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“There are some things one cannot talk about, even in jest. What would my life be without you? But, for goodness' sake, let us get out of the dolefuls. We want that troublesome boy to cheer us up. Why does he not come in for his tea before it's cold ?”
Now the reason Mr. Perigord chose to abstain from that refreshment has been already given. On the present occasion, after a hard day's cricket, he preferred the solace of his short pipe in a favourite lounge outside the garden of the parsonage, where he sat himself down on the trunk of a fallen tree, and proceeded to enjoy that greatest of all luxuries, tobacco after labour. While the smoke-wreaths, flavoured with Cavendish, curled about his sleek young head, he reviewed with considerable satisfaction the day's doings and his own prowess as displayed in the cricket-field. It was pleasant to recall the silence and courage with which he stood up to Armstrong's formidable bowling, the steadiness of his defence, the style of his play–he piqued himself especially on his style—and that brilliant hit to leg that scored him a 4. Then, when they put on Dodge with his slows at the other end, he was proud to remember that he made six in the very first over, causing that wary professional an infinity of anxiety and distress, before his wicket went down at last to "a twister” that came in like a corkscrew. He could still hear the clapping of hands that greeted each brilliant hit, each well-considered block; could still feel the glow of triumph absorbing that enthusiastic applause which is so grateful to youth, and is nowhere so freely accorded as at the noble game of cricket. To use his own expression, the young gentleman felt he had come out freely,” and “fancied himself” accordingly.
Thoroughly satisfied with his past, his present, and his future, he looked back to Eton without regret, admitting that the intimate society of his tutor, whom he liked, and his tutor's wife, whom he admired, was more than an equivalent for the boating, the bathing, the fun, good fellowship, and constant excitement of that delightful school. His father, too, had consented that he should go into the army, and Lexley gave him strong hopes that he would be able to pass his examinations. Before him lay that long vista of the future which seems to lead down sunny glades into the distant fairy-land. He saw himself grown, whiskered, self-possessed, wearing Her Majesty's uniform, and matured into his own beau-ideal of what a gentleman should be. The day-dream was delightful, the tobacco soothing, swarms of gnats wheeled in the evening sunbeams, a large humble-bee droned and buzzed among the wild flowers at his feet, his eyes swam, his head nodded—in another minute he would have been fast asleep.
But even as his sight began to fail, all his faculties were aroused by the figure of a man prowling behind the hedge that skirted the field in which he sat. A well-clad figure, not the least like a rustic lad birds'-nesting, or a village shoemaker out for a stroll. On the contrary, this individual was dressed only too respectably; but in clothes of a cut such as the upper classes do not generally wear in the country. Our young friend was unusually sharp-sighted. He could distinguish through the leafy luxuriance of summer blackthorn that this creeping, crouching figure was attired in a black frock-coat and shiny satin waistcoat, crossed by a bright gold chain, “like a fellow who keeps a roulette table,” thought the Etonian, “or a Newmarket tout in his Sunday clothes."
The man seemed unconscious that he was observed, and, parting the branches of the tangled hedge that concealed him, scanned the parsonage and its grounds with a long, searching gaze. Having satisfied himself with this scrutiny, he proceeded to leave the field, still crouching along under the fence towards the gate by which he must have entered.
“ Burglar?”. said the young gentleman to himself. “No-too well dressed. Land surveyor ? Never saw a land surveyor with so good a hat. Escaped lunatic, perhaps? Hardly, for he carries an umbrella, and no man ever saw a madman with an umbrella. I should like to have a nearer look. I'll just nip round and meet him as he comes into the lane."
Shaking the ashes out of his pipe, the lad vaulted lightly over a stile, crossed the adjoining meadow at speed, and arrived at the gate apparently by accident, just as the stranger laid his hand upon its latch.
"Fine evening, sir," said the young gentleman with his usual composure. “Perhaps you are not aware that you are trespassing?"
The man's habit seemed to be to look everywhere but in the face of the person who addressed him.
"I beg pardon,” he answered courteously enough. "I thought I should find a footpath in the next field. I fancy I must have lost my way. Perhaps you can kindly inform me where I am.”
“ You see the copse at the end of the lane ?" said Perigord. “Take the first turn to the right, and it will bring you out on the high road, opposite the ninety-seventh milestone from London: then you will know exactly where you are."
The man's face flushed, and he scowled as if disposed to resent this piece of impertinence. Glancing at the lad's agile figure, however, he seemed to think better of it, and replied good-humouredly
“ London is a long way off, and I should like to take my bearings a little more accurately than from the meridian of Greenwich. Can you tell me whose is that pretty house I see peeping through the trees ?"
“Yes, I can," answered Perigord, volunteering however no further information.
The stranger broke into a laugh,
“Excuse me, sir," said he, "you seem to be a young gentleman of great originality, but particularly indisposed to impart information. A cricketer, I presume, by your dress. May I ask if you played a successful match to-day?"
"Certainly," answered Perigord. “I don't mind admitting we gave the yokels an awful licking. A hundred and forty-seven runs with five wickets to go down."
“And the gentleman who lives in that pretty house got the score, if I am rightly informed—a clerical gentleman, as I understand, lately married to a lady of considerable personal attractions ?”
“Well, if you know all about it, I don't see why you should ask me," said Perigord.
“I am not entirely a stranger to the neighbourhood of Middleton,” continued the other, still averting his eyes from the youth's face. “If I am right in my conjecture as to the locality of the parsonage, I know pretty nearly where I am. I wish you a good afternoon, sir.”
Thus speaking, the man took his hat off and proceeded in the direction of the London road, at a pace and with a manner that seemed to decline further conversation, while young Perigord betook himself to the parsonage, very much puzzled as to the social standing of his new acquaintance.
In talking him over during dinner, Mr. Lexley suggested he might be a collector of subscriptions for the Mission to the Feejee Islands, while his wife decided he was travelling about with a prospectus for a map of the county.
“You should have put me at · long-on,' sir, yesterday, not coverpoint.' We are used to it, you know.”
Thus speaking, young Perigord looked up in his tutor's face from the less congenial studies on which he was vainly trying to fix his attention. “I'll
go into that question as fully as you please after luncheon," answered Lexley. “In the meantime do try and remember that elenchos is not Latin for emeralds, and that Juvenal wrote his Satires at a time when Roman society had reached the lowest stage of profligacy and disorder.”
“How he pitches into the women !” said the pupil. “He must have known a lot of bad ones, to describe them as he does."
"Quum virides gemmas collo circumdedit,” read the tutor, with all a tutor's roll and inflection on the sonorous hexameters.
“Go on construing, there's a good fellow. Not literally, you know, but giving me the sense in the best English you can.”
Perigord complied, acquitting himself creditably enough, but ere long wandered again from the text in his usual discursive manner.
Why should he say a rich woman is so intolerable? I know lots of rich women. I don't think they're a bit worse than poor ones.”
" It's the display, the affectation of wealth in a woman that is detestable,” replied Lexley. “But I grant you he lashes the sex with unsparing sarcasm, and the diatribes addressed to his friend, who is about to marry, are doubtless enough to frighten a bachelor; yet people did marry in Rome just the same," added the tutor, reflectively, while a pale handsome face seemed to pass like a ghost before his eyes, “as they always have, and always will, let philosophers aud satirists rail their bitterest. Depend upon it, young one, the human instinct is right."
“For my part, I like to see a lady with jewels,” continued the lad. “Emeralds round her neck, pearls in her ears, rings on her fingers"
“And bells on her toes,” added Lexley. “ What nonsense we are talking! Go on with the satire.”
“That same fellow was prowling about again this morning,” observed the young gentleman, inconsequently, at the close of another fifty lines. “I saw him from my bed-room window, and would have gone out to give him a piece of my mind, only I was shaving at the time.”
Shaving !" repeated his tutor with a laugh, frankly echoed by the pupil.
Shaving ? Yes, sir, shaving-though I don't think I got much off but the lather. You see, when I left Eton my aunt gave me a fiver, and the first thing I did was to buy a case of razors, marked for every day in the week. Ain't they sharp! I'll lend you one, if you like. When you shave it's to cut your beard off. When I shave it's to make mine grow. Perhaps some day I shall have whiskers as big as yours.
“And wish from your heart your cheeks were bare again. I do, every morning of my life. But there is nothing about whiskers in Juvenal."
“I must tell you how this fellow prowled round the house, and then I'll go on construing. He came quietly through the garden gate-kept off the gravel, peeped into every window on the groundfloor, and when he heard Mary undoing the dining-room shutters bolted like a shot. If I wasn't a steady young man, and a comfort to my parents, I should think he was looking for me from Scotland Yard. As it is, I believe he is after your spoons.
I say, wouldn't it be fun to catch him at it? We could duck him in the long pond and let him go. The only thing is, it might frighten Mrs. Lexley."
“I don't think it would !" answered her husband. "If it came to a case of housebreaking, I believe she would prove the bravest of the three. But I've no fear of that kind. You and I and James are garrison enough to repel any ordinary assault, to say nothing of old Robin the gardener with his rusty gun. Besides, there's no temptation-there's nothing here for a man to steal.”
" Then what can the fellow want?” said Perigord. "If I see him again, sir, mayn't I order him off, and put him out of the grounds by main force if he refuses to go ?”
“Certainly not,” replied the tutor, laughing. “The man may be a most respectable person, connected with half a dozen philanthropical institutions, for all we know to the contrary. Or if he has any evil design, which I doubt extremely, he might be what you would call an awkward customer to tackle. And if you and I pitched into him together, it would hardly look well in the Middleton Herald for tutor and pupil to be summoned in a case of assault-two to one. Let him alone. You're tired of Juvenal. Now we'll go into the FrancoPrussian war for half an hour, and then it will be time for luncheon.”
So they got out the map of Europe, before it had been re-arranged to commemorate the triumph of discipline and foresight over ignorance and insubordination, tracking the marches and counter-marches of the contending armies, from the first shot fired at Saarbruck to the crowning catastrophe of Sedan—a study which seemed more to young Perigord's taste than the classic vituperations of the Roman satirist. He was never tired of dwelling on the strength of the Prussian artillery, on the gallantry of the Chasseurs d'Afrique, with their tasteful uniform and their beautiful little horses. Above all, on those indomitable Uhlans, who proved themselves, under all circumstances and in every kind of country, the eyes and ears and feelers of the divisions to which they were attached.
The luncheon-bell rang much too soon for this assiduous student, but Lexley, true to bis system of working by the clock, rolled up the map, shut the book, and proclaimed that reading was over for the day.
“I never saw the roses so beautiful,” said the happy curate to his wife, as, pacing slowly across the lawn after luncheon, he drew a deep breath of enjoyment while he inhaled draughts of fragrance from those sweetest of flowers. “ It must be that I have got the queen of the roses here. My darling, I hope it is not wrong to say so; but where you are there to me is Paradise.”
“I don't know whether it's wrong,” she answered, with a proud pleased smile; “but there's no question it's exceedingly silly. You may admire the roses as much as you like, for they are beautiful. I do think that for flowers, scenery, peace and quiet, all that makes real comfort, this is the nicest little spot in the whole world.”
He looked inexpressibly gratified. Had it not been his highest