“What shall we do?” said Maud. She was sitting on the stone seat where Reggie Byng had sat and meditated on his love for Alice Faraday and his unfortunate habit of slicing his approach-shots. To George, as he stood beside her, she was a white blur in the darkness. He could not see her face.
“I don’t know!” he said frankly.
Nor did he. Like Lady Caroline and Lord Belpher and Keggs, the butler, he had been completely overwhelmed by Lord Marshmoreton’s dramatic announcement. The situation had come upon him unheralded by any warning, and had found him unequal to it.
A choking sound suddenly proceeded from the whiteness that was Maud. In the stillness it sounded like some loud noise. It jarred on George’s disturbed nerves.
“I c-can’t help it!”
“There’s nothing to cry about, really! If we think long enough, we shall find some way out all right. Please don’t cry.”
“I’m not crying!” The choking sound became an unmistakable ripple of mirth. “It’s so absurd! Poor father getting up like that in front of everyone! Did you see Aunt Caroline’s face?”
“It haunts me still,” said George. “I shall never forget it. Your brother didn’t seem any too pleased, either.”
Maud stopped laughing.
“It’s an awful position,” she said soberly. “The announcement will be in the Morning Post the day after tomorrow. And then the letters of congratulation will begin to pour in. And after that the presents. And I simply can’t see how we can convince them all that there has been a mistake.” Another aspect of the matter struck her. “It’s so hard on you, too.”
“Don’t think about me,” urged George. “Heaven knows I’d give the whole world if we could just let the thing go on, but there’s no use discussing impossibilities.” He lowered his voice. “There’s no use, either, in my pretending that I’m not going to have a pretty bad time. But we won’t discuss that. It was my own fault. I came butting in on your life of my own free will, and, whatever happens, it’s been worth it to have known you and tried to be of service to you.”
“You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”
“I’m glad you think that.”
“The best and kindest friend any girl ever had. I wish . . .” She broke off. “Oh, well. . .”
There was a silence. In the castle somebody had begun to play the piano. Then a man’s voice began to sing.
“That’s Edwin Plummer,” said Maud. “How badly he sings.”
George laughed. Somehow the intrusion of Plummer had removed the tension. Plummer, whether designedly and as a sombre commentary on the situation or because he was the sort of man who does sing that particular song, was chanting Tosti’s “Good-bye”. He was giving to its never very cheery notes a wailing melancholy all his own. A dog in the stables began to howl in sympathy, and with the sound came a curious soothing of George’s nerves. He might feel broken-hearted later, but for the moment, with this double accompaniment, it was impossible for a man with humour in his soul to dwell on the deeper emotions. Plummer and his canine duettist had brought him to earth. He felt calm and practical.