The Honour of His House - Fred M. White - ebook

The Honour of His House ebook

Fred M White

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Borne Abbey – a miracle of architecture. And there is nothing more outstanding or more beautiful in the English countryside than Borne Abbey. Indeed, this place had its own atmosphere. For nearly four hundred years the Cranwallis family had lived here, lords of broad acres and suzerain of a many goodly manors. Everything changed after the brazen millionaire came to this house.

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Liczba stron: 373

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Contents

I. A Lord Of Acres

II. The New Order

III. “These Things To Hear—”

IV. The Silver Candlesticks

V. Noblesse Oblige

VI. “The Tenth Transmitter Of A Foolish Face”

VII. Flint And Steel

VIII. After The Coffee

IX. “But Yet A Woman”

X. The Glades Of Pleasure

XI. Rust And Moth

XII. Heredity

XIII. In The Purple

XIV. A Matter Of Diplomacy

XV. The Pride Of Race

XVI. The Thunderbolt

XVII. In The Shadow

XVIII. In The House

XIX. Father And Son

XX. Whose Hand?

XXI. Steel And Velvet

XXII. Bread And Salt

XXIII. An Autumn Session

XXIV. A Question In The House

XXV. “As The Twig Is Bent”

XXVI. The Trust In Princes

XXVII. The Man Who Knew

XXVIII. The Man Who Didn’t

XXIX. In Still Waters

XXX. “In Forma Pauperis”

XXXI. A Matter Of Nerves

XXXII. “Who Is On My Side?”

XXXIII. In Honour Bound

XXXIV. Thicker Than Water

XXXV. Compensation

XXXVI. The Promised Land

I. A LORD OF ACRES

The mists rolled back discreetly, the pearly curtain lifted demurely, as if conscious of the splendour that it concealed, then the turrets of Borne Abbey raised their carved pinnacles into the blue of the summer morning. The long white mantle folded itself slowly backward, and the house stood in view like some perfect picture with the great sweep of its famous beech trees behind. Where a moment before there had been nothing visible but the thin grey envelope of the mist and dew, stood now a long, low house, a miracle of cunning architecture, stained to a fine red-brown by the deft hand of the passing centuries. For this you cannot buy or manufacture, for it comes only with the passage of the years, and many a storm and many a shine goes to the exquisite making of it.

And there is nothing finer or more beautiful on the English countryside than Borne Abbey. It has all the strength and weight of a cathedral, with the grace and finish given it by such masters of the art of building as Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones and Pugin. Add to this the poetry in stonework of a Grinling Gibbons, and there stands out the faint picture of what Borne Abbey is like.

Indeed, the place had an atmosphere of its own. It lay there in the sunshine, glistening in the early moisture like some mythological beauty, fresh from a bath of sea spray, the sky bent, blue and grey and opalescent, behind the wondrous carvings and the quaint beauties of the twisted chimney stacks. For a whole three hundred feet the south front stretched itself along its flank of velvet lawns where the flowers were rioting in their beds, and beyond all this, the park extended almost to the sea. It looked like what it was, a cradle of heroes and men who have left their mark upon the blood-stained pages of history.

For nearly four hundred years the Cranwallis family had lived here, lords of broad acres and suzerain of a many goodly manors. Here was a house, at least, where the modern millionaire came not, and the plutocrat gave no trouble. It would never have occurred to Egbert Cranwallis, eighth Earl of Sherringborne, that such a possibility or such a contingency might arise. He knew that certain peers of his, drifting along the tide of modern democracy, had come under the glamour of the cheque book, but then, in their cases, poor men, it was oft-times a matter of sheer necessity. So far as he was concerned he had his rent roll, he could afford to play the part of the grand seigneur, and, to do him justice, he played it exceedingly well. It was no acting on his part, it was a clear dispensation of Providence, and he would know how to give an account of his stewardship when his time came to answer the roll-call.

The Cranwallises had always been men of affairs, and the present head of the family was no exception to the rule. He had no particular affection for politics; au contraire, he rather disliked them. He would infinitely have preferred to pass his time at Borne Abbey, but he had a profound respect for his responsibilities, and that was why he found himself at fifty-five a Cabinet Minister, holding the portfolio of Foreign Affairs. As Lord Palmerston said with regard to the Garter, there was no d...d merit about it, but if Sherringborne was not brilliant, he was sound and he was safe.

For the rest, he was a widower with one son and one daughter; the latter, Lady Edna, who kept his house and reigned over the Abbey with a despotism no less despotic because the little hand was sheathed so carefully in the velvet glove.

Lady Edna had all the good looks of the Cranwallises. She was tall and slight and dark, a little too haughty, perhaps, but then, what would anyone have in a daughter of a semi-regal house like that? Perhaps it was the shortness of her upper lip, and the slight aquiline curve of her nose which endowed her features with that faint suggestion of hauteur that a good many people found repellent, not to say awe-inspiring. But these, for the most part, were strangers–there was not a man or woman or child on those broad acres who did not worship the ground that Lady Edna trod on.

It was perhaps not altogether the girl’s own fault, since this sort of thing had been her native air. From the very beginning she had been taught unconsciously that the human race consisted of men and women and Cranwallises. There were just a few others, perhaps, whose names were to be found in the fascinating works of Debrett and Burke, but these were few and far between; thus Lady Edna led a comparatively secluded life, indeed. Baron Rupert de la Croisa was wont to say that there was a distinct flavour of the cloister about her. But then the Baron was a privileged individual, a licensed old friend with a terrible tongue, and his declaration that Lady Edna would some day marry entirely outside her own station was a thing that he kept to himself. We shall come to Baron de la Croisa presently.

But, after all said and done, it was a great position and a great responsibility for a girl who had barely attained her twenty-first year. But, be that as it might, Lady Edna had entertained Royalty at Borne Abbey, she was pleasantly familiar with Ambassadors, and she treated Cabinet Ministers with a serene contempt that most of them undoubtedly merited. She floated on the crest of the wave serenely, a marvel of capacity; she would cheerfully have undertaken to share the responsibilities of a kingdom, and, beyond question, she would have done it well.

She came out in the garden now, from under the shadow of the great Norman archway, with the storied device of the Cranwallises cut deep in the stone over her glossy head. She stood there, chin up, inhaling the sweetness and fragrance of the morning, filled with the joy and vigour of life, and wondering vaguely why she felt so happy and uplifted. Then she passed across the lawns by the busy gardeners and returned presently with her arms filled with blooms all wet with the dew of the morning. McKillop, the Scotch gardener, sighed impotently as he contemplated this desecration of his peculiar province. He had tried once to induce Lady Edna to a proper sense of her position, but that had been four years ago, when he had first come. He had showed fight, of course, for he came from a race that always did. The combat had been a short and decisive one, and now McKillop could only sigh and bend his head before a force that had ruthlessly trodden down all the traditions of his ancient craft. It would, perhaps, have surprised the wilful beauty of the household had she known that McKillop regarded her as a dangerous radical with designs upon the fabric of society. And now he stood and pretended to enjoy it when Lady Edna congratulated him upon his roses.

“They are very fine, McKillop,” she said. “But I have seen better. The Baron’s, for instance.”

McKillop, being a Scotchman and an honest man, admitted the charge with an inward groan. One of the crosses he had to bear lay in the fact that Baron de la Croisa could grow better roses than his own. And this man was a mere foreigner, forsooth, a sort of Spaniard who had come into the neighbourhood from somewhere on the Spanish Main, and, when he and McKillop had first met, the upstart’s knowledge of roses had been nil.

Lady Edna turned from the discomfited McKillop and made her way down the long beech avenue till she stopped at the lodge gates and exchanged a word or two with the old woman who lived there. Then for a moment, attracted by something she saw in the road, she passed beyond the big hammered-iron gates that Quentin Matays himself had forged, and stood there looking across to the sea. Early as it was, a touring car came hurling down the road and pulled up almost at Lady Edna’s feet. A dark, flashing, handsome face, lighted up by a pair of mischievous eyes, looked out of the window and accosted Lady Edna in a voice that had nothing lacking in audacity about it.

“Am I on my way to Lamport?” the visitor said. “My man is not quite sure, and I am a stranger here.”

Lady Edna recoiled slightly. She knew well enough who was the beautiful woman speaking to her. She had met Senora Garrados once in a London drawing-room when that light of the stage was giving a charity performance under the roof of a duchess. She had been shocked and scandalised at the abandon of the performance, but then Lady Edna made no secret of her old-fashioned views on this point though she had frozen into herself later on when this dancing creature had had the audacity to address her in tones of absolute familiarity, and, strangely enough, the duchess and her entourage had seen nothing strange in the proceeding. But Lady Edna’s manner had been marked enough, and the woman in the car had not forgotten it.

The two recognised one another with that instant hostility that only women possess. Lady Edna stood there, cold and statuesque in her classic beauty, and perhaps quite misunderstanding the humorous twinkle in the dancer’s eyes.

“You are on the right road,” she said haughtily. “It is impossible to make a mistake.”

“I think we have met before,” Ninon Garrados threw herself back in her seat and said.

“I think not,” Lady Edna said icily. “Indeed, I hope not. You must be mistaken.”

With that the car moved on. Ninon Garrados threw herself back in her seat and laughed whole-heartedly to her companion.

“Now, what do you think of that, Coralie?” she said. “What your Tennyson calls Lady Vere de Vere. But some day she will wake up, and then, if the right man comes along, ah, well, then we shall see things. She is a great lady, but she is not born yet. I have seen them before.”

“But have you met her?” the girl called Coralie asked.

“Oh, I have met her, yes. In Society, bien entend. She seems to think I am just a circus girl. But that, of course, my dear Coralie, is the fault of her bringing up. I should not wonder, some day if Lady Edna Cranwallis and myself became good friends. But she will have to be born first, oh, yes. She could not believe, of course, that Ninon Garrados, the dancing girl, could be the daughter of a Spanish grandee. Ah, she has yet much to learn. But a splendid woman, my dear Coralie, a splendid woman when the right man comes along.”

“She was very rude,” Coralie smiled.

The dazzling Spaniard showed her teeth in a gleam which the great world had learned to know so well.

“Not rude, mia cara,” she said. “So great a lady could never be rude. I wonder what she would say if she knew that, by the raising of my little finger, I could be her sister-in-law. Is she aware, think you, that Lord Shorland, her brother, is one of my little Pomeranians? I wonder if it would be worth while. It’s a great title, and Borne Abbey is a fine historic estate. I might do worse, Coralie, I might do worse. And with me to train him, Shorland has distinct possibilities. It would make quite a play, my child.”

“With you for the heroine,” Coralie said. “I should like to be there to see the third act.”

II. THE NEW ORDER

Lord Sherringborne had dispatched his bacon with a due regard to the traditional surrounding toast and marmalade. He had finished his coffee and, with a cigarette, was disposed to talk. For the most part, he enjoyed his week-ends more than those days when the calls of State summoned him to London. He did not see the necessity for an overworked legislature to be sitting in July, and was inclined to criticise the Premier who was mainly responsible for this condition of things.

“You had better tell Sir James Pallisser so yourself,” Lady Edna smiled. “I don’t see why you should choose me as medium for your criticism. But as Sir James is coming down here this evening for the week-end, can’t you try and persuade him yourself of the necessity for a holiday?”

Lord Sherringborne wiped his white moustache thoughtfully. He looked just a little uneasy and disturbed, and he was not meeting his daughter’s direct gaze quite so steadily as usual.

“Well–er–the fact is, things are not quite what they should be,” he said. “Of course, I can’t enter into details, I tell you too many Cabinet secrets as it is. But the Premier isn’t coming down here at all to-day. There has been some breakdown in connection with stupid trouble in Tortina, and it looks as if America and Japan might come to loggerheads with regard to those Islands off the coast of Tortina. Nothing like a rupture, of course, but it’s rather a complicated business, and I really ought to be in town looking after it. But Pallisser prefers to handle it himself, and that’s why he’s kept in town. But you can read his letter if you like.”

“Then we shall be entirely alone this week-end,” Lady Edna cried. “How jolly–I mean, how nice. I haven’t had you entirely to myself since Easter.”

It was a pretty enough compliment in its way, but for once Lord Sherringborne did not seem to appreciate it.

“Well, not exactly,” he said with some hesitation. “You see, I have telegraphed to young Saltburn to come down. I don’t think you have met Philip Saltburn.”

Lady Edna partly rose from the table. The smile had died out of those glorious eyes of hers, and her face had suddenly grown hard and cold.

“Is this a joke, father?” she asked.

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