Sewis had the office of tempering a severely distasteful announcement to the squire.
He resumed: ’The gentleman doesn’t talk of staying. That is not his business. It ‘s rather late for him to arrive.’
‘Rather late!’ roared the squire. ‘Why, what’s it o’clock?’
Reaching a hand to the watch over his head, he caught sight of the unearthly hour. ’A quarter to two? Gentleman downstairs? Can’t be that infernal apothecary who broke ’s engagement to dine with me last night? By George, if it is I’ll souse him; I’ll drench him from head to heel as though the rascal ’d been drawn through the duck-pond. Two o’clock in the morning? Why, the man’s drunk. Tell him I’m a magistrate, and I’ll commit him, deuce take him; give him fourteen days for a sot; another fourteen for impudence. I’ve given a month ’fore now. Comes to me, a Justice of the peace!—man ’s mad! Tell him he’s in peril of a lunatic asylum. And doesn’t talk of staying? Lift him out o’ the house on the top o’ your boot, Sewis, and say it ’s mine; you ‘ve my leave.’
Sewis withdrew a step from the bedside. At a safe distance he fronted his master steadily; almost admonishingly. ’It ‘s Mr. Richmond, sir,’ he said.
‘Mr. . . .’ The squire checked his breath. That was a name never uttered at the Grange. ‘The scoundrel?’ he inquired harshly, half in a tone of one assuring himself, and his rigid dropped jaw shut.
The fact had to be denied or affirmed instantly, and Sewis was silent.
Grasping his bedclothes in a lump, the squire cried:
‘Downstairs? downstairs, Sewis? You’ve admitted him into my house?’
‘He is not in the house, sir.’
‘You have! How did you speak to him, then?’
‘Out of my window, sir.’
‘What place here is the scoundrel soiling now?’
‘He is on the doorstep outside the house.’
‘Outside, is he? and the door’s locked?’
‘Let him rot there!’
By this time the midnight visitor’s patience had become exhausted. A renewal of his clamour for immediate attention fell on the squire’s ear, amazing him to stupefaction at such challengeing insolence.
‘Hand me my breeches,’ he called to Sewis; ’I can’t think brisk out of my breeches.’
Sewis held the garment ready. The squire jumped from the bed, fuming speechlessly, chafing at gaiters and braces, cravat and coat, and allowed his buttons to be fitted neatly on his calves; the hammering at the hall-door and plucking at the bell going on without intermission. He wore the aspect of one who assumes a forced composure under the infliction of outrages on his character in a Court of Law, where he must of necessity listen and lock his boiling replies within his indignant bosom.
‘Now, Sewis, now my horsewhip,’ he remarked, as if it had been a simple adjunct of his equipment.