“I never go there,” said Mr. Burton, hastily. “I—a friend o’ mine here doesn’t approve o’ public-’ouses.”
“What’s the matter with him?” inquired his friend, anxiously.
“It’s—it’s a ’er,” said Mr. Burton, in some confusion.
Mr. Stiles threw himself back in his chair and eyed him with amazement. Then, recovering his presence of mind, he reached out his hand for the bottle.
“We’ll drink her health,” he said, in a deep voice. “What’s her name?”
“Mrs. Dutton,” was the reply.
Mr. Stiles, with one hand on his heart, toasted her feelingly; then, filling up again, he drank to the “happy couple.”
“She’s very strict about drink,” said Mr. Burton, eyeing these proceedings with some severity.
“Any—dibs?” inquired Mr. Stiles, slapping a pocket which failed to ring in response.
“She’s comfortable,” replied the other, awkwardly. “Got a little stationer’s shop in the town; steady, old-fashioned business. She’s chapel, and very strict.”
“Just what you want,” remarked Mr. Stiles, placing his glass on the table. “What d’ye say to a stroll?”
Mr. Burton assented, and, having replaced the black bottle in the cupboard, led the way along the cliffs toward the town some half-mile distant, Mr. Stiles beguiling the way by narrating his adventures since they had last met. A certain swagger and richness of deportment were explained by his statement that he had been on the stage.
“Only walking on,” he said, with a shake of his head. “The only speaking part I ever had was a cough. You ought to ha’ heard that cough, George!”
Mr. Burton politely voiced his regrets and watched him anxiously. Mr. Stiles, shaking his head over a somewhat unsuccessful career, was making a bee-line for the Cock and Flowerpot.
“Just for a small soda,” he explained, and, once inside, changed his mind and had whisky instead. Mr. Burton, sacrificing principle to friendship, had one with him. The bar more than fulfilled Mr. Stiles’s ideas as to its cosiness, and within the space of ten minutes he was on excellent terms with the regular clients. Into the little, old-world bar, with its loud-ticking clock, its Windsor-chairs, and its cracked jug full of roses, he brought a breath of the bustle of the great city and tales of the great cities beyond the seas. Refreshment was forced upon him, and Mr. Burton, pleased at his friend’s success, shared mildly in his reception. It was nine o’clock before they departed, and then they only left to please the landlord.
“Nice lot o’ chaps,” said Mr. Stiles, as he stumbled out into the sweet, cool air. “Catch hold—o’ my—arm, George. Brace me—up a bit.”
Mr. Burton complied, and his friend, reassured as to his footing, burst into song. In a stentorian voice he sang the latest song from comic opera, and then with an adjuration to Mr. Burton to see what he was about, and not to let him trip, he began, in a lumbering fashion, to dance.