The Perchs’ house was called Puncher’s—Puncher’s Farm, a few hundred yards along the lane leading to the great highroad—and it was the largest and by far the most untidy house in Penny Green. Successive Punchers of old time, when it had been the most considerable farm in all the country between Chovensbury and Tidborough, had added to it in stubborn defiance of all laws of comfort and principles of domestic architecture, and now, shorn alike of its Punchers and of its pastures, the homestead that might easily have housed twenty, was mysteriously filled to overflowing by two. Mrs. Perch was fond of saying she had lived in nineteen houses “in her time”, and Sabre had the belief that the previous eighteen had all been separately furnished and the entire accumulation, together with every newspaper taken in during their occupation, brought to Puncher’s. Half the rooms of Puncher’s were so filled with furniture that no more furniture, and scarcely a living person, could be got in; and half the rooms were so filled with boxes, packages, bundles, trunks, crates, and stacks of newspapers that no furniture at all could be got in. Every room was known to Mrs. Perch and to Young Perch by the name of some article it contained and Mrs. Perch was forever “going to sort the room with your Uncle Henry’s couch in it”, or “the room with the big blue box with the funny top in it”, or some other room similarly described.
Mrs. Perch was always “going to”, but as the task was always contingent upon either “when I have got a servant into the house”, or “when I have turned the servant out of the house”—these two states representing Mrs. Perch’s occupation with the servant problem—the couch of Uncle Henry, the big blue box with the funny top, and all the other denizens of the choked rooms remained, like threatened men, precariously but securely.
But not unvisited!
Sabre once spent a week in the house, terminating a summer holiday a little earlier than Mabel, and he had formed the opinion that mother and son never went to bed at night and never got up in the morning. In remote hours and in remote quarters of the house mysterious sounds disturbed his sleep. Eerily peering over the banisters, he discerned the pair moving, like lost souls, about the passages, Mrs. Perch with the skirts of a red dressing-gown in one hand and a candle in the other, Young Perch disconsolately in her wake, yawning, with another candle. Young Perch called this “Prowling about the infernal house all night”; and one office of the prowl appeared to Sabre to be the attendance of pans of milk warming in a row on oil stoves and suggesting, with the glimmer of the stoves and the steam of the pans, mysterious oblations to midnight gods.