Itchells Manor, in Hampshire, was a small but pleasant country mansion, standing in an estate of
several hundred acres of park-land and farm-land.
Towards the very end of the seventeenth century, the lord of the manor of Itchells was a
certain Squire Bathurst. The Bathursts had been squires of Itchells for several generations, but
though they had been good husbandmen they had not laid up for themselves great treasure. This
is not to say that they were not comfortably off, but they could not comport themselves so
lavishly as many of the other country gentry could, and, in particular, their neighbors, the
All preceding Bathurst squires had chosen their wives carefully from among the
Englishwomen of their acquaintance, so it came as something of a shock to the county when the
father of our Squire Bathurst returned to Itchells from a tour of the continent, bring with him an
Italian wife who, besides possessing a small fortune, bore also the high-ranking title of Marchesa.
These were not the only attributes which set the new Mrs. Bathurst apart from the usual
run of Itchells chatelaines. She was dark, whereas the predominant coloring of the family was
brunette or fair; she was exceptionally beautiful, rivaling in this respect the contemporary
Countess of Southampton, who was one of the outstanding beauties of the times; and though she
could be, and often was, the source or center of laughter and merriment, there was in her
composition an instability of temper and a broad streak of moroseness which she could not or
would not control when thwarted in any degree.
Within a year of her arrival at Itchells she gave birth to a son, who was eventually to
become our Squire Bathurst. In the two succeeding years, she presented her Squire with two
daughters; and these three children represented her contribution to the family. Since nature seems
to delight in contrariness, the boy was dark, selfish and uneven tempered like his mother; the girls
had the fair coloring and sunny disposition of their father. It was not strange, therefore, when the
mother made the son her favorite, though it was unfortunate, for she encouraged him to be more
like herself than a Bathurst, and urged him to seek his friends among those of a more elevated
station and wealth.
It was in this way that he first made the acquaintance of and then became on intimate
terms with the Bushnell family, the birth of whose heir had almost coincided with his own.
Robert Bushnell was not unlike Alexander Bathurst in many ways. At fifteen he was outgrowing
his strength, which made him inordinately slim and pale, and kept him in a constant state of
lassitude, so that he languished rather than lived. Though the physician assured his parents that
this was merely a passing phase, they did impress upon Sir George and Lady Bushnell the
necessity for his being cossetted for the time-being.
Under the influence of this cossetting and from the effects of his general lack of stamina,
the youth became spoiled and selfish. Soon he seemed to be enjoying his poor health, for he
discovered that it was a formidable weapon for getting his own way. He used it first chiefly
against his tutor, a poor timid wretch who was a distant cousin and who depended entirely on the
largesse of his wealthy kinsman for his very existence.
Robert's campaign of tutor-baiting presently reached such a pitch that the young man felt
that starvation would be the lesser of two evils and took his complaints to his employer. Sir
George, the fourth baronet, was distressed, and talked seriously to his wife.
'The poor boy's bored, naturally,' said Lady Bushnell, and suggested that Robert's two
brothers should be brought home from Eton to keep him company. But Sir George would not
hear of it.
Then Lady Bushnell had an inspiration. She ordered her carriage and called upon Mrs.
Bathurst, and at the end of a short conversation the two ladies had agreed that Alexander Bathurst
should share Robert Bushnell's tutor in the hope that they would become friends.
By good fortune the two strange boys, so strange as to be almost changelings to their
respective families, took an immediate liking to one another, and were so absorbed in this new
relationship that they had no time to devote to bullying their tutor; for it was a relationship of a
kind neither of them had experienced before, but for which clearly both had been unconsciously
yearning. In addition, Alexander Bathurst had a natural leaning towards learning, and fired
Robert Bushnell with a new, if restrained, enthusiasm, so that the tutor found his task of
instructing them no longer a chore, but a pleasure.
The initial arrangement was that Alexander should live with the Bushnells from Monday
to Friday. Within a short time, however, the boys found that the deprivation of each other's
company, even for two days out of seven, more than they could bear, so it was agreed that
Alexander should remain permanently in what was quickly becoming his real home.
The two mothers were delighted. Only Sir George growled, 'Don't be over-confident,
Lady Bushnell. My view is that it is too good to last.'
In holding this view, however, he was holding an erroneous one. The longer the
relationship extended, the more inseparable did the boys become. To each other they were quite
different from what they were towards others, though even in this respect they had changed.
They never quarreled, they did not behave selfishly, and they supported one another in every way.
It must be revealed, nevertheless, that Robert Bushnell was the dominant character, and of
the two it was Alexander Bathurst who paved the way for harmony, by being prepared to give in
and thus avoid any clash between them. But he was quite content with this role, for though his
affection for Robert was genuine, he had good, if entirely provate and secret, reasons for doing
nothing which might lead to a breach between them.
His motive was a simple one. The Bushnells lived on a far more lavish scale than the
Bathurst income would allow. There was no stinting of money, as there was intermittently at
Itchells Manor when crops were bad, live-stock less productive or rents not forthcoming. Even
the Marchesa's fortune was not sufficient to off-set these temporary setbacks, and when they
occurred, not only the whole family, but the entire household were required to contribute to the