“Dear, dear!” he said. “That won’t do! You say you are this young lady’s brother?”
“Yes, I do!”
“Then perhaps you had better come with me into the house and we will speak to her.”
Percy followed him. Down the trim gravel walk they passed, and up the neat stone steps. Maud, peeping through the curtains, thought herself the victim of a monstrous betrayal or equally monstrous blunder. But she did not know the Rev. Cyril Ferguson. No general, adroitly leading the enemy on by strategic retreat, ever had a situation more thoroughly in hand. Passing with his companion through the open door, he crossed the hall to another door, discreetly closed.
“Wait in here,” he said. Lord Belpher moved unsuspectingly forward. A hand pressed sharply against the small of his back. Behind him a door slammed and a key clicked. He was trapped. Groping in Egyptian darkness, his hands met a coat, then a hat, then an umbrella. Then he stumbled over a golf-club and fell against a wall. It was too dark to see anything, but his sense of touch told him all he needed to know. He had been added to the vicar’s collection of odds and ends in the closet reserved for that purpose.
He groped his way to the door and kicked it. He did not repeat the performance. His feet were in no shape for kicking things.
Percy’s gallant soul abandoned the struggle. With a feeble oath, he sat down on a box containing croquet implements, and gave himself up to thought.
“You’ll be quite safe now,” the curate was saying in the adjoining room, not without a touch of complacent self-approval such as becomes the victor in a battle of wits. “I have locked him in the cupboard. He will be quite happy there.” An incorrect statement this. “You may now continue your walk in perfect safety.”
“Thank you ever so much,” said Maud. “But I do hope he won’t be violent when you let him out.”
“I shall not let him out,” replied the curate, who, though brave, was not rash. “I shall depute the task to a worthy fellow named Willis, in whom I shall have every confidence. He—he is, in fact, our local blacksmith!”
And so it came about that when, after a vigil that seemed to last for a lifetime, Percy heard the key turn in the lock and burst forth seeking whom he might devour, he experienced an almost instant quieting of his excited nervous system. Confronting him was a vast man whose muscles, like those of that other and more celebrated village blacksmith, were plainly as strong as iron bands.
This man eyed Percy with a chilly eye.
“Well,” he said. “What’s troublin’ you?”
Percy gulped. The man’s mere appearance was a sedative.
“Er—nothing!” he replied. “Nothing!”
“There better hadn’t be!” said the man darkly. “Mr. Ferguson give me this to give to you. Take it!”