“Here we are,” he said, presently, as they stopped short of an old-fashioned house, set in a high red-brick wall which seemed to enclose quite a considerable area of the district. In the wall, a yard or two from the house, was set a low door, with a brass bell-pull at the side which answered to Mr. Lingard’s summons with a far-off clang. Soon was heard the sound of hob-nailed boots, evidently over a paved yard, and a big carter admitted them to the enclosure, which immediately impressed them with its sense of country stable-yard cleanliness, and its country smell of horses and provender. The stones of the courtyard seemed to have been individually washed and scoured, and a small space in front of a door evidently leading to the house was chalked over in the prim, old-fashioned way.
“Is Mr. Flower about?” asked Mr. Lingard; and, as he asked the question, a handsome, broad-shouldered man of about forty-five came down the yard. It was a massive country face, a little heavy, a little slow, but exceptionally gentle and refined.
“Good-morning, Mr. Lingard.”
“Good-morning, Mr. Flower. This is our representative, Mr. Mesurier, of whom I have already spoken to you. I’m sure you will get on well together; and I’m sure he will give you as little trouble as possible.”
Henry and Mr. Flower shook hands, and, as men sometimes do, took to each other at once in the grasp of each other’s hands, and the glances which accompanied it.
Then the three walked further up the yard, to the little office where Henry was to pass the next few weeks; and as Mr. Lingard turned over books, and explained to Henry what he was expected to do, the sound of horses kicking their stalls, and rattling chains in their mangers, came to him from near at hand with a delightful echo of the country.
When Mr. Lingard had gone, Mr. Flower asked Henry if he’d care to look at the horses. Henry sympathetically consented, though his knowledge of horse-flesh hardly equalled his knowledge of accounts. But with the healthy animal, in whatever form, one always feels more or less at home, as one feels at home with the green earth, or that simple creature the sea.
Mr. Flower led the way to a long stable where some fifty horses protruded brown and dappled haunches on either hand. It was all wonderfully clean and sweet, and the cobbled pavement, the straw beds, the hay tumbling in sweet-scented bunches into the stalls from the loft overhead, made you forget that around this bucolic enclosure swarmed and rotted the foulest slums of the city, garrets where coiners plied their amateur mints, and cellars where murderers lay hidden in the dark.
“It’s like a breath of the country,” said Henry, unconsciously striking the right note.
“You’re right there,” said Mr. Flower, at the same moment heartily slapping the shining side of a big chestnut mare, after the approved manner of men who love horses. To thus belabour a horse on its hinder-parts would seem to be equivalent among the horse-breeding fraternity to chucking a buxom milkmaid under the chin.