The Story of Antony Grace
By George Manville Fenn
Illustrations by Gordon Browne
Published by D. Appleton and Company, New York.
The Story of Antony Grace, by George Manville Fenn.
THE STORY OF ANTONY GRACE, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
THE MAN IN POSSESSION.
Mr Rowle came the day after the funeral, walking straight in, and,
nodding to cook, who opened the door, hung up his shabby
hat in the
hall. Then, to my surprise, he took it down again, and after gazing
into it as Mr Blakeford used to do in his when he came over to our
church, he turned it round, made an offer as if about to put it on wrong
way first, reconsidered the matter, put it on in the regular way, and as
it seemed to me drew his sword.
But it was not his sword, only a very long clay pipe which he had been
carrying up his left sleeve, with the bowl in his hand. Then, thrusting
the said hand into his tail-pocket, he brought out a little roll of
tobacco, upon which was printed, as I afterwards saw, a small woodcut,
and the conundrum, "When is a door not a door?"
"Ho!" said cook; "I suppose you're the--"
"That's just what I am, my dear," said the stranger, interrupting her;
"and my name's Rowle. Introduced by Mr Blakeford; and just fetch me a
"Which you'd best fetch this gentleman a light, Master Antony," said
cook; "for I ain't going to bemean myself."
As she spoke she made a sort of whirlwind
in the hall, and whisked
herself out of the place, slamming the door at the end quite loudly.
"Waxey!" said Mr Rowle, looking hard at me, and shutting one eye in a
peculiar way. "Got a light, young un?"
"Yes," I said, feeling sorry that cook should have been so rude to the
visitor; and as I hurried
into the study to get a match out of the
stand, and lit the curled-up wax taper that my father used
to seal his particular letters, I found that Mr Rowle had followed me,
tucking little bits of tobacco
in the pipe-bowl as he came.
He then proceeded to look about, stooped down and punched the big
leather-covered chair, uttered a grunt, took the taper, lit his pipe,
and began to smoke.
"Now then, squire," he said, "suppose you and I have a look round."
There was such a calm at-homeness about him that the thought struck me
that he must somehow belong to the place now; and I gazed at him with a
feeling akin to awe.
He was a little man in a loose coat, and his face put me greatly in mind
of the cover of a new spelling-book. He was dressed in black, and his
tail-coat had an enormously
high collar, which seemed to act as a screen
to the back of his half-bald head when he sat down, as he did
frequently, to try the different chairs or sofas. It never struck me
that the coat might have been made for another man, but that he had had
it shaped to come down to the tips of his fingers, and so keep him warm.
When he had taken off his hat I had noticed that his hair lay in
streaks across the top of his head, and the idea occurred to me that his
name might be Jacob, because he was in other respects so smooth.
I followed Mr Rowle as he proceeded to have what he called "a look
round," and this consisted in going from room to room, in every one of
which he kept his hat on, and stood smoking as he gradually turned his
eyes on everything it contained, ending
with a grunt as of satisfaction
at what he saw.
Every room was taken in turn, even to the kitchen, where our entry
caused a sudden cessation of the conversation round the tea-table, and
the servants turned away their heads with a look of contempt.
"That'll do," said Mr Rowle quietly; then, "Mary, my dear, you can
bring me my tea in the study."
No one answered, and as we went back I remember thinking that if Mr
Rowle was to be the new master at Cedar Hill he would soon send our old
servants away. He walked back, smoking all the time, and seated himself
in my father's chair, staring hard at me the while.
"Shut the door, young un," he said at last, and when I had obeyed, "sit
down, and make your miserable
My face began to work, and I had to battle hard to keep back the tears,
as for a few minutes I could not speak, but sat there feeling sure Mr
Rowle must think me sulky and strange; and it troubled me, for the old
man seemed disposed to be kind.
"Poor boy!" he said all at once, and his voice seemed to me to come out
of a cloud of smoke; "so you've lost both your father and your mother?"
"Yes, sir!" I said piteously.
"Hah! so have I," said Mr Rowle, and he went on smoking.
I was thinking as I tried to stare at him through the smoke, that this
must have been a very long time ago, when he quite startled me by
seeming to read my thoughts, as he said suddenly:
"Yes; that's a long time ago."
"Yes, sir; I thought it must be," I ventured to say; and then there was
a long silence, during which I sat there wanting
to go away, but not
daring to stir, lest Mr Rowle should think me rude, and still he smoked
"I say, young un," he exclaimed, making me start out of a reverie, in
which I was thinking how vexed mamma would have been to see Mr Rowle
smoking in all the bedrooms, "s'pose you'd just come here to stop, which
room should you sleep in?"
"The blue room's the biggest and the best, sir," I said, "but I like the
little pink room the most."
"Hah! then the pink room it must be," he said, sending out such a long
puff of smoke that I wondered how his mouth could have held it all. "I
say, young un, ain't it time Mary brought up my tea?"
"It's past tea-time ever so much," I said, "and her name's Jane."
He took hold of an old brass key hanging
at the end of a thin steel
chain, and dragged out a very big old silver watch, looked at it, shook
it, and held it to his ear, and then lowered it down once more into its
"Then Mary--Jane won't bring it," said Mr Rowle.
As he spoke the door opened, and Jane, our housemaid, exclaimed sharply,
"Now, Master Antony, I want you;" and I rose and followed her into the
dining-room, where my solitary
tea was spread out for me. I stood
gazing at it when she left me in a miserabledejected
way, for I felt as
if I could not eat, and as if the tea when I poured it out would be
bitter and salt as my tears; and then I began to think about Mr Rowle,
and stole to the door, opened it, and stood listening to the laughing
and talking in the kitchen.
"I wonder whether they will take Mr Rowle his tea," I thought; and I
leaned against the door, listening still, but there was no sign of any
preparation. The strong smoke crept out into the hall, and in
imagination I could see the little yellow man sitting back and smoking
in the chair always used by my father.
At last I summoned up my courage and went to the study door, opened it,
and asked Mr Rowle if he would come and have some tea.
"I will that!" he said with alacrity; "I never despise
my beer, but a
cup o' tea's my reglar drink."
He followed me into the dining-room, and we sat down, I feeling very
awkward, especially as Mr Rowle leaned across, lifted the pot, and gave
me his peculiar
"Silver?" he said.
"Yes, sir; and the coffee-pot and basin and jug too," I replied.
It was very awkward, for there was only one teacup and saucer, and I did
not like to ring for another; so I filled that and passed it to Mr
Rowle, who sat smoking all the while.
"Thankye!" he said, nodding, and he was about to pour it into the saucer
when he stopped short. "Hallo!" he said, "where's your'n?"
"I--I have not got another cup," I stammered.
"Worse disasters at sea!" he said. "Never mind; look ye here, I'll have
and you have the cup," and pouring out the tea, he passed me
back the cup, and the meal went on.
For the first time since his arrival
Mr Rowle laid down his pipe, and
after hewing off a great piece of bread, he proceeded to cut it up in
little cubes, all six sides of which he buttered before he ate them,
while I contented
myself with a modest
slice or two, for my appetite
It was a doleful
meal, but he seemed to enjoy it, and after partaking of
five or six saucerfuls he nodded at me again, took up and refilled his
pipe, and then walked back to the study, where he sat smoking till ten
o'clock, when he went up to bed.
I'm afraid that I was a very ignorant
boy. Perhaps not so in the
ordinary sense of the word ignorant, for I had been fairly educated, and
besides being pretty forward with my Latin, I could have written a
letter or carried on a decent
conversation in French; but, living in a
secluded part of the country, I was very ignorant
about the matters of
ordinary every-day life, and I found it hard to understand how it was
that Mr Blakeford, the lawyer, should be allowed to do just as he
pleased in our old house.
The terrible misfortunes that had come, one after the other, had seemed
to stun me and take away my breath. One day we seemed to be all so
happy together, and I was sitting reading
to my invalid
mother in the
pleasant old room opening
on to the lawn. And the next day I was
holding my throbbing head in my bedroom, after crying till it ached as
if about to split, while I tried again and again to believe that it was
all some dreadful
dream, that my father had been carried home dead,
killed in an instant
by a fall from his horse, and that my mother lay
beside him in the darkened room, silent too in death, for the shock had
been too great for her delicate
All that followed seemed to me dreamlike and strange--the darkened house
and the rustling sounds of the black dresses that were made for the
servants; my own new black things and stiff black hat; the terrible
stillness of the place, and the awe with which I used to gaze at the
closed room upstairs; and lastly
darkest day when I was
of Mr Blakeford and an old uncle in the mourning
which followed the hearse with its nodding plumes to the grave.
I wanted to be alone and sit and think, but those about me seemed to
consider that it was their duty to try and comfort and cheer me in my
affliction, when all they did was to worry me and make me more wretched
than before. It troubled me, too, terribly, that people should think me
callous and indifferent
to my loss, when all the time my heart was
throbbing, and I felt a sensation
that I tried
my best to conceal.
I remember going on tiptoe
towards the dining-room on the day of the
funeral, dreading lest my new boots should make a noise, when, as I
reached the mat at the door, I stopped short, for my uncle was saying
"Don't seem to trouble _him_ much."
"No, of course not," Mr Blakeford replied. "What can you expect? I
dare say he's thinking more of his new black clothes."
I had to clench
my hands and bite my lips to keep from bursting out into
fit of weeping, and I stood there for some minutes, unable
to move, as I heard all that was said.
"Well, it's no business of mine," said my uncle. "It was his own
"Yes," said Mr Blakeford, with a sigh. "I was his legal adviser, but
he would not be advised."
"Never would," said my uncle. "All he thought of was catching
butterflies and drying weeds in blotting-paper."
"But he was a good man," said Mr Blakeford.
"Bah! good? What, to plunge
and ruin himself?"
"We are none of us perfect," said Mr Blakeford.
"Who wants to be?" said my uncle. "Well, I wash my hands of the whole
affair. You know where I am if you want me. He was never like a
brother to me. I will do as you said."
"Yes," said Mr Blakeford, "of course. You may trust me, Mr Grace."
"I don't trust anybody," said my uncle, just as one of the servants,
coming along the passage, said kindly--
"Why don't you go in, Master Tony?"
There was a sudden movement
of a chair, and I saw Mr Blakeford come
forward and look at me curiously
as I entered in a shamefaced way. Then
he exchanged glances with my uncle, and my heart sank as I felt that
they both suspected me of having been listening on the mat.
It was only at nights when I was alone in my own room that I could cry
as a half heart-broken boy of eleven can cry in the desolation
heart. My uncle had gone away the day after the funeral, telling me
shortly that I must be a man now, and mind what Mr Blakeford said; and
Mr Blakeford had looked at me in his peculiar
way, tightening his thin
lips, and smiling strangely, but saying
I knew that some arrangements had been made about my future, but though
I was the person most concerned, every one seemed to consider that I was
only a boy, and no explanation
was vouchsafed. So it was, then, that I
rambled about the house and grounds almost alone, growing more and more
thoughtful and wretched
as the change oppressed me like a weight of
As the days went on, though, and the first passionate
feelings of grief
gave way to a strange sense of despair, I began to take notice of what
was passing around me. It seemed as if the servants in their new black
dresses looked upon the change as a holiday. They had frequent
visitors; there seemed to be always a kind of lunch in progress, and as
I sat alone of an evening I could often hear laughter
from the kitchen;
and at last, unable
to bear the solitude, I used to go into the study
and sit down and stare at Mr Rowle.
It was not cheerful, even there, for Mr Rowle used to sit and stare at
me. We rarely
spoke. Still, it was company, and the old man did
sometimes give me a nod, and say, in allusion
to a burst of mirth from
"They're keeping the game alive, young un?"
MR ROWLE AND I BECOME FRIENDS.
As I have said, in the days that followed, I used, when feeling very
lonely, to go and sit and stare at Mr Rowle and he at me. Few words
were spoken, but quite a friendship sprang
up between us, and by degrees
what his position really was--that of man in possession,
placed there by Mr Blakeford.
Mr Rowle was not an active busy man, but somehow he had a way with him
that seemed to take charge
of everything in the house. I verily
that in a few moments he made a mental
inventory of the contents
room, and he quite offended Jane one morning by ringing the blue-room
I was with him at the time, and after the ring had been twice repeated,
Jane came bouncing upstairs, and, quite ignoring the presence of Mr
Rowle, addressed herself sharply
"I'm surprised at you, Master Antony, ringing the bells like that,
knowing how busy I am. Whatever do you want?"
"It was me as rung, Jane, my dear," said Mr Rowle. "What's gone of
those two little chayney candlesticks off this table?"