The Guilty River
7. The Best Society
Leaving the cottage for the second time, I was met at the door by a fat man of solemn
appearance dressed in black, who respectfully touched his hat. My angry humor
acknowledged the harmless stranger's salute by a rude inquiry: "What the devil do you
want?" Instead of resenting this uncivil language, he indirectly reproved me by becoming
more respectful than ever.
"My mistress desires me to tell you, sir, that luncheon is waiting." I was in the presence
of a thoroughbred English servant--and I had failed to discover it until he spoke of his
mistress! I had also, by keeping luncheon waiting, treated an English institution with
contempt. And, worse even than this, as a misfortune which personally affected me, my
stepmother evidently knew that I had paid another visit to the mill.
I hurried along the woodland path, followed by the fat domestic in black. Not used
apparently to force his legs into rapid motion, he articulated with the greatest difficulty in
answering my next question: "How did you know where to find me?"
"Mrs. Roylake ordered inquiries to be made, sir. The head gardener--" There his small
reserves of breath failed him.
"The head gardener saw me?"
"Hours ago, sir--when you went into Toller's cottage."
I troubled my fat friend with no more questions.
Returning to the house, and making polite apologies, I discovered one more among Mrs.
Roylake's many accomplishments. She possessed two smiles--a sugary smile (with which
I was already acquainted), and an acid smile which she apparently reserved for special
occasions. It made its appearance when I led her to the luncheon table.
"Don't let me detain you," my stepmother began.
"Won't you give me some luncheon?" I inquired.
"Dear me! hav'n't you lunched already?"
"Where should I lunch, my dear lady?" I thought this would induce the sugary smile to
show itself. I was wrong.