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Two Sides of the Face: Midwinter Tales By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 4704

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Well, I suppose in the heat of the fight-the nomination taking place a few days afterwards, and the struggle being a mighty doubtful one, for all the trick of the Rating List, against which the Tories had sent up an appeal-Lord William forgot all about his promise to call and taste Mrs. Lebow's White Ale. It came into his mind of a sudden on the day before the Election, being Sunday morning, and he breakfasting with the Major and half a dozen of their supporters up at Tregoose, where old Squire Martin kept open house for the Whigs right through the contest.

"Plague take it!" says he, running his eye down the Voters' List between his sips of coffee. "I've clean neglected that old lady and her brew. I suppose 'tis dreadful stuff?" he goes on, rather anxious-like, lifting an eye towards the old Squire.

"I've never had the privilege to taste it," says the Squire.

"Oh, 'tis none so bad," puts in the Major carelessly.

"Why, Dyngwall-how the Dickens alive do you know?"

"I dropped in the other day-in fact, I've called once or twice. The old lady's monstrous entertaining," answered the Major, pretty pink in the face.

"O-ho!" Lord William screwed up one eye. "And so, belike, are the eight handsome daughters? But look ye here, Dyngwall," says he, "I can't have you skirmishing on your own account in this fashion. If there's a baby left to be kissed in this town-or anything older, for that matter-we go shares, my lad."

"You needn't be so cussedly offensive, need you?" says the Major, firing up, to the astonishment of all.

Lord William looks at him for a moment. "My dear fellow," says he, "I beg your pardon."

And the Major was mollified at once, the two (as I said) being old friends.

"But all the same," says his Lordship to himself, "I'd best go call on this old lady without losing time." So he put it to Squire Martin: "I've a promise to keep, and tomorrow we shall be busy-all. Couldn't we start early to-day, and pay Mrs. Lebow a visit on our way to church?"

"You won't get no comfort out of calling," said the Squire: "but let it be as you please."

So off they set: and as Kitty and her daughters were tying their bonnet-strings for churchgoing-blue and gold every one of them (these being the Tory colours), and only Lally thinking to herself that scarlet and orange might, maybe, suit her comp

lexion better-there came a knock at the door, and squinting over her blind Kitty caught sight of Lord William and the Major, with the old Squire behind them, that had never crossed her doorstep in his life.

She wasn't going to lower her colours, of course. But down she went in her blue and gold, opened the door, and curtseyed. (Oh! the pink of manners!) "No inconvenience at all," she said, and if ever a cordial was needed it would be before sitting out one of old Parson Palsy's forty-year-old sermons. So out came the famous White Ale, with the long-stemmed glasses proper to drink it from, and a dish of ratafias to corroborate the stomach. And behold, all was bowing and compliments and enmity forgot, till Lord William happened to say-

"Strong stuff, Squire-eh? The Major should look to his head with it, after his morning tankard: but for coffee-drinkers like you and me I reckon there's no danger."

Kitty gave a little gasp, all to herself. "Do you take coffee with your breakfast, my Lord?" she asked-and declared to her last day it seemed like another person speaking, her voice sounded so faint and unnatural.

"Ha-bitually," says Lord William, and begins discoursing on the coffee-bean, and how it cleared the brain.

Kitty couldn't look at him steady, but was forced to glance away and out of window. The tears and the fun were rising together within her like a spring tide. Lord William thought that her mind was running on the clock, and she wished to be rid of them. So the bowing and compliments began again, and inside of ten minutes the visitors had made their congees and were out in the street. The door was scarcely shut upon them when Kitty sank down all of a heap in her armchair and began to rock herself to and fro.

"Oh, oh, oh!" she began; and her daughters truly thought at first 'twas hysterics. "I'll give it forty minutes," she said. "Maria, if 'twasn't so near upon church-time, I'd ask you to loosen my stays. White Ale upon coffee! Oh, oh, oh!" And with that she started up. "Forty minutes! What it'll do in forty minutes no earthly power can tell. But get ready, girls, and follow close till I'm safe in church."

So forth she sailed, and her eight daughters behind her, down the street, in by the churchyard gate, and up through the crowd to the porch with her face set like the calm of Doomsday.

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