A HANDSOME ALLOWANCE
The physician might not have deemed his friend so sensible—or so insensible—had he known that the young man proposed to make the offer of that allowance in person. Nor to Sir George Soane himself, when he alighted five days later before The George Inn at Wallingford, did the offer seem the light and easy thing,
‘Of smiles and tears compact,’
it had appeared at Marlborough. He recalled old clashes of wit, and here and there a spark struck out between them, that, alighting on the flesh, had burned him. Meanwhile the arrival of so fine a gentleman, travelling in a post-chaise and four, drew a crowd about the inn. To give the idlers time to disperse, as well as to remove the stains of the road, he entered the house, and, having bespoken dinner and the best rooms, inquired the way to Mr. Fishwick the attorney’s. By this time his servant had blabbed his name; and the story of the duel at Oxford being known, with some faint savour of his fashion, the landlord was his most obedient, and would fain have guided his honour to the place cap in hand.
Rid of him, and informed that the house he sought was neighbour on the farther side, of the Three Tuns, near the bridge, Sir George strolled down the long clean street that leads past Blackstone’s Church, then in the building, to the river; Sinodun Hill and the Berkshire Downs, speaking evening peace, behind him. He paused before a dozen neat houses with brass knockers and painted shutters, and took each in turn for the lawyer’s. But when he came to the real Mr. Fishwick’s, and found it a mere cottage, white and decent, but no more than a cottage, he thought that he was mistaken. Then the name of ’Mr. Peter Fishwick, Attorney-at-Law,’ not in the glory of brass, but painted in white letters on the green door, undeceived him; and, opening the wicket of the tiny garden, he knocked with the head of his cane on the door.
The appearance of a stately gentleman in a laced coat and a sword, waiting outside Fishwick’s, opened half the doors in the street; but not that one at which Sir George stood. He had to knock again and again before he heard voices whispering inside. At last a step came tapping down the bricked passage, a bolt was withdrawn, and an old woman, in a coarse brown dress and a starched mob, looked out. She betrayed no surprise on seeing so grand a gentleman, but told his honour, before he could speak, that the lawyer was not at home.
‘It is not Mr. Fishwick I want to see,’ Sir George answered civilly. Through the brick passage he had a glimpse, as through a funnel, of green leaves climbing on a tiny treillage, and of a broken urn on a scrap of sward. ‘You have a young lady staying here?’ he continued.
The old woman’s stiff grey eyebrows grew together. ‘No!’ she said sharply. ‘Nothing of the kind!’