We struck a station at a point half-way down to Bulsted, and found little Kiomi there, thunder in her brows, carrying a bundle, and purchasing a railway-ticket, not to travel in our direction. She gave me the singular answer that she could not tell me where her people were; nor would she tell me whither she was going, alone, and by rail. I chanced to speak of Heriot. One of her sheet-lightning flashes shot out. ’He won’t be at Bulsted,’ she said, as if that had a significance. I let her know we were invited to Bulsted. ’Oh, she ‘s at home’; Kiomi blinked, and her features twitched like whip-cord. I saw that she was possessed by one of her furies. That girl’s face had the art of making me forget beautiful women, and what beauty was by comparison.
It happened that the squire came across us as we were rounding the slope of larch and fir plantation near a part of the Riversley hollows, leading to the upper heath-land, where, behind a semicircle of birches, Bulsted lay. He was on horseback, and called hoarsely to the captain’s coachman, who was driving us, to pull up. ‘Here, Harry,’ he sang out to me, in the same rough voice, ’I don’t see why we should bother Captain William. It’s a bit of business, not pleasure. I’ve got the book in my pocket. You ask—is it convenient to step into my bailiff’s cottage hard by, and run through it? Ten minutes ’ll tell me all I want to know. I want it done with. Ask.’
My father stood up and bowed, bareheaded.
My grandfather struck his hat and bobbed.
‘Mr. Beltham, I trust I see you well.’
‘Better, sir, when I’ve got rid of a damned unpleasant bit o’ business.’
‘I offer you my hearty assistance.’
‘Do you? Then step down and come into my bailiff’s.’
‘I come, sir.’
My father alighted from the carriage. The squire cast his gouty leg to be quit of his horse, but not in time to check my father’s advances and ejaculations of condolence.
’Gout, Mr. Beltham, is a little too much a proof to us of a long line of ancestry.’
His hand and arm were raised in the form of a splint to support the squire, who glared back over his cheekbone, horrified that he could not escape the contact, and in too great pain from arthritic throes to protest: he resembled a burglar surprised by justice. ’What infernal nonsense . . , fellow talking now?’ I heard him mutter between his hoppings and dancings, with one foot in the stirrup and a toe to earth, the enemy at his heel, and his inclination half bent upon swinging to the saddle again.
I went to relieve him. ‘Damn! . . . Oh, it’s you,’ said he.