There are warm days in London when even a window-box fails to charm, and one longs for the more open spaces of the country. Besides, one wants to see how the other flowers are getting on. It is on these days that we travel to our Castle of Stopes; as the crow flies, fifteen miles away. Indeed, that is the way we get to it, for it is a castle in the air. And when we are come to it, Celia is always in a pink sunbonnet gathering roses lovingly, and I, not very far off, am speaking strongly to somebody or other about something I want done. By-and-by I shall go into the library and work … with an occasional glance through the open window at Celia.
To think that a month ago we were quite happy with a few pink geraniums!
Sunday, a month ago, was hot. “Let’s take train somewhere,” said Celia, “and have lunch under a hedge.”
“I know a lovely place for hedges,” I said.
“I know a lovely tin of potted grouse,” said Celia, and she went off to cut some sandwiches. By twelve o’clock we were getting out of the train.
The first thing we came to was a golf course, and Celia had to drag me past it. Then we came to a wood, and I had to drag her through it. Another mile along a lane, and then we both stopped together.
“Oh!” we said.
It was a cottage, the cottage of a dream. And by a cottage I mean, not four plain rooms and a kitchen, but one surprising room opening into another; rooms all on different levels and of different shapes, with delightful places to bump your head on; open fireplaces; a large square hall, oak-beamed, where your guests can hang about after breakfast, while deciding whether to play golf or sit in the garden. Yet all so cunningly disposed that from outside it looks only a cottage or, at most, two cottages persuaded into one.
And, of course, we only saw it from outside. The little drive, determined to get there as soon as possible, pushed its way straight through an old barn, and arrived at the door simultaneously with the flagged lavender walk for the humble who came on foot. The rhododendrons were ablaze beneath the south windows; a little orchard was running wild on the west; there was a hint at the back of a clean-cut lawn. Also, you remember, there was a golf course, less than two miles away.
“Oh,” said Celia with a deep sigh, “but we must live here.”
An Irish terrier ran out to inspect us. I bent down and patted it. “With a dog,” I added.
“Isn’t it all lovely? I wonder who it belongs to, and if–“
“If he’d like to give it to us.”
“Perhaps he would if he saw us and admired us very much,” said Celia hopefully.
“I don’t think Mr. Barlow is that sort of man,” I said. “An excellent fellow, but not one to take these sudden fancies.”
“Mr. Barlow? How do you know his name?”
“I have these surprising intuitions,” I said modestly. “The way the chimneys stand up–“
“I know,” cried Celia. “The dog’s collar.”
“Right, Watson. And the name of the house is Stopes.”
She repeated it to herself with a frown.
“What a disappointing name,” she said. “Just Stopes.”
“Stopes,” I said. “Stopes, Stopes. If you keep on saying it, a certain old-world charm seems to gather round it. Stopes.”
“Stopes,” said Celia. “It is rather jolly.”
We said it ten more times each, and it seemed the only possible name for it. Stopes–of course.
“Well!” I asked.
“We must write to Mr. Barlow,” said Celia decisively. “‘Dear Mr. Barlow, er–Dear Mr. Barlow–we–‘ Yes, it will be rather difficult. What do we want to say exactly?”
“‘Dear Mr. Barlow–May we have your house?’”
“Yes,” smiled Celia, “but I’m afraid we can hardly ask for it. But we might rent it when–when he doesn’t want it any more.”
“‘Dear Mr. Barlow,’” I amended, “‘have you any idea when you’re going to die?’ No, that wouldn’t do either. And there’s another thing–we don’t know his initials, or even if he’s a ‘Mr.’ Perhaps he’s a knight or a–a duke. Think how offended Duke Barlow would be if we put ‘—- Barlow, Esq.’ on the envelope.”
“We could telegraph. ‘Barlow. After you with Stopes.’”
“Perhaps there’s a young Barlow, a Barlowette or two with expectations. It may have been in the family for years.”
“Then we–Oh, let’s have lunch.” She sat down and began to undo the sandwiches. “Dear o’ Stopes,” she said with her mouth full.
We lunched outside Stopes. Surely if Earl Barlow had seen us he would have asked us in. But no doubt his dining-room looked the other way; towards the east and north, as I pointed out to Celia, thus being pleasantly cool at lunch-time.
“Ha, Barlow,” I said dramatically, “a time will come when we shall be lunching in there, and you–bah!” And I tossed a potted-grouse sandwich to his dog.
However, that didn’t get us any nearer.
“Will you promise,”said Celia, “that we shall have lunch in there one day?”
“I promise,” I said readily. That gave me about sixty years to do something in.
“I’m like–who was it who saw something of another man’s and wouldn’t be happy till he got it?”
“The baby in the soap advertisement.”
“No, no, some king in history.”
“I believe you are thinking of Ahab, but you aren’t a bit like him, really. Besides, we’re not coveting Stopes. All we want to know is, does Barlow ever let it in the summer?”
“That’s it,” said Celia eagerly.
“And, if so,” I went on, “will he lend us the money to pay the rent with?”
“Er–yes,” said Celia. “That’s it.”
* * * * *
So for a month we have lived in our Castle of Stopes. I see Celia there in her pink sun-bonnet, gathering the flowers lovingly, bringing an armful of them into the hall, disturbing me sometimes in the library with “Aren’t they beauties? No, I only just looked in–good luck to you.” And she sees me ordering a man about importantly, or waving my hand to her as I ride through the old barn on my road to the golf course.
But this morning she had an idea.
“Suppose,” she said timidly, “you wrote about Stopes, and Mr. Barlow happened to see it, and knew how much we wanted it, and–“
“Then,” said Celia firmly, “if he were a gentleman he would give it to us.”
Very well. Now we shall see if Mr. Barlow is a gentleman.
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