“Oh, not at all. Nellie has just finished her lessons.”
“The fact is,” continued the squire, “that I was going to survey the nakedness of the land which has fallen to my lot, and as I came out of the park I saw the cottage right before me and I could not resist the temptation of calling. I had no idea we were such near neighbours.”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Goddard, “it is very near.”
Mr. Juxon glanced round the room. He was not exactly at a loss for words, but Mrs. Goddard did not seem inclined to encourage the conversation. He saw that the room was not only exceedingly comfortable but that its arrangement betrayed a considerable taste for luxury. The furniture was of a kind not generally seen in cottages, and appeared to have formed part of some great establishment. The carpet itself was of a finer and softer kind than any at the Hall. The writing-table was a piece of richly inlaid work, and the implements upon it were of the solid, severe and valuable kind that are seen in rich men’s houses. A clock which was undoubtedly of the Louis Quinze period stood upon the chimneypiece. On the walls were hung three or four pictures which, Mr. Juxon thought, must be both old and of great value. Upon a little table by the fireplace lay four or five objects of Chinese jade and Japanese ivory and a silver chatelaine of old workmanship. The squire saw, and wondered why such a very pretty woman, who possessed such very pretty things, should choose to come and live in his cottage in the parish of Billingsfield. And having seen and wondered he became interested in his charming tenant and endeavoured to carry on the conversation in a more confidential strain.
“You have done more towards beautifying the cottage than I could have hoped to do,” said Mr. Juxon, leaning back in his chair and resting one hand on Stamboul’s great head.
“It was very pretty of itself,” answered Mrs. Goddard, “and fortunately it is not very big, or my things would look lost in it.”
“I should not say that—you have so many beautiful things. They seem to suit the place so well. I am sure you will never think of taking them away.”
“Not if I can help it—I am too glad to be quiet.”
“You have travelled a great deal, Mrs. Goddard?” asked the squire.
“No—not exactly that—only a little, after all. I have not been to Constantinople for instance,” she added looking at the hound Mr. Juxon had brought from the East. “You are indeed a traveller.”
“I have travelled all my life,” said the squire, indifferently, as though the subject of his wanderings did not interest him. “From what little I have seen of Billingsfield I fancy you will find all the quiet you could wish, here. Really, I realise that at my own gate I must come to you for information. What sort of man is that excellent rector down there, whom I met last night?”