“Yes,” he said. “I’ve bought Sunny Bushes.”
“An’ dirt cheap, too,” said Uncle Jap. He spoke to the clerk in his usual mild voice: “Can you give Mis’ Panel an’ me accommodation?”
“Certainly, Mr. Panel. What sort of accommodation, sir?”
Uncle Jap looked fondly at his wife. I doubt if she had ever crossed the threshold of the Paloma before. I could see her blinking at the marble columns, at the velvet pile rugs, and the innumerable electric lights just turned on.
“What sorter accommodation?” repeated Uncle Jap. “Why, anything’d do fer me, but Mis’ Panel is mighty particular. We’ll take the bridal suit, if it ain’t engaged.”
“Certainly; sitting-room, bedroom, and bathroom upon the first floor,” said the clerk, striking a bell for the hall porter.
“Come, Lily,” said Uncle Jap.
She raised her head, as if she were about to protest; then she smiled contentedly, and followed him out of the old life into the new.
WILKINS AND HIS DINAH
Wilkins had a pair of eyes that had seen better days. His features were still good, and the complexion showed quality of texture: a bloom often seen upon the faces of middle-aged men who in youth have been fair. His figure was imposing. When he lounged into a room, even a bar-room, he took the stage, so to speak; you were bound to look at him. When he spoke you listened to words, wise or otherwise. When he smiled you were seized with an absurd desire to shake his hand!
He was herding sheep for Silas Upham, a man of flocks and herds, and the father of one child, Hetty. Meeting Wilkins for the first time, I wondered what Hetty thought of her sire’s shepherd.
Wilkins told us that our back fence was down, and that a bunch of steers had broken through into Upham’s alfalfa. We thanked him, offering whisky and tobacco. He accepted both with captivating smile and easy nod. A minute later he was sitting in our most comfortable chair, staring at our books and engravings. His eyes lingered upon the best of these with a look of recognition. He asked no questions.
Next day we rode over to his hut, and smoked some pipes. Wilkins spoke of India, Australia, France, and Italy, but he never mentioned England. Nor did we. Presently, somewhat to our surprise, Hetty Upham cantered into camp. The day happened to be unusually hot, which accounted, perhaps, for her rosy cheeks. She delivered a message to Wilkins, exchanged a few words with us, and galloped off.
“Goes faster than she came,” said Ajax.
“Yes,” said Wilkins. Then he added, with emphasis: “I don’t blame any girl from galloping away from such a hole as this.” With a derisive glance he indicated the flies swarming about his pots and pans, the ill-trimmed lamp reeking of petroleum, the rough bunk wherein he slept, the rusty stove. We contrasted these sordid surroundings with the splendours of Silas Upham’s front parlour, and then we stared furtively at Wilkins.