Now, touching this business of old Giles - my man, you know - how do we stand? Lots of people think I'm far too dependent on him. Well, what I say is: Why not? The man's a genius. From the collar upward he stands alone. I gave up trying to run my own affairs within a week of him coming to me. That was about a half dozen years ago directly after that rummy business with Daniel Osbourne, my Aunt Sheila, my cousin Alexander, or "Lumpy" as we call him, and Anya the showgirl.
The thing really began when I got back to London, after spending a week or so at Easeby, my Uncle Willoughby's estate. I had not planned on returning to London so soon, but you see I had caught Dawn, my maid, sneaking my silk stockings, a thing no bird of spirit could stick at any price. It transpiring, moreover, that she had looted a lot of other things here and there about the place, I was reluctantly compelled to hand the blighter the mitten and go to London to ask the registry office to dig up another specimen for my approval. Unfortunately when I'd arrived they'd said they were chuff all out of lady's maids. Rum, I had thought to myself. But then I, not being one too caught up in proprieties, said, "Well, send me a fellow, then", and turned on my heel to go out the door leaving the poor clerk chappie remarkably pipped. It certainly must have taken him awhile to get over the stunner I'd left him with, as they didn't send me Giles until the next day.
I shall always remember the morning he came. It so happened that the night before I had been present at a rather cheery supper, and I was feeling pretty rocky. On top of this I was trying to read a book Daniel Osbourne had given me. He had been one of the house party at Easeby, and two or three days before I had left we had gotten engaged. I was due back at the end of the week, and I knew he would expect me to have finished the book by then. You see, he was particularly keen on boosting me up to his own plane of intellect. He was a chap with a wonderful profile, but steeped to the gills in serious purpose. I can't give you a better idea of the way things stood than by telling you that the book he'd given me to read was called "Types of Ethical Theory," and that when I opened it at random I struck a page beginning: --
The postulate or common understanding involved in speech is certainly co-extensive, in the obligation it carries, with the social organism of which language is the instrument, and the ends of which is an effort to subserve.
All perfectly true, no doubt; but not the sort of thing to spring on a girl with a morning head.
I was doing my best to skim through this bright little volume when the bell rang. I crawled off the sofa and opened the door. A kind of darkish sort of respectable Johnnie stood without.
"I was sent by the agency, miss," he said, "I was given to understand that you required a valet."
I'd have preferred an undertaker; but I told him to stagger in, and he floated noiselessly through the doorway like a healing zephyr. That impressed me from the start. Dawn had flat feet and used to clump. This fellow didn't seem to have any feet at all. He just streamed in. He had a grave, sympathetic face as if he too knew what it was to sup with the lads.
"Excuse me, miss," he said gently.
Then he seemed to flicker and wasn't there any longer. I heard him moving about the kitchen, and presently he came back with a glass on a tray.
"If you will drink this, miss," he said, with a kind of bedside manner, rather like the royal doctor shooting the bracer into the sick prince. "It is a little preparation of my own invention. Gentlemen have told me they have found it extremely invigorating after a late evening."
I would have clutched at anything that looked like a lifeline that morning. I swallowed the stuff. For a moment I felt as if somebody had touched off a bomb inside the old bean and was strolling my throat with a lighted torch, and then everything seemed suddenly to get all right. The sun shone through the window; birds twittered in the tree-tops; and, generally speaking, hope dawned once more.
"You're engaged!" I said as soon as I could say anything.
I perceived clearly that this cove was one of the world's wonders, the sort no home should be without.
"Thank you, miss. My name is Giles."
"You can start in at once?"
"Because I am due down at Easeby, in Shropshire, the day after tomorrow."
"Very good, miss." He looked passed me at the mantelpiece. "That is an excellent likeness of Lord Daniel Osbourne, miss. It has been two years since I saw his lordship. I was at one time in Lord Devonsmith's employment. I tendered my resignation because I could not see eye to eye with his lordship's desire to dine in dress trousers, a flannel shirt, and a shooting coat."
He couldn't tell me anything I didn't know about the old boy's eccentricity. This Lord Devonsmith was Daniel's father. He was the same old buster who, a few years later, came down to breakfast one morning, lifted the cover of every dish and said, "Eggs! Eggs! Eggs! Damn all eggs!" in an overwrought sort of voice and instantly legged it for France. This, mind you, being a bit of luck for the bosom of the family, for old Devonsmith had the worst temper in the county.
The old boy simply put the fear of death into me. If there was a flaw, so to speak, in being engaged to Daniel, with the exception of one rather grave concern I shan't tarry on just yet, it was the fact that he rather took after his father, and one was never certain when he might erupt. He had a wonderful profile, though.
"Lord Daniel and I are engaged," I said.
You know, there was a kind of rummy something about his manner. Perfectly alright and all that, but not what you'd call chirpy. It somehow gave me the impression that he wasn't keen on Daniel. Well, of course, it wasn't my business. I supposed that when he had been valeting for old Devonsmith, Daniel must of trodden on his toes in some way. Daniel was a dear fellow, and, seen sideways, most awfully good-looking; but if he had a fault it was a tendency to be a bit imperious with the domestic staff.
At this point in the proceedings there was another ring at the front door. Giles shimmered out and returned with a telegram. I opened it. It ran:
Return Immediately. Extremely Urgent. Catch First Train. Daniel.
"Rum!" I said.
It shows how little I knew Giles in those days that I didn't go a bit deeper into the matter with him. Nowadays I would never dream of reading a rummy communication without asking him what he thought of it. And it was devilish odd. What I mean is, Daniel knew that I was going back to Easeby the day after tomorrow anyway; so why the hurry call? Something must have happened of course; but I couldn't see what on Earth it could be.
"Giles," I said, "we shall be going down to Easeby this afternoon. Can you manage it?"
"You can get your packing done and all that?"
"Without any difficulty, miss. Which ensemble will you wear for the journey?"
I had on a rather sprightly young check that morning, to which I was a good deal attached; I fancied it, in fact, more than a little. It was perhaps rather sudden until you got used to it, but, nevertheless, an extremely sound effort, which many girls at the club and elsewhere admired unrestrainedly.
"Very good, miss."
Again, there was a kind of rummy something in his manner. It was the way he said it, don't you know. He didn't like the dress. I pulled myself together to assert myself. Something seemed to tell me that if I wasn't jolly careful and nipped this lad in the bud, he would be starting to boss me. He had the aspect of a distinctly resolute blighter.
Well, I wasn't going to have any of that sort of thing, by Jove! I'd seen so many cases of fellows who had become perfect slaves to their valets. I remember poor old Andrew Lenkergill telling me - with absolute tears in his eyes, poor chap! - one night that he had been compelled to give up a favorite pair of brown shoes because Meekyn, his man, disapproved of them. You have to keep these fellows in their place, don't you know. You have to work the good old iron-hand-in-the-velvet-glove wheeze. If you give them a what's-it's-name, they'll take a thingummy.
"Don't you like this dress, Giles?" I asked coldly.
"Oh yes, miss."
"Well, what don't you like about it?"
"It is a very nice dress, miss."
"Well, what's wrong with it? Out with it, dash it!"
"If I might make a suggestion, miss. A simple brown or blue with a hint of quiet twill-"
"What absolute rot!"
"Very good, miss."
"Perfectly blithering, my old man!"
"As you say, miss."
I felt as though I had stepped in the place where the last stair ought to have been, but wasn't. I felt defiant, if you know what I mean, and there didn't seem to be anything to defy.
"All right then," I said.
And then he went away to collect his kit, while I started in again on "Types of Ethical Theory" and took a stab at a chapter headed, "Idiopsychological Ethics."