“Seven counties!” interrupt I, sharply, snapping the words out of his mouth. “Yes, I know; you told me.”
The horses have been led away to the distant ale-house. The coach stands forlorn and solitary on the moor. Some of us, looking at the threatening aspect of the weather, have suggested that we too should make for shelter; but this suggestion is indignantly vetoed by Mr. Parker.
“Rain! not a bit of it! It is not thinking of raining! The wind! what is the matter with the wind? Nice and fresh! Much better than one of those muggy days, when you can hardly breathe!”
The cloth is therefore laid, with the dead heather-flowers beneath it, and the low leaden sky above. As large stones as can be found have to be sought on the moorland road to weight it, and hinder our banquet from flying bodily away. It is at last spread—cold lamb, cold partridges, chickens, mayonnaise, cakes, pastry—they have just been arranged in their defenceless nakedness under the eye of heaven, when the rain begins. And, when it begins, it begins to some purpose. It deceives us with no false hopes—with no breakings in the serried clouds—with no flying glimpses of blue sky. Down it comes, straight,_straight_ down, on the lamb, on the mayonnaise, splash into the bitter. Each of us seizes the viand dearest to his or her heart, and tries to shelter it beneath his or her umbrella. But in vain! The great slant storm reaches it under the puny defense. Even Mr. Parker has to change the form of his consolation, though not the spirit. He can no longer deny that it is raining; but what he now says is that it will not last—that it is only a shower—that he is very glad to see it come down so hard at first, as it is all the more certain to be soon over.
Nobody has the heart to contradict him, though everybody knows that it is a lie. Mrs. Huntley, at the first drop, has made for the coach, and now sits in it, serene and dry. Algy follows her, with a chicken and a champagne bottle. I sit doggedly still, where I am, on the cold moor.
Roger has not spoken to me since my rude reception of him on arriving, but he now comes up to me.
“Had not you better follow her example?” he asks, speaking rather formally, and looking toward the coach, where, with, smiling profile and neat hair, my rival is sitting, reveling among the flesh-pots.
Something in the sight of her sleek, smooth tidiness, joined to the consciousness of my own miserable, blowsed disorder, stings me more even than the rain-drops are doing.
“Not I,” I answer, brusquely; “that is what I trust I shall never do!”
He passes by my sneer without notice.
“In this rain you will be drenched in two minutes.”
“Apres!” repeats, impatiently, “apres? you will catch your death of cold!”