My family are a great anxiety to me. Sometimes when Saunders is doing my hair—it’s been up for ages— nearly six months—I look in the glass, and wonder why it’s not grey—the hair, I mean.
There is my brother Bob, for instance. He’s much better, now, of course, for I have worked very hard on him; but when he first went to Oxford he was dreadful. He required the very firmest treatment on my part.
And even father, when my eye is not on him. . . There was that business of the right-of-way for example.
It happened the summer before I put my hair up. I had been away for a visit to Aunt Flora. She is one of my muddling aunts, not nearly so nice as Aunt Edith, but, on the other hand, not perfectly awful like Aunt Elizabeth. I was glad to get back.
The motor was waiting for me at the station. I sat in front instead of in the tonneau, because I wanted to talk to Phillipps, the chauffeur. He always tells me what has been happening while I have been away, and what the butler thinks about it.
To-day he started about old Joe Gossett. Joe is an old man who earns a little by winding up some of the big clocks in the village—the church clock, the one over the stables at home, and one or two more. At least, he’s supposed to; but he often forgets, and then the clocks stop, and there’s rather a fuss. I like Joe. He is a friend of mine. We have long talks about pigs. He loves talking about pigs. He has two of his own, and they are like sons to him. I have known him talk for three-quarters of an hour about them.
“Old Joe,” said Phillipps, “he forgot to wind up the stable clock again. He’s careless, Miss.”
I said: “Poor Joe! Was father cross?”
Phillipps chuckled. He is the only chauffeur I have met who ever does chuckle.
“Ah!” he said. “You’re right, miss. Old Joe, he’s always talking about his blessed pigs, till he forgets there’s anything except them in the world.” Phillipps let the car go a mile before he said anything else. He’s like that. He turns himself off like a tap.
He started again quite suddenly.
“Rare excitement in the village, miss, about that there right-of-way.”
That was the first I had heard of it. Phillipps told me the story in jerks.
It was like this. I am condensing Phillipps’ explanation, and leaving out what he said to the butler about it, and what the butler said to him.
Beyond the wood at the end of our lake is a field. The villagers have always used it as a short cut. It saved them going round two sides of a big triangle. Father didn’t mind. They never went off the path, but simply walked straight from gate to gate. They had been doing it as long as I could remember. Well, father, after letting them do it for years, has suddenly said they mustn’t, and closed the field. And now there was great excitement, because the villagers said that they had a legal right to use the path, and father said no, they hadn’t anything of the sort, and that he had a perfect right to stop them.
I couldn’t understand it a bit, because father had always been so nice to the villagers, and there didn’t seem any reason for suddenly being horrid to them.
Then Phillipps explained further, and I understood.
“Mr. Morris,” he said—Morris is our butler—“says that it’s not, rightly speaking, the colonel’s doing at all. Mr. Morris says it was Mr. Rastrick as put Jim up to it, and made him do it. Mr. Morris says he heard him at dinner. Mr. Morris says Mr. Rastrick kept on telling the colonel he was being put upon, and must stand up for his rights, and about the thin edge of the wedge. Mr. Morris says that what’s set the colonel off.”
Then I saw the whole thing, because I knew Mr. Rastrick, and knew just how he would talk father over. I hate Mr. Rastrick. He was at school with father, and sometimes comes to stay with us. He has a private school near London. My brother Bob says he bears him no grudge for that, but that what he objects to is that Mr. Rastrick seems to look on our house as a sort of branch of his private school. He is one of those horrid men who will try to manage everybody’s business. I have heard him telling Morris how to look after a cellar. He sometimes lectures Phillipps on motors. And he was always giving me advice in a horrid managing way when he was last stopping with us.
I could see him persuading father. My brother Bob once said to me that, if you were tactful, father would let you sit on his lap and help yourself out of his pockets; but that, if he got the idea that he was being let in on the quiet, he ramped.
Evidently he had ramped about this right-of-way business.
I made up my mind that I would try and stop it if I possibly could, because I know that in a day or two, when he had had time to think it over quietly, he would wish that he hadn’t done it, only he would be too proud to give in then.
I thought a great deal about it as I dressed for dinner.
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