They followed through into the large dining room where Tremaine bid them wait. Seated and warm, they talked for some time while their host puttered about the kitchen, bringing out bread and butter and meats and autumn’s vegetables. At last he disappeared downstairs to what looked to be a cellar near the cloakroom they’d passed on the way in.
The man was slow on his feet; Altman noticed he couldn’t move around very well, and he stopped frequently to catch his breath. But soon enough he returned with a bottle of wine. “Eat up, eat up, you’ve come a long way!”
At last the old man sat down to join them. The conversation was light and spirited, but Tremaine resisted Altman’s subtle attempts to swing it around toward his purpose in inviting him. “Ahh, nephew, that is not a subject for the supper table. We’ll discuss that at some length later so as not to bore your friends. But it’s good that you came when you did; I had feared that you might delay too long, or worse, not come at all.”
After some time, Altman was shocked to see how low the sun had grown in the sky. The food had been eaten, the wine consumed, the fire was starting to burn low and shadows were gathering. “Now then. You’ll all be here the night, so let me just get your rooms prepared.”
“Uncle, don’t you have anyone to help you with these things? You can’t do all this alone, can you?”
“Nonsense, nephew, nonsense,” he said with a hint of huffiness to his tone. “I’ve managed well enough all this time, and aside from that, where am I to find someone, hmmm? I came out here for peace and quiet, and find it I certainly did.”
“Don’t even suggest it, I won’t hear of it! You are guests and you’ll not lift a finger to work while you’re under this roof. Not at this kind of work, leastwise.” His nearly white eyes glinted as he said the last.
A good hour later, Tremaine was through setting the rooms while the guests talked around the dining table. Tremaine appeared in the doorway. He looked tired, but his voice gave not a clue of that. “Nephew— Altman, if you’d be kind enough to join me in the study? I do believe it’s time we discussed why I brought you out here, if your friends will be kind enough to excuse us?”