“The remedy is obvious: those gentlemen do not desire to be munificent at Blagg’s expense—let them purchase his property. No doubt he has his price.”
“Yes, Mr. Gifford, but a most extortionate price. And it is said he cannot sell without your consent.”
Mr. Gifford grew very red, and with stammering elocution repelled the implication: “Blagg wants nobody’s consent but his own. The fact is, the tenements pay better to keep than they would pay to sell; naturally, he prefers to keep them.”
“But if you would follow Mr. Chiverton’s example, and let the whole place be cleared of its more respectable inhabitants at one blow, he would lose that inducement.”
Mr. Gifford laughed, amazed at this suggestion—so like a woman, as he afterwards said. “Blagg has served me many years—I have the highest respect for him. I cannot see that I am called on to conspire against his interests.”
Mrs. Chiverton’s countenance had lost its serenity, and would not soon recover it, but Bessie Fairfax could hardly believe her ears when the artist muttered, “Somebody take that chattering fool away;” and up he jumped, cast down his palette, and rushed out of the gallery. Mrs. Chiverton looked after him and whispered to Bessie, “What is it?” “Work over for the day,” whispered Bessie again, controlling an inclination to laugh. “The temperament of genius disturbed by the intrusion of unpleasant circumstances.” Mrs. Chiverton was sorry; perhaps a walk in the park would recompose the little man. There he was, tearing over the grass towards the lake. Then she turned to Mr. Gifford and resumed the discussion of Morte, with a warning of the terrible responsibility he incurred by maintaining that nest of vice and fever; but as it was barren of results it need not be continued.
The next day the painter worked without interruption.
When Bessie Fairfax returned from Castlemount she learnt for a first piece of news that Mr. Cecil Burleigh had spent two days of her absence at Abbotsmead, and that he had only left in the morning. To this information her grandfather added that he had seen in his time unsuccessful lovers, more dejected. Bessie laughed and blushed, and said she was glad to hear he was in good spirits; and this was their first and last allusion to the crowning episode of her visit to Brentwood. The squire gave her one searching look, and thought it wisdom to be silent.
The green rides of the woods and glades of the park were all encumbered with fallen leaves. The last days of autumn were flown, and winter was come. The sound of the huntsman’s horn was heard in the fields, and the squire came out in his weather-stained scarlet coat to enjoy the sport which was the greatest pleasure life had left for him. One fine soft morning at the end of November the meet was at Kirkham turnpike, and Abbotsmead entertained the gentlemen of the hunt at breakfast.