Read CHAPTER XX - BARCLAY’S TENANTS. of The Master of the Ceremonies , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

“It was scandalous,” Saltinville said, “that she should accept it.”

But she did:  a handsome little carriage that came down from Long Acre, and was sent round to the stables, where Cora Dean’s ponies were put up and kept now on a shorter allowance of corn.

The note was a simple one, written in a very large hand that was decidedly shaky.  There was a coronet on the top, and its owner, Lord Carboro’, begged Miss Dean’s acceptance of the little gift, with his sorrow that he was the cause of the mishap, and his congratulations that she was not hurt.

This was all very refined and in accordance with etiquette.  The postscript looked crotchety.

“P.S. ­Tell your people not to give them so much corn.”

Cora did so, and said that she should drive out to show the people of Saltinville that she was no coward.

“Then I’ll go with you, Betsy,” said Mrs Dean, “to show ’em I ain’t, too:  and, you mark my words, this’ll be the making of you in society.”

So Cora took her drives as of old, found that she was very much noticed by the gentlemen, very little by the ladies, but waited her time.

The Deans lodged at one of the best houses in the Parade ­a large, double-fronted place facing the sea, with spacious balcony and open hall door, and porch ornamented with flowers.

The little groom sprang down and ran to the ponies’ heads as his mistress alighted, and after sweeping her rich dress aside, held out her hand for her mother, who got out of the carriage slowly, and in what was meant for a very stately style, her quick beady eyes having shown her that the windows on either side of the front door were wide open, while her sharp ears and her nose had already given her notice that the lodgers were at home ­a low buzzing mellow hum with a wild refrain in high notes, announcing that old Mr Linnell was at work with his violoncello to his son’s violin, and a faint penetrating perfume ­or smell, according to taste ­suggesting that Colonel Mellersh was indulging in a cigar.

Mrs Dean’s daughter was quite as quick in detecting these signs, and, raising her head and half closing her eyes, she swept gracefully into the house, unconscious of the fact that Richard Linnell drew back a little from the window on one side of the door, and that Colonel Mellersh showed his teeth as he lay back in his chair beside a small table, on which was a dealt-out pack of cards.

“I should like to poison that old woman,” said the Colonel, gathering together the cards.

“I wish Mr Barclay had let the first floor to some one else, Richard,” said a low pleasant voice from the back of the room. P-r-r-rm, Pr-um!

The speaker did not say Pr-r-rm, Pr-um!  That sound was produced by an up and down draw of the bow across the fourth string of the old violoncello he held between his legs, letting the neck of the instrument with its pegs fall directly after into the hollow of his arm, as he picked up a cake of amber-hued transparent rosin from the edge of a music stand, and began thoughtfully to rub it up and down the horse-hair of the bow.

The speaker’s was a pleasant handsome face of a man approaching sixty; but though his hair was very grey, he was remarkably well-preserved.  His well-cut rather effeminate face showed but few lines, and there was just a tinge of colour in his cheeks, such as good port wine might have produced:  but in this case it was a consequence of a calm, peaceful, seaside life.  He was evidently slight and tall, but bent, and in his blue eyes there was a dreamy look, while a curious twitch came over his face from time to time as if he suffered pain.

“It would have been better, father,” said Richard Linnell, turning over the leaves of a music-book with his violin bow, “but we can’t pick and choose whom one is to sit next in this world.”

“No, no, we can’t, my son.”

“And I don’t think that we ought to trouble ourselves about our neighbours, so long as they behave themselves decorously here.”

“No, no, my son,” said Linnell, senior, thoughtfully.  “There’s a deal of wickedness in this world, but I suppose we mustn’t go about throwing stones.”

“I’m not going to, father, and I’m sure you wouldn’t throw one at a mad dog.”

“Don’t you think I would, Dick?” with a very sweet smile; and the eyes brightened and looked pleased.  “Well, perhaps you are right.  Poor brute!  Why should I add to its agony?”

“So long as it didn’t bite, eh, father?”

“To be sure, Dick; so long as it didn’t bite.  I should like to run through that adagio again, Dick, but not if you’re tired, my boy, not if you’re tired.”

“Tired?  No!” cried the young man.  “I could keep on all day.”

“That’s right.  I’m glad I taught you.  There’s something so soul-refreshing in a bit of music, especially when you are low-spirited.”

“Which you never are, now.”

“N-no, not often, say not often, say not often.  It makes me a little low-spirited though about that woman and her mother, Dick.”

“I don’t see why it should.”

“But it does.  Such a noble-looking beautiful creature, and such a hard, vulgar, worldly mother.  Ah, Dick, beautiful women are to be pitied.”

“No, no:  to be admired,” said Richard, laughing.

“Pitied, my boy, pitied,” said the elder, making curves in the air with his bow, while the fingers of his left hand ­long, thin, white, delicate fingers ­stopped the strings, as if he were playing the bars of some composition.  “Your plain women scout their beautiful sisters, and trample upon them, but it is in ignorance.  They don’t know the temptations that assail one who is born to good looks.”

“Why, father, this is quite a homily.”

“Ah, yes, Dick,” he said, laughing.  “I ought to have been a preacher, I think, I am always prosing.  Poor things ­poor things!  A lovely face is often a curse.”

“Oh, don’t say that.”

“But I do say it, Dick.  It is a curse to that woman upstairs.  Never marry a beautiful woman, Dick.”

“But you did, father.”

The old man started violently and changed colour, but recovered himself on the instant.

“Yes, yes.  She was very beautiful.  And she died, Dick; she died.”

He bent his head over his music, and Richard crossed and laid his hand upon his shoulder.

“I am sorry I spoke so thoughtlessly.”

“Oh, no, my boy; oh, no.  It was quite right.  She was a very beautiful woman.  That miniature does not do her justice.  But ­but don’t marry a beautiful woman, Dick,” he continued, gazing wistfully into his son’s face.  “Now that adagio.  It is a favourite bit of mine.”

Richard Linnell looked as if he would have liked to speak, and there was a troubled expression on his face as he thought of Claire Denville’s sweet candid eyes; but he shrank from any avowal.  For how dare he, when she had given him but little thought, and ­well, she was a beautiful woman, one of those against whom he had been warned.

He looked up and found his father watching him keenly, when both assumed ignorance of any other matter than the adagio movement, the sweet notes of which, produced by the thrilling strings, floated out through the open window, and up and in that of the drawing-room floor overhead, where on a luxurious couch Mrs Dean had thrown herself, while her daughter was slowly pacing the room with the air of a tragedy queen.

“Buzz-buzz; boom-boom!  Oh, those horrid fiddlers!” cried Mrs Dean, bouncing up and crossing to the fireplace, where she caught up the poker; but only to have her hand seized by her daughter, who took the poker away, and replaced it in the fender.

“What are you going to do?”

“What am I going to do?  Why thump on the floor to make them quiet.  Do you suppose I’m going to sit here and be driven mad with their scraping!  This isn’t a playhouse!”

“You will do nothing of the sort, mother.”

“Oh, won’t I?  Do you think I’m going to pay old Barclay all that money for these rooms, and not have any peace?  Pray who are you talking to?”

“To you, mother,” said Cora sternly; and the stoutly-built, brazen-looking virago shrank from her daughter’s fierce gaze.  “You must not forget yourself here, among all these respectable people.”

“And pray who’s going to?  But I don’t know so much about your respectability.  That Colonel, with his queer looks like the devil in `Dr Faustus,’ is no better than he should be.”

“The Colonel is a man of the world like the rest,” said Cora coldly.

“Yes, and a nice man of the world, too.  And that old Linnell’s living apart from his wife.  I know though ­”

“Silence!”

“Now look here, Betsy, I won’t have you say silence to me like that.  This here isn’t the stage, and we aren’t playing parts.  Just you speak to me proper, madam.”

“Mother, I will not have you speak of Mr Linnell like that.”

“Ho, indeed!  And why not, pray?  Now, look here, Betsy,” she cried, holding up a warning finger, “I won’t have no nonsense there.  I’m not a fool.  I know the world.  I’ve seen you sighing and looking soft when we’ve passed that young fellow downstairs.”

Cora’s eyes seemed to burn as she fixedly returned her mother’s look.

“Oh, you may stare, madam; but I can see more than you think.  Why, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, making eyes at a poor, penniless fiddler, when you might ­”

“I ­I don’t want to quarrel, mother,” cried Cora, “but if you dare to speak to me again like that I’ll not be answerable for myself.”

“There! ­there! ­there!  There’s gratitude!”

“Gratitude?  Where should I have been but for Mr Linnell’s bravery, and which of the wretched dressed-up and titled dandies stirred to save me the other day?  Richard Linnell is a brave, true-hearted man, too good to marry an actress.”

“She’s mad ­she’s mad ­she’s mad!  There’s grace; and to her mother, too, who’s thought of nothing but getting her on in the world, and brought her forward, so that now she can live on the best of everything, in the handsomest of rooms, and keep her carriage.  She flies in her poor mother’s face, and wants to get rid of her, I suppose.  Oho ­oho ­ oh!”

Mrs Dean plumped herself down into a gilded chair, and began to howl very softly.

“Don’t be a fool, mother,” said Cora.  “I don’t want to quarrel, I tell you, so hold your tongue.”

“After the way I’ve brought her up, too,” howled Mrs Dean ­softly, so that the sound should not be heard downstairs.

“After the way you’ve brought me up!” cried Cora fiercely.  “Yes; brought me up to be sneered at by every lady I meet ­brought me up so that I hate myself, and long sometimes to be one of the poor women we see knitting stockings on the beach.”

“Don’t be a fool, Cory, my handsome, beautiful gal,” cried Mrs Dean, suddenly starting up in her seat, dry-eyed and forgetful of her grief.  “How can you be so stupid!”

“Stupid!” cried Cora bitterly.  “Is it stupid to wish myself a woman that some true-hearted man could love, instead of looking forward to a life of acting.”

“Oh, how you do go on to be sure.  I am surprised at you, Cory.  I know what you’d say about the life as them leads as ar’n’t in the profession, but don’t you be a fool, Betsy. `Your face is your fortune, sir, she said,’ as the song says; working your fingers to the bone won’t keep you out of the workus.  Don’t tell me.  I know.  I’ve known them as has tried it.  Let them work as likes.  I like a cutlet and a glass of fine sherry, and some well-made coffee with a noo-laid egg in it, and it ain’t to be got by folks as works their fingers to the bone.”

“And who wants to work their fingers to the bone, mother?” cried Cora, tearing off and flinging down her handsome feathered hat.  “In every face I see there’s the look ­`You’re only one of the stage-players ­a rogue and a vagabond.’  I want to lead some life for which I need not blush.”

“As she needn’t blush for!  Oh, dear, oh, dear!  When her father trod the boards and her mother was born on ’em!  What a gal you are, Betsy,” said Mrs Dean, who professed high good humour now, and she rocked herself to and fro, and pressed her hands on her knees as she laughed.  “Oh, I say, Cory, you are a one.  You will act the injured fine lady in private life, my dear.  Why, what a silly thing you are.  Look at that hat you’ve chucked down.  Didn’t it cost five guineas?”

“Yes, mother, it cost five guineas,” said Cora wearily.

“And you can have whatever you like.  Oh, I say, my lovely gal, for you really are, you know, don’t get into these silly fits.  It’s such stuff.  Why, who knows what may happen?  You may be right up atop of the tree yet, and how about yon folks as passes you by now?  Why, they’ll all be as civil and friendly as can be.  There, there, come and kiss me, ducky, we mustn’t quarrel, must we?  I’ve got my eyes open for you, so don’t, don’t, there’s a dear.  I know what these things means ­don’t go chucking yourself at that young Linnell’s head.”

“Let Mr Linnell alone, mother.”

“But I can’t, my luvvy; I know too well what these things mean.  Why, there was Julia Jennings as was at the Lane ­it was just afore you was born.  There was a dook and a couple of lords, and carridges and horses, and livery suvvants, and as many jewels and dymonds and dresses as she liked to order; and if she didn’t kick ’em all over and marry a shopman, and lived poor ever after.  Now do, my luvvy, be advised by me.  I know what the world is, and ­Gracious goodness! there’s somebody coming up the stairs.”

Mrs Dean threw herself into an attitude meant to be easy, and Cora smoothed her knitted brows as there was a knock at the door, and, after a loud “Come in,” a neat-looking maid entered.

“Mr Barclay, please, ma’am.”

“Show him up, Jane,” said Mrs Dean sharply; and then, as the door closed, “The old rip’s come after his rent.  How precious sharp he is.”

“Morning, ladies,” said Barclay.  “I heard you were in.  Glad to see you are no worse for your accident the other day.”

He glanced at Cora, who bowed rather stiffly, and said “Not at all.”

“I can’t say that, Mr Barclay.  I’m a bit shook; but, as I said to my daughter, I wasn’t going to show the white feather, and the ponies go lovely now.”

“Well, I’m glad of that.”

“And I’m so much obliged to you for helping of me.  Do you know, it was just like a scene in a piece we ­er ­saw once at the Lane.”

“Oh, it was nothing ma’am, what I did.  Miss Dean, there, she took off all the honours.  No cold, I hope.”

Cora did not answer.

“Plucky fellow, young Linnell; but poor, you know, poor.”

“So I’ve heard,” said Mrs Dean maliciously.  “I was thinking of sending him ten guineas.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that, ma’am,” said Barclay.

“Oh, well, I must say thankye some other way.  Very kind of you to call.  I said to my daughter, `There’s Mr Barclay come for his rent,’ but I was wrong.”

“Not you, ma’am,” said Barclay, whose eyes were rapidly taking in the state of the room.  “Business is business, you know,” and he took another glance at the rich furniture and handsome mirrors of the place.

“Oh, it’s all right, Mr Barclay.  We’re taking the greatest care of it all, and your rent’s all ready for you, and always will be, of course.”

“Yes, yes, I know that, ma’am.  I’ve brought you a little receipt.  Saves trouble.  Pen and ink not always ready.  I keep to my days.  So much pleasanter for everybody.  Nice rooms, ain’t they?” he added, turning to Cora.

“Yes, Mr Barclay, the rooms are very nice,” she said coldly and thoughtfully.

“Anything the matter with her?” said Mr Barclay, leaning forward to Mrs Dean, and taking the money she handed in exchange for a receipt.  “Not in love, is she?”

Mrs Dean and her visitor exchanged glances, and smiled as Cora rose and walked to the window to gaze out at the sea, merely turning her head to bow distantly when the landlord rose to leave.

“I’m a regular scoundrel, ’pon my soul I am,” said Josiah Barclay, rubbing his nose with the edge of a memorandum book; “but they pay very handsomely, and if I were to refuse to let a part of a house that I furnish on purpose for letting, without having the highest moral certificates of character with the people who want the rooms, I’m afraid I should never let them at all.  Bah! it’s no business of mine.”

He went back to the front door and knocked, to be shown in directly after to where Colonel Mellersh was sitting back in his chair, having evidently just thrown down the pack of cards.

“Morning, Shylock,” he said, showing his white teeth.  “Want your pound of flesh again?”

“No, thank ye, Colonel; rather have the ducats.  I say, though, I wish you wouldn’t call me Shylock.  I’m not one of the chosen, you know.”

“That I’ll take oath you’re not, Barclay,” said the Colonel, looking at his visitor with a very amused smile.  “Your future is thoroughly assured.  I’m sorry for you, Barclay, for I don’t think you’re the worst scoundrel that ever breathed.”

“I say, you know, Colonel, this is too bad, you know.  Come, come, come.”

“Oh, I always speak plainly to you, Barclay.  Let me see; can you let me have a hundred?”

“A hundred, Colonel?” said the other, looking up sharply; “well, yes, I think I can.”

“Ah, well, I don’t want it, Barclay.  I know you’d be only too glad to get a good hold of me.”

“Wrong, Colonel, wrong,” said Barclay, chuckling as he glanced at the cards.  “You do me too much good for that.”

“Do I?” said the Colonel, smiling in a peculiarly cynical way.  “Well, perhaps I do influence your market a little.  There,” he said, taking some notes from his little pocket-book, and handing them to his visitor, “now we are free once more.”

“Thankye, Colonel, thankye.  You’re a capital tenant.  I say, by the way, after all these years, I shouldn’t like to do anything to annoy you:  I hope you don’t mind the actors upstairs.”

“No,” said the Colonel, staring at him.

“Because if you did complain, and were not satisfied, I’d make a change, you know.”

“Don’t trouble the women for my sake,” said the Colonel gruffly.  “Look here, Barclay, how would you play this hand?”

He took up the cards as he spoke, shuffled them with an easy, graceful movement, the pieces of pasteboard flying rapidly through his hands, before dealing them lightly out upon the table, face upwards, and selecting four thirteens.

“Now,” he said, “look here.  Your partner holds two trumps ­six, nine; your adversaries right and left have knave and ace; B on your right leads trumps ­what would you do?”

Barclay knit his brow and took the Colonel’s hand, gazing from one to the other thoughtfully, and then, without a word, played the hand, the Colonel selecting those cards that would be played by the others till the hand was half through, when Barclay hesitated for a moment, and then seemed to throw away a trick.

“Why did you do that?” said the Colonel sharply.

“Because by losing that I should get the next two.”

“Exactly!” cried the Colonel with his eyes flashing.  “That endorses my opinion.  Barclay, I shan’t play against you if I can help myself.  Money-lending seems to sharpen the wits wonderfully.  What a clever old fox you are!”

“One’s obliged to be clever now a days, Colonel, if one wants to get on.  Well, I must go.  I have to see your neighbours.  Rents are very bad to get in.”

“I suppose so,” said the Colonel drily.  “Good-morning.”

“I wonder what he makes a year by his play,” said Barclay to himself, as he went back to the front door to knock for the third time.  “I believe he plays square, too, but he has a wonderful head, and he’s practising night and day.  Now for old Linnell.”

He was shown into Mr Linnell’s room the next minute, to find that he was expected, and that he was gravely and courteously received, and his rent paid, so that there was nothing for him to do but say “Good-morning.”  But Josiah Barclay’s conscience was a little uneasy, and in spite of the fact that his tenant was far from being a rich man, there was something in his grave refined manner that won his respect.

“Wish you’d come and see us sometimes, Mr Linnell, just in a friendly way, you know.  Chop and glass o’ sherry with Mrs Barclay and me; and you’d join us too, Mr Richard, eh?”

“Thank you, Mr Barclay, no,” said Richard’s father; “I never go out.  Richard, my son, here, would, I dare say, accept your invitation.”

“Oh, but can’t you too, eh?  Look here, you know, you’re a man who loves bits of old china, and I’ve quite a lot.  Really good.  Come:  when shall it be?”

“Don’t press me now, Mr Barclay,” said his tenant gravely.  “Perhaps some other time.”

“Then you’re offended, Mr Linnell.  You’re a bit hipped because of the other lodgers, you know.”

“Mr Barclay, I have made no complaints,” said the elder Linnell quietly.

“No, you’ve made no complaints, but you show it in your way, don’t you see.  It wasn’t for me to be too strict in my inquiries about people, Mr Linnell.  I’m sorry I offended you; but what can I do?”

“Mr Barclay has a perfect right to do what he pleases with his own house,” replied the elder Linnell with dignity.  “Good-day.”

“Now I could buy that man up a hundred times over,” grumbled Barclay as he walked away, richer by many pounds than when he started on his journey that morning; “but he always seems to set me down; to look upon me with contempt; and young Richard is as high and mighty as can be.  Ah, well, wait a bit! ­`Can you oblige me with fifty pounds, Mr Barclay, on my note of hand?’ ­and then p’raps they’ll be more civil.

“Things ain’t pleasant though, just now.  One house made notorious by a murder, and me letting a couple of actresses lodge in another.  Well, they pay regular, and I dare say she’ll make a good match somewhere before long; but I’m afraid, when the old lady gets to know they’re stage people, there’ll be a bit of a breeze.”