“Mortal fine figure of a man, Sir Charles even yet,” he said to Tom admiringly. “But anybody should have seen him as a young gentleman. When he used to visit here in old Mr. Verity’s time, none in the country-side could hold a candle to him for looks, as you may say. Turned the females’ heads he did. Might have had his pick of the lot, maids and wives alike for ’arf a word. Well, good-bye to you, sir”—and, as certain coin changed hands—“thank ye, sir, kindly. Wish you a pleasant voyage and a rare good picking up of honours and glories, and gold and silver likewise, there across the seas and oceans where you’re a-going to.”
THE HARD SCHOOL OF THINGS AS THEY ARE
IN MAIDEN MEDITATION
It was afternoon, about five o’clock. The fine September weather, hot and cloudless, lasted still. The air was heavy with garden scents, the aromatic sweetness of sun-baked gorse and pine-scrub on the warren, and with the reek off the mud-flats of the Haven, the tide being low. Upon the sandy skirts of the Bar, across the river just opposite, three cormorants—glossy black against the yellow—postured in extravagant angular attitudes drying their wings. Above the rim of the silver-blue sea—patched with purple stains in the middle distance—webs of steamer smoke lay along the southern sky. Occasionally a sound of voices, the creak of a wooden windlass and grind of a boat’s keel upon the pebbles as it was wound slowly up the foreshore, came from the direction of the ferry and of Faircloth’s Inn. The effect was languorous, would have been enervating to the point of mental, as well as physical, inertia had not the posturing cormorants introduced a note of absurdity and the tainted breath of the mud-flats a wholesome reminder of original sin.
Under these conditions, at once charming and insidious, Damaris Verity, resting in a wicker deck-chair in the shade of the great ilex trees, found herself alone, free to follow her own vagrant thoughts, perceptions, imaginations without human let or hindrance. Free to dream undisturbed and interrogate both Nature and her own much wondering soul.
For Sir Charles was away, staying with an old friend and former brother-in-arms, Colonel Carteret, for a week’s partridge shooting over the Norfolk stubble-fields. Sport promised to be good, and Damaris had great faith in Colonel Carteret. With him her father was always amused, contented, safe. Hordle was in attendance, too, so she knew his comfort in small material matters to be secure. She could think of him without any shadow of anxiety, her mind for once at rest. And this she enjoyed. For it is possible to miss a person badly, long for their return ardently, yet feel by no means averse to a holiday from more active expenditure of love on their account.