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HOME > Classical Novels > For the Allinson Honor > CHAPTER III A COUNCIL
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 Hot sunshine flooded the Ghyllside lawn, but there was a belt of shadow beneath a copper1 beech2, where a family group had gathered. Leonard sat in a basket-chair, talking to Mrs. Fenwood, an elderly widow with an austere3 expression; his wife and Gertrude Wannop were whispering over their teacups; Wannop, red-faced and burly, stood beside Robert Allinson, a solemn-looking clergyman.  
"We have been here half an hour and not a word has been said yet upon the subject everybody's itching4 to talk about. We're a decorous lot," Wannop remarked, surveying the others with amusement. "Personally, I should be glad if we were allowed to go home without its being broached5. It's hardly the thing to discuss Andrew's shortcomings round his table."
"There are times when it's a duty to overcome one's delicacy," Robert replied. "If I have been correctly informed, the matter demands attention. Hitherto the Allinsons have never given their neighbors cause to criticize their conduct."
"None of them? I seem to remember——"
"None of them," Robert interposed firmly. "There was once a malicious6 story about Arthur, but I am glad to say it was disproved. But this Mrs. Olcott, whom I haven't seen—I suppose she's attractive?"
Wannop smiled.
[Pg 24]"Distinctly so; what's more, she has a forlorn and pathetic air which is highly fetching. Still, I'm convinced that there's no harm in her."
"A married woman living apart from her husband!" Robert exclaimed severely7. "I understand that Andrew is at her house now, and I must confess that after walking some distance I feel hurt at his not being here to receive us."
"He didn't know you were coming," Wannop pointed8 out, and added with a roguish air: "We have all been young and I don't suppose you used to look the other way when you met a pretty girl; but I'll go bail9 Andrew only visits her out of charity. However, if you are determined10 to have your say, you may as well begin and get it over."
Robert left him and addressed Leonard in a formal tone.
"I am told that Andrew is going out to assist in the development of the new mine and wishes to be made a director. As a relative and a shareholder12, may I ask if you consider him fit for the post?"
Leonard had been waiting for an opening, and he welcomed the inquiry13.
"Andrew has every right to demand the position, which I could not refuse." He paused, for the next suggestion must be skilfully14 conveyed. "As it happens, his abilities hardly enter into the question. It is merely needful that we should have a representative on the spot to whom we can send instructions, and I dare say he will get a good deal of the fishing and shooting he enjoys. All matters of importance will be decided15 in London."
"Then I take it that his inexperience and inaptitude can do the company no harm?"
[Pg 25]Leonard was grateful to him for so plainly expressing his meaning.
"Oh, no! Besides, I imagine that the change will be beneficial in several ways."
Glancing at the others, he knew that he had said enough. It would have been difficult for any of the family to cite a remark of his in open disparagement16 of his brother-in-law, though he had cunningly fostered their disbelief in him. His wife, however, was endowed with courage as well as candor17.
"There is nothing to be gained by shutting one's eyes to the truth," she observed. "We all know that Andrew's visits to this woman are being talked about. What is more serious is that he induced her to come here, and let her have The Firs on purely18 nominal19 terms."
"Is it so bad as that?" Mrs. Fenwood, with a shocked look, turned to the clergyman, as if begging him to deal with the painful situation.
"The thing must be stopped; nipped in the bud," said Robert firmly. "I agree with Leonard that our infatuated relative should be sent to Canada at once."
Wannop smiled.
"It strikes me as fortunate that Andrew is willing to go."
"It's a favorable sign," said Mrs. Fenwood. "He may be struggling against the creature's influence, in which case it's our duty to assist him."
"That wasn't what I meant. I've a suspicion that we have fallen into a habit of underestimating Andrew's abilities and determination." Wannop looked hard at Leonard. "You are going to put him into a position of responsibility and teach him to use his power. Are you prepared for the possible consequences?"
Nobody paid much attention to this, and Leonard[Pg 26] after a moment's hesitation20 dismissed the matter. The Allinsons regarded Wannop as a thoughtless person whose moral code was somewhat lax. Nevertheless, he was shrewd and had read Andrew's character better than Leonard.
"If Andrew ever wishes to have his say in business matters, I should have neither the desire nor the authority to object," Leonard said.
"Then we may rest assured that everything will be done to facilitate his departure for Canada," Robert said decidedly. "There is only another point—I wonder whether Mrs. Olcott could by any means be induced to leave the neighborhood."
Wannop's eyes sparkled angrily. He was easy-going, but there was a chivalrous21 vein22 in him.
"It would be wiser to leave the hatching of the plot until Andrew has sailed!" he said indignantly.
"Plot is not the right word; and you are mistaken if you imagine that any fear of Andrew's displeasure would deter11 me in a matter of duty. With the welfare of the parish at heart——"
Wannop checked him.
"Duty's a good deal easier when it chimes with one's inclinations23; and the welfare of the parish isn't threatened by Mrs. Olcott. There are, however, one or two abuses you could put your finger on to-morrow if you liked, though I dare say it would get you into trouble."
Robert reddened and Mrs. Wannop made her husband a peremptory24 sign to stop.
"I think we needn't talk about the matter any more," she said. "It is decided that Andrew shall be sent to Canada."
They changed the subject, and a few minutes later[Pg 27] Wannop left them. Crossing the lawn, he met Hilda in a shrubbery walk.
"Where have you been?" he asked. "I haven't seen you since we came."
"Florence found me an errand that kept me out of the way," said Hilda pointedly25. "Now what have you and the others been talking about?"
"I mustn't betray a confidence," answered Wannop with twinkling eyes. "Still, I dare say you can guess."
"Of course! They were discussing my erring27 brother. Aren't they silly?"
"I think so. It's curious that you and I, whose opinions don't count for much, should venture to differ with the rest."
Hilda gave him a grateful glance.
"But we are the ones who see most clearly. I have always felt that you are to be trusted."
He made her a humorous bow.
"I must try to deserve such confidence."
"Don't be foolish; this is serious. They mean well, but they're all wrong about Andrew. Of course, I make fun of him now and then, but I'm very fond of him. It's a mistake to think he's stupid; and Leonard's responsible for it."
"I'll admit that something of the kind has occurred to me," Wannop said.
Hilda hesitated.
"Well," she said, "I have never had much confidence in Leonard, though the others think him perfect. I've an idea that all along he has been gently pushing Andrew aside, making him look silly, and undermining the influence he ought to have. Now he's sending him to Canada—I very much wonder why? He has some reason."
[Pg 28]Wannop started.
"My dear, your suspicions go a trifle farther than mine. You may be right, though it's not nice to think so. But where does all this lead?"
"Andrew may need supporters who don't altogether believe in the immaculate Leonard some day. I think, if needful, he could count on us."
"And on nobody else?"
"Not until the others understood; and it would be hard to make them see."
"Uncommonly28 hard," Wannop admitted. "Well, Hilda, you and I will be allies. We can conspire29 together unsuspected, because we are the two who are not supposed to count—you because you're too young and charming; I because I haven't the fine moral fastidiousness and air of distinction that marks the Allinsons. But I'll let you into a secret—Gertrude's wavering in her ideas about Andrew: I'm perverting30 her."
"There's something I'd better tell you. I met Mrs. Olcott half an hour ago and I stopped and spoke31. I like her—there isn't the least reason why I shouldn't—and I'm sorry for her. I know she feels being left alone, and we're going to be friends. Now if the others should try to make things unpleasant?"
"I imagine Robert means mischief32."
"I was afraid of it," said Hilda. "Of course, he's as silly and unable to see things properly as an owl33 in daylight, but solemn stupid people often pass for being wise, and he might do harm. If he tries, can you stop him? I know Andrew would like it."
Wannop made a sign of rather dubious34 assent35.
"As I'm unromantically stout36, getting elderly, and devoid37 of personal charm, I might perhaps venture to[Pg 29] interfere38 in this matter. After all, there's a sense in which Andrew is undoubtedly39 to blame. Why do you let him go to The Firs so often?"
"If I should give him a hint that people are talking, it would only make him angry. You know he really is slow at understanding now and then."
They strolled back to the party, which soon afterward40 broke up, for although Hilda begged them to wait for dinner nobody seemed anxious to meet Andrew. When they had gone, Hilda turned to Leonard with a smile.
"Had an interesting talk?" she asked. "You all looked so serious that I was afraid to join you."
Leonard glanced at her sharply.
"As you grow older you'll find that there are matters which can't be treated humorously."
"It's possible," Hilda agreed. "Still, that remark is too much in Robert's style. Improving conversation is apt to get tiresome41."
She moved away and Leonard watched her with thoughtful eyes. He believed he enjoyed her sisters' confidence, but he was doubtful of Hilda.
Three weeks later Andrew sailed, and soon after he had done so Wannop called one afternoon at The Firs, where he was received by Mrs. Olcott in the garden. He thought she looked harassed42, but he had expected this.
"I believe you have met my wife," he began, taking the canvas chair she indicated.
"Yes," said Mrs. Olcott. "She called on me and, if I remember right, stayed five minutes."
This was not encouraging.
"You know my sister-in-law, Hilda, better?" Wannop ventured.
[Pg 30]Mrs. Olcott's expression softened43.
"That is true; I have reason to be grateful to her."
"Hilda is a very nice girl. I verily believe that we are fond of each other, and as I am more than double her age, she now and then favors me with her confidence. In fact, she suggested that I might be able to help you out of a difficulty."
His hostess studied him carefully. He was burly and looked hot after his walk, but he had a reassuring44 smile and his red face seemed to indicate good-nature. She thought that he could be trusted.
"It's about the house," she said. "I don't know where else to go and it looks as if I might be turned out."
That this should distress45 her hinted at some degree of poverty, and Wannop felt compassionate46. She was young and inexperienced, and had been coldly treated by her neighbors.
"How is that?" he asked.
After a moment of irresolution47 Mrs. Olcott decided to tell him.
"Mr. Allinson arranged about the house. Perhaps I shouldn't have allowed this, but when he was wounded in the war my husband carried him out of reach of the Boer fire."
"Ah! Andrew ought to have made that clear. But won't you go on with the explanation?"
"Mr. Allinson told me that no papers were needed, I was to pay the rent to a man called Judson. He came here and said that there had been some mistake. The rent was ten pounds more and I must share the cost of the alterations48, while the field adjoining, which must go with The Firs, would be another extra. When I declared I couldn't pay all this he said I was un[Pg 31]doubtedly liable, but he could find another tenant49 who would take the house off my hands."
"I see a clerical finger in this pie," said Wannop half aloud, and smiled at his hostess. "I beg your pardon. I suppose you didn't know that this is Andrew Allinson's house."
Mrs. Olcott started and colored.
"I did not know. But if it is, I can't understand why his agent—"
"Somebody is back of him. Now we had better be candid50. I venture to believe you can confide26 in me."
"What proof can I have of that? You are a connection of the Allinsons, who seem bent51 on persecuting52 me. Have they sent you here?"
"Hilda did," Wannop replied with quiet good-humor. "Perhaps I had better say that on some points she and I are not quite in accord with the rest of the family. I suppose Andrew promised your husband to look after you until his return?"
Mrs. Olcott agreed, for her suspicions about his errand had vanished. Wannop mused53 for a few moments.
"I think you should stay here and fight it out until he comes back," he said. "After all, your neighbors are honest as far as they see, and you'll find them ready to make amends54."
Mrs. Olcott's eyes sparkled, but she hesitated.
"I'm afraid I can't hold out. They have attacked me where I'm weakest."
"Will you leave the matter of the house to me? It can be put right."
"Why are you willing to take the trouble?"
Wannop laughed.
"For one thing, I enjoy putting a spoke in the[Pg 32] parson's wheel; for another, Andrew made you a promise, and the Allinsons like to keep their word."
He got up and held out his hand.
"I'll have a talk with Mr. Judson. Show your courage and hold your ground. You'll be glad you did so by and by."
The next morning Wannop called at the agent's office in a neighboring town. He was shown into a dingy55 room, where an elderly man with spectacles received him with deference56.
"I've been looking into accounts, Judson," Wannop began abruptly57. "After deducting58 your commission and the cost of the repairs you agreed to, I find that the return on my property for the past year is small. Now I met Maxwell the other day and he hinted that it might be managed to better advantage."
The agent looked alarmed.
"I understood you didn't wish to put the screw on your tenants59; and it isn't good policy."
"No," said Wannop; "I want to be fair. I don't think Andrew Allinson would wish any undue60 pressure put on his tenants either. As we talk over things now and then, I know his views."
Judson pondered this without answering, and Wannop resumed:
"My business and Andrew's should be worth a good deal to you, though Maxwell seemed to think that both could be improved."
"Maxwell couldn't get you a penny more than I have got," Judson declared. "I should be very sorry if you contemplated61 a change."
"I shouldn't do so without a strong reason. You look after the Reverend Robert Allinson's property, but your commission on it can't be large."
[Pg 33]"It is not," said Judson, beginning to understand where the other's remarks led.
"Well," went on Wannop, "I saw Mrs. Olcott yesterday, and she mentioned the misunderstanding about her lease. I may tell you that Mrs. Wannop and Miss Allinson are friends of hers."
Judson was surprised, but decided that if he must offend either Wannop or the clergyman, it would better be the latter.
"Mr. Andrew called here in a hurry and said he had got a tenant for The Firs and I was to have some alterations made. He was driving, and as his horse was restive62 he ran out before we could talk over details."
Wannop thought this was correct, for Andrew was sometimes careless.
"Atkinson will take the field off your hands. It's not usual to charge a tenant with needful repairs; and you mustn't be hard on Mrs. Olcott about the rent. Perhaps you had better go over and put things straight with her."
Judson promised to do so and Wannop took out some papers.
"Here's a more important matter. I've decided to buy Bell's place, and you can see his agent and the architect as soon as convenient."
He rode away, knowing that his hints would be attended to. During the evening he met Hilda.
"I've seen Mrs. Olcott and Judson," he told her. "It's very unlikely that she'll have any more trouble about The Firs."
"That's splendid!" cried Hilda. "But how did you manage it?"
Wannop chuckled63.
[Pg 34]"My dear girl, an explanation isn't always desirable. When you know how a thing's done it spoils the trick."
"Oh, well," said Hilda, "it doesn't matter, but you have a suspiciously complacent64 look. One could imagine that you felt satisfied with yourself."
"There's some truth in that," Wannop laughed. "I feel that we have held our own against the more brilliant members of the family. But here's Robert!"
The clergyman appeared around a turn in the road and joined them.
"You seem amused," he remarked. "May I share the joke?"
"The point's involved," Wannop said. "However, you'll agree that the wisest people's plans sometimes fail."
"I can't deny it," said Robert, looking puzzled. "Still, I fail to understand what the failure of wise people's plans has to do with us."
"As a modest man," said Wannop, "I'll admit that it doesn't seem to have much to do with me."

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