Story 2 | Chapter V | James Burdon Smells Fire | The Golden Incubus

Story 2—Chapter V.

Mr Barclay followed me out, and as soon as we were in the hall, “Burdon,” he says, “you have a bunch of small keys, haven’t you?”

“Yes, Master Barclay, down in my pantry.”

“Lend them to me: I want to try if one of them will fit a lock of mine.”

He followed me down; and I was just handing them to him, when there was a double knock and a ring, and I saw him turn as red as a boy of sixteen found out at some trick.

I hurried up to open the door, leaving him there, and found that it was Miss Adela Mimpriss.

“Will you show me in to Sir John?” she says, smiling; and I did so, leaving them together; and going down-stairs, to see Mr Barclay standing before the fire and looking very strange and stern. He did not say anything, but walked up-stairs again; and I could hear him pacing up and down the hall for quite a quarter of an hour before the bell rang; and then I got up-stairs to find him talking very earnestly to Miss Adela Mimpriss, and she all the time shaking her head and trying to pull away her hand.

I pretended not to see, and went into the dining-room slowly, to find Miss Virginia down on her knees before Sir John, and him with his two hands lying upon her bent head, while she seemed to be sobbing.

“I did not ring, Burdon,” he said huskily.

“Beg pardon, Sir John; the bell rang.”

“Ah, yes. I forgot—only to show that lady out.”

I left the room; and as I did so, I found the front door open, and Mr Barclay on the step, looking across at Miss Adela Mimpriss, who was just tripping up the steps of the house opposite; and I saw her use a latchkey, open the door, and look round as she was going in, to give Mr Barclay a laughing look; and then the door was closed, and my young master shut ours.

That day and the next passed quietly enough; but I could see very plainly that there was something wrong, for there was a cold way of speaking among our people in the dining-room, the dinner going off terribly quiet, and Sir John afterwards not seeming to enjoy his wine; while Miss Virginia sat alone in the drawing-room over her tea; and Mr Barclay, after giving me back my keys, went up-stairs, and I know he was looking out, for Miss Adela Mimpriss was sitting at the window opposite, and I saw her peep up twice.

This troubled me a deal, for, after all those years, I never felt like a servant, but as if I was one of them; and it made me so upset, that, as I lay in my bed in the pantry that night wondering whether Mr Barclay would go away and forget all about the young lady opposite, and come back in a year and be forgiven, and marry Miss Virginia, I suddenly thought of my keys.

“That’s it,” I said. “It was to try the lock of his portmanteau. He means to go, and it will be all right, after all.”

But somehow, I couldn’t sleep, but lay there pondering, till at last I began to sniff, and then started up in bed, thinking of Edward Gunning.

“There’s something wrong somewhere,” I said to myself, for quite plainly I could smell burning—the oily smell as of a lamp, a thing I knew well enough, having trimmed hundreds.

At first I thought I must be mistaken; but no—there it was, strong; and jumping out of bed, I got a light; and to show that I was not wrong, there was my cat Tom looking excited and strange, and trotting about the pantry in a way not usual unless he had heard a rat.

I dressed as quickly as I could, and went out into the passage. All dark and silent, and the smell very faint. I went up-stairs and looked all about; but everything was as I left it; and at last I went down again to the pantry, thinking and wondering, with Tom at my heels, to find that the smell had passed away. So I sat and thought for a bit, and then went to bed again; but I didn’t sleep a wink, and somehow all this seemed to me to be very strange.