“Oh mamma, must I go? He’s just coming in.” She gave one despairing look at her little hands, and then ran away. The idea of missing one moment of Mr. Juxon’s visit was bitter, but to be caught with inky fingers by a beautiful gentleman with green stockings and a rose in his coat would be more terribly humiliating still. There was a sound as of some gigantic beast plunging into the passage as the front door was opened, and a scream of terror from Martha followed by a good-natured laugh from the squire.
“You’ll excuse me, sir, but he don’t bite, sir, does he? Oh my! what a dog he is, sir—”
“Is Mrs. Goddard in?” inquired Mr. Juxon, holding the hound by the collar. Martha opened the door of the little sitting-room and the squire looked in. Martha fled down the passage.
“Oh my! What a tremendious dog that is, to be sure!” she was heard to exclaim as she disappeared into the back of the cottage.
“May I come in?” asked Mr. Juxon, rather timidly and with an expression of amused perplexity on his brown face. “Lie down, Stamboul!”
“Oh, bring him in, too,” said Mrs. Goddard coming forward and taking Mr. Juxon’s hand. “I am so fond of dogs.” Indeed she was rather embarrassed and was glad of the diversion.
“He is really very quiet,” said the squire apologetically, “only he is a little impetuous about getting into a house.” Then, seeing that Mrs. Goddard looked at the enormous animal with some interest and much wonder, he added, “he is a Russian bloodhound—perhaps you never saw one? He was given to me in Constantinople, so I call him Stamboul—good name for a big dog is not it?”
“Very,” said Mrs. Goddard rather nervously. Stamboul was indeed an exceedingly remarkable beast. Taller than the tallest mastiff, he combined with his gigantic strength and size a grace and swiftness of motion which no mastiff can possess. His smooth clean coat, of a perfectly even slate colour throughout, was without folds, close as a greyhound’s, showing every articulation and every swelling muscle of his body. His broad square head and monstrous jaw betrayed more of the quickness and sudden ferocity of the tiger than those suggested by the heavy, lion-like jowl of the English mastiff. His ears, too, were close cropped, in accordance with the Russian fashion, and somehow the compactness this gave to his head seemed to throw forward and bring into prominence his great fiery eyes, that reflected red lights as he moved, and did not tend to inspire confidence in the timid stranger.
“Do sit down,” said Mrs. Goddard, and when the squire was seated Stamboul sat himself down upon his haunches beside him, and looked slowly from his master to the lady and back again, his tongue hanging out as though anxious to hear what they might have to say to each other.
“I thought I should be sure to find you in the morning,” began Mr. Juxon, after a pause. “I hope I have not disturbed you?”