A Damsel in Distress by P. G. Wodehouse


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Page 1

I may briefly remark that the present Lord Marshmoreton is a
widower of some forty-eight years: that he has two children--a son,
Percy Wilbraham Marsh, Lord Belpher, who is on the brink of his
twenty-first birthday, and a daughter, Lady Patricia Maud Marsh,
who is just twenty: that the chatelaine of the castle is Lady
Caroline Byng, Lord Marshmoreton's sister, who married the very
wealthy colliery owner, Clifford Byng, a few years before his death
(which unkind people say she hastened): and that she has a
step-son, Reginald. Give me time to mention these few facts and I
am done. On the glorious past of the Marshmoretons I will not even
touch.

Luckily, the loss to literature is not irreparable. Lord
Marshmoreton himself is engaged upon a history of the family, which
will doubtless be on every bookshelf as soon as his lordship gets
it finished. And, as for the castle and its surroundings, including
the model dairy and the amber drawing-room, you may see them for
yourself any Thursday, when Belpher is thrown open to the public on
payment of a fee of one shilling a head. The money is collected by
Keggs the butler, and goes to a worthy local charity. At least,
that is the idea. But the voice of calumny is never silent, and
there exists a school of thought, headed by Albert, the page-boy,
which holds that Keggs sticks to these shillings like glue, and
adds them to his already considerable savings in the Farmers' and
Merchants' Bank, on the left side of the High Street in Belpher
village, next door to the Oddfellows' Hall.

With regard to this, one can only say that Keggs looks far too much
like a particularly saintly bishop to indulge in any such practices.
On the other hand, Albert knows Keggs. We must leave the matter
open.

Of course, appearances are deceptive. Anyone, for instance, who had
been standing outside the front entrance of the castle at eleven
o'clock on a certain June morning might easily have made a mistake.
Such a person would probably have jumped to the conclusion that the
middle-aged lady of a determined cast of countenance who was
standing near the rose-garden, talking to the gardener and watching
the young couple strolling on the terrace below, was the mother of
the pretty girl, and that she was smiling because the latter had
recently become engaged to the tall, pleasant-faced youth at her
side.

Sherlock Holmes himself might have been misled. One can hear him
explaining the thing to Watson in one of those lightning flashes of
inductive reasoning of his. "It is the only explanation, my dear
Watson. If the lady were merely complimenting the gardener on his
rose-garden, and if her smile were merely caused by the excellent
appearance of that rose-garden, there would be an answering smile
on the face of the gardener. But, as you see, he looks morose and
gloomy."

As a matter of fact, the gardener--that is to say, the stocky,
brown-faced man in shirt sleeves and corduroy trousers who was
frowning into a can of whale-oil solution--was the Earl of
Marshmoreton, and there were two reasons for his gloom. He hated to
be interrupted while working, and, furthermore, Lady Caroline Byng
always got on his nerves, and never more so than when, as now, she
speculated on the possibility of a romance between her step-son
Reggie and his lordship's daughter Maud.

Only his intimates would have recognized in this curious
corduroy-trousered figure the seventh Earl of Marshmoreton. The
Lord Marshmoreton who made intermittent appearances in London, who
lunched among bishops at the Athenaeum Club without exciting
remark, was a correctly dressed gentleman whom no one would have
suspected of covering his sturdy legs in anything but the finest
cloth. But if you will glance at your copy of Who's Who, and turn
up the "M's", you will find in the space allotted to the Earl the
words "Hobby--Gardening". To which, in a burst of modest pride, his
lordship has added "Awarded first prize for Hybrid Teas, Temple
Flower Show, 1911". The words tell their own story.

Lord Marshmoreton was the most enthusiastic amateur gardener in a
land of enthusiastic amateur gardeners. He lived for his garden.
The love which other men expend on their nearest and dearest Lord
Marshmoreton lavished on seeds, roses and loamy soil. The hatred
which some of his order feel for Socialists and Demagogues Lord
Marshmoreton kept for roseslugs, rose-beetles and the small,
yellowish-white insect which is so depraved and sinister a
character that it goes through life with an alias--being sometimes
called a rose-hopper and sometimes a thrips. A simple soul, Lord
Marshmoreton--mild and pleasant. Yet put him among the thrips, and
he became a dealer-out of death and slaughter, a destroyer in the
class of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan. Thrips feed on the
underside of rose leaves, sucking their juice and causing them to
turn yellow; and Lord Marshmoreton's views on these things were so
rigid that he would have poured whale-oil solution on his
grandmother if he had found her on the underside of one of his rose
leaves sucking its juice.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 19th Aug 2018, 12:10