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at your gates, I hope our meetings may be frequent in days to come. I knew your uncle very well, though I cannot say that he was ever as close and dear a friend of mine as his brother Robert was and is. You are aware, of course, that Robert and he were, unfortunately, not the best of friends."
"I suppose, if they had been, I should not be where I am," Nigel remarked.
"Well, I suppose not. Although Tom Scarth was such a strange mortal that nobody could ever venture to predict what he would do under any circumstances. I did my best to make peace between the two brothers, and perhaps that was why Tom often quarrelled with me. I am not sure that he did not suspect me of scheming to secure his inheritance; for he was the most suspicious of men, and although he availed himself pretty freely of my help in the management of his estate, which he always kept in his own hands, he was never tired of reminding me that, as I was his senior by two years, he had every chance of outliving me. Well, he is gone, poor fellow, and here I still am. I wonder whether my experience is likely to be of any service to his successor."
"Of the greatest service, I am sure, if you will allow me to consult it," answered Nigel. "I am already beginning to discover that it is no simple matter to deal with a large estate for which neither land-agent nor land-steward has been employed for years. Being absolutely in the dark, I must trust somebody, and of course I am as likely as not to trust the wrong people."
"Well, you may safely trust me, and I may safely boast that I know every acre of your territory and every tenant upon it. There are some tenants of whom I am afraid you ought to get rid. John Bowden, for instance
-the present would be a good opportunity for giving John Bowden notice to quit."
"I have heard a very bad account of him," said Nigel.
"Yes; he is letting the farm go to ruin, and his sons are poachers, and you will never get his arrears of rent out of him, I fear. But there are others, such as the Crossleys, for whom I should like to put in a plea. They have had very bad luck of late; but they are doing what they can, and I think forbearance would be well bestowed there."
He ran through a long list of names, showing that he had every detail connected with the estate at his fingers' ends, and displaying, as it seemed to Nigel, remarkably lucid judgment and discrimination in the advice that he offered. His voice and manner were those of a gentleman, and it was easy to see that he had intelligence and ability above the average. The dark glasses which concealed his sightless eyes were turned, while he was talking, towards his neighbour, who at moments could hardly believe that he was not looking through them; for he seemed, by some swift intuition, to detect and respond to every change upon the latter's face. At the end of a colloquy which lasted nearly an hour and which was productive of certain definite results, he would not hear of being thanked for all his kindness.
"My dear boy," said he "if you will allow an old man to address you in that familiar way—I have done absolutely nothing to deserve your gratitude yet, although I hope to be of some little help to you in the long run. Even then you will be under no obligation to me. I am sure your quick wits must have told you how it is. I have been interested in this estate and concerned with it for so many years that I am as nervous and fussy about its being in new hands as if
I had created it; and so I can't for the life of me help being officious."
"Your description of yourself," remarked Nigel, "is not very convincing."
"Well, well," said Mr. Trenchard, laughing and getting up, "call me kind, then, if you like, and ascribe my kindness to my affliction. For obvious reasons, the blind are always eager to oblige and reluctant to give offence. Haven't I just been urging you to have it out personally with John Bowden, while I have reserved for myself the pleasanter task of telling the Crossleys that you will grant them a respite? Oh, I am an old humbug; ask your friend Cuthbert Gretton if I am not! Now may I beg you to touch the bell and summon my man to lead me away? Please remember that I live at a little place hard by, called Glen Cottage, and that it is an act of genuine charity to relieve my solitude."
Presently a deft, elderly attendant appeared and took Mr. Trenchard by the elbow. Nigel accompanied his visitor to the front door, where a dogcart, drawn by a big, powerful horse, was waiting, and was surprised to see him gather up the reins unhesitatingly. The butler, who, having been for many years in the employment of the late Mr. Scarth, permitted himself an old servant's liberties, noticed his new master's astonishment and observed:
"Remarkable man Mr. Trenchard, sir. Always in the dark, as you may say, but he knows his way about better than most of us, you may depend."
Without being in any way remarkable, he might know a good deal more about the duties of a large landed proprietor than the present holder of the Rixmouth estate, Nigel modestly thought. However, one lives and learns. Nigel had learnt something in the
past hour, and deemed himself singularly fortunate in that he might count for the future upon having so wise and capable a counsellor at his elbow. Yet, if he had been somewhat sobered by what had been said to him, if his sense of responsibility and consciousness of inadequate equipment had been deepened, he still felt that wealth has its compensations. It was pleasant to order his horse that afternoon, (he had already selected a hack highly recommended for manners by the studgroom), and canter across the sunny, breezy stretches of the park with no other object than air and exercise in view. Some day soon he would have to keep the promise that he had made to Mr. Trenchard and give notice to that worthless old Bowden-Bowden, whose shabby hat had been flung into the air, with those of other tenants, to welcome him on his arrival, and who, in loud, if somewhat thick accents, had called upon Heaven to bless him. That would be an extremely disagreeable job; but it admitted, surely, of brief postponement.
"Let me enjoy myself just for today!" the poor young man pleaded to his conscience, which was a troublesome and exacting one.
He really could not help enjoying himself. It was delightful to be in the saddle once more and to recognise that, although he might not be much of a horseman, he had not forgotten the little that he had been taught; delightful to meet the rushing wind which swept down from the adjacent moors, delightful to smell the golden gorse, delightful, above all, to be free! Then his inexorable conscience lifted up its voice and wanted to know what he meant by that. Had he not been happy in his voluntary thraldom? Was he glad to be released from the peace and security which he had chosen? Did he imagine that any mortal is really free ?-or that he,
of all mortals, was fitted to dispense with authority? He hung his head and shook it. In his exaggeratedly scrupulous fashion he was for ever suspecting the devil of being at his ear, always defiant of instincts innocent enough in themselves.
He was wondering despondently whether human instincts are ever innocent when he was startled out of his meditations by a plunge on the part of his horse which went uncommonly near to depositing him on the sandy road which he had reached by this time. A whizzing, whooping motor-car dashed by; its owners glanced over their shoulders to grin at him, after the manner of their kind, and he showed what a good Christian and good Catholic he was by saying never a word. Possibly he may have had thoughts; most of us have had thoughts concerning motor-cars and the charming, unselfish creatures who drive them.
Now, Lord Lannowe, in addition to being a Christian and a Catholic, was, as any number of living witnesses would gladly testify, one of the best-tempered and most courteous men in the world; but he had, when excited, a fine flow of language at command, and it so chanced that Nigel's first view of him exhibited him as a perfectly furious old gentleman, shaking his fist and hurling imprecations at an invisible offender over the back of a runaway pony-chaise. The young lady who was tugging vainly at the reins had lost her hat-perhaps also her head-and the upset which promptly followed was only what might have been expected on a rough road, furrowed by deep cart-ruts. Fortunately, the road was a soft, as well as a rough one, and the scattered occupants of the pony-chaise escaped with nothing worse than a shaking. The groom, who had landed neatly on his hands and knees, ran at once to the ponies' heads; neither bones nor pole nor harness were