The estate was out of Chancery at last. For forty years, ever since the death of the old squire, no one had rightfully called the Hall his own. The heir had lived abroad, and had lived in such an exceedingly eccentric manner as to give ground for a suit de lunatico inquirendo, brought by another heir. With the consistency of judicial purpose which characterises such proceedings the courts appeared to have decided that though the natural possessor, the eccentric individual who lived abroad, was too mad to be left in actual possession, he was not mad enough to justify actual possession in the person of the next of kin. Proceedings continued, fees were paid, a certain legal personage already mentioned came down from time to time and looked over the estate, but the matter was not finally settled until the eccentric individual died, after forty years of eccentricity, to the infinite relief and satisfaction of all parties and especially of his lawful successor Charles James Juxon now, at last, “of Billingsfield Hall, in the county of Essex, Esquire.”
In due time also Mr. Juxon appeared. It was natural that he should come to see the vicar, and as it happened that he called late in the afternoon upon the day when Mrs. Goddard and little Eleanor were accustomed to dine at the vicarage, he at once had an opportunity of making the acquaintance of his tenant; thus, if we except the free-thinking doctor, it will be seen that Mr. Juxon was in the course of five minutes introduced to the whole of the Billingsfield society.
He was a man inclining towards middle age, of an active and vigorous body, of a moderate intelligence and of decidedly prepossessing appearance. His features were of the strong, square type, common to men whose fathers for many generations have lived in the country. His eyes were small, blue and very bright, and to judge from the lines in his sunburned face he was a man who laughed often and heartily. He had an abundance of short brown hair, parted very far upon one side and brushed to a phenomenal smoothness, and he wore a full brown beard, cut rather short and carefully trimmed. He immediately won the heart of Mrs. Ambrose on account of his extremely neat appearance. There was no foreign blood in him, she was sure. He had large clean hands with large and polished nails. He wore very well made clothes, and he spoke like a gentleman. The vicar, too, was at once prepossessed in his favour, and even little Eleanor, who was generally very shy before strangers, looked at him admiringly and showed little of her usual bashfulness. But Mrs. Goddard seemed ill at ease and tried to keep out of the conversation as much as possible.
“There have been great rejoicings at the prospect of your arrival,” said the vicar when the new-comer had been introduced to both the ladies. “I fancy that if you had let it be known that you were coming down to-day the people would have turned out to meet you at the station.”