“I’m the happiest man in the world,” said Mr. Farrer, in accents of dreamy tenderness.
Miss Ward sighed. “Wait till father comes in,” she said.
Mr. Farrer peered through the plants which formed a welcome screen to the window and listened with some uneasiness. He was waiting for the firm, springy step that should herald the approach of ex-Sergeant-Major Ward. A squeeze of Miss Ward’s hand renewed his courage.
“Perhaps I had better light the lamp,” said the girl, after a long pause. “I wonder where mother’s got to?”
“She’s on my side, at any rate,” said Mr. Farrer.
“Poor mother!” said the girl. “She daren’t call her soul her own. I expect she’s sitting in her bedroom with the door shut. She hates unpleasantness. And there’s sure to be some.”
“So do I,” said the young man, with a slight shiver. “But why should there be any? He doesn’t want you to keep single all your life, does he?”
“He’d like me to marry a soldier,” said Miss Ward. “He says that the young men of the present day are too soft. The only thing he thinks about is courage and strength.”
She rose and, placing the lamp on the table, removed the chimney, and then sought round the room for the matches. Mr. Farrer, who had two boxes in his pocket, helped her.
They found a box at last on the mantelpiece, and Mr. Farrer steadied her by placing one arm round her waist while she lit the lamp. A sudden exclamation from outside reminded them that the blind was not yet drawn, and they sprang apart in dismay as a grizzled and upright old warrior burst into the room and confronted them.
“Pull that blind down!” he roared. “Not you,” he continued, as Mr. Farrer hastened to help. “What do you mean by touching my blind? What do you mean by embracing my daughter? Eh? Why don’t you answer?”
“We—we are going to be married,” said Mr. Farrer, trying to speak boldly.
The sergeant-major drew himself up, and the young man gazed in dismay at a chest which seemed as though it would never cease expanding.
“Married!” exclaimed the sergeant-major, with a grim laugh. “Married to a little tame bunny-rabbit! Not if I know it. Where’s your mother?” he demanded, turning to the girl.
“Upstairs,” was the reply.
Her father raised his voice, and a nervous reply came from above. A minute later Mrs. Ward, pale of cheek, entered the room.
“Here’s fine goings-on!” said the sergeant major, sharply. “I go for a little walk, and when I come back this—this infernal cockroach has got its arm round my daughter’s waist. Why don’t you look after her? Do you know anything about it?”
His wife shook her head.
“Five feet four and about thirty round the chest, and wants to marry my daughter!” said the sergeant-major, with a sneer. “Eh? What’s that? What did you say? What?”