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The Spreading Walnut Tree
by [?]

We were having breakfast in the garden with the wasps, and Peter was enlarging on the beauties of the country round his new week-end cottage.

“Then there’s Hilderton,” he said; “that’s a lovely little village, I’m told. We might explore it to-morrow.”

Celia woke up suddenly.

“Is Hilderton near here?” she asked in surprise. “But I often stayed there when I was a child.”

“This was years ago, when Edward the Seventh was on the throne,” I explained to Mrs. Peter.

“My grandfather,” went on Celia, “lived at Hilderton Hall.”

There was an impressive silence.

“You see the sort of people you’re entertaining,” I said airily to Peter. “My wife’s grandfather lived at Hilderton Hall. Celia, you should have spoken about this before. It would have done us a lot of good in Society.” I pushed my plate away. “I can’t go on eating bacon after this. Bring me peaches.”

“I should love to see it again.”

“If I’d had my rights,” I said, “I should be living there now. I must put my solicitor on to this. There’s been foul play somewhere.”

Peter looked up from one of the maps which, being new to the country, he carries with him.

“I can’t find Hilderton Hall here,” he said. “It’s six inches to the mile, so it ought to be marked.”

“Celia, our grandfather’s name is being aspersed. Let us look into this.”

We crowded round the map and studied it anxiously. Hilderton was there, and Hilderton House, but no Hilderton Hall.

“But it’s a great big place,” protested Celia.

“I see what it is,” I said regretfully. “Celia, you were young then.”

“Ten.”

“Ten. And naturally it seemed big to you, just as Yarrow seemed big to Wordsworth, and a shilling seems a lot to a baby. But really—-“

“Really,” said Peter, “it was semi-detached.”

“And your side was called Hilderton Hall and the other side Hilderton Castle.”

“I don’t believe it was even called Hilderton Hall,” said Peter. “It was Hilderton Villa.”

“I don’t believe she ever had a grandfather at all,” said Mrs. Peter.

“She must have had a grandfather,” I pointed out. “But I’m afraid he never lived at Hilderton Hall. This is a great blow to me, and I shall now resume my bacon.”

I drew my plate back and Peter returned his map to his pocket.

“You’re all very funny,” said Celia, “but I know it was Hilderton Hall. I’ve a good mind to take you there this morning and show it to you.”

“Do,” said Peter and I eagerly.

“It’s a great big place—-“

“That’s what we’re coming to see,” I reminded her.

“Of course they may have sold some of the land, or–I mean, I know when I used to stay there it was a–a great big place. I can’t promise that it—-“

“It’s no good now, Celia,” I said sternly. “You shouldn’t have boasted.”

Hilderton was four miles off, and we began to approach it–Celia palpably nervous–at about twelve o’clock that morning.

“Are you recognizing any of this?” asked Peter.

“N-no. You see I was only about eight—-“

“You must recognise the church,” I said, pointing to it. “If you don’t, it proves either that you never lived at Hilderton or that you never sang in the choir. I don’t know which thought is the more distressing. Now what about this place? Is this it?”

Celia peered up the drive.

“N-no; at least I don’t remember it. I know there was a walnut tree in front of the house.”

“Is that all you remember?”

“Well, I was only about six—-“

Peter and I both had a slight cough at the same time.

“It’s nothing,” said Peter, finding Celia’s indignant eye upon him. “Let’s go on.”

We found two more big houses, but Celia, a little doubtfully, rejected them both.

“My grandfather-in-law was very hard to please,” I apologized to Peter. “He passed over place after place before he finally fixed on Hilderton Hall. Either the heronry wasn’t ventilated properly, or the decoy ponds had the wrong kind of mud, or—-“

There was a sudden cry from Celia.