“Stop!” he cried as George turned away.
Percy was rattled. The crisis found him in two minds. On the one hand, he would have been prepared to take oath that this man before him was the man who had knocked off his hat in Piccadilly. The likeness had struck him like a blow the moment he had taken a good look at the fellow. On the other hand, there is nothing which is more likely to lead one astray than a resemblance. He had never forgotten the horror and humiliation of the occasion, which had happened in his fourteenth year, when a motherly woman at Paddington Station had called him “dearie” and publicly embraced him, on the erroneous supposition that he was her nephew, Philip. He must proceed cautiously. A brawl with an innocent waiter, coming on the heels of that infernal episode with the policeman, would give people the impression that assailing the lower orders had become a hobby of his.
“Sir?” said George politely.
His brazen front shook Lord Belpher’s confidence.
“I haven’t seen you before here, have I?” was all he could find to say.
“No, sir,” replied George smoothly. “I am only temporarily attached to the castle staff.”
“Where do you come from?”
Lord Belpher started. “America!”
“Yes, sir. I am in England on a vacation. My cousin, Albert, is page boy at the castle, and he told me there were a few vacancies for extra help tonight, so I applied and was given the job.”
Lord Belpher frowned perplexedly. It all sounded entirely plausible. And, what was satisfactory, the statement could be checked by application to Keggs, the butler. And yet there was a lingering doubt. However, there seemed nothing to be gained by continuing the conversation.
“I see,” he said at last. “Well, bring that champagne to the library as quick as you can.”
“Very good, sir.”
Lord Belpher remained where he stood, brooding. Reason told him he ought to be satisfied, but he was not satisfied. It would have been different had he not known that this fellow with whom Maud had become entangled was in the neighbourhood. And if that scoundrel had had the audacity to come and take a cottage at the castle gates, why not the audacity to invade the castle itself?
The appearance of one of the footmen, on his way through the hall with a tray, gave him the opportunity for further investigation.
“Send Keggs to me!”
“Very good, your lordship.”
An interval and the butler arrived. Unlike Lord Belpher late hours were no hardship to Keggs. He was essentially a night-blooming flower. His brow was as free from wrinkles as his shirt-front. He bore himself with the conscious dignity of one who, while he would have freely admitted he did not actually own the castle, was nevertheless aware that he was one of its most conspicuous ornaments.
“You wished to see me, your lordship?”