“Ed – Ward!”
A stiff, high-shouldered footman turned round as he reached the breakfast-room door.
“Are you sure Sir Hampton has been called?”
“And did Smith take up her ladyship’s hot water?”
“Are the young ladies coming down?”
“They went out for a walk nearly an hour ago, mum.”
“Dear me! and such a damp morning, too! Did they take their waterproofs?”
“Please, ’m, I didn’t see them go.”
“Look if they’re hanging in the hall, Edward.”
Edward walked stiffly out, closed the door, “made a face” at it, and returned at the end of a minute.
“Waterproofs hanging on the pegs, mum.”
“Dear, dear, dear, dear! Then of course they put on their goloshes! Go and see if they’re in the lobby, Edward.”
“Did see, mum,” said Edward, who was wise in his generation, and had learned the art of making his head save his heels – “goloshes is in the lobby.”
“Goloshes is in the plural, Edward, and should be are– mind that: goloshes are.”
“Yes, mum – galoshes are,” said Edward; “and the letter-bag are just come into the kitchen. Shall I fetch it?”
“Is, Edward, is. Now do, pray, be careful. Nothing is more annoying to visitors than to hear servants make grammatical mistakes.”
“Yes, mum,” said Edward.
“Is the heater very hot?”
“Yes, mum – white ’ot.”
“White what, Edward?”
“’Ot, mum! white ’ot!”
Miss Matilda Rea, a rather compressed, squeezy lady of forty-five, shuddered, and rearranged her black net mittens.
“Go and fetch the letter-bag, Ed-ward.”
The footman made the best of his way out, and Miss Matilda inspected the well-spread breakfast table through a large, square, gold-rimmed eyeglass; walked to the sideboard, upon which were sundry cold meats; and finished with a glance round the handsomely furnished room, ready to be down upon a speck of dust. But the place was scrupulously well kept; even the great bay window, looking out upon sloping green lawn, flower beds, and clumps of evergreens, backed up by a wall of firs, was perfectly clean. So Miss Matilda preened her feathers, frowned, and waited the return of Edward with a locked wallet of leather, bearing the Rea crest – a peacock with expanded tail, the motto “Floreat majestas” – and, in large letters on the brass plate, the words, “Sir Hampton Rea, Tolcarne.”
“Place it beside Sir Hampton’s chair, Edward,” said Miss Matilda.
The wallet was duly deposited in the indicated place.
“Now bring in the urn, Edward.”
“Please, ’m, Sir Hampton said it was to come in at nine punctually, and it wants a quarter.”
“Then go and be quite ready to fill it, Edward,” said Miss Matilda, not daring to interfere with the Mede-like laws of the master of the house.
And Edward departed to finish his own breakfast, and confide to the cook his determination that if that old tabby was to be always worriting him to death, he would give warning.
Miss Matilda gave another look round, and then going to the end of the hearthrug, she very delicately lifted up the corner of a thick wool antimacassar, when a little, sharp, black nose peeped up, and a pair of full black eyes stared at her.
“A little darling!” said Miss Matilda, soothingly.
The little toy terrier pointed its nose at the ceiling, and uttered a wretched, attenuated howl, cut short by Miss Matilda, who popped the antimacassar down; for at that moment there was heard upon the stairs a sonorous “Er-rum! Er-rum!” – a reverberating, awe-inspiring sound, as of a mighty orator clearing his voice before sending verbal thunder through an opposing crowd. Then came steps across the marble hall, the door handle rattled very loudly, the door was thrown open very widely, and entered Sir Hampton Rea.
The sounds indicated bigness – grandeur; but Sir Hampton Rea was not a big man – saving his head, which was so large that it had sunk a little down between his shoulders, where it looked massive and shiny, being very bald and surrounded by a frizzle of grizzly hair.
Sir Hampton came in stiffly, for his buff vest was as starchy as his shirt front and sprigged cravat, which acted like a garrote, though its wearer suffered it, on account of its imposing aspect, and now walked with long strides to the fire, to which he turned his back, threw up his chin, and made his bald crown double in the glass.
“Matilda, have the goodness to close the door.”
“Yes, dear,” and the door was closed.
“Matilda, have the goodness to ring for the urn. Oh, it is here!”
In effect, hissing and steaming, the urn was brought in by Edward, and the tea-caddy placed upon the table.
“Yes, Sir Hampton.”
“Tell Miss Smith to inform her ladyship that we are waiting breakfast.”
“Yes, Sir Hampton.”
The footman hurried out, and Sir Hampton took up yesterday’s Times, which arrived so late on the day of issue that it was not perused by the good knight till breakfast-hour the next morning, his seat, Tolcarne, being three hundred and twenty miles from town, and some distance off the West Cornwall Railway.
Sir Hampton – tell it not in the far West – had made his money by tea; had been made alderman by his fellow-citizens, and made a knight by his sovereign, upon the occasion of a visit to the City, when the turtle provided was extra good, and pleased the royal palate.
While waiting the coming of her ladyship, Sir Hampton, a staunch Conservative, skimmed the cream of a tremendously Liberal leader, grew redder in the face, punched the paper in its Liberal wind to double it up, and then went on with it, shaking his head fiercely, as his sister smoothed her mittens and watched him furtively, till the door opened with a snatch, and a little round, plump body, very badly dressed, and, so to speak, walking beneath a ribbon and lace structure, which she bore upon her head as if it were something to sell, bobbed into the room.
Description of people is absolutely necessary on the first introduction, so a few words must be said about Lady Frances Rea. She was what vulgar people would have termed “crumby;” but, literally, she was a plump little body of forty, who, born a baby, seemed to have remained unaltered save as to size. She was pink, and fair, and creamy, and soft, and had dimples in every place where a dimple was possible; her eyes were bright, teeth good, her hair a nice brown, and in short she seemed as if she had always lived on milk, and was brimming with the milk of human kindness still.
“Ten minutes past nine, Fanny,” said Sir Hampton, pompously, after a struggle with a watch that did not want to be consulted.
“Never mind, dear,” said her ladyship, going at him like a soft ball, and giving him a loud kiss. “Matty, where’s my keys?”
“In your basket, dear,” said Miss Matilda, pecking her sister-in-law softly on the forehead.
“So they are, dear,” said her ladyship, rattling open the tea-caddy, and shovelling the tea into the silver pot.
“Er-rum, er-rum!” coughed Sir Hampton, clearing his throat.
His sister fell into an attitude of attention, with one thin finger pressed into her yellow cheek.
“Er-rum,” said Sir Hampton. “Punctuality, Lady Rea, is a necessity in an establishment like ours, and – ”
“Now don’t be so particular, Hampy,” said her ladyship, watching the boiling water run into the teapot. “It’s like having crumbs in bed with you. Ring the bell, Matty.”
“But, my dear,” began Sir Hampton, pompously, “with people in our position – ”
The door opened and Edward appeared.
“Tell cook to poach the eggs and grill the cold turkey, Edward.”
“Yes, my lady.”
“And where are the young – oh, dear me! bring a cloth; there’s that stupid teapot running over again.”
“Turn off the water, dear,” said Miss Matilda, with the suffering look of one who had been longing to make the tea herself.
“Oh yes, of course!” said her ladyship. “Quick, Edward, bring a cloth and sop up this mess.”
“Yes, m’ lady.”
Sir Hampton rustled his paper very loudly, rolled his head in his cravat till it crackled again, and looked cross. Then he strode to the table, took his seat, and began methodically to open the letter-bag and sort the letters; and then, in the midst of the sopping process and the exclamations of her ladyship, a door was heard to open, steps pattered over the hall floor, there was a babble of pleasant voices, a scuffling as of hats and baskets being thrown on to a table, and then the breakfast-room door opened, and two young girls hurried into the room.
“Nearly twenty minutes past nine, my dears,” said Sir Hampton, consulting his watch.
“Ah! so late, papa?” said one, hurrying up to kiss Lady Rea, and receive a hearty hug in return.
“Oh, never mind,” said the other, following her sister’s suit, and vigorously returning the maternal hug. “We’ve had such a jolly walk. Oh, ma, how well you look this morning!”
“Do I, my love? There, Edward – that will do. Now, the poached eggs and the turkey, quick!”
“Yes, m’ lady,” said Edward.
And he disappeared, as Sir Hampton was forgetting to be stiff for a few minutes, as he returned the salute of his eldest girl, Valentina.
“I’m sorry we’re late, papa; but we went farther than we meant.”
“But you know, Tiny,” said Sir Hampton, “I like punctuality.”
And he glanced with pride at the graceful undulating form, in its pretty morning dress; and then gazed in the soft grey eyes, looking lovingly out of a sweet oval face, framed in rich brown hair.
“Oh, bother punctuality, daddy!” said the younger girl, a merry, mischievous-looking blonde, with freckled face, bright eyes, and a charming petite form that was most attractive. “Don’t be cross,” she cried, getting behind his chair, throwing her arms round his neck, and laying a soft downy cheek upon his bald head. “Don’t be cross; we’ve had such a jolly walk, and got a basketful of ferns. There! that’ll make you good tempered.”
And she leaned over, dragging his head back, and kissed him half a dozen times on the forehead.
“Fin! Finetta!” exclaimed Sir Hampton. “Now, suppose one of the servants saw you!”
“Oh, they wouldn’t mind, daddy,” laughed the girl. “Oh, I say, how your head shines this morning!”
And bubbling over, as it were, with fun, she breathed sharply twice on her astonished parent’s crown, gave her hand a circular movement over it a few times, and, before he could recover from his surprise, she finished it off with a polish from her pocket-handkerchief, and then stepped back, looking mischievously at the irate knight, as he forced his chair back from the table and stared at her.
“Is the girl mad?” he exclaimed. “Finetta, you make me exceedingly angry.”
“Not with me, daddy,” said the girl placing herself on his knee. “Kiss me, and say good morning, sir.”
The head of the family hesitated for a moment, and then could not resist the upturned face, which he kissed and then pushed the girl away.
“Now go to your place; and I insist Fin, upon your dropping – ”
Miss Matilda started.
“I mean leaving off – using that absurdly childish appellation. I desire you always to address me as papa.”
“All right, daddy,” said the girl, laughing – “as soon as I can teach myself.”
Sir Hampton snatched himself back into his place, and began to open letters; while Finetta went and kissed her aunt.
“Well, aunty, how’s Pip this morning?”
“Pepine is very unwell, my dear,” said Miss Matilda, coldly.
“You stuff him too much, aunty, and don’t give him exercise enough.”
“My dear you should not deliver opinions upon what you do not understand. Your papa’s cup.”
“Don’t understand, aunty!” said the girl, passing the cup; “why, I know all about dogs and horses. You give Pip over to me for a week; I’ll soon put the little wretch right.”
Lady Rea saw the horror upon her sister-in-law’s countenance, and catching her daughter’s eye, shook her head at her, as she went on dispensing the tea.
“Have some poached eggs, daddy – pa?” said Fin, correcting herself with much gravity, and revelling in the look of suffering upon her aunt’s face. “No? Tiny, give papa some of the turkey.”
Sir Hampton fed himself mechanically, passed some letters to his wife and eldest daughter, and read his own.
“Is there no letter for me, Hampton?” said Miss Matilda, plaintively.
There was a grunt, indicative of “No,” from the knight; and Miss Matilda sighed, and went on sipping her sugarless tea, and nibbling some very dry, butterless toast.
“I say, Aunt Matty,” said Fin, merrily, “I mean to take you in hand.”
“Take me in hand, child?” said the spinster.
“Yes, aunty. Now, look here; if, instead of stopping grumping here at home, you had had a jolly good run with us – ”
Miss Matilda took a sip of her tea, which might have been vinegar from the aspect of her countenance.
“You could have gathered ferns, sipped the bright morning dew, come back with a colour, and eaten a breakfast like I do. Tiny, give me some more of that turkey.”
“Your appetite is really ravenous, child,” said Miss Matilda, with a shudder.
“Not it, aunty; I’m growing – ain’t I, ma, dear?”
“Well, my love, I think you are filling out – not growing.”
“Oh, but, ma,” laughed Fin, with her mouth full, “I’m not going to be round and plump like you are, am I?”
“Fin!” exclaimed her sister, from the other side of the table.
“Oh, ma knows I don’t mean any harm; don’t you, dear? It’s only my fun, isn’t it? I shouldn’t mind – I should like to be such a soft, loving old dear; shouldn’t I?”
“Hush, hush, hush!” exclaimed Lady Rea. “I do think, though, aunty, a walk would do you good before breakfast.”
“Perhaps it might do you good, too,” said Miss Matilda, with some asperity.
“Er-rum, er-rum!” ejaculated Sir Hampton, laying down a big blue official envelope. “Lady Rea – my dears, I have something to communicate.”
He sat back in his chair, and brushed a few crumbs from his buff waistcoat.
“Well, pa, dear, what is it?” said Lady Rea, out of her tea-cup.
“Er-rum, I have at last,” said Sir Hampton, pompously, “received public recognition of my position. My dears, I have been placed upon the bench, and am now one of the county magistracy.”
He looked round for the applause which should follow.
“Well, my dear, I’m sure I’m very glad if it pleases you,” said Lady Rea. “Matty, give me another poached egg.”
“It was quite time they did, Hampton,” said Miss Matilda.
“I congratulate you, papa, dear,” said Valentina, going up to him and kissing him; “and I’m sure the poor will be glad to have so kind a magistrate to deal with them.”
“Thank you, Tiny – thank you,” said Sir Hampton, smiling, and trying to look every inch a magistrate, before turning to his second daughter, who was intent upon a turkey drumstick.
“But I say, pa, what fun it will be!” she said at last; “you’ll have to sit on the poachers.”
“Yes, the scoundrels!” said Sir Hampton, and his cravat crackled.
“And send all the poor old women to quod for picking sticks.”
“To where?” exclaimed Miss Matilda, in horrified tones.
“Quod,” said Finetta, quite unmoved; “it’s Latin, I think, for prison, or else it’s stable slang – I’m not sure. But oh, my,” she continued, seeing her father’s frown, “we’ve got some news, too.”
“Have you, dear?” said mamma, “what is it?”
“We saw Humphrey Lloyd this morning.”
“Who is Humphrey Lloyd?” said Lady Rea.
“The keeper at Penreife.”
“Penreife,” said Sir Hampton, waking up out of a day-dream of judicial honours. “Yes, a beautiful estate. I would have bought it instead of this if it had been for sale.”
“Well,” said Finetta, “we met Humphrey, and talked to him.”
“I think, if I may be allowed to say so, Finetta, that you are too fond of talking to grooms and keepers, and people of that class,” said Miss Matilda, glancing at her brother, who, however, was once more immersed in judicial dreams – J.P., custos rotulorum, commission of the peace, etcetera.
“Tennyson used to hang with grooms and porters on bridges, and he’s poet laureate; so why shouldn’t I?” said Finetta, rebelliously.
“I don’t think it’s nice, though,” said mamma. “Aunt Matty is quite right; you are not a child now, my dear.”
“Oh, mamma, dear, it’s only Fin’s nonsense,” said Tiny. “Humphrey is a very respectful, worthy young fellow, and he climbed up the big rocks down by Penreife for us, and got us some of those beautiful little aspleniums we couldn’t reach.”
“Yes, ma, dear,” said Finetta; “and he says that the next time he writes to his old aunt in Wales, he’ll tell her to send some of the beautiful little rare ferns that grow up on one of the mountains, in a place that nearly broke my teeth when I tried to say it.”
Lady Rea shook her head at her daughter, who rattled on.
“Well, you know about Penreife belonging to Lieutenant Trevor?”
Lady Rea nodded.
“Well, Humphrey’s got orders to go to town to meet his master, who has been on a cruise round the world, and his ship’s paid off, and now he’s going to settle at home.”
“Who’s going to settle at home?” inquired Sir Hampton.
“Ah! a sailor person, and rough, I suppose – sailors always are,” said Sir Hampton.
“Yes,” cried Finetta, “they haul in slack, and cry ‘Avast!’ at you, and ‘shiver my timbers!’ But, I say – I like sailors; I shall set my cap at him.”
“Finetta!” gasped Miss Matilda.
“Don’t talk nonsense, child,” said Lady Rea. “Don’t you hear what papa says about sailors being so rough? I daresay he isn’t a bit of a gentleman.”
“But he’s an officer, ma, dear,” said Finetta; “and if Tiny hasn’t made up her mind to have him, I shall. They are doing all sorts of things up at the house; and it’s to be full of company, Mrs Lloyd says; and she looked as proud as a peacock, as she stood smoothing her white apron. We’re sure to be invited; and won’t it be a good job! for this place is so jolly dull.”
“Ah, my child,” said Aunt Matilda, “if you would only properly employ your time, you would not find it dull.”
“What! knit mittens, bother the poor people, and read Saint Thomas ? Kempis, aunty?” replied Finetta. “No, thank you. But Mr Trevor’s coming – I say, ought we to call him lieutenant? – it’s so absurd – ought to brighten up the place a bit; and of course, ma, you’ll ask him here?”
“Er-rum!” ejaculated Sir Hampton, rousing himself from his day-dreams. “It is my wish that there should always be shown in my establishment the hospitality of – er – er – a country gentleman.”
“And a knight,” said Miss Matilda, softly.
“Thank you, Matilda – and a knight,” said Sir Hampton. “But, my dears, I have great pleasure in announcing to you that I have made up my mind that we shall now pay a short visit to the great metropolis.”
“How jolly!” said Finetta. “But what are we going for, pa, dear?”
“My dear, I have several things to see about,” said Sir Hampton. “To engage a groom for one thing, to buy horses for another, and a gun or two for my friends. I intend to have, too, the west room fitted up for billiards.”
“For what, Hampton?” said his sister.
“Er-rum! – billiards,” said Sir Hampton.
“It is not often that I venture upon a word, Hampton, respecting your household management; but when I hear of propositions which must interfere with your fixture welfare, I feel bound to speak.”
“And, pray, what do you mean?” said Sir Hampton, angrily.
“I mean that I gave way when you insisted on having cards in the house, because you said your visitors liked whist – ”
“And you were always rattling the dice box and playing backgammon,” retorted Sir Hampton.
“That is different,” said Miss Matilda; “backgammon is a very old and a very innocent game.”
“Oh!” said Sir Hampton.
“I have known great divines play at backgammon.”
“And I’ve known a bishop play a good rubber at whist,” said Sir Hampton.
“I am sorry for it,” said Miss Matilda; “but I draw the line at billiards. It is a detestable game, played on a green cloth which is the flag of gambling, and – ”
“If you will take my advice, Matty, you will hold your tongue,” said Sir Hampton. “My guests will like a game at billiards, and I’ll be bound to say, before we’ve had the table in the house a month, you’ll be playing a game yourself.”
“Same as you do at whist.”
“I oblige your guests, and make up your horrid rubbers.”
“But I say, aunty, you do like winning, you know,” chimed in Fin.
“Oh, my dear, I – ”
“You pocketed fifteen shillings – I won’t say ‘bob,’ because it’s slangy,” said Fin, laughing mischievously.
“I protest, I – ”
“Er-rum! – I will not hear another word. We start for town to-morrow; and, my dears, you asked me once for horses – you shall have them. Fin, my child, don’t strangle me! There, now, see how you’ve rumpled my cravat!”
“Oh, thank you, daddy!”
“Now, if you say daddy again, I’ll alter my mind,” said the old gentleman, angrily.
“There, then, I won’t,” said Fin. “But I say, pa, we must have a groom.”
“Of course, my dear.”
“To be sure.”
“And we can get them in town. Oh, Tiny, do say ‘Hooray’ for once in your life.”
“Er-rum! It’s my intention,” said Sir Hampton, “to patronise the sports of our country, and foster hunting, game-keeping, and the like. By the way, that man Lloyd might do some commissions for me. Matty, you will keep house till we return. My dears, we start to-morrow morning.”