“I can’t breathe now!” complained the stricken child.
“Not like a grampus you can’t, and don’t you forget it.” Keggs wagged his head reprovingly. “Well, so your Reggie Byng’s gone and eloped, has he! That ought to teach you to be more careful another time ’ow you go gambling and plunging into sweepstakes. The idea of a child of your age ’aving the audacity to thrust ’isself forward like that!”
“Don’t call him my Reggie Byng! I didn’t draw ’im!”
“There’s no need to go into all that again, young feller. You accepted ’im freely and without prejudice when the fair exchange was suggested, so for all practical intents and purposes he is your Reggie Byng. I ’ope you’re going to send him a wedding-present.”
“Well, you ain’t any better off than me, with all your ’ighway robbery!”
“You ’eard what I said.”
“Well, don’t let me ’ear it again. The idea! If you ’ad any objections to parting with that ticket, you should have stated them clearly at the time. And what do you mean by saying I ain’t any better off than you are?”
“I ’ave my reasons.”
“You think you ’ave, which is a very different thing. I suppose you imagine that you’ve put a stopper on a certain little affair by surreptitiously destroying letters entrusted to you.”
“I never!” exclaimed Albert with a convulsive start that nearly sent eleven plates dashing to destruction.
“’Ow many times have I got to tell you to be careful of them plates?” said Keggs sternly. “Who do you think you are—a juggler on the ’Alls, ’urling them about like that? Yes, I know all about that letter. You thought you was very clever, I’ve no doubt. But let me tell you, young blighted Albert, that only the other evening ’er ladyship and Mr. Bevan ’ad a long and extended interview in spite of all your hefforts. I saw through your little game, and I proceeded and went and arranged the meeting.”
In spite of himself Albert was awed. He was oppressed by the sense of struggling with a superior intellect.
“Yes, you did!” he managed to say with the proper note of incredulity, but in his heart he was not incredulous. Dimly, Albert had begun to perceive that years must elapse before he could become capable of matching himself in battles of wits with this master-strategist.
“Yes, I certainly did!” said Keggs. “I don’t know what ’appened at the interview—not being present in person. But I’ve no doubt that everything proceeded satisfactorily.”
“And a fat lot of good that’s going to do you, when ’e ain’t allowed to come inside the ’ouse!”
A bland smile irradiated the butler’s moon-like face.
“If by ‘e you’re alloodin’ to Mr. Bevan, young blighted Albert, let me tell you that it won’t be long before ’e becomes a regular duly invited guest at the castle!”
“A lot of chance!”
“Would you care to ’ave another five shillings even money on it?”