and if the stories from the Emsworth Arms were to be believed (where on one memorable occasion he had regaled the regulars with the tallest tales yet heard in that respected establishment), he was in fact a 900 year old Time Lord on a desperately important mission. A trifle unlikely, one feels, but George Cyril Wellbeloved, expert on all matters porcine, swears this was the young fellow’s story.
“It’s got to be here somewhere,” he muttered to himself now, tapping an odd metal gadget in his hand and receiving some excited squeaks in return. He clutched at his hair in a manner that caused it to stand on end. (It was exactly such lack of attention to his appearance and his duties that so distressed Lady Constance).
Galahad Threepwood, the Earl’s brother, who was passing with his niece Celia and her friend Elizabeth, uttered the penetrating observation that the young fellow was turning out to be as batty as the last secretary.
Celia Underwood, daughter of his sister Lady Florence Moresby and her late first husband, was of the more sentimental opinion that the said Smith was merely a tortured, lonely soul in need of the attentions of a ministering angel.
Her friend, (who, though rejoicing in the regal name of Elizabeth, chose to be referred to by the short childhood moniker of Bets) added rather quashingly that he seemed to be aiming at a successful impersonation of a starved hedgehog.
“True,” agreed Gally, who found himself more in accord with the lively Bets that his beautiful, butterfly-witted niece. “You have a way with words. I groped in vain for the apt epithet and you have it instantly. A hedgehog. Ye gods, what’s that?”
The cry of pain that was drawn unbidden from the man who had been in his younger days, a shining light of the Pelican Club, caused both females to glance at him in consternation.
“What’s what, Uncle Gally?” asked Celia.
Bets frowned. “I can’t see anything out of the ordinary.”
“That,” he said, pointing to an ornate stone archway that seemed to have sprouted out of the rose garden — one of England’s finest spots, no less — in his absence. “Bless my soul, one doesn’t expect to canter up to town for a week or two only to return to find people have been blotting the fair landscape of Blandings with eyesores like that. Is that a morose angel on the top or a horse?”
Celia wrinkled her nose. “Is it new?”
“Oh, that,” said Bets. “Yes, I did think it a little odd, but I suppose Lord Emsworth has a right to an archway if he wants one.”
Gally gave a bitter laugh, sounding as if he had been chewing on the sourest of aloes in preparation for this very moment. “Clarence? My dear girl, I don’t suppose for one moment that Clarence had any part in this sinister plot to pepper the grounds with unsightly bits of stone and plaster. I detect the malevolent hand of your Aunt Connie.”
“Oh,” said Celia, frowning with the effort of using a little of her brain. “I think Mummy might have said something about it.”
Bets paused for thought and Galahad followed her example, reflecting that she was a sight even for the freshest of eyes, let alone sore ones, with her glossy brown hair, blue eyes that were currently uncharacteristically thoughtful, upturned nose and a tip-top figure. Yes, Celia might give the appearance of having been carved by an artist, but she had about as much animation as a block of marble when compared to Bets.
“Anyway,” she said, “we were talking about Jim.”
“Were we?” said Galahad. “I thought we were talking about Clarence’s latest barmy secretary. Hah. Is he digging around in the magnolias now? He’ll have McAllister down on him if he tries something like that. Aha! Here comes an enraged Scot. I swear I can see his ginger whiskers bristling from here.”
Celia jumped as they watched. “Oh! How could he be so cruel to poor Mr Smith?”
“Serves him right for messing with the magnolias,” said Bets. “Anyhow, back to Jim.”
Galahad searched for his monocle and fixed her with her severest stare. “Now then, young Bets, who is this mysterious Jim you are so determined to drag into the conversation?”
“Do pay attention,” said Bets. “We were discussing secretaries and the strange behaviour of Smith and I thought that if we could only give him the boot, Lord Emsworth could offer Jim the post.”
He said, “Does he have a penchant for disturbing the magnolias?”
“Of course not,” said his champion stoutly. “Jim,” she continued, expanding on her theme, “is a lamb and a dove. He wouldn’t dream of desecrating the gardens of Blandings.”
Galahad nodded. He detected a warmth in her tone that could only mean one thing. It was a recurring theme in this gentle vale. “And this poor lamb, Jim, finds himself in need of work, after which you two will be able to tie the knot?”
“Something like that,” said Bets, approving of his quick appreciation of the situation. “He was working for Lord Tilbury but there was a confusion over a long rhyme for Tiny Tots and a short bloodthirsty thriller for their new publication Criminality, a weekly collection of hard-boiled detective stories. It was hardly his fault. The beast overworked him till he could hardly see straight and then fired him for his first innocent mistake.”
“Ah,” said her genial elder, enlightenment complete now. “I heard the anguished shouts from Fleet Street as I pottered down Bond Street the other week. I gather the readers of Criminality, few as they are, felt that they had been conned and swindled by a master crook themselves on perusing the nauseating little rhyme.”
Bets raised her chin. “The children wrote in to say how much they enjoyed the exciting story, so I don’t see why Lord Tilbury had to be so rotten. Now Jim’s stuck for cash and Father sent me here to keep out of his way under Lady Constance’s watchful eye.”
“It’s a plan,” said Galahad. “We can’t have secretaries being a menace to the flower beds and neither can we have true love thwarted. What’s more we can’t have a blasted thing like that in the rose garden.”
Celia had not been paying the slightest attention. “I think,” she said, after giving the matter some thought, “that I had better go and see Mr Smith wasn't hurt.”
“Clarence! There you are,” declared Lady Constance, sweeping into the library with purpose evident in every movement. She was a handsome woman in middle-age with fair looks that belied the steel beneath. “That secretary of yours has upset McAllister again.”
Now it has already been recorded how the Earl dreaded these episodes with his new secretary and their resultant quarrels, but it could not be denied that a faint warmth came into his heart on hearing that the fellow had come to blows with his head gardener. One was tempted to find him and shake his hand for his evident bravery and chivalry in challenging the fearsome Glaswegian dragon of the grounds.
“Ah,” he said and, wanting to be sure he had heard correctly, added, “Who?”
Connie glared. “Smith. Clarence, you must have a word with him. He is here to act as your secretary, not dig up the place.”
“As long as he doesn’t throw flower pots like that Baxter. Nutty as a fruitcake.”
She sighed. “I must also speak to you about Celia.”
Constance narrowed her gaze. “Your niece Celia, who has been staying here for the past two weeks. I saw you talk civilly to her at breakfast, so you cannot deny being aware of her existence.”
“Oh, that Celia. My niece,” he said, his eyes straying back to Whiffle. “Celia. Was there anything else, Connie?”
“Shall I send Beach to fetch some cough mixture?” asked Clarence, mustering up some concern.
“I do not have a cough,” she returned.
“Well, what was that odd noise you made just then?”
“That,” said Lady Constance, “was a cry of despair at your inability to see past your nose. Clarence, Celia is unhappy. Florence sent her here in the hopes that it would perk her up, but nothing seems to have done the trick. She fears she has contracted an alliance with some unsuitable young man. Just when she was on the verge of becoming engaged to the Honourable Frederick Toogood — an unexceptionable match — she threw it all in and turned to moping around in a most unaccountable fashion. The change of air has made no difference and I am at my wits end.”
He tore himself away from The Care of the Pig. “She could come with me to see the Empress,” he offered, having no greater means of lifting one’s spirits at his disposal.
“Oh, Clarence,” said Connie and seeming to decide with a sigh that she could have expected nothing more, returned to her original theme. “You will tell Smith that if this sort of thing happens again, he’ll be fired?”
“Oh. Ah. Yes,” said Clarence vaguely, consulting Whiffle about the correct constitution of bran mash and contemplating walking down to see the Empress.
“Bets,” said Galahad, catching her on the terrace. “I’ve been thinking it over and it strikes me that I have a fool-proof scheme to evict that blighter Smith and install young Jim in his place — and, what’s more, do away with that unwanted bit of garden furniture along with him.”
She gave a hollow laugh, as one who had aged many years in the half hour since they had last parted, and to whom mere plans to secure her future mattered little.
“You see, if we pass a message to young Smith asking him to arrange to have the arch removed, he’ll -.”
No one likes to have their hollow laughter ignored. Bets found herself forced to interrupt. “It’s too late. We can’t get rid of Smith.”
“Why not?” said Gally. He wasn’t one to boast, but the plan had seemed masterly to him and he was taken aback to find its reception so chilly from one he had come to regard with genuine fondness.
Bets said, “Celia has got engaged to Smith. I worship the ground that Jim walks on, but I can hardly destroy the happiness of a friend to further his career.”
“I don’t see why not,” said her senior. “She may be my niece — and goddaughter come to think of it — but she will take these odd notions into her head. We mustn’t let that stop us.”
Bets shook her head. “It’s no go. We’ll have to think of something else.”
Galahad had to resort to deep thought. The younger generation were unaccountable. He had understood vaguely that Celia was suffering a broken heart on behalf of the harsh behaviour of one Freddy Toogood and while he had detected a softness in her attitude to Smith, this was a surprise.
What was more, this sort of awkward clinging to morals was limp behaviour he had not come to expect of young Bets. As a man about town in the nineties, he would have counted all fair in love and war and not stood meekly by on account of principles in that inconvenient fashion. Although, he supposed there was that time with Fruity Biffen and the chorus girl from the Palladium, but it was hardly in the same class of affair.
Why Florence had unaccountably made him Celia’s godfather, he was at a loss to know — probably non-availability of anyone who hadn’t already done the duty for her other offspring — but if he was ever to redeem the misplaced faith or recklessness she had made in entrusting him with the spiritual welfare of a bawling infant, now was the moment.
What was more, he realised, rousing himself to action, it gave him a right to demand what the dickens the fellow thought he was doing.
And if that failed, underhand as the idea was, nothing was surer to set Connie on the warpath than informing her that her precious niece had entered into a disastrously unsuitable engagement.
“So,” said Gally, taking on the Responsible Godfather role with a masterful edge to his tone and a performance that would have wowed the punters in the West End, as Wellington must have done in addressing his troops on the eve of Waterloo, “So!”
John Smith turned. “So?”
“So, you’re engaged to my niece Celia.”
He paused. “I am? Am I?”
That was a stumper and no mistake. Gally had fallen into many scrapes in his time, one or two even he was a little at a loss to explain what the idea had been, but in his experience, even the most careless of blighters knows whether or not he’s proposed to a girl. He surveyed him with disapproval, from his untidy hair down to his ridiculous footwear (causing the dapper ex-man about town to wince), as if a judge coming to his conclusion. He weighed matters and found Smith’s explanation wanting. “She says you are. And she may be somewhat drippy, but she’s not the sort of girl to go round inventing these stories.”
“Well, I suppose I can see how she made the mistake -.”
“Oh, you can, can you?”
He nodded. “I’ve been trying to solve this problem all week and it suddenly came to me, so when she turned up and asked what I was doing, I said I had something of immense importance to tell her. I never got the chance to say anything more, as she flung herself at me, saying ‘yes’ and sobbing all over me.”
“Ah,” said Gally. He followed the thing now. “You’ll go and tell her that, won’t you? Because she thinks you’ve promised to take her up the aisle and a girl likes to know where she stands on these issues.”
Smith hopped up and down impatiently. “But I’ve just worked it out and it’s all down to that folly or archway thing in the rose garden. It’s new, isn’t it?”
“It’s a blot, that’s what it is,” he returned, enlarging on the subject with energy. “A whacking great eyesore, and I’m going to have words with my brother about why he meekly stood by and allowed his sisters to wreck the blessed haven that was our rose garden.”
He stared back momentarily and then shook himself. “Yes, well, there’s a sort of badly carved angel fixed to the top and I think -.”
“Ah. An angel, you’d say, because that was what I thought, but it was a toss up between that and a horse’s head.”
“No, it’s definitely an angel. Well, definitely meant to be an angel. Mind you, now that you mention it -.”
Gally recollected his purpose. “Never mind angels. You don’t want to marry Celia?”
“No, I’m here to stop the Theeri — er — thieves getting hold of that thing on the archway.”
Galahad found himself stumped again. Blandings was no stranger to visitors arriving under false names and pretences, after all manner of things, but this was something new. “You think someone would want to steal any part of that bally monstrosity?”
“It’s not quite that simple -.”
He tutted. “Nutty. I said so all along. If someone wants to steal that, I say best wishes to them. I’ll stand by and hold the ladder for them while they get away with it.”
“It has something of vital importance inside it,” he explained. “Only now I need to find an undisturbed moment to get hold of it and no sooner do I get a chance than some member of the household turns up and starts watching me as if I’m trying to nick the teaspoons.”
Gally coughed, knowing better than to enrage a lunatic. “I’ll keep the angel safe, if you go and tell Celia that this whole thing was a mistake.”
“Okay,” he said, brightening into a smile that made the older man feel it was a pity he was such a basket case. “Done!”
“Beach,” said Galahad. “You know this imitation Marble Arch that’s inexplicably sprouted in the rose garden — can you see about removing the angel at the top and putting it somewhere secure? According to that peculiar new secretary of Clarence’s there’s something of value hidden in it.”
Beach merely nodded, the ample-sized butler being used to unconventional requests, even if some of them made him feel inclined to give notice from time to time. He resolved to set James and Alfred to the task immediately. Both had been making nuisances of themselves earlier. He was sure Alfred had been commenting on his weight and first class butlers are sensitive to these little slights.
“Splendid, Beach,” beamed Gally. “You are a treasure.”
As he passed on by, Bets emerged from the corridor with another attractively thoughtful look on her face.
“Miss Underwood,” began John Smith (or the Doctor, as he was better known in many circles) as he approached her. “We need to talk.”
She turned; looking as a blonde Venus might well have looked on being about to pop down for lunch at a country estate, and smiled at him. While hers might not have been the face that had launched a thousand ships, it would have at least propelled a fair-sized fishing fleet onwards and the effect was dazzling enough. “Yes, we do, don’t we?”
“Er,” he said, faltering in his task.
She slipped her arm through his. “I can’t tell you how happy I am. After the way that rat, Freddy Toogood, behaved -.”
“Oh, please, don’t mention him -. I can’t bear the sound of his name. Just the thought of him makes me feel sick.”
“I didn’t mention him. You did.”
She frowned, just a little, clouds chasing the sun. “John, when we are married, I was thinking I would like a little cottage in the country with roses round the door -.”
“Ah, well there’s a snag — I don’t have any money,” he said, grasping wildly at straws. “Sorry and all that.”
Celia beamed again. “Oh, but I do. And I feel sure that I am safe with you — you won’t treat me like that scoundrel, Freddy, will you?”
He opened his mouth and then coughed. “No,” he said. “No, I promise I won’t.”
“He preferred his great-aunt Honoria to me,” she added with a sniff and then wiped away one perfect teardrop. "How can men be so cruel?"
The Doctor backed away. “Oh, don’t cry again, Miss Underwood -.”
“Erm. Yes, Celia.”
“Psst,” said the bush as Jim passed it.
He was on his way back to the Jolly Cricketers in Market Blandings, where he was putting himself up and felt aggrieved. He had been out for a brisk afternoon walk and had not yet touched a drop brewed at that establishment, tempted though he had been, and nevertheless here were bushes talking to him. It did not seem fair.
“Jim, you gump,” said Bets, emerging from behind the bush. “It’s me.”
He grinned widely, for while he had an aversion to talkative vegetation, he felt that the sight of Bets was one that could be bettered by nothing else on earth. “Why are you hiding in the undergrowth?”
“I didn’t want to be seen,” she said. “If someone reports back to Lady Constance that I’ve been hob-nobbing with low-life like you, I shall be whisked off to Grandfather’s place in the bleak and chilly north and you’ll have a time of it trying to scale the walls to get in there.”
He nodded. “Let them see. I’ll find something soon and -.”
“Yes, you will,” she said calmly. “I have a plan. Now listen to me, sonny boy, as they say in those crime stories you bungled, and listen good. I can fix everything.”
“So,” said Galahad, who felt he was getting the hang of this godfather act. “So?”
The Doctor shifted guiltily. “Well — ah — I chickened out.”
“You didn’t tell my niece Celia that you wouldn’t marry her if she was the last girl on earth?”
“No. Besides, that’d be going a bit far, although I suppose, to be honest -.”
He raised his eyebrow and decided this was a moment serious enough for him to pause to polish his monocle. “In that case, you’re not having the angel. Break off the engagement and it’s yours. Keep deceiving my niece and it stays under lock and key.”
“I couldn’t,” he said. “She kept going on about how badly this other fellow had treated her and how she was sure I’d never do the same. It wasn’t the moment to tell her that there’d been an innocent mistake and I didn’t want to marry her at all. I expect she’d have sobbed all over me again. She seems to do that even when she isn’t broken-hearted.”
Galahad was a fair man and he saw his point. “I shall consider the matter and if I can find a way out of it, I’ll give you the angel. But you’ve got to stop digging up the flower beds.”
“Well, I don’t need to now I’ve found the control dev — er — the valuables stashed in the carving.”
“Uncle Gally,” said Bets, greeting him in a far sunnier mood than he had left her. “You don’t mind me calling you Uncle Gally, do you? I feel towards you as a niece does to a favourite uncle.”
He waved a hand. “Be my guest. You sound chirpy.”
“Oh, I told myself there was no point in moping around the place like a wet dishrag. Bets, my girl, I said to myself, you must buck up and think of something to save your own bacon. So I did.”
Gally said, “Well, apply your great brain to how to extract Smith from his engagement to Celia. If we can find a way to do with it without breaking her heart, he’ll be on his way and all will be well.”
“If you ask me,” said Bets, “she still likes Freddy Toogood. When I saw her a moment ago she was comparing Freddy to Smith unfavourably. Take it from me, that means that a girl still hasn’t forgotten her first love.”
He considered. “She seems set on having Smith, though. Freddy Toogood? Was he that pale young man who was down here the other week? Looked as if he wouldn’t say boo to a duck, let alone a goose.”
“That’s him. Now, Jim tells me that Freddy has come to the village, hoping to patch things up with Celia. If he were to be injured in the process -.”
The Modern Girl went up in Gally’s estimation. Whereas any meek Emmeline or Adeline of his generation would have obediently followed her parents’ wishes, these younger females stuck out their chins and decided on causing some awkward blighter physical harm if necessary. If only he were fifty years younger.
“Capital,” he said with enthusiasm. “I heartily approve. Never could stand the fellow. But what does this have to do with Celia and Smith?”
Bets looked disappointed in him. She had considered Gally to be a man after her own heart and to find him so slow on the uptake on this occasion was lowering to the spirits. “Because I’m sure she really loves Freddy, not Smith.”
“Ah,” he said, catching on swiftly enough to appease her. “You plan to awake the sentiment of pity in the female breast. Before we know where we are, she’ll be sobbing with regret and giving Smith the heave-ho as she rushes off to nurse this stick back to health. One thing strikes me: how is said Toogood to be injured? Unjust though it is, the forces of the law tend to frown heavily on that sort of thing.”
She kissed him lightly on the cheek. “I’m sure you’ll think of something. I have every faith in you, Uncle Gally.”
The Doctor was also pondering on the matter of how to extract oneself from an unwanted engagement without breaking a girl’s heart and so missed the otherwise absolutely visible approach of Lady Constance.
She, expecting a secretary to notice her too-solid flesh, also failed to step aside and they collided as two misguided ships in the night.
“So sorry, Lady C,” said the Doctor instantly, steadying her and grinning. “Still, no harm done, eh?”
She was in no mood to listen to the trite nothings of an unsatisfactory secretary. “My niece Celia tells me that you are engaged to marry her. Let me inform you, young man, that I refuse to countenance such a match and I know that my sister Florence will agree. She’ll be cut off without a penny.”
“Absolutely,” he said, nodding. “Fine. I don't want to marry her anyway. The only trouble is that she seems likely to get upset if I try and back out of it.”
Connie blinked. She had received many differing reactions to such speeches of hers, from meek obedience to outright defiance, but this was a first. “You do not wish to marry Celia?”
“No,” said the Doctor, who was wearying of the tendency of inhabitants of the castle to continually return to this dull topic. “It was a misunderstanding.”
She felt as if she were a pair of bellows abruptly robbed of air, but recovered as best as she could. “Then you should inform Celia at once. She is writing a letter to her mother to give her the news.”
“Oh, no, not her mother,” he said, seeing the danger in this. “Mothers are always trouble. But the thing is — I don’t want to upset her. She says she’s been treated badly by some bounder called Freddy Toogood and coming after that — no telling what the poor girl might do. Your brother is going to try and think of a better way out.”
Lady Constance was even more astonished. It was as if someone had taken her out to see the Empress and she had found the pig dancing a Viennese waltz. “Clarence? Clarence said that?”
“No, Mr Galahad.”
She tried her best to forget her other surviving brother and she drew in her breath now. While she knew Gally well enough to suppose that he would doubtlessly come up with an inventive solution, it also seemed unlikely to be one that would meet with her approval. All the same, Smith had raised some awkward points. “You really think she would be distressed?”
Connie said, “Yes, I suppose she would.” And Florence had sent her down to Blandings in the hope that the beauty of the green and pleasant countryside would be balm to a broken heart. “Well,” she said, backing down with dignity, “I shall give you a day. After that time, I shall tell Clarence to fire you, which will give you a reason to break off the engagement and take yourself off.”
She eyed him coldly. “If you argue, I shall have you fired at once.”
“Ironically,” said the Doctor to himself, as she left, “if they’d only let me have that lump of stone, I could be off without all this fuss.”
Jim, finally reaching the Jolly Cricketers, was surprised to find the Honourable Freddy Toogood present, but not dismayed. They had been school chums once and the heart grows fonder in the absence of those with whom one spent years slogging together, risking caning for out of hours exploits and so on.
“Hallo, Toggers,” he said, reverting to a schoolboy label. “I say, are you feeling well? You look dreadful.”
He leant glumly against the bar. “It’s Celia,” he said. “She’s thrown me over.”
“What?” said Jim. “How fickle of her. Why not tell me all about it?”
He sighed heavily. “I refused to take her to a dance a week or so ago,” he said. “I had a dashed good reason, but not one I could confide to her at the time, as it involved a family secret concerning my Aunt Honoria’s eightieth birthday. And when I was forced to try, she said I was a mean beast and she didn’t believe me and never wanted to see me again. So that was it.”
“Freddy,” said Jim sternly. “You know where you’ve gone wrong, don’t you? You’ve been too meek, too apt to assume the position of the doormat. You should have taken her by the shoulders in a masterful way and said, 'Celia, My Woman -'.”
He blinked. “I told her I respected her wishes.”
“The poor little blister,” said Jim with heartfelt sympathy. “She must have thought you positively callous.”
He frowned. “What else could I have done?”
“Freddy, Freddy,” said Jim. “I advise you to abandon this moping and pining from a distance. Go to Blandings Castle this instant and win her back.”
He said, “She said the sight of me made her sick.”
“Not encouraging, but these things are sent to try us,” said Jim. “I hear from Bets that she’s still crazy about you. Hasn’t been happy since you two parted ways. Sobs into her pillow at night and all that.”
The first glimmer of hope was showing on the pale face of his friend. “You really think so? Because she seemed set in her opinion of me as the lowest form of life on earth when I saw her last.”
“Would I say so if it weren’t true?” he countered. “I don’t want to hear any more milk-and-water excuses from you. We’ll go to the castle together. I’ve got a little mission there myself. We’ll each help the other. How about it?”
“Look,” said the Doctor, catching Gally after dinner. “This situation’s impossible. The easiest thing is if you give me the angel and let me be on my way. I’ll write Celia a note explaining that I’m doing it for a noble reason and skedaddle. How does that sound?”
Galahad considered the suggestion carefully and from all angles. “Cowardly,” he concluded. “However, it might do. Connie’s on the warpath, so best to take some sort of action. Follow me. I’ll hand over your rotten angel. If it’s not a horse, which I still maintain it may be.”
“Beach,” said Gally airily. “Fetch me that miserable angel, will you?”
They both viewed the interesting sight of a butler’s face turning snow white and, like all who have been privileged to see such a thing, knew that matters were Not Good.
“I gave it to Miss Bets,” Beach explained slowly. “She said she’d take it to its hiding place for me, but when I went to inspect the chosen spot, it was empty. Either she forgot to place it there or it has since been stolen.”
Galahad raised an eyebrow. “I detect some skulduggery at work here. We must have a word with young Bets.”
“I’ll find her,” offered the butler. “She might feel I had betrayed a confidence if you confronted her.”
He nodded. “Good thinking, Beach. I tell you what I’ll do — I’ll go find that brother of mine and tell him what I think for bringing in angels and arches and mad secretaries.”
“Oy,” said the Doctor. “Well, I’d better keep a look out for Theerians. I mean, thieves.”
The Earl of Emsworth, oblivious of these frenzied proceedings, toddled off in his usual placid fashion to visit that splendid animal, the Empress, and confer with George Cyril Wellbeloved, his pig man, on the secret ingredients of a bran mash for a prize-winning pig.
He revelled in her size and had almost managed to forget the existence of the rest of the household as he headed back to the castle, when he ran into his brother Galahad marching along in the opposite direction.
“Galahad,” he greeted him, rising to the occasion and managing to recognise him even in the gloaming. “Nice evening, what?”
His brother surveyed him. “Clarence, you nitwit,” he said, although with a fondness that softened the insult. “No, it isn’t a good evening and do you know why?”
“No,” said Lord Emsworth, preparing to pass on by.
Gally coughed meaningfully.
“You’ve caught that nasty cough Connie had this morning,” his brother observed. “Beach has got some noxious mixture that works a treat, if you wanted-.”
He said, much as his sister had before him, “I don’t have a cough. The reason this isn’t a perfectly splendid evening, Clarence, old boy, is due to your cowardly attitude to life. What did you mean by letting Connie place a ruddy great archway in the middle of the rose garden?”
“McAllister,” said Clarence, misery swathing his features. “Said it was that or the gravel path.”
Galahad whistled through his teeth, knowing how the head gardener and his brother had wildly differing views on the famous moss-carpeted Yew Alley (namely that McAllister had been itching for years to run a gravel path through it, a proposition which Clarence viewed with understandable abhorrence). “That’s blackmail. What did he want with that blasted arch anyway? I thought it must have been Connie’s fat-headed suggestion.”
“I don’t recall,” admitted Lord Emsworth after some minutes of thought. “Thought it was a trellis.”
Galahad let this one go. He would have to see if he could get the truth out of Constance. She might be argumentative on the subject, but at least she had a decent memory for things other than pigs. “What’s more,” he continued, “that secretary of yours has been setting the whole place by the ears. I thought I’d seen the worst of the species, but this one — first he’s spoiling the grounds by digging holes all over the place, then he’s trying to steal an angel and accidentally proposing to your niece -.”
Vaguely, Lord Emsworth felt sure that various aspects of this behaviour had been displayed by most of his secretaries, but he didn’t attempt to put that thought into words. “He’s unsound on pigs,” he added, which he felt clinched the matter.
“No?” said Gally, shocked as any decent soul would be. “Not an admirer of the porcine figure, then?”
He sighed, the resultant gust nearly blowing leaves off a nearby tree. “He said the Empress was only a pig.”
The two of them could have ambled back to the castle, continuing in this vein for some time. However, on this occasion it was not to be. Gally spotted a figure moving shiftily through the trees. Tugging at Clarence’s arm, he pointed this interesting fact out.
His brother reeled back on the spot, fearing the worst instantly — another dastardly plot on the part of Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe to harm the Empress.
“That’s queer,” said Galahad, lowering his tone. “Looks like a chap in fancy dress. Some sort of reptile. Dashed uncomfortable in those rubber suits. I remember one occasion, back in the nineties -.”
“Gally, the Empress!”
Bets crept out onto the terrace, keeping an eye out for Jim.
A young man appeared beside her, faceless in the grey darkness. “Darling?”
“Jim?” she asked, a thrill to her voice.
He moved further into the light that spilled out from between the curtains of the window beyond them. “Oh. You’re not Celia.”
“Freddy,” she said in surprise, not having expected a bold invasion of the castle from that timid soul. The thrill deserted her voice in favour of a more brisk and practical tone. “What are you doing here?”
“I’ve come to see Celia.”
“You know,” said Bets, that thoughtful look back in her eye, “you should climb up to her window and serenade her. That would be a sure-fire way to win her back.”
Freddy paused. “You think so?” He had a rather fine voice, it could not be denied, but he was dashed if he knew why Celia would want to hear it unexpectedly outside her bedroom window.
“Oh, I do,” she assured him. “You wait here and I shall be back with a ladder.”
He watched her go, marvelling at the energy of the girl. He couldn’t think how Jim could contemplate a life with such a competent female. He was exhausted at the mere idea. Celia, now — Celia was an angel in human form and the gentlest of souls. He sighed at the thought and wished he had told his Aunt Honoria to go hang, but he was a polite soul who had been brought up never to behave badly to a respectable aunt.
Bets in turn was feeling that while she had been happy to entrust the mission of injuring Freddy to the Hon. Galahad Threepwood, an opportunity like this was not to be sneezed at. She headed off while asking herself whether it was best to let the ladder fall while he climbed or cunningly pull out one of the rungs and how best to ensure Freddy broke a leg rather than his neck.
The Doctor was prowling around the castle, keeping an eye out for Theerians when he walked straight into an unexpected girl and a ladder.
“Oh!” cried Bets, equally startled.
All three — girl, ladder, and secretary — fell to the ground in a tangled heap.
“You didn’t bring a torch, did you?” asked the Doctor after a few minutes of unsuccessful disentangling in darkness.
Bets wriggled free of the ladder, got to her feet and helped him up. “No.”
However, someone had, for he shone the beam on them now, illuminating the scene. “Bets!” cried Jim in dismay.
“Oh, no,” said the Doctor, rolling his eyes. “Really, everyone, we haven’t got time for this-.”
Bets sprang away from him. “Jim, this isn’t how it looks!”
“Isn’t it?” he said and proved that he could do a hollow laugh every bit as darkly as she could. “I see it all now. You’re merely using me to get that angel to this weaselly fellow. Well, I’m not that big a chump. I’m going back to the Jolly Cricketers. You can give him the statue yourself. I hope you have a happy life together.”
“Weaselly?” said the Doctor, his voice raising by a pitch. “What do you mean by weaselly?”
Bets tried to run after him, but tripped over the ladder and could only call after him as he disappeared into the night. “Jim! Really, it was only a silly accident. He’s engaged to Celia!”
“He’s what?” demanded an anguished Freddy, rounding the corner at precisely the wrong moment.
“Whoever it is, he’s heading for the Empress’s shed,” reported Gally in a whisper. “You’re right. Tubby Parsloe must be trying to poach George Cyril back again or kidnap the Empress. Don’t worry, Clarence, we’ll stop him.”
His brother trembled. “This is terrible. What can we do?”
Galahad picked up a stout stick. “We shall catch him in the act and teach him a lesson he won’t forget, that’s what.”
“You’re engaged to Celia?” said Freddy, bearing down on the Doctor. “Who are you, anyway?”
He folded his arms. “Oh, we’re not back to this again, are we? As I keep trying to explain, it was a mistake. I don’t want to marry her! She just seems to think I do.”
“What?” exclaimed Celia’s former suitor. “So you’re deceiving her? You cunning devil! I tell you what, if she really wants to marry you, you’ll dashed well marry her and count yourself lucky!”
He held up his hands. “Seriously, we’re in great danger and there is no time for these melodramatics. Can we talk about something other than Celia?”
The three of them turned to see Celia framed in a doorway of light and it was plain that she had heard what had passed between them and if the humble narrator recorded a thrill in Bets’s voice as she perceived what she believed to be the approach of Jim, it was nothing to the emotional throb that permeated Celia’s exclamation at the sight of her first and true love coming to her defence.
She flung herself into his arms. “Oh, Freddy!”
“Thank goodness for that,” said the Doctor, dragging Bets away. “That’s one thing sorted. Now, where is that angel? It’s absolutely vital that you tell me!”
She sighed. “No. If it’s that important to you, you’ll have to pay me at least one thousand pounds before I’ll part with it.”
“I don’t have any money,” he hissed back. “I’m supposed to be the secretary here. What do you suppose I’d be doing with that sort of cash?”
Bets found that an unsatisfactory approach. “I’m sure an intelligent fellow like you will think of something. I can’t part with the angel for anything less, Mr Smith. On it rests Jim’s future and all our happiness.”
“It didn’t look as if he wanted to have anything more to do with you.”
She sighed. “If I get the thousand and give it to him, he’ll know I was telling the truth and all will be well. So you’d better find some money, or no angel, pal.”
“The future of your planet is at stake!”
Bets giggled. “How could that be true? Uncle Gally was right — you’re as batty as they come.”
“Oh, all right,” said the Doctor. “I give up. I’ll find it myself somehow. Just tell me one thing before I go Theerian hunting. What were you doing wandering around with a ladder in the first place?”
“What happened?” asked Clarence after a long and frozen moment. “Where did that tree go?”
Galahad surveyed his singed hat and ducked the question about the tree, which he had an uneasy feeling was now ashes. “There are moments when discretion is the better part of valour,” he said. “This is undoubtedly one of them.”
“But the Empress!”
He tugged at him gently. “We’ll fetch reinforcements,” he promised. “I don’t know what sort of thing that rat Parsloe has got himself involved with now, but they’ve got weapons and we haven’t. Don’t worry, Clarence, we’ll stop them.”
The Doctor saw the flash of light and raced in the direction of the Empress's sty. Running through the wooded area, he carelessly careered into another human body for the third time that day.
“Hello?” he tried.
Jim pushed him away and surveyed with undisguised loathing as one might eye a slug found munching its way through one’s lettuce. “Oh. You.”
“Yes, it’s me,” he said. “Look, back there, you may have jumped to the wrong conclusion but I can assure you-.”
There was another flash of light.
“There it goes again,” said Jim. “I was marching off back to the Jolly Cricketers when I saw that. Is it fireworks?”
He shook his head. “Jim, I’ll be honest with you. I’m here as an undercover detective and those are thieves after a valuable object hidden somewhere round here.” He pulled out his psychic paper.
“Golly,” said Jim, impressed, shining his torch on the document.
He grinned. “And I could use a hand, if you don’t mind.”
“Fine.” Jim added, “Providing that I can still punch you afterwards for running off with Bets.”
“She was only trying to help nail the thieves,” said the Doctor. “Trust me, she’s all yours. I mean, come on, she had a ladder. If we’d been on any sort romantic assignation we’d hardly bring a ladder.”
He blushed beetroot red, recognising that it takes a great mind like that of Sherlock Holmes or Poirot to point these obvious facts out to a mere Watson in the detecting business. “That’s true.”
“Now, come on!”
About ten or so minutes later, Galahad and Lord Emsworth, returning with James, Beach and the fearsome McAllister himself, found themselves running into Smith and Jim.
Smith leapt forward and all but hugged both of them. “Your pig,” he said to Emsworth, “is a marvel — a positive prodigy. Her intelligence and courage are second to none.”
Everyone stared at him, but no one was more struck than Clarence. It was not too much to say he was touched to the core. Here he had been suspecting this young man of being unsound on pigs — maybe even in league with Parsloe over this night’s events — and it turned out he could not have been sounder, after all. The Earl found himself wiping away a tear. “You think so, eh?” he said, much moved.
“Absolutely!” he returned. “She grunted at those Theer - er - thieves and refused to budge an inch. They didn’t know what to make of her and they couldn’t fire because of the possible damage to the — er — angel. It was a joy to behold. Then we turned up and drove them off. I used my screwdriver to dismantle the — I mean —I accidentally destroyed the angel in the rush while Jim chased the thieves away. Turns out he’s a bit of a wonder with pigs as well. The Empress took a distinct liking to him. He was the one who persuaded her to move.”
Jim blushed. “It was nothing.”
Galahad wasn’t sure he followed a great deal of this, but he directed Beach to remove the excess footman and send him to be sure the thieves had gone. “Was it Tubby Parsloe again? He’s a boil and a blister and someone should take a pin to him.”
“No,” said the Doctor. “Thieves, after the angel rather than the Empress. It merely happened that Bets had chosen to hide the angel in with the pig. But that’s all dealt with. On the safe side, I’d say that you’d better take down the whole archway, and that’ll be the end of that.”
The ninth Earl of Emsworth drew himself up and took a deep breath. “Hear that, McAllister, do you? That whole arch of yours has got to come down.”
The Scottish tyrant of the grounds glared, but he hadn’t been entirely pleased with Lady Florence’s interpretation of his order for a trellised arch he could grow roses around and nodded.
“So,” said Gally, “who are you, then, Smith?”
Jim stepped forward. “He’s really an undercover detective.”
“Ah. That explains a lot.”
The Doctor beamed. “And since this case is over and I shall be leaving immediately, you could do better than to consider young Jim here as a replacement. He’s keen to find a decent post — and what better start could he make than saving the Empress?”
Lord Emsworth needed no persuading and Galahad, thinking of Bets, was not about to argue. “One thing,” he said. “Celia?”
“Oh, that’s all right,” said the Doctor. “She’s engaged to Freddy Toogood, or as good as.”
Clarence wrinkled his forehead. “That’s funny. Connie was talking about some feller by that name only this morning.”
“Wonderful,” said Galahad. “That should keep Connie quiet. She wanted to palm the girl off onto the weedy chump in the first place.”
The Doctor shook his hand. “It’s been a pleasure. I hope you’ll forgive the flower beds now you know it was all in a good cause.”
“I’d better see the Empress,” said Lord Emsworth. “Her nerves might have been upset by all this fuss. Would you like to come?” He offered this to Jim as a high treat. Jim thought it politic to accept the offer. It meant putting off for a few minutes more telling the good news to Bets, but he had sense enough to choose the wiser course of action and postpone his personal pleasures.
“All’s well that end’s well, that’s what I say,” concluded Gally, watching the Earl and his newest secretary toddle off in the direction of the Empress’s quarters. “I suppose you’ll be off apprehending those thieves?”
He smiled again. “I will. Not so batty now, eh?”
“No,” he agreed. “Not like that Baxter fellow who started seeing things and throwing flower pots.”
The Doctor paused. “Yeah, you’re not the first to mention that. What’s with that? Why flower pots?”
“You’d like to hear the tale?” said Gally, his grin widening. He thought that there were probably a few of his best stories he’d missed along with it, like the one about Clarence and the Arkwright Wedding or the dastardly doings of that Bad Baronet, Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe over the past couple of years. “Well, there was this blister by the name of Baxter who was here as Clarence’s secretary, although in my view the fellow was certifiable and a menace to decent society…”
They wandered, arm in arm, away into the night.
The next morning, Lady Constance, ignorant of these late night reversals, cornered the Earl in the library. “Clarence. I’ve made up my mind. That secretary of yours must go.”
“Eh?” he said, gathering that someone had spoken. “Who must go where?”
He pulled himself up, realising that this was a subject on which he was better informed than Connie, unusual though the circumstance was. “Ah. Smith. You mean Smith, my secretary. Smith.”
He put his morning paper down on the small table beside the chair. “Fellow’s gone. Turns out he was an undercover policeman. Took off last night with the angel.”
“He went off with an angel?” echoed Connie. “Undercover policeman? Clarence, you don’t mean he has run off with Celia?”
“Your niece,” she reminded him once more.
He frowned. “Oh, Celia. What has she got to do with it?”
He straightened himself in the chair, feeling that a man who has faced down armed thieves on the previous evening should not quail before a mere sister, daughter of earls though she was. “And what’s more, Connie, that dratted arch in the rose garden has got to go. McAllister is seeing to it.”
“Just as well,” said Connie. Guilty of many crimes as charged by Gally, she nevertheless had had no part in placing a large and inappropriate piece of stonework in amongst the roses. “McAllister wanted some sort of bower arrangement and Florence said she could find something. I never thought it was a good idea. Ten to one it would have encouraged unsuitable men to hang about the grounds. Now, about a replacement for your secretary. I was wondering if -.”
He nodded. “Oh, yes. I found one. Splendid fellow. Name of Jim. Very sound on pigs.”
Clarence was finding himself uncharacteristically full of news to communicate. The paper he had been idly perusing had nothing on him this morning. “Helped us foil those thieves after the Empress. No, wait it was the angel.”
Constance had very little opinion of her brother’s mental capabilities but this continual reference to a supernatural being, thieves and secretaries was beginning to make her fear that he had finally lost the few marbles he had left to him. “Clarence, do be clear.”
“A marvel, he called her. Held the whole gang of them off. Don’t know why they were dressed in those rubber suits, though.”
“I wish you’d stop being absurd, Clarence.”
He became hurt. No self-respecting earl likes to have his word questioned. “He said she was a marvel. Heard him myself. Just goes to show you never know.”
“Smith. Private detective fellow. You know him; he was my secretary.”
Connie was about to abandon this as a bad job and posibly go in search of a brain doctor, when the Earl thought of one last piece of information he had omitted in his account of the evening’s activities.
“Oh, and Sally’s got engaged to some blancmange-faced fellow who fell over a ladder. Good thing, too. I hear he was going to sing.”
She fixed him with a piercing gaze that would have felled a lesser man. “Sally?”
“Eh?” said Emsworth, who had considered the matter closed. “Who’s Sally?”
Connie heaved a sigh so heavy it would have taken several elephants to cart it off somewhere. “That was my question!”
“Oh.” He thought about this and eventually dredged something up from the bottom of his mind. “Celia, I mean. Got herself betrothed to some fellow called Algy or Freddy Toomuch. Don’t know what he wanted with the ladder, but -.”
His sister’s expression resembled that of a fellow lost in a long, dark tunnel who had suddenly glimpsed light at the end of it. “Freddy Toogood?”
Connie brightened. She smiled kindly upon her brother. It was not too much to say that her heart gave a hop, a skip and missed a beat on hearing the news. Her attitude to the Earl softened. God is in his heaven and all is right with the world, you might have heard her cry, as Pippa so often did in passing. “Clarence. Why didn’t you say so at once instead of babbling about pigs and angels? I must go and find the dear girl this instant and telephone Florence.”
Ever a woman of her word, she departed in search of her niece.
Clarence, ninth Earl of Emsworth, picked up the newspaper and rustled it as he searched for the section he had reached. Then, having carefully done so, he stared blankly at it and thought dreamily of the Empress.
Peace descended once more over Blandings, broken only by the soft snores of a man content.