I raise myself, and lean over Tou Tou, to give the offender a silent buffet of admonition, and, lifting my eyes apprehensively to see if I am noticed, I meet the blear eyes of Sir Roger fixed upon mine. He has turned his face quite toward me, and a ray from the candles falls full upon it. Blear! Well, if his eyes are blear, then henceforth blear must bear a different signification from the unhandsome one it has hitherto worn. Henceforth it must mean blue as steel: it must mean clear as a glass of spring water; keen as a well-tempered knife; kindly as the early sunshine.
I am so astonished at my discovery, that I remain for full two minutes staring blankly at the object of it, while he also looks stealthily at me; then, recollecting my manners, I burrow my face into my chair-bottom, and so remain until mother’s gentle Amen, and a noise of shuffling and scrambling to their feet on the part of the congregation, tell me that the end has come.
We all go up to father, and coldly and stiffly kiss him. While I am waiting for my turn to receive our parent’s chilly salute, I steal a second glance at our guest. Yes, he is old certainly. Despite the youth of his eyes, despite the uprightness, the utter freedom from superfluous flesh—from the ugly shaky bulkiness of age—in his tall and stalwart figure, still he is old—old in the eyes of nineteen—as old as father, perhaps—though in much better preservation—forty-eight or forty-nine; for is not his hair iron-gray, and his heavy mustache, and the thick and silky beard that falls on his broad breast, are they not iron-gray too? I have dropped my small and unwilling kiss on father’s forehead—and said “good-night” in a tone as suppressedly hostile as his own. Now I may go. We may all go. I am the last, or I think I am, to pass through the swing-door. I hurry along the passage to join the rest in the school-room. I upbraid the boys for the rash impiety of their demeanor. I feel a foot on my garments behind, and hear a long cracking sound that I too, too well know to mean gathers.
“You beast!” cried I, in good nervous English, turning sharply round with my hand raised in act to strike, “that is the third time this week that you have torn out my—”
I stop dumfounded. If I mean to box the offender’s ears, I must raise my hand considerably higher than it is at present. Angels and ministers of grace! what has happened? I have called General Sir Roger Tempest a beast, and offered to cuff him. For a moment, I am dumfounded. Then, for shyness has never been my besetting sin, and something in the genial laughter of his eyes reassures me.
I hold out the injured portion of my raiment, and say:
“Look! when you see what you have done, I am sure you will forgive me; but of course I meant it for Bobby. I never dreamt it was you.”
He takes hold of one end of the rent, I of the other, and we both examine it.