Because the Elliots had exceeded the income generated by their estate, it became necessary to retrench. Part of the retrenchment required the leasing of Kellynch Hall. To that end, Sir Walter employed the services of an agent, Mr. Shepherd.
Mr. Shepherd scanned the list of applicants under consideration as tenants for Kellynch Hall, most of whom were former naval officers. The difficulty there was Sir Walter’s aversion to the rough exteriors of those men who had spent most of their careers out of doors. Although such changes in a man’s physical appearance were to be expected for those serving in His Majesty’s Navy, he had no doubt Sir Walter would take issue with an applicant whose complexion was as orange as the Elliot livery.
The agent slumped in his chair. What does that peacock of a man expect from those who have been exposed to all sorts of weather: skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom? Considering the dire state of the Elliots’ finances, Sir Walter should have pen ready when presented with such excellent offers from those very men who had kept France at bay during the late war with Napoleon and his gang of thugs.
After again perusing the various applications, the agent chose to write to Admiral Croft, then at Taunton, as that gentleman appeared to be the one who was least likely to complain about the terms of the lease.
* * *
Upon arrival in Taunton, Mr. Shepherd found that the admiral and his wife had taken rooms a stone’s throw from the Castle. When entering the room used to greet visitors, the agent was impressed by the neatness of the arrangements and the sense of order created by the admiral’s wife. Noting his look, Mrs. Croft explained that because of the tight quarters of a ship, “There is a place for everything, and everything has its place. After being crammed into a captain’s quarters for so many years, the admiral and I are looking for something a little bigger,” she said, smiling,
“That we are, ”Admiral Croft said, seconding his wife. “My wife wishes to lease a place so that she might entertain, and I wish for a park where I can walk more than a hundred feet without encountering an obstacle to impede my progress.”
After noting the admiral’s manners and the natural delicacy of his wife, the agent thought they might be a good fit for Kellynch Hall. Even better, they were childless. No sticky hands and drooling mouths on the furniture. No broken glasses or chipped dishes. With no urchins about, it was possible the housekeeper could get by with fewer servants. All pluses. However, there was the matter of how the man looked, and he remembered the baronet going on and on about what the life of a sea-faring man did to one’s appearance.
One day last spring, in town, Sir Walter had complained, I was made to give place to a certain Admiral Baldwin, the most deplorable-looking personage you can imagine; his face the color of mahogany, rough and rugged to the last degree; all lines and wrinkles. I never saw quite so wretched an example of what a sea-faring life can do. They are all knocked about and exposed to every climate, and every weather, till they are not fit to be seen.
Although the admiral did show signs of browning, the agent had certainly seen darker complexions in Portsmouth; basically, the sailors there were walnuts with legs attached to the shell. And the admiral appeared to have most of his teeth and all of his appendages. Again, all pluses. As far as his being a naval officer, the good thing about the peace that had arrived with Napoleon’s surrender was that the admiral’s uniform would remain in storage until the next war required his return to service.
“I understand, sir, that a ship is very confining,” Mr. Shepherd answered. “I think I may have the perfect property for you: great rooms for your wife to entertain in and a large park for you to stretch your legs.”
After detailing the size of the manor, its rooms, and furnishings, the agent described Kellynch Hall’s beautiful park, choosing not to speak of the pleasure grounds, as Sir Walter had stated that he did not like the idea of his “shrubberies being always approachable.”
Now for the most difficult part: the amount of the rent.
Anticipating the Crofts would negotiate, Mr. Shepherd mentioned a sum he expected to be challenged. But neither Croft batted an eye and immediately agreed to all terms if, after viewing the estate, Kellynch Hall met their needs.
Emboldened by the lack of a challenge, the agent decided to mention that the pleasure grounds were excluded from the lease. Again, the Crofts made no argument. In fact, the wife indicated that she understood that the Elliots would eventually return to Kellynch Hall and wished to find their gardens as they had left them.
“Mr. Shepherd, the admiral and I understand that the Elliots have their reasons for quitting Kellynch Hall.” By her look, Mr. Shepherd understood that the Crofts had discerned that the Elliots were in financial distress. “Because my husband has been hugely successful in taking prize ships, we are in a position to rent such an estate. And we wish to be fair with Sir Walter. All we ask is that everything be exactly as you say and that there will be no additional exclusions. We also assume the estate will be properly staffed. Do we understand each other?”
The agent nodded. There would be no pulling the wool over the eyes of Mrs. Croft.
“May we discuss a date for you to view the estate?”
“The sooner the better,” Mrs. Croft answered.
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