“No. I wanted to have it altered to make it fit, but he objected strongly; so I put it away, and have it in a box still.”
“He must have been an extraordinarily pig-headed old fellow,” I remarked.
“Yes; he was very tenacious. He annoyed my father a good deal, too, by making unnecessary alterations in the house in Queen Square when he fitted up his museum. We have a certain sentiment with regard to that house. Our people have lived in it ever since it was built, when the square was first laid out in the reign of Queen Anne, after whom the square was named. It is a dear old house. Would you like to see it? We are quite near it now.”
I assented eagerly. If it had been a coal-shed or a fried-fish shop I would still have visited it with pleasure, for the sake of prolonging our walk; but I was also really interested in this old house as a part of the background of the mystery of the vanished John Bellingham.
We crossed into Cosmo Place, with its quaint row of the, now rare, cannon-shaped iron posts, and passing through stood for a few moments looking into the peaceful, stately old square. A party of boys disported themselves noisily on the range of stone posts that form a bodyguard round the ancient lamp-surmounted pump, but otherwise the place was wrapped in dignified repose suited to its age and station. And very pleasant it looked on this summer afternoon, with the sunlight gilding the foliage of its wide-spreading plane trees and lighting up the warm-toned brick of the house-fronts. We walked slowly down the shady west side, near the middle of which my companion halted.
“This is the house,” she said. “It looks gloomy and forsaken now; but it must have been a delightful house in the days when my ancestors could look out of the windows through the open end of the square across the fields and meadows to the heights of Hampstead and Highgate.”
She stood at the edge of the pavement looking up with a curious wistfulness at the old house; a very pathetic figure, I thought, with her handsome face and proud carriage, her threadbare dress and shabby gloves, standing at the threshold of the home that had been her family’s for generations, that should now have been hers, and that was shortly to pass away into the hands of strangers.
I, too, looked up at it with a strange interest, impressed by something gloomy and forbidding in its aspect. The windows were shuttered from basement to attic, and no sign of life was visible. Silent, neglected, desolate, it breathed an air of tragedy. It seemed to mourn in sackcloth and ashes for its lost master. The massive door within the splendid carven portico was crusted with grime, and seemed to have passed out of use as completely as the ancient lamp-irons or the rusted extinguishers wherein the footmen were wont to quench their torches when some Bellingham dame was borne up the steps in her gilded chair, in the days of good Queen Anne.