Young Doctor Eccles-Scott made a face. Amid all the loud chatter and noisy laughter from the medical students, dressers, and other newly-fledged MDs drinking under the flaring gaslights of the public house near King’s College Hospital it seemed the best way of answering his friend’s shouted query. But then, for some reason or none, the noise suddenly abated. Two Year Subscription plus John Steinbeck Issue Subscribe and get the Steinbeck Issue “No,” he said. “No, I’m afraid I’ll have to give the music hall a miss this Saturday. Got to go down to Surrey. Visit a maiden aunt.” “A maiden aunt? I scarcely see you as cherishing maiden aunts.” “Ah, but, you see, my Aunt Wilhemina is a very rich woman, and she tells me I’m her sole heir.” “Oh, ho, I see it now. When the good lady closes her account it’ll be a house somewhere off Cavendish Square, a cook, a housekeeper, and two or three maids to look after your every want; a carriage too, of course. Oh, and yes, a boy in buttons to open your door to the patients who’ll come crowding along to the winner of the Bruce Pinkerton Medal.” “I won’t conceal from you that my ambitions do lie that way.” “So a visit to Surrey will be a small price to pay?” Roger Eccles-Scott gave a grunt of a laugh. “I don’t know so much about a small price. Aunt Wilhemina’s a regular Tartar. I’m commanded to go down to Popham once a month at least. Afternoon tea, then absolute boredom while the old lady goes for her rest before dinner-as stodgy a meal as you’ll ever see, with just one small glass of wine-and next morning marched off to church before enduring an extremely depressing cold luncheon. And every minute of the time I’m thoroughly scared that I’ll blot my copybook somehow and she’ll leave every penny to the grim old parlourmaid she has to look after Fido, her nasty little brute of a dog.” “Oh, come on. It can’t be as bad as that.” “Can’t it, though? That woman is a pure monster. Listen, let me tell you about Baynes.” “Baynes? Who’s he?” “Not a he. A she. Miss Baynes is Aunt Wilhemina’s lady companion, and is always to be referred to as just Baynes. I suggested once she should call the poor creature Miss Baynes, or even Ruth. But she was having none of it. ‘Baynes is my employee,’ she said, ‘and I shall refer to her appropriately.'” “Well, all right, that’s a bit fierce. But your aunt is providing the lady with a home.” “Then let me tell you how that came about, and you’ll see why I’d rather be anywhere but at Popham on Saturday. Miss Baynes is the sole surviving daughter of the former rector, and as such when her father died the church put her into a little cottage beside the churchyard at a peppercorn rent. And for a few years the old dear was perfectly happy there. She’s a great gardener, and she made the place look a picture-beds full of flowers, roses galore, and from early summer onwards the whole smothered in wistaria.” “What’s wrong with that?” “I’ll tell you. The wistaria, that was what was wrong. You see, Aunt Wilhemina, up in her big ugly barrack of a house, Popham Lodge, wanted nothing more than to have its walls a mass of long dangling lilac-coloured flowers every summer, but none of her gardeners ever managed to make her wistaria flourish. So guess what happened?” “Tell me.” “Aunt Wilhemina had the Archdeacon to dinner, and you can bet he got more than one small glass of wine. And then Miss Baynes, poor old soul, opened a letter one morning and found that in order to extend the churchyard her cottage was going to have to be demolished. Then everybody was saying how will the poor creature survive on the tiny income she has. All right, next step. Miss Wilhemina Eccles, of Popham Lodge, offers Miss Baynes a post as her companion-to read the paper to her, fetch and carry, and God knows what else. Much praise for my generous aunt. And, behold, early the next summer wistaria is blooming away like billy-o over one side of Popham Grange, and the year afterwards the place is covered with the stuff all the way up to the eaves. Nor is that all.” “Well, what more?” “It’s no longer Popham Lodge, it’s Wistaria Lodge. You know, if I’d been poor Baynes I’d have murdered Aunt Wilhemina the day she changed the name.” When Roger Eccles-Scott, walking up from the railway station, reached the tall gates at the foot of the long drive to Wistaria Lodge, he saw Baynes in the distance. She was busy, coatless in the late autumn chill, directing Williams, his aunt’s aged and obstinate gardener, as up on a tall, perilously bending ladder he was cutting back the long leafless strands of fast-growing wistaria floating and dangling all over the wall. A moment later he saw Gregson, the stone-faced parlourmaid, coming round from the back of the house. “Miss Baynes,” he heard her say, her voice ringing out, “Madam sends a message.” “Oh dear. Oh, yes. What-What is it?” “She says do you know that Dr. Eccles-Scott will be here at any minute, and, she says, do you think he will like to see you hopping
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