‘Well, what is education coming to? That shows his lordship was right. He said you had brains.’
‘Did he? Then he can judge people as I judge china. I should very much like to see the plate.’
Mr. Blomfield did not require much pressing; he was proud to show the splendour of the house in his department. He allowed Joanna to enter the plate room, and he opened for her the iron doors of the cupboards in the wall, and exhibited the shelves, lined with green cloth, on which shone centre-pieces, goblets, urns, tea and coffee pots, spoons and forks, salvers large and small, candlesticks and candelabra. All were in perfect order, shining brilliantly.
‘This,’ said Mr. Blomfield, opening another case, ‘contains very old family plate. It is only brought out on the grandest state occasions. Here is a silver gilt ewer, magnificently chased, said to be three hundred years old; the present Duke was baptized out of it, but I believe it was a punchbowl formerly. Much of this is admired, but I cannot say I like it. The forks have but two prongs, and the spoons are rat-tailed. There is no accounting for the taste that can admire such things as these.’
‘I suppose, sir, you have an inventory of all the plate,’ said Joanna timidly, raising her large dark eyes to those of the butler.
‘Of course, miss, I have; and I go over it with the steward on occasions. Very proper it should be so, though a mere matter of form. You will not find many mansions where there is such choice of plate. There is a great salver which was presented to Field-Marshal John, Duke of Kingsbridge, when he was Lord Saltcombe, in King George’s reign, by the mayor and citizens of Ghent. I’ve heard,’ continued the butler, ‘that in some of your parvenu families there is a lot of plate, a great and vulgar display—but the quality is not there. All this is old and fine, and in good style. The new plate looks to-dayish; there is not the character about it that our ancestral store possesses.’
‘Do you know, sir, what you have got in each cupboard?’
‘Of course I do, miss. Do you not see that a list of the contents of each is pasted against the iron door, inside? And with the list is the weight in silver and gold.’
‘What is the weight of the whole amount of silver, Mr. Blomfield?’ asked the housekeeper.