The Nest of the Sparrowhawk HTML version

XXVIII. Husband And Wife
Mistress Martha Lambert was a dignified old woman, on whose wrinkled face
stern virtues, sedulously practiced, had left their lasting imprint. Among these
virtues which she had thus somewhat ruthlessly exercised throughout her long
life, cleanliness and orderliness stood out pre-eminently. They undoubtedly had
brought some of the deepest furrows round her eyes and mouth, as indeed they
had done round those of Adam Lambert, who having lived with her all his life,
had had to suffer from her passion of scrubbing and tidying more than anyone
But her cottage was resplendent: her chief virtues being apparent in every nook
and corner of the orderly little rooms which formed her home and that of the two
lads whom a dying friend had entrusted to her care.
The parlor below, with its highly polished bits of furniture, its spotless wooden
floor and whitewashed walls, was a miracle of cleanliness. The table in the center
was laid with a snowy white cloth, on it the pewter candlesticks shone like
antique silver. Two straight-backed mahogany chairs were drawn cozily near to
the hearth, wherein burned a bright fire made up of ash logs. There was a quaint
circular mirror in a gilt frame over the hearth, a relic of former, somewhat more
prosperous times.
In one of the chairs lolled the mysterious lodger, whom a strange Fate in a
perverse mood seemed to have wafted to this isolated little cottage on the
outskirts of the loneliest village in Thanet.
Prince Amédé d'Orléans was puffing at that strange weed which of late had taken
such marked hold of most men, tending to idleness in them, for it caused them to
sit staring at the smoke which they drew from pipes made of clay; surely the Lord
had never intended such strange doings, and Mistress Martha would willingly
have protested against the unpleasant odor thus created by her lodger when he
was puffing away, only that she stood somewhat in awe of his ill-humor and of
his violent language, especially when Adam himself was from home.
On these occasions--such, for instance, as the present one--she had, perforce, to
be content with additional efforts at cleanliness, and, as she was convinced that
so much smoke must be conducive to soot and dirt, she plied her dusting-cloth
with redoubled vigor and energy. Whilst the prince lolled and pulled at his clay
pipe, she busied herself all round the tiny room, polishing the backs of the old
elm chairs, and the brass handles of the chest of drawers.
"How much longer are you going to fuss about, my good woman?" quoth Prince
Amédé d'Orléans impatiently after a while. "This shuffling round me irritates my
Mistress Martha, however, suffered from deafness. She could see from the quick,
angry turn of the head that her lodger was addressing her, but did not catch his
words. She drew a little nearer, bending her ear to him.