Most of the way down in the train that afternoon, I was wondering what could be up at the other end. I simply couldn't see what could have happened. Easeby wasn't one of those country houses you read about in society novels, where young girls are lured on to play baccarat and then skinned to the bone of their jewelry, and so on. The house-party I had left had consisted entirely of law-abiding birds like myself.
Besides, my uncle wouldn't have let anything of that kind go on in his house. He was a rather stiff, precise sort of old boy, who liked a quiet life. He was just finishing a history of the family or something, which he had been working on for the last year, and didn't stir much from the library. He was rather a good instance of what they say about it's being a good scheme for a fellow to sow his wild oats. I'd been told that in his youth Uncle Willoughby had been a bit of a rounder. You would never have thought it to look at him now.
When I got to the house, Oakshott, the butler, told me that Daniel was in his room watching his man pack. Apparently there was a dance on at a house about twenty miles away that night, and he was motoring over with some of the Easeby lot and would be away some nights. Oakshott said he had told him to tell him the moment I arrived; so I trickled into the smoking-room and waited, and presently he came. A glance showed me that he was perturbed, and even peeved. His eyes had a goggly look, and altogether he appeared considerably pipped.
"Darling!" I said, and attempted an embrace, but he side-stepped like a bantam weight.
"What's the matter?"
"Everything's the matter! Willow, you remember asking me, when you left, to make myself pleasant with your uncle?"
The idea being, of course, that as at that time I was more or less dependent on Uncle Willoughby I couldn't very well marry without his approval. And though I knew he wouldn't have any objection to Daniel, having known his father since they were at Oxford together, I hadn't wanted to take any chances, so I had told him to make an effort to fascinate the old boy.
"You told me it would please him particularly if I asked him to read me some of his history of the family."
"Wasn't he pleased?"
"He was delighted. He finished writing the thing yesterday afternoon, and read me nearly all of it last night. I have never had such a shock in my life. The book is an outrage. It is impossible. It is horrible!"
"But, dash it, the family weren't as bad as all that."
"It is not a history of the family at all. Your uncle has written his reminiscences! He calls them 'Recollections of a Long Life'!"
I began to understand. As I say, Uncle Willoughby had been somewhat on the Tabasco side as a young man, and it began to look as if he might have turned out something pretty meaty if he had started recollecting his long life.
"If half of what is written is true," said Daniel, "your uncle's youth must have been perfectly appalling. The moment we began to read he plunged straight into the most scandalous story of how he and my father were thrown out of a music-hall in 1887!"
Daniel looked rather pink about the collar. "I decline to tell you why."
It must have been something pretty bad. It took a lot to make them chuck people out of music-halls in 1887.
"Your uncle specifically states that father had drunk a quart and a half of champagne before beginning the evening," he went on. "The book is full of stories like that. There is a dreadful one about Lord Angelus."
"Lord Angelus? Not the one we know? Not the one at Broodings?"
A most respectable Johnnie, don't you know. Doesn't do a thing nowadays but dig in the garden with a spud.
"The very same. That's what makes the book so unspeakable. It is full of stories about people one knows who are the essence of propriety today, but who seem to have behaved, when they were in London in the 'eighties, in a manner that would not have been tolerated in the lower deck of a whaler. Your uncle seems to remember everything disgraceful that happened to anybody when he was in his early twenties. There is a story about Sir Randall William-Williams at Wyndham Gardens, which is ghastly in its perfection of detail. It seems Sir Randall - but I can't tell you!"
"Have a dash!" I urged.
"Oh, well, I shouldn't worry. No publisher will print the book if it's as bad as all that."
"On the contrary, your uncle told me that all negotiations are settled with the publishing firm of Wolfram and Hart, he's sending off the manuscript tomorrow for immediate publication. They make a special thing of that sort of book. They published Lady Calendar's 'Memories of Eighty Interesting Years'."
"I read 'em!" Quite the saucy articles, as I do recall. Certainly made this bird's tick-tock flutter with a zealous pitter-pat.
"Well, then, when I tell you that Lady Calendar's Memories are simply not to be compared with your uncle's Recollections, you will understand my state of mind. And father appears in nearly every story in the book! I am horrified at the things he did when he was a young man!"
"What's to be done?"
"The manuscript must be intercepted before it reaches Wolfram and Hart, and destroyed!"
I sat up.
This sounded rather sporting.
"How shall you do it?" I inquired.
"How can I do it? Didn't I tell you the parcel goes off tomorrow? I am going to the Meeren's dance tonight and shall not be back till Monday. You must do it. That is why I telegraphed you."
He gave me a look.
"Do you mean to say you refuse to help me, Willow?"
"No; but - I say!"
"It's quite simple."
"But what if I - What I mean is - Of course, anything I can do - but - if you know what I mean-"
"You say you want to marry me, Willow?"
"Yes, of course; but still-"
For a moment he looked exactly like his old father.
"I will never marry you if those Recollections are published."
"But, Daniel, old thing!"
"I mean it. You may look on it as a test, Willow. If you have the resource and courage to carry this thing through, I will take it as evidence that you are not the vapid and shiftless person most people think of you-"
"If you fail, I shall know your Aunt Sheila was right when she called you a spineless invertebrate and advised me strongly not to marry you."
"It will be perfectly simple for you to intercept the manuscript, Willow. It only requires a little resolution."
"But, suppose Uncle Willoughby catches me at it? He'll cut off my allowance with a bob."
"If you care more for your allowance than for me-"
"No, no! Rather not!"
"Very well, then. The parcel containing the manuscript will, of course, be placed on the hall table tomorrow for Oakshott to take to the village with the letters. All you have to do is take it away and destroy it. Then your uncle will think it has been lost in the post."
It sounded thin to me.
"Hasn't he got a copy of it?" I said, eyes narrow.
"No; it has not been typed. He is sending the manuscript just as he wrote it."
"But he could write it over again."
"As if he would have the energy!" Daniel scoffed.
"If you are going to do nothing but make absurd objections, Willow-"
"I was only pointing things out."
"Well, don't! Once and for all, will you do me this quite simple act of kindness?"
The way he put it gave me an idea.
"Why not get Connor to do it? Keep it in the family, kind of, don't you know. Besides, it would be a boon to the kid."
A jolly bright idea it seemed to me. Connor was his young brother who was spending his holidays at Easeby. He was a ferret-faced kid whom I had disliked since birth. As a matter of fact, talking of Recollections and Memories, it was young blighted Connor who, six years before, had led his father to where I was having a nip at his sherry and caused all kinds of unpleasantness. He was fourteen now and had just joined the Boy Scouts. He was one of those thorough kids, and took his responsibilities pretty seriously. He was always in a fever because he was dropping behind schedule with his daily acts of kindness. However hard he tried, he'd fall behind; and then you would find him prowling about the house, setting such a clip to try and catch up with himself that Easeby was rapidly becoming a perfect hell for man and beast.
The idea didn't seem to strike Daniel.
"I shall do nothing of the kind, Willow. I wonder you can't appreciate the compliment I am paying you - trusting you like this."
"Oh, I see that all right," I assured him. "But what I mean is, Connor would do so much better than I would. These Boy Scouts are up to all sorts of dodges. They spoor, don't you know, and take cover and creep about, and what not."
"Willow, will you or will you not do this perfectly trivial thing for me? If not, say so now, and let us end this farce of pretending that you care a snap of the fingers for me."
"Dear old soul, I care for you devotedly!"
"Then will you or will you not-"
"Oh, all right," I said. "All right! All right! All right!"
And then I tottered forth to think it over. I met Giles in the passage just outside.
"I beg your pardon, miss. I was endeavoring to find you."
"What's the matter?"
"I felt that I should tell you, miss, that someone has been putting black polish on our brown walking shoes."
"What? Who? Why?"
"I could not say, miss."
"Can anything be done about them?"
"Very good, miss."