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living to absent himself from the Law Courts at this time of year.”
"Great as the pressure of my business is," returned Cuthbert goodhumouredly, “I can sometimes make arrangements to leave it for a couple of days. Besides, I wanted to see Nigel, who wanted to see me.”
Mr. Scarth opened his lips with the evident intention of making a sharp rejoinder ; but old Humphry laid a restraining hand upon his wrist.
"Let the young ones see what and whom they want to see, Robert,” said he; “I suppose there will always be things which we old ones must fail to see. Some of us, indeed,” he added, with a light shrug of his shoulders, “are precluded from ever seeing anything or anybody again in this world."
Mr. Scarth's face softened instantly and an expression of pain came over it which moved Nigel, who was watching him, to compassion. It was not often that old Humphry alluded to his calamity; as a general rule he affected, like many blind people, to ignore it, and was fond of pointing to objects, as though he could distinguish them. But on the rare occasions when he did so in the presence of the man whose misfortune it had been to deprive him of the blessing of sight the effect was immediate and invariable. Doubtless he knew that, and perhaps he was actuated in this instance by a kindly wish to restore harmony between Mr. Scarth and the two young sons, who had, as usual, been asking for money and had consequently (so one of them afterwards confided to Nigel) been “putting in a devil of a time.”
Be that as it may, Mr. Scarth, after an interval of pensive silence, began to talk quite civilly and almost deferentially to one of his nephews, while the other soon became involved in a somewhat noisy verbal battle with Bessie and her brothers. Miss Bessie, it seemed, had been over at Lannowe, where she had heard all about Cuthbert's visit to Paris and a good deal about Miss Dallison, respecting whom she chaffed him without mercy.
“Oh, you needn't protest,” Nigel heard her say ; "I am assured that nobody can behold this remarkable young woman without adoring her; so there's nothing to blush about."
“ I'm not blushing !" cried Cuthbert indignantlyan assertion which provoked loud laughter and pointed fingers from the two young men, one of whom, in the scrimmage which ensued, was deposited upon his back with his wicker chair on the top of him.
Ordinarily Mr. Scarth would have rebuked such horse-play in stern language ; as it was, he only frowned and walked out of the tent, passing his arm through Mr. Trenchard's and drawing him away with him. Mrs. Scarth said:
“Dear boys, please respect the tea-table. Fight it out on the lawn, if you like, and leave me to give Nigel the scolding he deserves for never coming to see us."
Nigel did not mind being left with his aunt, who never scolded anybody and for whom he had conceived the sort of affection which lonely men are apt to feel for those who will chat confidentially with them. The presence of his cousins and the spectacle of Cuthbert's rather boisterous intimacy with them deepened his sense of personal loneliness. For himself, he could not be a boy, nor could he behave like one ; looking back, he doubted whether he had ever been really a boy, and remembered how he had envied the animal spirits of undergraduates, which it had been out of his power to share or comprehend. Their follies, their temptations, their vices-yes; but never their childish joy in existence. “Oh, I'm a recreant monk !" he said to himself, with an access of the abrupt despondency to which he was subject; "there's no place for me in the outer world."
Mrs. Scarth in an unending flow of kindly prattle, was expatiating upon the importance and amenities of the worldly position which he occupied, urging him to entertain his neighbours, pointing out the capabilities of the Rixmouth garden and recommending him to adopt a hobby. “Such as Jerseys, for instance, which cost money, no doubt, but not more than you can afford and not nearly as much as thoroughbreds. What would have become of Robert if he hadn't, most fortunately, formed a passion for pigs I can't imagine! Yet, with his magisterial work and the County Council and quarrelsome public meetings and so forth, Robert is what you might call a busy man."
Nigel listened to her with one ear, while with the other he caught occasional fragments of dialogue from the young folks, who were not far off. Bessie, it appeared, was still harping upon the charms of Cuthbert's Parisian siren, and Cuthbert, to judge by the sound of his voice, was beginning to be just the least bit out of temper and patience.
“Oh, all right!” he audibly exclaimed ; "let it be admitted that I am dying to throw myself at her feet. Unfortunately, there isn't much likelihood of my ever seeing either her feet or her face again."
“As if you didn't know perfectly well that you will see them both in about six weeks' time!" returned Bessie. “You forget that I have been at Lannowe and that your having made an assignation with her for August is no secret there."
Thereupon arose a Babel of tongues, terminating in a scuffle which precluded further eavesdropping; but when, a quarter of an hour later, Nigel was driving his guest homewards in the dogcart which had brought them, he asked :
'If it isn't an impertinent question, who is Miss Dallison ? "
“Oh, only a girl whom I came across in Paris," answered Cuthbert, laughing rather shamefacedly. “A great friend of Miss Ferrand's, who appears to have been talking a lot of rot about her and me. Or else Bessie made it up to get a rise out of me.”
“And is she coming to stay at Lannowe?”
Well, yes, I believe she is. I don't think she will interest you ; she isn't your sort.”
Nigel was about to inquire what sort Miss Dallison was when Mr. Trenchard, driving a mail-phaeton at a high rate of speed, came thundering by, the attendant who always accompanied him, and who presumably directed his movements, seated at his side. He raised his elbow and smiled as he passed, calling out:
“Excuse me, my dear fellow. Bad manners, I know, but I am in rather a hurry.”
“Do you like old Trenchard ?" asked Cuthbert, not sorry to change the subject.
“Yes," answered Nigel; “don't you?
One feels almost bound to like a man who is so afflicted and who takes his affliction so pluckily. Otherwise I am not sure that I should care much about him.”
“He has been very kind to me," said Nigel.
“Well—has he? By your account, he has put some unpleasant jobs upon you and kept the pleasant ones for himself."
“He would be the first to admit that. In fact, he has admitted it. He confesses that he hasn't the heart to give unwelcome news in my name to tenants whom he has known all his life.”
" H'm! that was an adroit way of putting things. Now that I come to think of it, perhaps my reason for rather disliking him is that he is so precious adroit. Upon the whole, I believe it is clumsy people who command my affections.”
“At that rate," observed Nigel, with a doleful smile, "you ought to be much attached to me."
“ So I am, old chap," returned the other, clapping him on the shoulder; "I hope to be able to prove it to you one of these days, if I get the chance."
The words, though honestly spoken, may not have meant very much; but to Nigel, who had seldom received such assurances and who was hungering and thirsting for a friend, they meant a great deal.
“ You reconcile me to my difficult destiny !” he somewhat exaggeratedly declared.