Very suddenly Granny Grimshaw turned and, poker in hand, confronted him. She was wearing a large Paisley shawl over her pink flannel nightdress, but the figure she presented, though quaint, was not unimposing.
“Master Jeff,” she said, “don’t you be too modest and retiring, my dear. You’re just as good as the best of ’em.”
A slow, rather hard smile drew the corners of the man’s mouth. “They don’t think so,” he observed.
“They mayn’t,” said Granny Grimshaw severely. “But that don’t alter what is. You’re a good man, and, what’s more, a man of substance, which is better than can be said for old Colonel Elliot, with one foot in the grave, so to speak, and up to his eyes in debt. He owes money all over the place, I’m told, and the place is mortgaged for three times its proper value. His wife has a little of her own, so they say; but this poor young lady as was here this morning, she’ll be thrown on the world without a penny to her name. A winsome young lady, too, Master Jeff. And she don’t look as if she were made to stand many hard knocks. She may belong to the county, as they say, but her heart’s in the right place. She’d make a bonny mistress in this old place, and it wants a mistress badly enough. Old Granny Grimshaw has done her best, my dear, and always will. But she isn’t the woman she was.” An odd, wheedling note crept into the old woman’s voice. “She’ll be wanting to sit in the chimney-corner soon, Master Jeff, and just mind the little ones. You wouldn’t refuse her that?”
Jeff rose abruptly and went across to the fire to knock the ashes from his pipe. Having done so, he remained bent for several seconds, as though he were trying to read his fortune in the dying embers. Then very slowly he straightened himself and spoke.
“I think you forget,” he said, “that Colonel Elliot was the son of an earl.”
But Granny Grimshaw remained unabashed and wholly unimpressed. She laid down the poker with decision. “I was never one to sneer at good birth,” she said. “But I hold that you come of a breed as old and as good as any in the land. Your father was a yeoman of the good old-fashioned sort; and your mother—well, everyone hereabouts knows that she was a lady born and bred. I don’t see what titles have to do with breeding,” said Granny Grimshaw stoutly. “Not that I despise the aristocracy. Dear me, no! But when all is said and done, no man can be better than a gentleman, and no woman can look higher. And there are gentlemen in every walk of life just the same as there are the other sort. And you, Master Jeff, you’re one of the gentlemen.”
Jeff laughed a somewhat grim laugh, and turned to put out the lamp.
“You’re a very nice old woman, Granny,” he said. “But you are not an impartial judge.”
“Ah, my dearie,” said Granny Grimshaw, “but I know what women’s hearts are made of.”
A somewhat irrelevant retort, which nevertheless closed the discussion.