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The Common Seat


-N- EIGHT: RESERVED.] The Common Seat 111" G. B. BURG IN, Author of The Shutters of Silence," The Marble City," The Devil's Due." &c. "To live in a semi-detached house," de- clared old Lafly Huutingtower, with a sigh which was any thing but resigned, "is like liaving to bow to people who are on tfc <1 frin ge of society." "It was yoi. ladyship's choice," stam mered the youu architect: "Do you Ctar, o justify yourself! This is too much!" She waved him away, and he fled. In tbo course of his brief architectural experiences he had met with many terrible clients, but never anyone quite so terrible as this fierce, handsome old lady. He had designed the two houses without any division between the front gardens! Be- cause it fitted in an unoccupied space he had fashioned a kind of Roman garden seat, which, on the plan of the houses, was caiied "1. he Common Seat." Had he been an older archi tect, he would have known that though birds in their little nests agr.ee, bmran beings, no matter how-spacious the diiueusions of their homes, generally quarrel. And now, old Lady Huutingtower had taken one serni-detached house -or the season, and Mrs. Burnham- Deepdaie the other-, They were both very obstinate women, and on the very first morninc after her arrival at Lowestoft old Lady Huutingtower sent her maid down with four cushions to spread upon the seat. When she came out after breakfast, she was speechless to find that Mrs. Burnham- Deepdalj's maid had piled the four cushions on one half of the seat, and that four fresh cushions of an aHen colour, yellow to wit, re- posed upon the other half. Lady Hunting- tower's cushions were blue. Both ladies, in a towering rage, sent for the young architect. "Remove these at once," said Lady Huntingtower, pointing to the yellow cushions; and the bewildered young man felt that he had never before ade- quately realised what Lady Macbeth would have looked like in her old age. Take away that—er—elderly person's cushions," commanded Mrs. Burnham-Deep- dale. Each lady stood on her own lawn. The young architect, as was natural with one about to hedge, had a foot on each side, "Can't we come to an amicable adjust- ment?" he asked timidly, for his nerve was going. "Please don't be so severe." Lady Huntingtower considered. "Have the goodness to inform the person next door that the whole of the seat belongs to me. I con- sider her wish to occupy it an impertinent pretext to scrape acquaintance with a de- scendant of Norman William." Before the young architect could transmit the message, Mrs. Burnham-Deepdale (she was as stout and short as Lady Huntingtower was tall and thin) stood up on tiptoe. "Have the goodness to inform the person next door that the whole of the seat belongs to me. and that her wish to occupy it is an impertinence when one remembers that her ancestors car- ried the baggage of mine." The young architect ineffectually prayed that the heaven* might pour rain upon his in- furiated tenants and drive them indoors but tvie heavens smiled. He tnrw d formally to his left side. "If I suggest a compromise to your lady ship, could you not use the "Iole of the seat for certain hours, and your neighbour occupy it for the vest of the day?" Lady litinii)? t-ciNvei, was nearly speechless. "My neighbour Who is my n -ighbour? Did you ever know a Huntingtower to have neighbours? What did the woman next door say about baggage ? Lady Huntingtower strode away, and Mrs Bm-nham-Deepdale waddled indoors. Lowestoft soon became deeply interested in the struggle. Mrs. Burnhr-m-Deepdale even got up at nine o'clock in order to occupy the seat first. Lady Huntingtower. although she was mortally afraid of earwigs, had a mat- tress spread on it, and breakfasted there, Neither lady dared go outside the grounds, lest the other should take advantage of her absence. "Is there no chance of a compromise?" im- plored the young architect, whom the sus- pense was beginning to age. "Can't I run a fence down the middle and divide' the seat in two? That's a simple way out of the diffi- culty. "Run a fence down the middle! If you do, Pi] leave to-morrow," declared old Lady Huntingtower, "and sue you for breach of contract. I'm going to wear that woman out it it takes me a century to do it. It's far more exciting than playing 'bridge, and not nearly so expensive." The young architect went to c„.l on Mrs. Burnha'm Deepdale. Can I put you up a seat on the other side of the house?" he cau- tiously inquired. "Other side of the house! What for?" laid Mrs. Burnham-Deepdale. "To make you more comfortable," pleaded the young architect. "Here you are sure to -get earwigs from the creepers." "I am not afraid of creepers of any kind." "You mic'it have neuralgia, too." "I never had a more comfortable suat in toy life," retorted Mrs. Burnham-Deepdale. generally at a loss what to do at the sea- side but now I'm so busy all the time that it is quite excit; I "They're betting on it down at the Yacht Club," incautiously admitted the young architect. I "What are the odds?" asked Mrs. Burn- ham-Deepdale. "Five to two on Lady Huntingtower.; [p ^ey think she has more staying power." "Staying power!" Mrs. Burnham-Deer>- dale was indignant. "Staying power! I'll let her know about that. I can stay here all toy life if I want to," In pursuance of this resolution, she wired TO her only son, Alaric. Come and stay Ivith me, my dear bov, and protect your poor toother from that horrid Huntingtower Vv-()man next door." Curiously enough, that same afternoon, ijady Huntingtower, feeling the need of re- ftiorceinents, wired np to her niece, Mar- garet Rivers. If you ever Ifope to get your Promised legacy, come down and stay with e at once. l" want vou to sec the fun I'm with the woman next door." I When Margaret Rivers opened the tele- o she shivered. "Fun!" she said*. "Fun! sun any°ne imagine aunt being funny! I ppose I must go. The season's over, so it Psn t much matter. Fun!" c, Poor dear old mater," mused Alaric. her row. How many more centuries I'll *° c011-1-0! 0lir fighting .instincts? her. 50 down by the night train- and comfort 3^urnl ^a^e s decree, Miss Rivers and Alaric uam-Deepdale went down to Lowestoft I U_ _n" "r in the same train. When tlwj reached Lowestoft, a thunderstorm, like fhe heathen, raged furiously, and the young fellow gave up his mother's carriage to her, i'or they had made friends on the journey. Margaret Rivers somewhat feebly pro- tested. You will get wet." You will get wetter, and the conse- quences might be serious. The carriage cnn come "back for me," he siid; casually. "The thunder's driven all Hie cabs home." Mies Rivers and her maid accepted thank- fully whe-n be declared that nnTrss 'They con- sented to take the carriage be would walk all the way without an umbrella. II Oh, Miss, his lovely eyes!" fnished the maid. They make me shiver all over." A good-looking; bov," said Miss Rivers, with feigned indifference. "There's nothing to shiver at, Kartin. Yon're not wet through." Though she rather admired her aunt, the promised legacy was not easy to earn". Bother the money," slie murmured, and relapsed iuto silence. Alaric watched the carriage drive out of the station. It was wiser to stay behind. A nd yet' Surely, he would see her again on the morrow. vv hen the carriage drove up to the house, Margaret Rivers got out instead of Alaric. Tftis is a plot of the person next door," said poor Mrs. Burnham-Deepdale, as she re- coiled in disappointment; for Alaric was the apple of her eye, and could do with her as he pleased. But Margaret Rivers thanked Mrs. Burn- iiam-Dcepdale so sweetly for her son's kind- ness that she quite forgot to be angry. Lady Huntingtower, with characteristic want of thought, had gone to bed, and there was no one to welcome Margaret. Presently she heard the carriage drive up again, and saw handsome Alaric bend down to kiss his notlier. "Chestnut moustaches are so rare," she mused, as she turned away from the win- low and went to her solitary meal. Alaric, contrary to his wont, rose early the next morning. The storm had passed away, tiie voice of the turtle—not the mock, but the real on.; -was heard from a neighbouring 3lin7 and the breeze blew inshore with a freshness which ihade him hungry. Also, he had not slept well. It was so aggravating to think that the beautiful girl next door was the niece of his mother's enemy. Where did he get those eyes of ravishing blue, that svelte, gracious figure, rippung laugh, and adorable mouth? He came out on the lawn, went back for an armful of cushions, spread them elabo- rately all over the common seat, and waited. "If," ha mused, "there is anything in what those elaborate humbugs, the nove- lists, call mutual attraction,' that girl will oe downstairs in five minutes—by Jove! here she comes. > In the sweet morning air, Margaret Rivers was more than ever convinced of the rarity of diestnut moustaches. Blue eyes went well with them, and everything else about the young stranger matched to perfec- tion. But "she kept her own side of the warden, and returned his bow with a gracious nod. "Good morning, Mr. Monta- gue," she said, merrily. "Good morning, Miss Capulet. "Tis but thy name that is my enemy.' I've prepared a seat for you." "Thank you." She looked at him mis- chievously. "So you have already been losted about the blood feud?" UBy my mother—yes. And you?" "My maid has given me all the details up to date. Shall we settle it between us?" "Don't let us. have recourse to brute force," he urged. "I assure you there is much to be aid on both sides. Won't you jit down? It's our duty to make peace be- tween my mother and your aunt." Duty! Well, yes. But have you ever seen or spoken to my aunt?" "Have vou ever spoken to my mother?" "Yes—last night. She likes me already." "That's half the battle. Do you think your aunt would take a fancy to me?" "I think not. Your chances would be better if you were uglier." "Thaisks." "Have vou thought of anything?" "This is my first plan. If it fails, I have others." "Well!" "My mother will do anything to please me. I am going to make .her surrender un- conditionally. "Oh, that will never do." "Why not?" "It is evident that you do not know my aunt. She loves a fight." "Oh, if she wants to fight, I'll let her con- ruer m) mother. "Yes, that's all very well with ordinary people. But aunt hates an opponent who gives m. "I'm bewildered. Let us see where we are. Lady Huntingtower hates an opponent who gives iii she also hates an opponent who doesn't give in. How am I to defeat her either way?" "You cannot. She has been accustomed to have her own way all her life." "Isn't it our duty to teach her the virtues of humility?" "You think so! Kings and—policemen- have alike trembled before aunt." "I am much more afraid of you," he said audaciously. "I can assure you that I am a very harm- less person, indeed." He gazed at her in despair. "Perhaps I'd better keep my mother out of sight. Then Lady Huntingtower will set you to guard her part of the seat, and my mother will want me to guard our part of it." Miss Rivers smiled. "If aunt sees you sitting there, she will think you are too young to be worthy of her steel, and will send mre out to rout you." "Splendid idea. I'll sit here all day long if you'll only come." She got up. "Aunt does not war on boys! You mast be out before ten, and sit here whatever happens." I will sit here until I take root." "Even though it should rain?" "Even though it should rain." Ah, there's aunt, coming down. You'd better flee. And I should advise you to eat a g-ood breakfast." Wb "You may need it if you are to stick to vour post." I,11, stay here all day. Nothing shall drive me away." Yon promise? We shall see." "We shall see"; and he went in to break- fast. As the girl entered the porch, she looked after him thoughtfully. Is there a, man in the whole world who would make himself ridiculous for the sake of a girl he has only just met," she mused. ".Only a very brave or a very foolish man would dare to do such s tIring." Which is IM?" She began to laugh. Neither. He's only a good-looking boy." Alaric fortified himself with a huge break- fast, half unwitting its component parts. Afterwards, he had a vague but thankful re- collection of three chops, four eggs, and a quarter of a pot of marmalade. But he ate as one in a dream, explained the situation to his mother, and got her to go off to Oulton Broad for the day. Then he took up his position on the Common Seat, and stuck there for hours. Nothing happened, no one came. At twelve, a thunderstorm drenched him to tIll) skin. When his mother's maid brought kim an umbrella, he waved it away with superb scorn. 'Blow winds, and c',nek your beeks, he spouted. "When the storm is over, she will come. She will say to me, You are a hero.' By dint of her thinking me so, I shall veritably become one. Oh, it is good to be alive; but I wish these con- founded earwigs would leave off crawling down my back. They seem to think I'm a dahlia." He stuck to the seat, but no one came, al- though more than once he detected fierce eyes glaring at him over Lady Hunting- tower's blinds. As the hours went by, he sympathised with Esau, who sold his birth- right for a mess of pottage. But Miss Rivers wa.s probably watching him from an upper window. She should never see him quail at the post of duty. Quail! Quail suggested toast. Quail on toast! It was a grievous thing to be hungry; but he endured it until the sun went down and darkness stole over the face of the waters. Far out in the bay, the lightship shoved its ruddy lamp, one by one, pale stars struggled into the heavens as if preluding the coining of Miss Rivers. He knew instinctively that his scheme had failed; ti- -U-. Huntingtower had forbidden he niece to approach the seat. Bat even Lady Huntingtower must don her terrific head-dress bare her gaunt shoul- ders preparatory to enjoying her dinner. Surely, e one .vo'ukl come! Had he not endured to the e.,id He was right. There was a frou frou of silken robes on the grass, a tail figure swept over to the seat, a haif-moeking, half-tender "tHCe whispered, "You arc a preux chevalier. Ton have our permission to depart until—to- morrow" His chestnut moustache brushed the white fingers extended to him. Then he went in to dress for dinner. Miss Rivers g'azed after him as the water leaked out ot his boots. There certainly was a crispness about h.3 moustache which even the wet could not conquer—a crispness lack- ing in all other moustaches of which she Had had experience. She went into the library, scribbled a little rote, and gave it to her maid to convey to the hero. It was very brief. "Appear to play Bridge with your- selt all day to-morrow. Bridge is aunt's rul- 11 ing passion. It may yet carry us over the blood-feud." » Lady Huntingtower was jubilant, for had not the son of her enemy sat out in the rair.- sat out without a partner to ease his misery. She even conceded, in spite of his constant sneezes, that he was a fine-looking young fel- low. "Blood will tell," she said, reluc- tantly. "Tell what, aunt?" "You are so literal," snapped the old lady. "Of course it will tell." "And so will water, aunt. If it rains to- day, do you think Mr. Burnham-Deepdale will risk another soaking ?" Soaking! You talk as if he were in the, habit of drinking," said the old lady, angrily. "He's just like most young men. Nothing very distinguished about him," hypocriti- cally suggested Miss Rivers. "My dear Margaret." said Lady Hunt- ingtower, permit me to remark in the politest possible manner in the world, as one of Captain Mavrjsat's chr.ractcrs was so fond of saying before degenerating into vulgar abuse-" Are yoa-are you going to degenerate into vulgar abuse, aunt?" "No, I am not, I was only going to say, when you interrupted me, that I do not sup- pose you would for one instant be capable cf so much devotion as to sit out in the rain guarding your neighbour's landmark." "Looks rather scrubby, doesn't he?" asked Miss Rivers, with well-feigned contempt. gcriibby You forget that his people came over with Norman William." "It seems to me, aunt," the girl declared, watching the young man deliberately arrang- ing his cushions on the Common Seat—" it seems to ine, aunt, that if this Mr. Burnham- Deepdale is a fair type of his ancestors, Nor- man William must have picked up rather a scratch lot of volunteers." "A 'scratch lot' I don't understand your hideous modern slang. Do you mean to im- ply that cutaneous diseases were rife in those days?" Aunt! You shock me! You seem to think my remark was only skin deep. I — why, he's playing bridge with himself!" Playir.g what!" .almost shrieked Lady Huntingtower. "Playing bridge, aunt." You never toak the trouble to play bridge with me," said Lady Huntingtower, watching the Common Seat with fascinated eyes. "So he is. I wonder how he does it. Never heard of such a thing in all my life." But Miss Rivers had left the room. When the old lady opened the window, the young man looked up at her and sighed. "It's dull work pretending to play bridge by myself," he said, with a bow. "May I ven- I ture to ask whom I have the pleasure of ad- dressing?' I am Lady Huntingtower, and the plea- sure is all on one side," snapped the old lady. Most pleasures are in this world. Do I understand you to say that you are the Lsdy I Huntingtower—the one woman in London who can play bridge without losing her head over it?" In spite of herself, the old lady relaxed. I am Lady Huntingtower, I play bridge, my head is still on my shoulders." "Ah," sighed the young man, "if I only dared to suggest He paused irreso- lutely. "You were about to say?" asked the old lady, half out of the window in her eagerness. "I was about to say, Lady Huntingtower, that, in spite of this unfortunate misunder- standing, if I might dare to hope that you would give me a lesson." "Ah 2" She waggled her vain old head, "fifty years ago I gave lessons of another kind." The young man bowed. "I can well be- lieve it. The tradition has reached me. For the first time in my life I regret-" He looked down upon- the ground with well- feigned confusion. "Well, sir, what do you regret?" "That I was not born fifty years ago?" "You deserve to have been," said the old lady eagerly. "Believe me, I should then have had much pleasure in teaching you- anything." The young man began to gather up the cards and cushions. "Now that I know who you really are, nothing will induce me to sit here for another moment." "Am I so formidable, then?" He shook his head. "Yes—and no. It ieems to me that you are kindness itself. But I must tell my mother how mistaken she is. When I think of your past, Lady Hunting* tower, I feel that 1 have no right to bQ liere." "You think that I have a past?" He shook his head. "People with a past expect so many presents, and here am i ask- ing you to give me something. But I am afraid of you." "Am I so forbidding? I invite you to re- main, as my guest." If I could venture to hope that your invi- tation extended to my mother also?" "Ah, you are afraid of taking lessons from me—alone. I shall be charmed to see your mother. Kindly request her to consider this seat as her own whenever she has need .of it. I will join you in a moment and show you how bridge ought to be played." The young man returned with his bewil- dered mother. "I don't think you have had the pleasure of meeting my mother. Lady Huntingtower, my mother, Mrs. Burnham- Deepdale." "To be the mother of such a sou," said i Lady Huntingtower, as she bowed to Mrs. Burnham-Deepdale. "is to have more than justified your own existence. With your per- mission, I am going to teach hiin— several j things. Ah, Margaret, this is my friend, Mrs. Burnham-Deepdale. And her son." Margaret bowed coldly, and turned away as Lady HunHngtower began to teach Alaric how bridge really orght to be played. A HlIEth later,. Lady Huntingtower threw down her car Is. "why must you go back to town?" she asked Alaric. Ho sighed. "People are beginning to talk. I play bridge with yon. morning, noon, and night. They couple ycur niece's name with mine." The old lady smiled archly. "At one time, people would have been busy enough with the aunt's reputation. You play bridge as well as I do. iiclv". "Thanks to your teaching." "And you must really go' "I must really go." Lady Huntingtower looked him over. "Why don't you propose to Margaret? She's a handsome girl," she said suddenly. "Then we could go on playing bridge without— without people talking." "You think so;" he asked. "She hates the sight of me." She called, to Miss Rivers. "Margaret, 'come here a moment. If you'll marry this boy I'll quadruple your legacy." Miss Rivers looked at Alaric rather doubt- fully. "I thought he was aboiu to propose! to you, Aunt." "'Don't be impertinent." But she looked pleased. "Will you marry bin?" "Rather than you should go without your bridge, Aunt 11 [ The old lady turned angrily away. "In my day, there was such a thing as a boy and girl I going mad about one another. You young I people nowadays are all ic-e and settlements; you can't feel, you don't know what love is. Ah, if only I were young again!" j Alaric bowed over her hand. "You will never be old. Besides, wre shall have you to j teach us." I "I can teach you bridge, but I can't teach you what love is," the old lady said sadly; j and went into the house. | The girl came to him with shining eyes, j "You—hero "She doesn't know," lie cried wildly. "She doesn't know how I love you. I must tell her." "Sit down and tell me." "It will take a lifetime." •'So much the, better. Here is the Common Seat." They sat down on it—together.