“Was this in the Sub-Rosa’s strong-box?” she asked.
“Oh no,” said Vasco carelessly, “that is a list of the well-known people who would be involved in a very disagreeable scandal if the Sub-Rosa’s papers were made public. I’ve put you at the head of it, otherwise it follows alphabetical order.”
The Duchess gazed helplessly at the string of names, which seemed for the moment to include nearly every one she knew. As a matter of fact, her own name at the head of the list exercised an almost paralysing effect on her thinking faculties.
“Of course you have destroyed the papers?” she asked, when she had somewhat recovered herself. She was conscious that she made the remark with an entire lack of conviction.
Vasco shook his head.
“But you should have,” said Lulu angrily; “if, as you say, they are highly compromising—”
“Oh, they are, I assure you of that,” interposed the young man.
“Then you should put them out of harm’s way at once. Supposing anything should leak out, think of all these poor, unfortunate people who would be involved in the disclosures,” and Lulu tapped the list with an agitated gesture.
“Unfortunate, perhaps, but not poor,” corrected Vasco; “if you read the list carefully you’ll notice that I haven’t troubled to include anyone whose financial standing isn’t above question.”
Lulu glared at her nephew for some moments in silence. Then she asked hoarsely: “What are you going to do?”
“Nothing—for the remainder of my life,” he answered meaningly. “A little hunting, perhaps,” he continued, “and I shall have a villa at Florence. The Villa Sub-Rosa would sound rather quaint and picturesque, don’t you think, and quite a lot of people would be able to attach a meaning to the name. And I suppose I must have a hobby; I shall probably collect Raeburns.”
Lulu’s relative, who lived at the Court of Monaco, got quite a snappish answer when she wrote recommending some further invention in the realm of marine research.
The farmhouse kitchen probably stood where it did as a matter of accident or haphazard choice; yet its situation might have been planned by a master-strategist in farmhouse architecture. Dairy and poultry-yard, and herb garden, and all the busy places of the farm seemed to lead by easy access into its wide flagged haven, where there was room for everything and where muddy boots left traces that were easily swept away. And yet, for all that it stood so well in the centre of human bustle, its long, latticed window, with the wide window-seat, built into an embrasure beyond the huge fireplace, looked out on a wild spreading view of hill and heather and wooded combe. The window nook made almost a little room in itself, quite the pleasantest room in the farm as far as situation and capabilities went. Young Mrs. Ladbruk, whose husband had just come into the farm by way of inheritance, cast covetous eyes on this snug corner, and her fingers itched to make it bright and cosy with chintz curtains and bowls of flowers, and a shelf or two of old china. The musty farm parlour, looking out on to a prim, cheerless garden imprisoned within high, blank walls, was not a room that lent itself readily either to comfort or decoration.