A Curious Courting
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"There's not an inch of Oak Park that's not entailed, and even if it weren't I wouldn't have the slightest desire to sell any of it. Why do you need some land for a hunting-box? You know you're always welcome to stay here." Sir Penrith Southwood dug his hands into the pockets of his buckskin breeches as he stood before the blazing fire thawing from the day's hunt.
"It never crossed my mind to suggest you sell any of Oak Park to me," his guest assured him "and I appreciate your generous hospitality, Pen, but I have an itch to build something, and Leicestershire is the perfect spot. I've seldom had better hunting than these last two weeks."
"Lord, Assheton Smith does give one a good day, what?"
"He's one of the best masters I've ever ridden with. I thought the whole field would go round at that stile, but no, he took the bank and stile in two leaps."
"And you couldn't resist the challenge?" Penrith grinned.
"With him waving that handkerchief as though it were child's play? You know me better, Pen." Mr. Rushton stared meditatively at the hearth. "I wouldn't need much land. A few acres would do."
"You're not planning to build on the scale of Farnside?" Sir Penrith taunted. "You don't think perhaps you'll need twenty guest chambers and an equal number of reception rooms?"
His guest frowned momentarily, the black brows drawn low over deep blue eyes. Sir Penrith instantly regretted his words, though he had meant nothing other than their surface quizzing. Not a month had passed since Julia Longmead had refused his friend's offer of marriage, and Sir Penrith was well aware that Gareth Rushton had anticipated adorning his ancestral home with that beautiful younglady, and filling it with their progeny. No, Farnside was a subject to be avoided. With a shrug Penrith cleared his throat and said "Don't know as I've heard of any land for sale in the neighborhood. There might be a farm on the other side of Barton, but most of the land is held in large tracts. Would you care to ride into Barton to enquire?"
"Perhaps. I'd prefer to build something, but a farm might do. Had you heard of a specific one?" Mr. Rushton casually used the poker to restore a fallen log to its place in the fire.
"Some months ago. It could well have sold by now. Tidy little place with an older farmhouse that probably needs work. Devil of a nuisance to build something new, Gareth."
His friend gave him a sardonic smile. "I have nothing better to do with my time just now. The hunting season will be over soon, and I see no reason why I should not devote myself to architecture this spring. As I said, nothing on a grand scale. Have you never had the desire to plan a residence? No doubt it's all very well to accommodate one's self to the usages of the past, but frankly I had considered the merits of a little gem without smoking fireplaces and damp corridors. Farnside is all very well--such graciousness is somehow flattering to the ego--but I think it would give me pleasure to lay out the design of a modern building. After all, see what joy Prinny gets of it."
"Prinny! How he could take a modest farmhouse at Brighton and turn it into that monstrosity is beyond anything! Surely you have no intention of stuffing a hunting-box with fake bamboo furniture and painted dragons! Pagodas and palm trees be damned. Do you know what that place is costing him?" demanded the indignant Sir Penrith.
"I have a fairly clear idea, my dear Pen, but I have no intention of creating a domed pleasure palace in the wilds of Leicestershire. A small villa, perhaps."
"No, by God, I don't believe it!" his friend protested before he noticed the other's laughing eyes. "Oh, you would roast me, would you? What do you know about architecture? For all the experience you've had, it might well turn out more on the order of a brothel. I can see the local linen draper talking you into lining the walls with silks and satins to complement the dainty little gilded chairs. Ugh! And perhaps some cupids to ornament the ceilings, or, for a more classical touch, paintings of naked Grecian maidens, or maybe some wood nymphs, to blend with the scenery." Sir Penrith glared ominously at his companion.
"You do have a vivid imagination," Mr. Rushton drawled. "Or perhaps that is your dream of the ideal establishment. Have you frequented so many brothels, then? I had no idea. Is that what they look like? I must certainly do some research."