Arthur stood looking from one to the other

It was approaching half-past five on a June afternoon, and in
consequence Colonel Raymond was approaching the Wroxton County Club. He
was a man of method, and a retired Colonel of Volunteers, and thus he
left his house (christened Lammermoor by his wife) with great regularity
at a quarter past five in summer, and a quarter past four in winter, and
marched rather than walked with an inflated chest and a gallant bearing.
The Colonel, even at the age of fifty-six, remained one of those
harmless idiots who draw themselves up and try to look interesting
whenever a pretty woman passes them; indeed, he went further, for, being
a little short-sighted, he drew himself up and tried to look interesting
when he saw any female figure approaching, on the chance that at nearer
range she might prove to be pretty. He had a somewhat flaming face, and
a long mustache “silver sabled.” In very hot weather he was liable to
touches of liver, and when thus afflicted, sometimes alluded, when only
comparative strangers were present, to the trying climate of India, a
country in which, as his intimate acquaintances knew, he had never set
foot. But to the uninitiate the combination of the title of Colonel and
the climate of India led to the deduction that he had seen service, and
the Colonel did not put himself to the pains of correcting this. He
would even encourage it further by sometimes talking of lunch as
“tiffin.”

Now Colonel Raymond’s manner was so radically bluff and straightforward
that it would be absurd to argue any want of sincerity from such
trifles. Every man he met was either “the best fellow on this earth,” or
“a blackguard, sir, a low Radical blackguard!” Shades and fine
distinctions did not exist for him; there was no nonsense about him, he
would say. But there was very little sense.

The Colonel had his idols. Dizzy, “old Dizzy,” was one of them, and
this full measure of his approbation was conferred on the Queen when old
Dizzy was created an Earl, for the aristocracy was another. His wife’s
sister had married a man whose sister had married Lord Avesham, and had
this fortunate peer known it, he must have often been gratified to have
heard himself alluded to by the Colonel as “my noble relative.” His
noble relative was President of the Wroxton County Club, toward which
the Colonel was now marching; but on the few occasions on which his
lordship had set foot in that establishment, the Colonel, if there, had
speedily effaced himself, only to come in half an hour afterward with
the avowed object of looking for him, and much regret at having missed
him. He had once even gone so far as to address a note to Lord Avesham,
with a few formal lines inside and his own name very large on the
left-hand corner of the envelope. This he left conspicuously in the rack
which held members’ letters, with “To await arrival” in the corner. But
from some reason or other (Lord Avesham had been seen in Wroxton several
times that week) the Colonel surreptitiously removed it the day after.
Perhaps he thought that he would certainly meet his noble relative in
the street, and could ask him to tiffin then.

On this particular afternoon the Colonel had drawn himself up and looked
interesting quite a number of times–indeed, it would scarcely be an
exaggeration to say that he had not looked dull for thirty seconds
together during the second and more populous part of his walk. The day
had been hot, and the inhabitants of Wroxton were streaming out for a
walk in the cool of the evening. Once, a fine instance of the innate
kindliness of the Colonel, he had gone so far as to help a nursery-maid
over a crossing with her perambulator, for the strong should always
assist the weak, and there was a butcher’s cart standing only a few
doors off, which might have driven rapidly in her direction without
warning. Then he had passed the younger Miss Clifford on her bicycle,
and, though the younger Miss Clifford was forty-three and as plain as a
biscuit, the gallant Colonel had fired some piece of robust wit at her
on the subject of country lanes and chance meetings.

The smoking-room of the club was rapidly filling when the Colonel
entered. Captain Johnson and Major Daltry were on the point of going to
the billiard-room, and as they both played a game more slow than sure,
the table would be occupied for the next hour. Colonel Raymond, with all
his gallantry and romantic bearing where the other sex was concerned,
did not trouble to stand on his manners when among what he called “old
cronies,” and when he found that Mr. Hewson, who completed his regular
four at whist, had not arrived, he was not pleased. Among his old
cronies, in fact, he gave the impression of being always in a rage. At
whist he certainly was, particularly with his partner. However, as he
had to wait, he took up the evening paper until Mr. Hewson should
appear, and, standing in front of the fireplace, read out scraps of news
with loud, explosive comments.

“Perfectly childish and suicidal,” he said, hitting the paper angrily
with his hand. “I have always said so, and I shall always say so. Our
foreign policy is perfectly childish and suicidal. I don’t know what we
are about. Why don’t we turn those blackguards out of Constantinople,
and hang the Sultan, and make an end of the whole business in the good
old English fashion. Old Dizzy would have done it long ago. I’m ashamed,
positively ashamed to be English. Eh, what?”

And he turned fiercely on Mr. Newbolt, a gentle solicitor with
mutton-chop whiskers, who had not spoken.

“I didn’t say anything, Colonel,” he remarked.

“No, sir,” retorted the Colonel, “there is nothing to be said. There is
no justification possible for our policy. Childish and suicidal I call
it, because I am a man who doesn’t mince matters, and isn’t afraid of
speaking his mind. Bring me a whisky and soda, waiter. Ah, here is
Hewson. Now perhaps we shall get a game of whist at last.”

“I am not late, Colonel,” he said. “It is only just the half hour.”

“Let us lose no more time in getting to our whist,” repeated Colonel
Raymond.

Mr. Newbolt had furtively picked up the paper which the Colonel had
dropped on Mr. Hewson’s entry.

“Hullo, here is news for you,” said he; “Lord Avesham is dead.”

“God bless my soul!” cried the Colonel, wheeling suddenly round. “Dead?
My noble relative dead? Pooh, I don’t believe a word of it. It’s some
lie of that infernal Radical paper of yours. Why, it was only the other
day that–Let’s look.”

He took the paper out of Mr. Newbolt’s unresisting hand.

“Expired at nine o’clock this morning at his residence in Prince’s
Gate,” he read. “Yes, Number Seventeen, that’s quite right. Seems to be
true. Very shocking, indeed. Poor Avesham, poor fellow. Family all
there–I must send a wire. No, I’ll send it after our whist, or
to-morrow morning first thing. Dear me, dear, dear me! Waiter, am I
going to wait all night for that whisky and soda? Bring it to the
card-room, and look sharp.”

“He seems to have been ill some time,” said Mr. Newbolt, in quiet,
precise tones. “I suppose you expected it, Colonel?”

“No, sir, I did not,” he replied. “The report of his illness was greatly
exaggerated. It’s a blow to me, a blow.”

And the Colonel strutted out of the room, followed by the three others,
as if Lord Avesham’s death had brought him within a life or two of the
title.

Colonel Raymond’s whist was as explosive as his manner among his old
cronies, and was conducted on principles founded crookedly on Cavendish.
The rule there inculcated to retain command of a suit, he interpreted by
readings of his own, and thus it not infrequently happened that a
perfect spate of kings and aces would burst from his hand after his
adversaries had begun to rough the suit. His unhappy partner had to
cower beneath the rain of winning cards and censure when this happened.

“You should have drawn the trumps, sir,” the Colonel would say; “a baby
in arms would have drawn the trumps. You could see I was keeping command
of the ordinary suits, and if you had only had the sense to draw the
trumps they would all have made. My deal, I think; cut again, please, I
hate a slovenly cut. Let’s see, that’s a treble. We pay dear for your
mistake. Honours? Two against us by honours. One of the instances, as
Cavendish says, where a weak hand could have been turned into a winning
hand by a little judgment and forethought.”

His partner, if discreet, would not reply, but sometimes, goaded to
frenzy, if the same sort of thing had happened before that evening, he
would point out with perfect justice that he had positively had no
opportunity of taking a trick, as the Colonel held all the winning
cards, and that being the case he might have played one of them, and
opened trumps for himself.

That was what Colonel Raymond was waiting for.

“And weaken my own suit, sir,” he would cry, “and spoil all chance of
what I was playing for. What would have been the use of that? You fail
to understand the elementary laws of the game. You will spend an hour
with Cavendish now and then, as I’m not ashamed to do, if you take my
advice. It will save you many rubbers.”

But his partner, if wise, would say nothing, possessing his soul in a
show, at any rate, of patience until the Colonel revoked. Sometimes he
revoked early, sometimes late, but one revoke in an evening might be
confidently looked for. It cost three tricks, it is true, but peace at
any price was the motto of the Colonel’s partner, for after the revoke
occurred the Colonel ceased to be a man of war, and let his kings die
like men under the stroke of the ace. At other times he would cover his
mistakes with humorous gallantry.

“I ought to have played the queen, sir, and I acknowledge it,” he would
be so kind as to say; “but I couldn’t bear that that knave of a
king–knave of a king, ha, ha!–should take her from me. The fair sex,
sir, the fair sex.”

Morton Hall, the country-seat of the Colonel’s noble relative, was only
a few miles out of Wroxton, and when he returned home that evening to
dinner, after breaking the news of Lord Avesham’s death to Mrs. Raymond
and his daughters, he held a loud, overbearing discussion across the
table (for at home, as among his old cronies, his gallantry was relaxed)
as to whether the eldest son of his deceased relative would be able to
keep it open. The family was poor, and the Colonel asserted angrily, as
if he had been personally affronted, that the death duties would be so
heavy that they would have to let it.

“Don’t tell me,” he said, sipping his soup with a sound of many waters,
though nobody had told him anything. “Don’t tell me. They are as poor as
rats. Pepper, give me the pepper. I’d sooner wash my hands in this soup,
Constance, than drink it. Simple water, simple warm water. As poor as
rats. Poorer. It’s all that infernal Radical government. We are the best
blood in England–the Aveshams are the best blood in England, and have
served their king and country for five hundred years. There ought to be
a government grant. Take away the soup.”

Mrs. Raymond was a resigned and feeble woman, with a thin, vague face
which it was impossible to remember. Ten years of married life with her
husband had made a phantom of her. She had the wreck of long-departed
prettiness about her, but that had been sunk, becoming, as it were, a
total loss, leaving her face devoid of any qualities. Her mind was
destitute of hopes, aims, and regrets; she was as intangible to
description as a moonbeam.

“It would be impossible to provide for all the families of all the poor
peers in England, Robert,” she suggested.

“Impossible? Yes, if you have a government of Atheists and Socialists,
who are afraid of the Sultan, and wish to abolish the House of
Lords–God bless it! That is where the fault lies. England is going to
the dogs. I wish, Constance, you would sometimes get hold of fish that
is eatable. Worcester sauce. Give me the Worcester sauce. Venison–my
fish is venison. Going to the dogs. Why, in the good old days it was
sufficient for a man to be connected with a bishop or a peer to make
sure of a government office. The apotheosis of the brewer, that’s what I
call the England of to-day. Take away the fish. What else is there for
dinner?”

“It is very hard to get good fish in this weather,” said Mrs. Raymond.
“It is next to impossible to keep it.”

“Impossible? Nonsense. You women have no method. You’ve only got to keep
it cool. No method at all. You keep fish all day in a hot kitchen, and
then expect it to be good in the evening.”

“The fish was only sent in at half past six this evening,” said his
wife, in a low, monotonous voice. “It was so late I thought it would not
be here in time for dinner.”

“And a good thing if it hadn’t been,” retorted the Colonel; “I’d sooner
have no fish at all than fish like that–uneatable, perfectly
uneatable.”

Mrs. Raymond was silent, and the meal proceeded to the noise only of
knives and forks.

“Arthur Avesham, too,” broke out the Colonel again. “He’ll have to make
his way in the world alone now. What’s to happen to him and Jeannie?
Tell me that. Some ignoramus said the other day that his father had
bought him a place in Dalton’s brewery here. I don’t believe a word of
it, not a word of it. Even if it’s true, what then? Eh?”

“Perhaps he’ll go on living at Morton, if it’s true,” said Mrs. Raymond,
“or perhaps he’ll take a house at Wroxton.”

“Take a house in Wroxton?” cried her husband, again insulted. “Sheer
nonsense. There’s not a house in the town to live in beside our own. And
as for Morton, I tell you that they’ll have to shut it up. They’re as
poor as rats.”

“If it’s true about his place in Dalton’s,” said Mrs. Raymond, “I
suppose he will have a few hundred a year. His father cannot have left
him nothing.”

“A few hundred a year!” said Colonel Raymond. “If I were to say that his
income was a hundred and fifty all told, I should be overstating it. And
what’s that to a young fellow who has been brought up with every luxury
that wealth and rank can supply? Eh?”

“I thought you said they were as poor as rats,” remarked Mrs. Raymond,
in the same even, colourless voice.

The argument–or, rather, the string of assertions–was not worth
continuing, and Colonel Raymond only snorted contemptuously in reply.
The three daughters had long been fidgeting on their seats and
struggling against the twitchings of sleepiness. They were not yet of
an age to dine with their parents, but Colonel Raymond insisted on their
presence at dinner till bedtime came. Sometimes they were regaled with a
grape or two, but usually they had to sit silent and unoccupied. Their
father said he saw so little of them during the day, which was not
surprising, since the first rule of the house was that he must never be
disturbed. Occasionally he took them out for a walk, and then he might
be seen stalking over the downs outside the town, stopping occasionally
to revile them for lagging behind, followed by a string of small figures
in various stages of labour and distress, panting and trotting after
him. These nightmare excursions were part of Colonel Raymond’s system. A
good, quick walk he considered the panacea of all childish ailments,
particularly tiredness, which was synonymous with laziness, and he did
not approve of coddling. Consequently their mother coddled them in
private, and their father walked them off their legs in public. The
happy mean did not result from this treatment, and they were growing up
peaked and thin, and their father had to confess that even the best
blood in England had a tendency to run to seed.

It was the habit of Mrs. Raymond to retire early, and on the entry of
the tray with whisky and soda at ten o’clock she usually went to bed,
leaving her husband to console himself for her absence by a drink of
that invigorating mixture, another cigar, and his own thoughts. These
latter were as straightforward as himself, and he usually ran over in
his mind his gains and losses at whist, and, twirling his mustache,
lived over again the moments in which he had assumed an interesting
appearance. It must be understood that we are following the Colonel into
the innermost sanctum of his being, and are recording what he scarcely
recorded consciously himself. Probably he did not know how much he was
absorbed in these two subjects, but the truth of the matter is he
thought about little else except them and the aristocracy. To-night,
however, the aristocracy held a dominating place in his reflections, and
the quality of his meditations was not agreeable. That in-_a-propos_
remark of his wife, in fact, returned again and again to his mind, and
he could not help thinking that if Arthur Avesham came to live in
Wroxton his habitual conversation about his noble relative, Arthur’s
father, would have to be curtailed or, still worse, corrected.

In spite of the Colonel’s settled belief to the contrary, it was
perfectly true that, only a few months before his noble relative’s
death, Lord Avesham had bought for Arthur, his second and youngest son,
a share in Dalton’s brewery in Wroxton, and he was to enter it the
following September. Arthur had only just left Oxford, where he had
shown an almost remarkable distaste for study and indoor pursuits, and a
notable tendency not to get through examinations, and he had welcomed
the brewing prospect with alacrity. The diplomatic service, for which he
had been intended, had been closed to him through a couple of complete
and graceful failures to compete successfully with other candidates, and
he had dreaded that the gradual closing of other careers would
eventually land him, as it had landed so many others at that terrific
_faute de mieux_, the bar. But he was a very long way from being stupid,
or, rather, his stupidity was of most limited range–of the range, in
fact, which only comprises dates, idioms, and fractions, a small part of
life. But when this is joined to an incapacity for continued application
amounting almost to paralysis, parents and guardians would be wise to
reconcile themselves to the fact that those they love will never
distinguish themselves in examinations. As long, however, as that
immemorial fiction is held up before the young that the object of
education is to enable them to rise triumphant over examinations, so
long dateless and unidiomatic children will continue to feel that they
are disappointing their parents.

Arthur had felt this at times acutely, but he had accepted the
inevitable with such success that Lord Avesham had written him down
indifferent as well as stupid, and what was in him only great sweetness
of disposition was credited as _insouciance_. This, too, he bore with
equanimity.

Harry, his elder brother, his sister Jeannie, and himself had come down
to Morton with their mother’s sister, Miss Fortescue, for the funeral of
Lord Avesham, and were going to stop there for the present. Family
councils had to be held about the disposition of affairs, and one was in
progress on a morning in July about a fortnight after Lord Avesham’s
death. They were certainly a remarkably handsome family, and it was to
be conjectured that their good looks were a heritage–perhaps the most
valuable he had bequeathed them–from their father, for the most that
could be said about Miss Fortescue was that she had a very intellectual
expression. Harry was sitting at a desk with some papers before him, and
Miss Fortescue was sitting opposite him. Jeannie lounged in the
window-seat, and Arthur was resting in a chair so long and low that all
that could be seen of him was one knee and a great length of shin. The
position of his head was vaguely indicated by a series of smoke-rings
which floated upward at regular intervals. There had been silence for a
few moments. Miss Fortescue’s baritone voice broke it.

“Well, what does the black sheep say?” she demanded.

There was a pause in the smoke-rings, and a voice asked:

“Do you mean me, Aunt Em?”

“Yes, dear. Whom else?”

“I thought you must mean me, but it was best to ask,” said the voice.
“I’m not a black sheep, though; I’m only a sheep.”

Harry looked up, half impatient, half amused.

“Oh, Arthur, don’t be so trying,” he said. “It really rests with you.”

“I’d much sooner somebody settled for me,” said Arthur.

“But they won’t; speak, sheep,” said Miss Fortescue.

The chair in which Arthur sat creaked, and he struggled to his feet.

“I’m not good at speaking,” he said; “but if you insist–well, it’s just
this. Harry, you’re a brick to suggest that we should all live here, but
I think you’re wrong about it. In the first place, we’re poor, and if
you keep Morton open we shall be all tied here, and we sha’n’t be able
to fill the house with people, and we shall not be able to keep up the
shooting; and here we shall be with this great shell over our heads,
like bluebottles or some other mean insect which lives in palaces. In
the second place, you will probably marry, and that will cramp you still
further. In the third–this is from my own point of view, purely–if I
live here, I know perfectly well that, with the best intentions in the
world, on wet mornings when I don’t want to go out, and on fine ones
when I do, I shall persuade myself that I am far from well, and not go
to Wroxton and the brewery. Fourthly, you yourself will miss not being
in London horribly. You’d bore yourself to death here. But you’re a
brick for suggesting it. And–and that’s all.”

There was a moment’s silence.

“So the sheep has spoken,” said Jeannie. “Well done, sheep. But I
thought you said you were wholly indifferent?”

“I know I did. But you drove me into a corner.”

Miss Fortescue looked at Arthur approvingly.

“For so stupid a boy, you have glimmerings of sense,” she said.

“Oh, I’m a sharp fellow,” said Arthur.

“Really, Arthur, I think you are,” said Harry. “Mind, my offer holds
perfectly good, but I do think there is something in what you say.”

Arthur stood looking from one to the other, with his head a little on
one side, like a dog who has done its trick. Unlike Jeannie and his
brother, he was fair, with blue eyes and an extraordinarily pleasant
face.

“Well, them’s my sentiments,” he said. “Your turn, Jeannie.”

“I know it is,” said Jeannie. “And what’s to happen to me, Arthur?” she
demanded.

Arthur groaned slightly.

“I’ve done all that can be expected of me,” he said. “My turn is over.”

Jeannie jumped up.

“Oh, I know,” she said. “I’ll come and keep house for you in Wroxton,
Arthur, and Harry shall come down to stay with us from Saturday till
Monday, and we’ll go up to stay with him from–from Monday till
Saturday.”

“A lot of beer shall I brew,” remarked Arthur. “Why, you could swim in
it.”

“I don’t much see you living at Wroxton, Jeannie,” said Harry.

“Why not? I should enjoy it. I really should. And we’ll give high teas
to the Canons.”

“I think you’d loathe it before a month was out,” repeated Harry.

“Indeed I shouldn’t.”

“We’re all so terribly unselfish, and that’s what is the matter with
us,” said Arthur. “First Harry wants to let us all live with him, and
then I want to live in that funny little town in order to attend to my
work, and then Jeannie wants to live with me. Aunt Em, give us a
contribution, and try, oh, try to be selfish; I’m sure you can.”

“Well, I think Jeannie is right,” said Miss Fortescue. “You would hate
not living in London, Harry, and I think the best thing you can do is to
have a flat there, quite small, so that one or two of us could very
kindly come to stay with you, and let Jeannie and Arthur live in
Wroxton. Then shut Morton up, or let it. You’d better let it, if
possible. It’s only for a year or two, till you’ve paid these iniquitous
Radical taxes. And then when you open it again you can order your beer
from Arthur.”

Arthur gave a sigh of relief.

“Well, that’s settled,” he said. “Jeannie, let’s go into Wroxton this
afternoon and see the householders or the house-agents. Oh, Aunt Em,
what is going to happen to you?”

“You are all so unselfish,” said Miss Fortescue, “that I thought one of
you might have considered that. But I was wrong.”

A general shout went up of “Come and live with me,” and the meeting was
adjourned for the time being.

Miss Fortescue, who has hitherto been distinguished from the Aveshams
generally by the fact of her not being at all good-looking, had her
compensations. She was, in the first place, exceedingly musical, and had
about as much wits as two generations of Aveshams put together. She was
a woman of very pronounced opinions, and though you might accidentally
hit upon a subject on which she had neither opinion nor knowledge, she
would be happy to pronounce an opinion on it offhand with such
conviction as to lead you to suppose she knew something about it. If
you could induce her to argue about the said subject, though you might
suspect that she knew nothing whatever of it, yet you would find it
difficult to bring her ignorance home to her. She would glean facts from
her opponent as she went along, and use them against him with telling
effect. But it was next to impossible to make her argue; if you
disagreed with her she would raise her eyes to the ceiling as if
commending you and your benighted condition to the hands of Providence.
Like most clever people, she was sublimely inconsistent, and though she
genuinely abhorred the idea of the death of any living creature, she
would eat flesh meals without any qualms whatever. This may be partly
accounted for by the fact that she hated fads as much as the death of
innocent animals, and it was her dislike of vegetarians rather than of a
vegetable diet which led to so sturdy an inconsistency. The same
contradictions appeared in her views about horses and dogs, and she
would rather walk to the station, though hating bodily exercise, than
have out a horse which was bursting with condition and make it pull her.
The same misplaced tenderness applied to her treatment of dogs, and her
own pug was an object-lesson of unwholesome overfeeding.

Miss Fortescue on this particular morning had been glad, by her last
ungenerous speech, to shift the responsibility of her future on to other
shoulders, or, at any rate, to delay her own decision. She wanted, in
the main, to determine what she wanted to do, and she could not quite
make up her mind. She had lived with the Aveshams since her sister’s
death some eight years ago, and they all took it for granted (herself
included) that she would continue to go on living with them. For
herself, she would have much preferred to have gone on living at Morton,
but she saw and admitted at once the reasonableness of Arthur’s view.
Her own income, with the exception of a hundred a year for dress and
travelling (she dressed with notable cheapness, and never travelled),
she was prepared to give into the household coffers of whatever branch
of the family she decided to live with, and as Jeannie and Arthur had
only six hundred a year between them, the extra five hundred she could
give constituted an additional reason for joining them. As far as the
advantages of town and country were to be considered, she had no great
choice, for she felt no thrill in the stir and noise of streets, and the
sweet silence of the country could not appreciably add to her habitual
tranquility. She hardly ever went out unless she was obliged, and on
those occasions she took short walks very slowly, and it was something
of a mystery, even to those who knew her best, as to what she did with
the hours. She would always disappear soon after breakfast, and if asked
at lunch what she had been doing, she would say, “Working.” Then, if
pressed further as to what her work had been, she would only raise her
eyes to the ceiling, and the incident would close. This raising of the
eyes had long been a danger-signal to the Aveshams. It implied that Miss
Fortescue was unwilling to say more on this particular subject, and any
further questions would only evoke severe remarks on their
inquisitiveness.

* * * * *

Jeannie and Arthur rode into Wroxton that afternoon and made the
house-agent an unhappy man. The house they required had to be near the
brewery, and also at the top of the hill, which, to begin with, was
impossible, as the brewery was at the very bottom of the town. Then it
had to have a good smoking-room, two nice sitting-rooms–one for Jeannie
and one for Miss Fortescue, in case she decided to join them–a
drawing-room and a dining-room (the size of these was really important),
and four excellent bed-rooms away from the street. To be away from the
street implied a garden, which must be private, sunny, and extensive.
That red brick should be the material of the house was desirable, but
not absolutely essential. The offices, Miss Fortescue insisted, should
be really good, for they made all the difference to servants, whom one
was bound to consider before one’s self. A small stable only, but
well-aired and dry, was required, and the rent of the whole must be
exceedingly low.

The only point which presented no difficulty were the offices. Jeannie
and Arthur were both quite vague as to what offices meant, but in the
half dozen houses they saw that afternoon there was always some other
radical defect. In one they found that an apartment described as a
sitting-room was more probably intended to be a house-maid’s cupboard;
in another they disgraced themselves by thinking that the kitchen was
the scullery. A third case was more complicated, for Jeannie remembered
about a still-room, and had to explain to an antiquated caretaker what a
still-room was. What made the afternoon more bewildering was that they
both fell in love with every house they saw, and thought it would do
excellently with a little alteration. Then came the question of rents:
they had hoped to find something for about a hundred and twenty pounds a
year, and the only consolation, as Arthur said, was that at
corresponding prices, if Morton was let, it ought to bring to Harry an
income of about fifty thousand a year, which certainly seemed a
satisfactory sum.

“Why, if it would let for that,” he exclaimed, with a sudden splendid
thought, “we should be rich enough to live in it ourselves, and not let
it at all!” But the mention of Morton roused the house-agent to rather
greater interest in his impracticable clients. It appeared that there
were other houses which might also be had, and, if the gentleman would
give his card, he had no doubt that the owner of 8 Bolton Street would
let them look at it. He had long been thinking of letting it, though it
was not exactly in the market. It had a garden, it was built of red
brick, and the offices, as usual, were quite palatial.

“A different stamp of house, sir, quite a different stamp of house.”

“And a different stamp of rent?” asked Arthur.

“The gentleman is very anxious to get desirable tenants,” was the
hopeful reply.

“Come, Jeannie,” said Arthur, “it will end in our taking Buckingham
Palace, but no matter!”

The house in question was not exactly Buckingham Palace, but within a
few days they had taken it. Miss Fortescue drove in to see it, after
bargaining that the horses should not be used again the whole of the
next day, and made up her mind to stay at any rate with Jeannie and
Arthur for a week or two. As she also indicated which room she would
like, and chose a paper for it, it may be supposed that her “week or
two” did not mean less than a week or two. The rent was not prohibitive,
the garden was charming, and the house stood in a side street where
traffic was scanty, and looked out behind over the Cathedral, and
Canons, as Jeannie said, really hung on their garden wall like ripe
plums.

A day or two later rumours began to spread through Wroxton that the
Aveshams were coming to live there, and discussion raged. The Colonel
knew they were not.

“I should think, sir, if my cousins were coming, I should not be the
last to be informed of it. Just gossip, sir, mere gossip–I wonder at
you for paying any attention to it.”

He scarcely even believed the assurance of the owner of 8 Bolton Street
that he had actually let it to them, for as soon as Mr. Hanby had left
the room he burst out:

“A mere ruse, sir, to send up the value of the house, by making people
think that the aristocracy want to take it. Transparent, transparent!”

But he did not feel quite easy about it in the depths of his gallant
heart, and he thought again how awkward it would be if it were true.

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