it contains much that would interest military men, but such as you and me don’t understand those pursuits. Here is the Marquess’s door. Wait a moment, whilst I tap and peep in to make sure he is out. I am sure he went out shooting, I saw him with the keeper and the dogs—that is,’ she corrected herself, ‘I saw the keeper and the dogs with him.’
Mrs. Probus tapped timidly, and then opened. ‘Look about you,’ she said, ‘at the costly china. He is out, as I supposed. It is very bold of me to enter and introduce you. See what abundance of porcelain there is here. The Marquess is most particular. He will not allow the housemaids to touch it. When dusty, Lady Grace takes it down and cleans it. He allows no other fingers than hers to touch his valuable collection.’
‘How pretty the flowers are,’ said Joanna, looking at the bouquets on the table and on the chimney-piece. ‘So many posies—and specimen glasses everywhere.’
‘Lady Grace always arranges them for her brother,’ answered the housekeeper.
‘No wonder that they are lovely,’ said the girl. ‘I should so much like to see Lady Grace.’
‘You will do so some day. Yes—’ she said, as she saw that Joanna was looking at a miniature on the wall over the fireplace, ‘that is her ladyship when she was younger—when she was about eighteen.’
Joanna looked at the portrait with interest for a long while. Reluctantly, at last, she turned away and began to examine the china.
‘This is Chelsea,’ she said, contemptuously, ‘bad of its kind.’
‘It cannot be bad,’ protested Mrs. Probus, ‘or it would not be here.’
‘This group—’ began Joanna, putting forth her finger.
Mrs. Probus arrested her hand. ‘For heaven’s sake do not touch. You might break—and then—dear life! I should sink through the floor in shame and sorrow.’
‘I shall not break anything,’ answered Joanna. ‘I could walk like a cat among Dresden figures, or a best Swansea service, and not upset or injure one article. Besides, if that group were broken, what odds! It is a modern imitation.’
‘What! a connoisseur among my china! Condemning it, moreover!’
Mrs. Probus turned, shivered through all the gathers of her silk gown, raised her hands deprecatingly, and turned pale.