Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Dave Morgan and the PG
Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Dave Morgan and the PG
THE YELLOW STREAK
BY VALENTINE WILLIAMS
THE YELLOW STREAK
THE MASTER OF HARKINGS
Of all the luxuries of which Hartley Parrish’s sudden rise to wealth gave him possession, Bude, his butler, was the acquisition in which he took the greatest delight and pride. Bude was a large and comfortable-looking person, triple-chinned like an archdeacon, bald-headed except for a respectable and saving edging of dark down, clean-shaven, benign of countenance, with a bold nose which to the psychologist bespoke both ambition and inborn cleverness. He had a thin, tight mouth which in itself alone was a symbol of discreet reticence, the hall-mark of the trusted family retainer.
Bude had spent his life in the service of the English aristocracy. The Earl of Tipperary, Major-General Lord Bannister, the Dowager Marchioness of Wiltshire, and Sir Herbert Marcobrunner, Bart., had in turn watched his gradual progress from pantry-boy to butler. Bude was a man whose maxim had been the French saying, “Je prends mon bien où je le trouve.”
In his thirty years’ service he had always sought to discover and draw from those sources of knowledge which were at his disposal. From MacTavish, who had supervised Lord Tipperary’s world-famous gardens, he had learnt a great deal about flowers, so that the arrangement of the floral decorations was always one of the features at Hartley Parrish’s soigné dinner-parties. From Brun, the unsurpassed chef, whom Lord Bannister had picked up when serving with the Guards in Egypt, he had gathered sufficient knowledge of the higher branches of the cuisine to enable Hartley Parrish to leave the arrangement of the menu in his butler’s hands.
Bude would have been the first to admit that, socially speaking, his present situation was not the equal of the positions he had held. There was none of the staid dignity about his present employer which was inborn in men like Lord Tipperary or Lord Bannister, and which Sir Herbert Marcobrunner, with the easy assimilative faculty of his race, had very successfully acquired. Below middle height, thick-set and powerfully built, with a big head, narrow eyes, and a massive chin, Hartley Parrish, in his absorbed concentration on his business, had no time for the acquisition or practice of the Eton manner.
It was characteristic of Parrish that, seeing Bude at a dinner-party at Marcobrunner’s, he should have engaged him on the spot. It took Bude a week to get over his shock at the manner in which the offer was made. Parrish had approached him as he was supervising the departure of the guests. Waving aside the footman who offered to help him into his overcoat, Parrish had asked Bude point-blank what wages he was getting. Bude mentioned the generous remuneration he was receiving from Sir Herbert Marcobrunner, whereupon Parrish had remarked:
“Come to me and I’ll double it. I’ll give you a week to think it over. Let my secretary know!”
After a few discreet enquiries, Bude, faithful to his maxim, had accepted Parrish’s offer. Marcobrunner was furiously angry, but, being anxious to interest Parrish in a deal, sagely kept his feelings to himself. And Bude had never regretted the change. He found Parrish an exacting, but withal a just and a generous master, and he was not long in realizing that, as long as he kept Harkings, Parrish’s country place where he spent the greater part of his time, running smoothly according to Parrish’s schedule, he could count on a life situation.
The polish of manner, the sober dignity of dress, acquired from years of acute observation in the service of the nobility, were to be seen as, at the hour of five, in the twilight of this bleak autumn afternoon, Bude moved majestically into the lounge-hall of Harkings and leisurely pounded the gong for tea.
The muffled notes of the gong swelled out brazenly through the silent house. They echoed down the softly carpeted corridors to the library where the master of the house sat at his desk. For days he had been immersed in the figures of the new issue which Hornaway’s, the vast engineering business of his creation, was about to put on the market. They reverberated up the fine old oak staircase to the luxurious Louis XV bedroom, where Lady Margaret Trevert lay on her bed idly smiling through an amusing novel. They crashed through the thickly padded baize doors leading to the servants’ hall, where, at sixpence a hundred, Parrish’s man, Jay, was partnering Lady Margaret’s maid against Mrs. Heever, the housekeeper, and Robert, the chauffeur, at a friendly game of bridge. And they even boomed distantly into the far-away billiard-room and broke into the talk which Robin Greve was having with Mary Trevert.
“Damn!” exclaimed Greve savagely, as the distant gonging came to his ears.
“It’s the gong for tea,” said Mary demurely.
She was sitting on one of the big leather sofas lining the long room. Robin, as he gazed down at her from where he stood with his back against the edge of the billiard-table, thought what an attractive picture she made in the half-light.
The lamps over the table were lit, but the rest of the room was almost dark. In that lighting the thickly waving dark hair brought out the fine whiteness of the girl’s skin. There was love, and a great desire for love, in her large dark eyes, but the clear-cut features, the well-shaped chin, and the firm mouth, the lips a little full, spoke of ambition and the love of power.
“I’ve been here three whole days,” said Robin, “and I’ve not had two words with you alone, Mary. And hardly have I got you to myself for a quiet game of pills when that rotten gong goes …”
“I’m sorry you’re disappointed at missing your game,” the girl replied mischievously, “but I expect you will be able to get a game with Horace or one of the others after tea …”
Robin kicked the carpet savagely.
“You know perfectly well I don’t want to play billiards …”
He looked up and caught the girl’s eye. For a fraction of a second he saw in it the expression which every man at least once in his life looks to see in the eyes of one particular woman. In the girl’s dark-blue eyes fringed with long black lashes he saw the dumb appeal, the mute surrender, which, as surely as the white flag on the battlements in war, is the signal of capitulation in woman.
But the expression was gone on the instant. It passed so swiftly that, for a second, Robin, seeing the gently mocking glance that succeeded it, wondered whether he had been mistaken.
But he was a man of action—a glance at his long, well-moulded head, his quick, wide-open eye, and his square jaw would have told you that—and he spoke.
“It’s no use beating about the bush,” he said. “Mary, I’ve got so fond of you that I’m just miserable when you’re away from me …”
“Oh, Robin, please …”
Mary Trevert stood up and remained standing, her head turned a little away from him, a charming silhouette in her heather-blue shooting-suit.
The young man took her listless hand.