Presently, in one of his stealthy glances, the Doctor’s eye encountered that of the stranger, who was by this time drinking his tea—a thin and feminine liquor little used in that room.
The stranger did not seem put out; and the Doctor, interpreting his look as a permission to converse, cleared his voice, and said urbanely,
“We have had a little frost by night, down here, sir, and a little fire is no great harm—it is rather pleasant, don’t you think?”
The stranger bowed acquiescence with a transient wintry smile, and looked gratefully on the fire.
“This place is a good deal admired, sir, and people come a good way to see it; you have been here perhaps before?”
“Many years ago.”
Here was another pause.
“Places change imperceptibly—in detail, at least—a good deal,” said the Doctor, making an effort to keep up a conversation that plainly would not go on of itself; “and people too; population shifts—there’s an old fellow, sir, they call Death.”
“And an old fellow they call the Doctor, that helps him,” threw in the Captain humorously, allowing his attention to get entangled in the conversation, and treating them to one of his tempestuous ha-ha-ha’s.
“We are expecting the return of a gentleman who would be a very leading member of our little society down here,” said the Doctor, not noticing the Captain’s joke. “I mean Sir Bale Mardykes. Mardykes Hall is a pretty object from the water, sir, and a very fine old place.”
The melancholy stranger bowed slightly, but rather in courtesy to the relator, it seemed, than that the Doctor’s lore interested him much.
“And on the opposite side of the lake,” continued Doctor Torvey, “there is a building that contrasts very well with it—the old house of the Feltrams—quite a ruin now, at the mouth of the glen—Cloostedd House, a very picturesque object.”
“Exactly opposite,” said the stranger dreamily, but whether in the tone of acquiescence or interrogatory, the Doctor could not be quite sure.
“That was one of our great families down here that has disappeared. It has dwindled down to nothing.”
“Duce ace,” remarked Mr. Hollar, who was attending to his game.
“While others have mounted more suddenly and amazingly still,” observed gentle Mr. Peers, who was great upon county genealogies.
“Sizes!” thundered the Captain, thumping the table with an oath of disgust.
“And Snakes Island is a very pretty object; they say there used to be snakes there,” said the Doctor, enlightening the visitor.
“Ah! that’s a mistake,” said the dejected guest, making his first original observation. “It should be spelt Snaiks. In the old papers it is called Sen-aiks Island from the seven oaks that grew in a clump there.”
“Hey? that’s very curious, egad! I daresay,” said the Doctor, set right thus by the stranger, and eyeing him curiously.