The squire’s tone became more confidential as he put the question.
“Well—he is not a rector, to begin with,” answered Mrs. Goddard with a smile, “he is the vicar, and he is a most good man, whom I have always found most kind.”
“I can readily fancy that,” said Mr. Juxon. “But his wife seems to be of the severe type.”
“No—she struck me so at first, too. I think it is only with strangers. She is such a motherly sort of woman, you do not know! She only has that little manner when you first meet her.”
“What a strange thing that is!” remarked the squire, looking at Mrs. Goddard. “The natural belief of English people in each other’s depravity until they have had time to make acquaintance! And is there no one else here—no doctor—no doctor’s wife?”
“Not a soul,” answered Mrs. Goddard. “There is a doctor, but the vicarage suspects him of free thought. He certainly never goes to church. He has no wife.”
“This is the most Arcadian retreat I ever was in. Upon my word, I am a very lucky man.”
“I suppose that it must be a relief when one has travelled so much,” replied Mrs. Goddard.
“Or suffered very much,” added the squire, half unconsciously, looking at her sad face.
“Yes,” she answered. At that moment the door opened and Nellie entered the room, having successfully grappled with the inkstains. She went straight to the squire, and held out her hand, blushing a little, but looking very pretty. Then she saw the huge head of Stamboul who looked up at her with a ferociously agreeable canine smile, and thwacked the carpet with his tail as he sat; Nellie started back.
“Oh, what a dog!” she exclaimed. But very soon she was on excellent terms with him; little Nellie was not timid, and Stamboul, who liked people who were not afraid of him and was especially fond of children, did his best to be amusing.
“He is a very good dog,” remarked Mr. Juxon. “He once did me a very good service.”
“How was that?”
“I was riding in the Belgrade forest one summer. I was alone with Stamboul following. A couple of ruffians tried to rob me. Stamboul caught one of them.”
“Did he hurt him very much?”
“I don’t know—he killed him before the fellow could scream, and I shot the other,” replied the squire calmly.
“What a horrible story!” exclaimed Mrs. Goddard, turning pale. “Come here, Nellie—don’t touch that dreadful dog!”
“Do not be afraid—he is perfectly harmless. Come here Stamboul!” The huge beast obeyed, wagging his tail, and sat down at his master’s feet, still looking rather wistfully at Nellie who had been playing with him. “You see,” continued Mr. Juxon, “he is as quiet as a lamb—would not hurt a fly!”
“I think it is dreadful to have such animals about,” said Mrs. Goddard in a low voice, still looking at the dog with horror.
“I am sorry I told you. It may prejudice you against him. I only meant to explain how faithful he is, that is all. You see a man grows fond of a creature that has saved his life.”