‘Servants a nuisance!’ exclaimed Jane, bounding into the topic with the exuberant plunge of a hunter when it leaves the high road and feels turf under its hoofs; ‘I should think they were! The trouble I’ve had in getting suited this year you would hardly believe. But I don’t see what you have to complain of—your mother is so wonderfully lucky in her servants. Sturridge, for instance—he’s been with you for years, and I’m sure he’s a paragon as butlers go.’

‘That’s just the trouble,’ said Clovis. ‘It’s when servants have been with you for years that they become a really serious nuisance. The “here today and gone tomorrow” sort don’t matter—you’ve simply got to replace them; it’s the stayers and the paragons that are the real worry.’

‘But if they give satisfaction—’

‘That doesn’t prevent them from giving trouble. Now, you’ve mentioned Sturridge—it was Sturridge I was particularly thinking of when I made the observation about servants being a nuisance.’

‘The excellent Sturridge a nuisance! I can’t believe it.’

‘I know he’s excellent, and we just couldn’t get along without him; he’s the one reliable element in this rather haphazard household. But his very orderliness has had an effect on him. Have you ever considered what it must be like to go on unceasingly doing the correct thing in the correct manner in the same surroundings for the greater part of a lifetime? To know and ordain and superintend exactly what silver and glass and table linen shall be used and set out on what occasions, to have cellar and pantry and plate-cupboard under a minutely devised and undeviating administration, to be noiseless, impalpable, omnipresent, and, as far as your own department is concerned, omniscient?’

‘I should go mad,’ said Jane with conviction.

‘Exactly,’ said Clovis thoughtfully, swallowing his completed Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

‘But Sturridge hasn’t gone mad,’ said Jane with a flutter of inquiry in her voice.

‘On most points he’s thoroughly sane and reliable,’ said Clovis, ‘but at times he is subject to the most obstinate delusions, and on those occasions he becomes not merely a nuisance but a decided embarrassment.’

‘What sort of delusions?’

‘Unfortunately they usually centre round one of the guests of the house party, and that is where the awkwardness comes in. For instance, he took it into his head that Matilda Sheringham was the Prophet Elijah, and as all that he remembered about Elijah’s history was the episode of the ravens in the wilderness he absolutely declined to interfere with what he imagined to be Matilda’s private catering arrangements, wouldn’t allow any tea to be sent up to her in the morning, and if he was waiting at table he passed her over altogether in handing round the dishes.’

‘How very unpleasant. Whatever did you do about it?’

‘Oh, Matilda got fed, after a fashion, but it was judged to behest for her to cut her visit short. It was really the only thing to be done,’ said Clovis with some emphasis.

‘I shouldn’t have done that,’ said Jane, ‘I should have humoured him in some way. I certainly shouldn’t have gone away.’

Clovis frowned.

‘It is not always wise to humour people when they get these ideas into their heads. There’s no knowing to what lengths they may go if you encourage them.’

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