In this section of A Damsel In Distress, the plot is not advanced so much as several story lines are set up for advancement in the near future. Some of this is done in the letter which George receives from Billie. As I noted before about Wodehouse, he is an expert at mentioning something briefly as a casual aside, only to have it become an important plot point later on- or the set-up for a good joke... frequently both. This is the second time Billie has mentioned the suspicious lothario who has been turning the head of one of her young cast mates. This leads us to suspect that this character will somehow come into play later on, probably when we least expect it. The arrival of Lord Marshmoreton at the cottage stymies Maud's attempt to see George, but also brings a few things to light. Lord M. is of course under the same misapprehension as the rest of his family: that George is the man with whom his daughter is in love. He has been harried by his sister into coming to warn George off, but finds to his chagrin that he actually likes the fellow. More, he finds in George a man he can talk to, unlike his son, who is a pompous idiot. This scene gives us more insight into Lord Marshmoreton's character. He is not simply a figure of fun in corduroy trousers, ruthlessly pursuing slugs across the rose garden; he's a bit of a lonely and wistful soul, cowed by his family into doing things he doesn't want to do and is ill-suited for: writing the family history and playing the heavy-handed aristocrat, for example. He takes pleasure in conversing with George because he can talk about subjects he's interested in rather than about topics he's told he must be interested in.
This of course brings us to Billie. She and the supposed gardener had quite a rapport that day in the Belpher rose garden, and we now learn that Billie has made a lasting impression on Lord M. He is taken with her not because she's a pretty face (though I'm sure that didn't hurt) but because she genuinely shares his horticultural interests. When George gives him the address of the theater and tells him that Billie is performing there, Lord M. decides that it's been far too many years since he's taken in a show... by which we know that he is once again going to seek out her company. Also, when George informs him that Billie used to be a stenographer, Lord Marshmoreton enjoys a momentary vision of replacing his secretary Alice Farraday with Billie Dore, thinking he wouldn't even mind working on the family history with her. Of course, he quickly squelches this dream; he knows that he'd never have the courage to fire Alice. Of course, what Lord M. doesn't realize is that Reggie's pursuit of Alice is going swimmingly, thanks in no small part to the advice of "Doctor Cupid". One wonders if Alice will want her job for very much longer.
Speaking of Doctor Cupid... er, Albert... Keggs has of course figured out what he's up to. The butler takes it upon himself to inform George of the boy's betrayal and to offer his own support -and scheme, to which George reluctantly agrees. As he heads for the barn, we are conscious that things are coming to a head. We know that Maud sees in George a friend who is willing to help her contact Geoffrey, the man she loves. George, on the other hand, has been misguidedly informed by both Reggie and Lord M. that Maud returns his feelings. George is understandably hopeful as he goes to meet her, leaving us with an uneasy feeling that this interview may be a painful one for all concerned.
Maud arrives at George's cottage only to find that her father, Lord Marshmoreton, is on the doorstep. She slinks away unseen, her attempt to meet with George frustrated once again. Her one consolation is that, upon arriving home, she gets to innocently describe to a limping and bitter Percy her encounter with a drunken tramp on the road. She impishly tells him that she wishes that he had been with her, to protect her. Meanwhile, George is reading a letter from Billie Dore when Lord Marshmoreton knocks on his door. In it, she relates to him that the stage door Johnnie who has been romancing one of the young actresses (see Summary Part I) is up to no good. He told the girl that he had to leave London suddenly, but Billie says she saw him on the street after he was supposed to have left and, upon noticing her, he fled the scene. She also tells George that if he sees "dada" to tell him not to forget the roses, a sentence which mystifies him. When George lets Lord M. in, he is still under the impression that the man is a gardener, no doubt bringing him a message from Maud. He is shocked to discover that the man he met pottering about Belpher's gardens in corduroy trousers is actually the lord of the manor and the father of Maud. He quickly recovers, however, and strikes up a friendly conversation with Lord M., much to the nobleman's dismay, as he's come to warn George away from his daughter. He reluctantly finds himself liking the affable young man, and admits to George that he himself wouldn't be opposed to the match, but he wants a quiet life and his family won't leave him alone unless he forbids George to associate with Maud. George respectfully declines to follow this order and expects Lord M. to leave, but instead he lingers to ask George for Billie's address. He hastily explains that he promised to send her some roses, but one of the maids was cleaning his desk and threw away the paper with her address on it. The meaning of Billie's post script dawns on George, and he gives Lord M. the address of the theater, explaining that Billie is appearing in one of his musicals there. He also says that he has known Billie since she was a stenographer at a music company, and that she's a great person. Lord M. leaves happily, the fact that he has not gotten rid of George slipping his mind.
At Belpher Castle, quite a few of relatives are still in residence following the party, which is frustrating for both Percy and Maud for entirely different reasons. Various family members, having seen the newspaper accounts of Percy's altercation and subsequent arrest in Piccadilly, have concluded, not unreasonably, that he was three sheets to the wind. Much to his chagrin, Percy has to endure a lecture from his uncle the Bishop on sobriety. Maud is also having a rough time of it. Every time she attempts to sneak off to see George, some relative pops out of the shrubbery wanting to walk with her, or suggest some sport or another. She is further upset by the fact that she's sent another note to George via Albert and he has not replied. She fears that, after her father's visit, George has decided not to help her. Of course, the real reason is that Albert is now playing for the other team and never delivered her note. Speaking of Albert, he is also miserable- deservedly so- because of the failure of his attempts to get Reggie to woo Lady Maud. Despite a slew of advice notes which he has left for Reggie (signed "Doctor Cupid") all Reggie does is hang around Alice, taking no notice of Maud. Little does Albert know that Reggie is earnestly following his advice with no inkling that Maud was the intended object of it. Unlike his offspring, Lord Marshmoreton is in the best of spirits. To the bemusement of his servants, he is skipping around the rose gardens looking years younger and happily whistling old music hall tunes. No one knows quite what to make of it.
Meanwhile Keggs, who has been keeping a weather eye on the situation, observes that things seem to have come to a standstill with Maud and George. He correctly lays the blame for this at the feet of young Albert and takes it upon himself to visit George at his cottage. Informing him of Albert'sperfidy, Keggs offers to help George meet with Maud, having thought up a plan. He suggests that, since it's a rainy evening and everyone will be staying indoors at the castle, George should make his way to a small unused barn standing just outside the castle grounds. Keggs will apprise Lady Maud of his whereabouts and she can sneak out to meet him there. Despite certain misgivings, George agrees to this plan and, at the appointed time, makes his way through the rain to the barn.
This is my favourite part of the book; I just find it so amusing. Nothing really happens, plot-wise, in it: Maud doesn't manage to contact George- and thereby Geoffrey- and none of the other story threads are advanced either. It's simply an account of Maud's failed attempt to send a message to the man she's in love with via the man who's in love with her. The brilliance is in the execution of the scene, and Wodehouse is a comedic genius. Percy- Lord Belpher- is, of course, an idiot and a snob so we don't feel at all badly as he suffers pain and humiliation. He's the author of his own misfortune, and his misfortune is pretty funny. The entire novel is pretty funny, but this section in particular tickles my funny bone. The image of the diminutive Rev. Cyril Ferguson confronting Lord Belpher, defending the virtue of a lady from an inebriated stalker awakes our admiration as well as our amusement. Naive and meek the curate may be, but he certainly proves himself equal to the task of dealing with Percy. This episode marks another occasion of mistaken identity occurring in the novel, and it's probably the funniest one. The sermon delivered to Percy by the Rev. Cyril on the subject of his supposed drunkenness is priceless: "You ought to be ashamed of yourself," he said severely. "Sad piece of human wreckage as you are, you speak like an educated man. Have you no self-respect? Do you never search your heart and shudder at the horrible degradation which you have brought on yourself by sheer weakness of will?" This earnest speech causes the sore, simmering Lord Belpher to lose his temper entirely and results in his incarceration in the broom closet. His later encounter with the blacksmith is likewise amusing, especially the man giving Lord Belpher- supposed derelict- a shilling, and a Temperance pamphlet which begins with a cautionary tale: "Job Roberts had always been a hard-drinking man, but one day, as he was coming out of the bar-parlour..."
If the last portion of the story increased our sympathy and affection for George, this part does the same for Maud. Stymied in all her attempts to meet with George and pursued along country lanes by her annoying brother Percy, she maintains her cool and her sense of humour. She also demonstrates her ability to think quickly in moments of crises. So to sum up, there isn't much plot development through this portion of the novel, but it's a hugely entertaining, especially if you're listening to it in audio book form.
I received a few birthday gifts on the weekend... books, games, and gift cards. Maybe I'll get that P.G. Wodehouse book from Chapters Indigo after all, since one of my gift cards is for there and they have his books in their online store if not their actual stores. Still not happy about that, though.
This section of the novel is really quite humorous as we follow George's hapless attempts to see Maud: the course of true love is certainly not running smoothly. The George Bevan we see here is not the same George Bevan we met at the beginning of the book. That George was a successful and self-possessed composer, celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic. This George is infatuated, slightly befuddled, and reduced to entering a scheme with a young page in order to further his romantic aims. He has also exposed himself to discomfort, embarrassment, and hazardous conditions. And yet, the earlier George was detached, lonely, and suffering from ennui. This George is completely engaged, sure of what he wants even if he's not sure how to get it- or her, as the case may be- and definitely not aloof or bored with life. We can't help but feel a warm sympathy for him, especially when we know that he's headed for heartache, operating as he is under a false assumption about Maud's feelings. George further endears himself by being able to see- and laugh at- the ridiculousness of his situation; he doesn't take himself too seriously. We see this in his dealings with Albert: for example, when told of the marriage lottery being run by the servants, George is at first inclined to be indignant but then the humour of it strikes him, and he is able to laugh at himself.
We also get a closer look at the machinations of the two most scheming characters in the book: Keggs the butler and Albert the page. While the drama plays out above stairs, below stairs these two attempt to pull strings and manipulate events for their own benefit. Their aims are completely opposed to each other, and so the two are always trying to stay one step ahead of the other, and sabotage one another's efforts. Albert is naturally sly and has more time to devote to his plotting, but Keggs is older and more experienced, and also has a higher rank below stairs, giving him definite advantages. As they vie for the upper hand, we of necessity root for Albert- precocious imp that he is- because we want George to succeed. And then this is turned on it's head, as Keggs and Albert switch tickets and sides and now cheering for George means wanting Keggs to come out on top as well. It's also nice to see Reggie's rather unlikely romance with Alice bumbling awkwardly towards success, as he is a really sweet and funny person, if not overly bright. As he starts following the advice in Albert's "anonymous" letters, it adds another layer to the mistaken identities/ intentions farce. And, of course, Percy is reliably hilarious in his ridiculous pomposity. This ridiculousness reaches its zenith in the next section of the book, which is my favourite part of the novel. Oh- I almost forgot, but the Leonard's Leap scene is classic Wodehouse. What might seem like a throw-away moment in a novel, or merely background detail, never is with him. The leap from the balcony to the tree below was a bit of the family history which Keggs was relating during the castle tour. We've nearly forgotten about it when suddenly it reenters the narrative as Maud and George get caught in a similar predicament as the unfortunate lovers of yore. Also typically Wodehouse, the romantic legend is amusingly undone, as George takes one look at the distance and vetoes the idea of attempting a jump, opting for the less romantic but certainly more sensible option of climbing through another window.
George then has a visit from Albert, who had delivered his secondary note to Maud. He is there to bring Maud's reply letter, which tells George that she does need his help and will try to think of a way to get to see him. Albert, due to his ticket in the Maud marriage lottery, has a vested interest in having George's romantic efforts succeed. He suggests to George a way that he can see Maud: the castle is hiring extra serving staff for Percy's coming of age party. George can apply for a job, and Albert will tell the housekeeper that he is his cousin from America to give him an in. Thinking it over, George decides that this isn't a bad idea and agrees. Albert's plan works, and the night of the party finds George in the castle masquerading as a waiter. To his alarm, he is approached by Reggie and asked to get some lemonade for Alice Faraday. Fortunately, Reggie is a bit tipsy because he's been downing alcohol, trying to screw his courage up enough to propose to Alice. He confusedly tries to find out if this waiter is his erstwhile golf partner. When George solemnly denies knowing him, Reggie assumes that he must be a lot drunker than he thought and totters back to Alice's side. In view of his befuddlement, Alice also concludes that Reggie must have had too much to drink. Rather than giving her a disgust of him, Alice's protective instincts are roused and she decides that Reggie needs a good woman to take care of him.
Meanwhile, Albert has arranged for George to meet with Maud in an empty room in the castle. When he gets there, George realizes he was in this room while on the castle tour: it's the room which has the lover's leap balcony. Maud arrives, but they barely have enough time to greet each other when another one of her suitors comes looking for her. George slips out onto the balcony and to his embarrassment, has to listen to the other man proposing to Maud. She refuses him, and the spurned swain announces his intention to go out onto the balcony. Panicking at the thought of being found there, George contemplates doing the historic lover's leap but, looking over the edge, quickly decides against it. Fortunately, the ever- inventive Albert has rushed upstairs to Reggie's bedroom and knotted his sheets; he drops the sheet-rope out the window to George, who clambers up just in time to avoid Maud's rejected suitor. George is making his escape down the stairs, but is stopped by Percy who, assuming George is a waiter, tells him to bring him a drink. Falling back into character, George does so, but startles Percy by calling him "sir" instead of "my lord." It's then Percy realizes that the waiter looks a great deal like the man he had the dust-up with in Piccadilly. He concludes, however, that this is impossible. He is further reassured later when he asks Keggs, who tells him George is Albert's cousin from America.
This conversation has quite the opposite effect on Keggs, however. Knowing Albert's scheming, dishonest nature, he immediately suspects the boy has been up to some skulduggery. He tracks the boy down and tricks him into admitting he got George into the house by calling him his cousin. Keggs uses this knowledge to blackmail Albert into trading his lottery ticket for an unknown suitor for Kegg's Reggie ticket. Albert, though resentful, immediately determines to do everything he can to ensure that Maud marries Reggie. To this end, he starts writing anonymous letters to Reggie giving him advice on wooing his intended. Unfortunately for Albert, when he gets the letters, Reggie assumes that they are referring to his pursuit of Alice and happily uses the advice when approaching her. Meanwhile, George, his attempt to see Maud stymied, has returned to his cottage. He is unaware that Albert has switched sides, assuming that the boy is still in his corner.
If you've read my review of Beowulf, you know that I discuss the very creditable hypothesis that J.R.R. Tolkien got a few ideas for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings from that work. It's natural that he would draw on the land and legends he was familiar with for inspiration. Anyone who has read the books will remember the illustration of the Doors of Durin, the west gate to the Dwarf city of Khazad-dum.
Peter Jackson's film had a very accurate representation of it:
It's a beautiful door; in the book Tolkien tells us it was built by the dwarves and carved by the elves. But where did he get the design? Most think it was inspired by the north door on St. Edward's Church in Stow-on-the-Wold, England. The church dates back to the 11th century, and has had bits and pieces added to it over the centuries. The north door mouldings were done during the 13th century, and are framed by yew trees. It all looks vaguely familiar...
I actually have been to Stow-on-the-Wold, which is in the Cotswolds. Unfortunately I didn't have a lot of time and stayed around the center of town, taking pictures of things like the market cross. Incidentally, during the 1646 Battle of Stow-on-the-Wold, the leader of the Royalist army, Sir Jacob Astley, retreated into the town and, sitting on the base of the cross, surrendered to the Parliamentarian army, ending the first English Civil War. The royalist prisoners were then held in St. Edward church. As I said, I didn't have time to explore the church but had I known about the north door at the time, I think I probably would have gone anyway and missed my bus.
This part of the book sets up the mistaken identities farce which will drive a good deal of the rest of the plot: Maud's family is convinced that George is the man whom Maud had fallen in love with, and was trying to meet. Acting on this belief, Reggie has informed George that Maud is in love with him. In addition, George is labouring under the impression that Lord Marshmoreton is the gardener at Belpher Castle. All of this informs actions of the various characters in the next section of the book, undertaken under a mass of false assumptions. Of course, this part of the novel isn't just set up- it's also extremely humorous. The return home of the post-incarceration Percy is laugh-out-loud funny, especially the comments from Reggie and Lord Marshmoreton. Lord M. is inclined to be astonished- and vaguely pleased- that Percy got into a fight. He has always regarded his stodgy son as scarcely human: "...you collect prayer rugs; you wear flannel next to your skin..." Of course, Lady Caroline is merely horrified that her nephew has exposed the illustrious family name to ridicule... until Percy throws Maud under the bus. This segment also introduces us to the "downstairs" at Belpher Castle, especially the two servants who will become extremely important to the plot: Keggs the butler and Albert the pageboy. Keggs is recognizable as a Wodehousian upper servant, in the style of Jeeves. He is as aware of what is going upstairs as he is of what's happening downstairs and, cleverer than a good deal of his employers, is willing and able to manipulate circumstances to his own benefit. Albert is the type of child also familiar to readers of Wodehouse: precocious and rather terrible. Their below stairs machinations for and against their often hapless employers- and against each other- lend interest and humour to the narrative.
Arriving in Belpher, George finds out that the castle is open once a week to visitors, and while he is waiting for this to occur, he rents a cottage not too far away. Meanwhile at Belpher Castle, Reggie arrives with Percy, newly sprung from the drunk tank. His Lordship is angry and embarrassed, and frustrated with Reggie who can't stop making smart remarks about his arrest. When they enter the castle, Lady Caroline demands a family conference over this horrible incident, dragging a reluctant Lord Belpher into the library to deal with his jailbird son. In the course of this interview, Percy tattles that it occurred because he saw Maud getting into a taxi with a man, whom they all assume is the American that she's in love with. Maud is called on the carpet, and admits that she was in London to meet with Geoffrey but says she didn't see him. Lady Caroline doesn't believe her and says that Maud will be confined to Belpher until she gets over her infatuation. Also at Belpher, we meet some of the servants, particularly the butler Keggs, and the pageboy Albert. Unbeknownst to the Marshmoretons. the servants are gambling below stairs on just which of Lady Maud's suitors she'll end up marrying. They pay money to buy a name, and whoever turns out to be right will win the pot. Keggs has Reggie's name and feels reasonably confident that this is the winning ticket. Albert, the most junior member of the staff, was made to wait until last to pick and there aren't any names left. Undeterred, he buys into the pool, saying he will choose "Mr. X"- an unknown quantity.
On Thursday- visiting day- George goes to Belpher Castle and embarks on the guided tour led by Keggs. To his surprise, he finds that Billie Dore is also taking the tour. She is equally surprised to see George, telling him everyone in London is wondering where he disappeared to. She also assures him that the musical is doing well. Keggs is droning on about an ill-fated romance involving one of the Marshmoreton ancestors which resulted in a fleeing swain jumping out the window into a tree. Billie suggests to George that they leave the tour and go out into the rose garden; they do so and meet a man working there whom they assume is the gardener. Billie enthusiastically starts questioning him about the varieties of roses in the garden, and the gardener, finding in her a kindred spirit, enters into a deep discussion with her on the subject. George seizes the moment to write a note for Maud, making two copies; in it, he tells her where he is staying, and offers her any help which she might need. After Billie takes her leave, returning to London, George gives the gardener one of the notes- along with a tip- and asks him to give it to Lady Maud. On his way out, he runs into Albert the page boy and gives the other note to him- again with a tip- for Lady Maud, reasoning that if one of the notes went astray, the other was likely to reach her.
The gardener is, of course, Lord Marshmoreton, who is somewhat amused by George's mistake. He unwisely shows the letter to Lady Caroline, who is aghast- and furious. She demands that her brother pay a call on George and warn him away from Maud. Lord M. is reluctant to do so, but is bullied into agreeing by Caroline. Meanwhile George, blissfully unaware that he has been discovered, is anxiously waiting to hear from Maud. To pass the time, he goes to the local golf course to play a game. There he meets Reggie; the two hit it off and after they play 18 holes, go to George's cottage for a drink. Over the course of their conversation, Reggie becomes aware that George is the one who is pursuing Maud, and who was involved in the dust-up with Percy in Piccadilly. He- like the rest of the family- assumes that George is the same man whom Maud was going to London to see, and tells George that Maud is in love with him. George is incredulous; he is, of course, in love with Maud but finds it astonishing that she could be in love with an unremarkable fellow like himself. Reggie also warns him that the family is aware of his presence in the community, but George is unmoved: faint heart never won fair lady.