“I say, Fledge.”
“—You never do really open your mouth, you know—except, I suppose, when you eat——”
“Yes, my lord.”
“You just, well—fumble with your lips. So—I say, Fledge, have you any teeth?”
And Fledge, possibly because he was a man of principle, but probably also because he suspected that his master’s next words might take the form of an order to open his mouth, told the truth. He had three teeth only.
“And look here, Fledge, why do William’s toes turn out at such a fearful angle?”
Pledge’s heart was in the plate-closet at that moment, but his patience was monumental.
“I don’t know, my lord—unless it’s because ’e’s only just left off being knife-boy—they get used to standing at the sink a-washing up, my lord, and William’s feet is large, so I dessay he turned ’is toes out in order to get near and not splash.”
This elucidation appeared plausible as well as interesting to Kingsmead, and he felt that in learning something of the habits of the genus knife-boy he had added to his stock of human information, which he undoubtedly had.
Then at lunch there had been the little matter of Bicky’s dressmaker’s bill. The mater had been her crossest, and Bicky her silentest, and the bill, discussed in French, a disgusting and superfluous language, the acquirement of which Kingsmead had used much skill in evading, lay on the table. It lay there, forgotten, after the two ladies had left the room, but Kingsmead was a gentleman. So, later he had sought out his sister and coaxed her into telling him the hair-raising sum to which amounted the “two or three frocks” she had had that summer.
He had also learned that Mr. Yelverton, the Carrons, the Newlyns, and Theo Joyselle were coming that afternoon, and what the real reason was that had made the Frenshaws wire they could not come. It had not at all surprised him to hear that the reason given in the wire was utterly false, for, like other people, Kingsmead was bound by his horizon.
On the whole, his day had been a busy one, and the valuable acquisitions of knowledge that I have mentioned, together with a few scraps of information on stable and garage matters, had brought him quite comfortably up to four o’clock, when, as he idled across the lawn, that rum old carp had caught, and held, his eye.
It was a very warm day in October, a day most unusual in its mellow beauty; soft sunshine lay on the lawn and lent splendour to the not very large Tudor house off to the left.
The air of gentle, self-satisfied decrepitude worn by the old place was for the moment lost, and it looked new, clean-cut and almost gaudy, as it must have done in the distant days when it was young. It was a becoming day for the ancient building, as candle-light is becoming to an old beauty and brings back a fleeting and pathetic air of youth to her still lovely features.