In the following spring a vexatious incident occurred in Warwick Street. The highly-considered county member, who was the yearly tenant of Mr. Rodney’s first floor, and had been always a valuable patron, suddenly died. An adjourned debate, a tough beefsteak, a select committee still harder, and an influenza caught at three o’clock in the morning in an imprudent but irresistible walk home with a confidential Lord of the Treasury, had combined very sensibly to affect the income of Mr. Rodney. At first he was sanguine that such a desirable dwelling would soon find a suitable inhabitant, especially as Mr. Waldershare assured him that he would mention the matter to all his friends. But time rolled on, and the rooms were still vacant; and the fastidious Rodneys, who at first would only listen to a yearly tenant, began to reduce their expectations. Matters had arrived at such a pass in May, that, for the first time in their experience, they actually condescended to hoist an announcement of furnished apartments.
In this state of affairs a cab rattled up to the house one morning, out of which a young gentleman jumped briskly, and, knocking at the door, asked, of the servant who opened it, whether he might see the apartments. He was a young man, apparently not more than one or two and twenty, of a graceful figure, somewhat above the middle height, fair, with a countenance not absolutely regular, but calm and high-bred. His dress was in the best taste, but to a practised eye had something of a foreign cut, and he wore a slight moustache.
“The rooms will suit me,” he said, “and I have no doubt the price you ask for them is a just one;” and he bowed with high-bred courtesy to Sylvia, who was now in attendance on him, and who stood with her pretty hands in the pretty pockets of her pretty apron.
“I am glad to hear that,” said Sylvia. “We have never let them before, except to a yearly tenant.”
“And if we suit each other,” said the gentleman, “I should have no great objection to becoming such.”
“In these matters,” said Sylvia, after a little hesitation, “we give and receive references. Mr. Rodney is well known in this neighbourhood and in Westminster generally; but I dare say,” she adroitly added, “he has many acquaintances known to you, sir.”
“Not very likely,” replied the young gentleman; “for I am a foreigner, and only arrived in England this morning;” though he spoke English without the slightest accent.
Sylvia looked a little perplexed; but he continued: “It is quite just that you should be assured to whom you are letting your lodgings. The only reference I can give you is to my banker, but he is almost too great a man for such matters. Perhaps,” he added, pulling out a case from his breast pocket, and taking out of it a note, which he handed to Sylvia, “this may assure you that your rent will be paid.”
Sylvia took a rapid glance at the hundred-pound-note, and twisting it into her little pocket with apparent sangfroid, though she held it with a tight grasp, murmured that it was quite unnecessary, and then offered to give her new lodger an acknowledgment of it.
“That is really unnecessary,” he replied. “Your appearance commands from me that entire confidence which on your part you very properly refuse to a stranger and a foreigner like myself.”
“What a charming young man!” thought Sylvia, pressing with emotion her hundred-pound-note.
“Now,” continued the young gentleman, “I will return to the station to release my servant, who is a prisoner there with my luggage. Be pleased to make him at home. I shall myself not return probably till the evening; and in the meantime,” he added, giving Sylvia his card, “you will admit anything that arrives here addressed to Colonel Albert.”
The settlement of Colonel Albert in Warwick Street was an event of no slight importance. It superseded for a time all other topics of conversation, and was discussed at length in the evenings, especially with Mr. Vigo. Who was he? And in what service was he colonel? Mr. Rodney, like a man of the world, assumed that all necessary information would in time be obtained from the colonel’s servant; but even men of the world sometimes miscalculate. The servant, who was a Belgian, had only been engaged by the colonel at Brussels a few days before his departure for England, and absolutely knew nothing of his master, except that he was a gentleman with plenty of money and sufficient luggage. Sylvia, who was the only person who had seen the colonel, was strongly in his favour. Mr. Rodney looked doubtful, and avoided any definite opinion until he had had the advantage of an interview with his new lodger. But this was not easy to obtain. Colonel Albert had no wish to see the master of the house, and, if he ever had that desire, his servant would accordingly communicate it in the proper quarter. At present he was satisfied with all the arrangements, and wished neither to make nor to receive remarks. The habits of the new lodger were somewhat of a recluse. He was generally engaged in his rooms the whole day, and seldom left them till the evening, and nobody, as yet, had called upon him. Under these circumstances, Imogene was instructed to open the matter to Mr. Waldershare when she presided over his breakfast-table; and that gentleman said he would make inquiries about the colonel at the Travellers’ Club, where Waldershare passed a great deal of his time. “If he be anybody,” said Mr. Waldershare, “he is sure in time to be known there, for he will be introduced as a visitor.” At present, however, it turned out that the “Travellers’” knew nothing of Colonel Albert; and time went on, and Colonel Albert was not introduced as a visitor there.
After a little while there was a change in the habits of the colonel. One morning, about noon, a groom, extremely well appointed, and having under his charge a couple of steeds of breed and beauty, called at Warwick Street, and the colonel rode out, and was long absent, and after that, every day, and generally at the same hour, mounted his horse. Mr. Rodney was never wearied of catching a glimpse of his distinguished lodger over the blinds of the ground-floor room, and of admiring the colonel’s commanding presence in his saddle, distinguished as his seat was alike by its grace and vigour.
In the course of a little time, another incident connected with the colonel occurred which attracted notice and excited interest. Towards the evening a brougham, marked, but quietly, with a foreign coronet, stopped frequently at Mr. Rodney’s house, and a visitor to the colonel appeared in the form of a middle-aged gentleman who never gave his name, and evaded, it seemed with practised dexterity, every effort, however adroit, to obtain it. The valet was tried on this head also, and replied with simplicity that he did not know the gentleman’s name, but he was always called the Baron.
In the middle of June a packet arrived one day by the coach, from the rector of Hurstley, addressed to Endymion, announcing his father’s dangerous illness, and requesting him instantly to repair home. Myra was too much occupied to write even a line.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07