Story 2 | Chapter III | Mr Barclay Thinks For Himself | The Golden Incubus

Story 2—Chapter III.

So another ten years had slipped away; and the house opposite, which had been empty for two years, was getting in very bad condition—I mean as to paper and paint.

“Nobody will take it as it is, Sir John,” the agent said to him in my presence.

“Then it can be left alone,” he says, very gruffly. “Good-morning.”

“Well, Mr Burdon,” said the agent, as I gave him a glass of wine in my pantry, “it’s a good thing he’s so well off; but it’s poison to my mind to see houses lying empty.” Which no doubt it was, seeing he had five per cent on the rents of all he let.

Then Mr Barclay spoke to his father, and he had to go out with a flea in his ear; and when, two days later, Miss Virginia said something about the house opposite looking so miserable, and that it was a pity there were no bills up to say it was to let, Sir John flew out at her, and that was the only time I ever heard him speak to her cross.

But he was so sorry for it, that he sent me to the bank with a cheque directly after, and I was to bring back a new fifty-pound note; and I know that was in the letter I had to give Miss Virginia, and orders to have the carriage round, so that she might go shopping.

Now, I’m afraid you’ll say that Mr Barclay Drinkwater was right in calling me Polonius, and saying I was as prosy as a college don; but if I don’t tell you what brought all the trouble about, how are you to understand what followed? Old men have their own ways; and though I’m not very old, I’ve got mine, and if I don’t tell my story my way, I’m done.

Well, it wasn’t a week after Mr Bodkin & Co, the agent, had that glass of wine in the pantry, that he came in all of a bustle, as he always was, just as if he must get everything done before dark, and says he has let the house, if Sir John approves.

Not so easily done as you’d think, for Sir John wasn’t, he said, going to have anybody for an opposite neighbour; but the people might come and see him if they liked.

I remember it as well as if it was yesterday. Sir John was in a bad temper with a touch of gout—bin 27—’25 port, being rather an acid wine, but a great favourite of his. Miss Virginia had been crying. The trouble had been about Mr Barclay going away. He’d finished his schooling at college, and was now twenty-seven and a fine strong handsome fellow, as wanted to be off and see the world; but Sir John told him he couldn’t spare him.

“No, Bar,” he says in my presence, for I was bathing his foot—“if you go away—I know you, you dog—you’ll be falling in love with some smooth-faced girl, and then there’ll be trouble. You’ll stop at home, sir, and eat and drink like a gentleman, and court Virginia like a gentleman; and when she’s twenty-one, you’ll marry her; and you can both take care of me till I die, and then you can do as you like.”

Then Mr Barclay, looking as much like his father as he could with his face turned red, said what he ought not to have said, and refused to marry Miss Virginia; and he flung out of the room; while Miss Virginia—bless her for an angel!—must have known something of the cause of the trouble—I’m afraid, do you know, it was from me, but I forget—and she was in tears, when there was a knock and ring, and a lady’s card was sent in for Sir John: “Miss Adela Mimpriss.”

It was about the house; and I had to show her in—a little, slight, elegantly dressed lady of about three-and-twenty, with big dark eyes, and a great deal of wavy hair.

Sir John sent for Mr Barclay and Miss Virginia, to see if they approved of her; and it was settled that she and her three maiden sisters were to have the opposite house; and when the bell rang for me to show her out, Mr Barclay came and took the job out of my hands.

“I’m very glad,” I heard him say, “and I hope we shall be the best of neighbours;” and his face was flushed, and he looked very handsome; while, when they shook hands on the door-mat, I could see the bright-eyed thing smiling in his face and looking pleased; and that shaking of the hands took a deal longer than it ought, while she gave him a look that made me think if I’d had a daughter like that, she’d have had bread-and-water for a week.

Then the door was shut, and Mr Barclay stood on the mat, smiling stupid-like, not knowing as I was noticing him; and then he turned sharply round and saw Miss Virginia on the stairs, and his face changed.

“James Burdon,” I said to myself, “these are girls and boys no longer, but grown-up folk, and there’s the beginning of trouble here.”