The young people had several times tried to get at this joke about the Burgundy, but always in vain. Miss Cordsen, who had been obliged that day to get a clean shirt for the Consul, was the only one in the secret; but Miss Cordsen could hold her tongue about more serious matters than that.
At last the Consul came out again, laughing and sputtering, his waistcoat covered with dust, and his hair full of cobwebs. When they had had a good laugh over their joke—it was well the walls were so thick—Richard, on whom the duty always devolved, uncorked the first bottle with the greatest care and skill.
“H’m! h’m!” said the Consul, “that is a curious bouquet.”
“I declare, the wine has gone off,” said Richard, spluttering.
“Bah! right you are, Dick,” said Christian Frederick, spluttering in his turn.
Uncle Richard opened the second bottle, put his nose to it, and said approvingly, “Madeira!” and in a moment the golden wine was sparkling in the old-fashioned Dutch glasses.
“Ah! that’s quite another thing,” said the young Consul, taking his usual place astride of the old rocking-horse.
The rocking-horse was a relic of their childhood. “They used to make everything more solid in those days,” said Christian Frederick; and when some years previously the horse had been found amongst a lot of rubbish, the Consul had had it brought down to the cellar. For many a long year he had sat on this horse, drinking the old wine out of the same old glasses with his brother, who sat in the rickety armchair, which cracked under his weight, laughing and telling anecdotes of their boyhood. He never got such wine anywhere else, and no room ever appeared so brilliant in his eyes as the low-vaulted cellar with its two smoky lights.
“I declare, it’s a shame,” said the young Consul, “that you have never had your half of that cask of port. However, I will send you some wine out to Bratvold one of these days, so that you may have some, till we can get it tapped.”
“But you are always sending me wine, Christian Frederick. I am sure I have had my half, and more too, long ago.”
“Nonsense, Dick! I declare, I believe you keep a wine account.”
“No, I am sure I don’t.”
“Well, if you don’t, I do; and I dare say you’ve remarked that in your account for last year—”
“Yes; that’s enough of that. Here’s to your health, Christian Frederick,” broke in Uncle Richard, hastily. He was always nervous when his brother began about business.
“That’s a great big cask.”
“Yes, it is a very big one.”
And the two old gentlemen held out their lights towards it, and each of them thought, “I am glad my brother does not know that the cask is nearly empty;” for it returned a most unpromising sound when it was struck, and the patch of moisture beneath it showed that it had evidently been leaking for many years.