“Ho, yes, sir,” said Wilkins; “Miss ’Enderson—Mrs. ’Aggage’s maid, that his, sir—was reading haloud hout hof ‘Hunder Two Flags’ honly last hevening, sir.”
“H’m—Wilkins—if you can run across one of them in the servants’ quarters—you might leave it—by my bed—to-night.”
“And—h’m, Wilkins—you can put it under that book of Herbert Spencer’s my daughter gave me yesterday. Under it, Wilkins—and, h’m, Wilkins—you needn’t mention it to anybody. Ouida ain’t cultured, Wilkins, but she’s damn’ good reading. I suppose that’s why she ain’t cultured, Wilkins.”
And now let us go back a little. In a word, let us utilise the next twenty minutes—during which Miss Hugonin drives to the neighbouring railway station, in, if you press me, not the most pleasant state of mind conceivable—by explaining a thought more fully the posture of affairs at Selwoode on the May morning that starts our story.
And to do this I must commence with the nature of the man who founded Selwoode.
It was when the nineteenth century was still a hearty octogenarian that Frederick R. Woods caused Selwoode to be builded. I give you the name by which he was known on “the Street.” A mythology has grown about the name since, and strange legends of its owner are still narrated where brokers congregate. But with the lambs he sheared, and the bulls he dragged to earth, and the bears he gored to financial death, we have nothing to do; suffice it, that he performed these operations with almost uniform success and in an unimpeachably respectable manner.
And if, in his time, he added materially to the lists of inmates in various asylums and almshouses, it must be acknowledged that he bore his victims no malice, and that on every Sunday morning he confessed himself to be a miserable sinner, in a voice that was perfectly audible three pews off. At bottom, I think he considered his relations with Heaven on a purely business basis; he kept a species of running account with Providence; and if on occasions he overdrew it somewhat, he saw no incongruity in evening matters with a cheque for the church fund.
So that at his death it was said of him that he had, in his day, sent more men into bankruptcy and more missionaries into Africa than any other man in the country.
In his sixty-fifth year, he caught Alfred Van Orden short in Lard, erected a memorial window to his wife and became a country gentleman. He never set foot in Wall Street again. He builded Selwoode—a handsome Tudor manor which stands some seven miles from the village of Fairhaven—where he dwelt in state, by turns affable and domineering to the neighbouring farmers, and evincing a grave interest in the condition of their crops. He no longer turned to the financial reports in the papers; and the pedigree of the Woodses hung in the living-hall for all men to see, beginning gloriously with Woden, the Scandinavian god, and attaining a respectable culmination in the names of Frederick R. Woods and of William, his brother.