Having interviewed Lavender Briggs and given her permission to go to London for the night, Lady Constance had retired to her boudoir to look through the letters which had arrived for her by the morning post. One of them was from her friend James Schoonmaker in New York, and she was reading it with the pleasure which his letters always gave her, when from the other side of the door there came a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and Lord Emsworth burst over the threshold. And she was about to utter a rebuking 'Oh, Clarence!', the customary formula for putting him in his place, when she caught sight of his face and the words froze on her lips.
He was a light mauve in colour, and his eyes, generally so mild, glittered behind their pince-nez with a strange light. It needed but a glance to tell her that he was in one of his rare berserk moods. These occurred perhaps twice in each calendar year, and even she, strong woman though she was, always came near to quailing before them, for on these occasions he ceased to be a human doormat whom an 'Oh. Clarence!' could quell and became something more on the order of one of those high winds which from time to time blow through the state of Kansas and send its inhabitants scurrying nimbly to their cyclone cellars. When the oppressed rise and start setting about the oppressor, their fury is always formidable. One noticed this in the French Revolution.
'Where's that damned Briggs woman?' he demanded, snapping out the words as if he had been a master of men and not a craven accustomed to curl up in a ball at the secretary's lightest glance. 'Have you seen that blasted female anywhere, Constance? I've been looking for her all over the place.'
Normally, Lady Constance would have been swift to criticize such laxity of speech, but until his belligerent mood had blown over she knew that the voice of authority must be silent.
'I let her go to London for the night.' she replied almost meekly.
'So you did.' said Lord Emsworth. He had forgotten this. as he forgot most things. 'Yes. that's right, she told me. I'm going to London, she said, yes, I remember now.'
'Why do you want Miss Briggs?'
Lord Emsworth, who had shown signs of calming down a little, returned to boiling point. His pince-nez flew off his nose and danced at the end of their string, their practice whenever he was deeply stirred.
'I'm going to sack her!'
'She doesn't stay another day in the place. I've just been sacking Wellbeloved.'
It would be putting it too crudely to say that Lady Constance bleated, but the sound that proceeded from her did have a certain resemblance to the utterance of a high-strung sheep startled while lunching in a meadow. She was not one of George Cyril Wellbeloved's warmest admirers, but she knew how greatly her brother valued his services and she found it incredible that he should voluntarily have dispensed with them. She could as readily imagine herself dismissing Beach, that peerless butler. She shrank a little in her chair. The impression she received was that this wild-eyed man was running amok, and there shot into her mind those ominous words the Duke had spoken on the previous afternoon. 'Definitely barmy,' he had said. 'Reached the gibbering stage and may become dangerous at any moment.' It was not too fanciful to suppose that that moment had arrived.
'But, Clarence!' she cried, and Lord Emsworth, who had recovered his pince-nez, waved them at her in a menacing manner, like a retarius in the Roman arena about to throw his net.
'It's no good sitting there saying "But. Clarence!"' he said, replacing the pince-nez on his nose and glaring through them. 'I told him he'd got to be out of the place in ten minutes or I'd be after him with a shot-gun.'
'Don't keep saying that!'
'No. no, I'm sorry. I was only wondering why.'
Lord Emsworth considered the question. It seemed to him a fair one.
'You mean why did I sack him? I'll tell you why I sacked him. He's a snake in the grass. He and the Briggs woman were plotting to steal my pig.'
'Are you deaf? I said they were plotting to steal the Empress.'
'And if you say "But. Clarence!" once more, just once more.' said Lord Emsworth sternly. 'I'll know what to do about it. I suppose what you're trying to tell me is that you don't believe me.'
'How can I believe you? Miss Briggs came with the highest testimonials. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics.'
'Well, apparently the course she took there was the one on how to steal pigs.'
'I have warned you. Constance!'
'I'm sorry. I meant you must be mistaken.'
'Mistaken be blowed! I had the whole sordid story from the lips of Ickenham's friend Meriwether. He told it me in pitiless detail. According to him, some hidden hand wants the Empress and has bribed the Briggs woman to steal her for him. I would have suspected Sir Gregory Parsloe as the master-mind behind the plot, only he's in the South of France. Though he could have made the preliminary arrangements by letter, I suppose.'
Lady Constance clutched her temples.
'You know Meriwether. Large chap with a face like a gorilla?'
'But how could Mr Meriwether possibly have known?'
'She told him.'
'That's right. She wanted him to be one of her corps of assistants, working with Wellbeloved. She approached him yesterday and said that if he didn't agree to help steal the Empress, she would expose him. Must have been a nasty shock to the poor fellow. Not at all the sort of thing you want to have women coming and saying to you.'
Lady Constance, who had momentarily relaxed her grip on her temples, tightened it again. She had an uneasy feeling that, unless she did so, her head would split.
'Expose him?' she whispered hoarsely. 'What do you mean?'
'What do I mean? Oh, I see. What do I mean? Yes, quite. I ought to have explained that oughtn't I? It seems that his name isn't Meriwether. It's something else which I've forgotten. Not that it matters. The point is that the Briggs woman found out somehow that he was here under an alias, as I believe the expression is, and held it over him.'
'You mean he's an imposter?'
Lady Constance spoke with a wealth of emotion. In the past few years Blandings Castle had been peculiarly rich in imposters, notable among them Lord Ickenham and his nephew Pongo, and she had reached saturation point as regarded them, never wanting to see another of them as long as she lived. A hostess gets annoyed and frets when she finds that every second guest whom she entertains is enjoying her hospitality under a false name, and it sometimes seemed to her that Blandings Castle had imposters the way other houses had mice, a circumstance at which her proud spirit rebelled.
'Who is this man?' she demanded. 'Who is he?'
'Ah, there I'm afraid you rather have me,' said Lord Emsworth. 'He told me, but you know what my memory's like. I do remember he said he was a curate.'
- Nota Bene
- hi upsilon
- Т. И. В.