Albert finished untying the sheet from the bedpost, and stuffed it under the pillow.
“And now,” said Albert, “for a quiet smoke in the scullery.”
These massive minds require their moments of relaxation.
George’s idea was to get home. Quick. There was no possible chance of a second meeting with Maud that night. They had met and had been whirled asunder. No use to struggle with Fate. Best to give in and hope that another time Fate would be kinder. What George wanted now was to be away from all the gay glitter and the fairylike tout ensemble and the galaxy of fair women and brave men, safe in his own easy-chair, where nothing could happen to him. A nice sense of duty would no doubt have taken him back to his post in order fully to earn the sovereign which had been paid to him for his services as temporary waiter; but the voice of Duty called to him in vain. If the British aristocracy desired refreshments let them get them for themselves—and like it! He was through.
But if George had for the time being done with the British aristocracy, the British aristocracy had not done with him. Hardly had he reached the hall when he encountered the one member of the order whom he would most gladly have avoided.
Lord Belpher was not in genial mood. Late hours always made his head ache, and he was not a dancing man; so that he was by now fully as weary of the fairylike tout ensemble as was George. But, being the centre and cause of the night’s proceedings, he was compelled to be present to the finish. He was in the position of captains who must be last to leave their ships, and of boys who stand on burning decks whence all but they had fled. He had spent several hours shaking hands with total strangers and receiving with a frozen smile their felicitations on the attainment of his majority, and he could not have been called upon to meet a larger horde of relations than had surged round him that night if he had been a rabbit. The Belpher connection was wide, straggling over most of England; and first cousins, second cousins and even third and fourth cousins had debouched from practically every county on the map and marched upon the home of their ancestors. The effort of having to be civil to all of these had told upon Percy. Like the heroine of his sister Maud’s favourite poem he was “aweary, aweary,” and he wanted a drink. He regarded George’s appearance as exceedingly opportune.
“Get me a small bottle of champagne, and bring it to the library.”
The two words sound innocent enough, but, wishing as he did to efface himself and avoid publicity, they were the most unfortunate which George could have chosen. If he had merely bowed acquiescence and departed, it is probable that Lord Belpher would not have taken a second look at him. Percy was in no condition to subject everyone he met to a minute scrutiny. But, when you have been addressed for an entire lifetime as “your lordship”, it startles you when a waiter calls you “Sir”. Lord Belpher gave George a glance in which reproof and pain were nicely mingled emotions quickly supplanted by amazement. A gurgle escaped him.