“We all have our hobbies, don’t you know?” he says, shifting his eyes from the sky, and fixing them on the less serene, less amiable object of my face—“some people’s is old china—some Elzevir editions—I have a mania for clocks—I have one in every room in my house—by-the-by, you have never been over my house—Mrs. Huntley’s—she is a dear little woman, but she has her fancies, like the rest of us, and hers is— eldest sons!”
“But she is married!” exclaim I, stupidly. “What good can they do her, now?”—then, reddening a little at my own simplicity, I go on, hurriedly: “But he is such a boy!—younger than you—young enough, to be her son—it can be only out of good-nature that she takes notice of him.”
“Yes—true—out of good-nature!” he echoes, nodding, smiling, and speaking with that surface-assent which conveys to the hearer no impression less than acquiescence.
“Boys are not much in her way, either,” he pursues, carelessly; “generally she prefers such as are of riper years—much riper!”
“How spiteful you are!” I say, glad to give my chafed soul vent in words, and looking at him with that full, cold directness which one can employ only toward such as are absolutely indifferent to one. “How she must have snubbed you!”
For an instant, he hesitates; then—“Yes,” he says, smiling still, though his face has whitened, and a wrathy red light has come into his deep eyes; “in the pre-Huntley era, I laid my heart at her feet— by-the-way, I must have been in petticoats at the time—and she kicked it away, as she had, no doubt, done—others”
The camel’s backbone is broken. This last innuendo—in weight a straw— has done it. I speak never a word; but I rise up hastily, and, letting my novel fall heavily prone on the pit of its stomach at the punt-bottom, I take a flying leap to shore—toward shore, I should rather say:—for I am never a good jumper—Tou Tou’s lean spider-legs can always outstride me—and now I fall an inch or two short, and draw one leg out booted with river-mud. But I pay no heed. I hurry on, pushing through the brambles, and leaving a piece of my gown on each. Before I have gone five yards—his length of limb and freedom from petticoats giving him the advantage over me—he overtakes me.
“What has happened? at this rate you will not have much gown left by the time you reach the house.”
To my excited ears, there seems to be a suspicion of laughter in his voice. I disdain to answer. The path we are pursuing is not the regular one; it is a short cut through the wood. At its widest it is very narrow; and, a little ahead of us, a bramble has thrown a strong arm right across it, making a thorny arch, and forbidding passage. By a quick movement, Mr. Musgrave gets in advance of me, and, turning round, faces me at this defile.
“What has happened?”