Two men, the one an architect and the other an archaeologist, met on the steps of the great house at Prior’s Park; and their host, Lord Bulmer, in his breezy way, thought it natural to introduce them. It must be confessed that he was hazy as well as breezy, and had no very clear connection in his mind, beyond the sense that an architect and an archaeologist begin with the same series of letters. The world must remain in a reverent doubt as to whether he would, on the same principles, have presented a diplomatist to a dipsomaniac or a ratiocinator to a rat catcher. He was a big, fair, bull-necked young man, abounding in outward gestures, unconsciously flapping his gloves and flourishing his stick.
“You two ought to have something to talk about,” he said, cheerfully. “Old buildings and all that sort of thing; this is rather an old building, by the way, though I say it who shouldn’t. I must ask you to excuse me a moment; I’ve got to go and see about the cards for this Christmas romp my sister’s arranging. We hope to see you all there, of course. Juliet wants it to be a fancy-dress affair–abbots and crusaders and all that. My ancestors, I suppose, after all.”
“I trust the abbot was not an ancestor,” said the archaeological gentleman, with a smile.
“Only a sort of great-uncle, I imagine,” answered the other, laughing; then his rather rambling eye rolled round the ordered landscape in front of the house; an artificial sheet of water ornamented with an antiquated nymph in the center and surrounded by a park of tall trees now gray and black and frosty, for it was in the depth of a severe winter.
“It’s getting jolly cold,” his lordship continued. “My sister hopes we shall have some skating as well as dancing.”
“If the crusaders come in full armor,” said the other, “you must be careful not to drown your ancestors.”
“Oh, there’s no fear of that,” answered Bulmer; “this precious lake of ours is not two feet deep anywhere.” And with one of his flourishing gestures he stuck his stick into the water to demonstrate its shallowness. They could see the short end bent in the water, so that he seemed for a moment to lean his large weight on a breaking staff.
“The worst you can expect is to see an abbot sit down rather suddenly,” he added, turning away. “Well, au revoir; I’ll let you know about it later.”
The archaeologist and the architect were left on the great stone steps smiling at each other; but whatever their common interests, they presented a considerable personal contrast, and the fanciful might even have found some contradiction in each considered individually. The former, a Mr. James Haddow, came from a drowsy den in the Inns of Court, full of leather and parchment, for the law was his profession and history only his hobby; he was indeed, among other things, the solicitor and agent of the Prior’s Park estate. But he himself was far from drowsy and seemed remarkably wide awake, with shrewd and prominent blue eyes, and red hair brushed as neatly as his very neat costume. The latter, whose name was Leonard Crane, came straight from a crude and almost cockney office of builders and house agents in the neighboring suburb, sunning itself at the end of a new row of jerry-built houses with plans in very bright colors and notices in very large letters. But a serious observer, at a second glance, might have seen in his eyes something of that shining sleep that is called vision; and his yellow hair, while not affectedly long, was unaffectedly untidy. It was a manifest if melancholy truth that the architect was an artist. But the artistic temperament was far from explaining him; there was something else about him that was not definable, but which some even felt to be dangerous. Despite his dreaminess, he would sometimes surprise his friends with arts and even sports apart from his ordinary life, like memories of some previous existence. On this occasion, nevertheless, he hastened to disclaim any authority on the other man’s hobby.