"excuse me again, sir, but i think an introduction - a so-called proper introduction will only be appropriate if you indicate an interest in my proposal. if you have no interest i shall simply vanish - it will be as if i had never been here - and in that case your ignorance will be to both of our advantages. i realize, of course, that all this is highly irregular, but i have been given to understand that irregularity is your stock in trade, as it were."
the young woman had still not lifted her veil.
mr barbourforth laughed. "well, you are not at a loss for words, at any rate. to speak such a mouthful without pausing for breath - perhaps you have been on the stage?"
"just who sent you here?"
the young man smiled at grandmother fotherinton, not insolently, but with an air of mild puzzlement that she would even hint at questioning his sincerity.
"may i sit down?'
"of course. you may even take your coat off."
"there is a rack over there in the corner. you may hang your hat and coat on it."
"ah. very good."
"and when you have comfortably seated yourself, you can tell me who sent you here."
the young man hung his coat and hat up, and sat down in the chair in front of the old woman's, quite at his ease.
"i think it might be proper to say that i sent myself here - acting on information received from certain persons."
31. the time has come
o dear reader, our intent is not to unduly confuse you. perhaps the time has come to shed a little light into the murky proceedings being described herein.
the fotherintons, as we have indicated, were one of the oldest, though least celebrated families in the kingdom.
they had occupied the same land since the time of king arthur.
the family seat itself had been known as "madwood" since at least the time of king stephen.
various family members through the centuries had attempted to prove, through information gleaned from the dustiest and most ambiguous documents, that madwood had been, or might still be, the repository of the holy grail.
but their researches had been ignored and not even granted the dignity of being treated with contempt by serious scholars.
i hear a knock on my door…
"begging your pardon, sir, and not meaning any disrespect, but i think we may both be better served if we stay clear of any consideration of each other's pasts."
"oh for god's sake!," exclaimed mr barbourforth, " i was only making polite conversation. say what you have to say. let me guess, is this concerning the fotherinton affair?"
"why, of course." and the young woman evinced the hint of a smile for the first time. "what else would it concern?"
"ah. but i have already made my own arrangements regarding it."
"but i hope to convince you to make better arrangements."
mr barbourforth sighed. "i suppose i may as well hear you out."
"sit down, please. make yourself comfortable."
"thank you." but she still did not lift her veil.
following the disappearance of the handsome young stranger into the depths of the house, after he had politely evaded the questions of the inhabitants of the verandah as to the purpose of his visit to grandmother fotherinton, new disagreements had broken out, particulary centered on the person of cousin garland, who never shied from controversy.
"your lack of candor is in some measure reassuring, young man. at least it indicates an ability to keep a confidence."
grandmother paused, and looked past her visitor out the window into the darkness, which was now complete.
"i assure you i can keep a confidence, madam, as i am sure you can do likewise."
"you know me that well, then? perhaps we were acquainted in a previous lifetime."
when garland seized upon a topic, nothing silenced her.