Out of the corner of my eye I saw the hand of Mrs. Trevise move toward her bell; but she wished to hear all about it more than she wished concord at her harmonious table; and the hand stopped.
Juno spoke again. “Who, pray, has later news than what I bring?”
My enemy was in my hand; and an enemy in the hand is worth I don’t know how many in the bush.
I answered most gently: “I do not come from Mr. Mayrant’s bedside, because I have just left him at the front door in sound health—saving a bruise over his left eye.”
During a second we all sat in a high-strung silence, and then Juno became truly superb. “Who sees the scars he brazenly conceals?”
It took away my breath; my battle would have been lost, when the Briton suggested: “But mayn’t he have shown those to his Aunt?”
We sat in no silence now; the first et cetera made extraordinary sounds on his plate, Mrs. Trevise tinkled her handbell with more unction than I had ever yet seen in her; and while she and Daphne interchanged streams of severe words which I was too disconcerted to follow, the other et ceteras and the honeymooners hectically effervesced into small talk. I presently found myself eating our last course amid a reestablished calm, when, with a rustle, Juno swept out from among us, to return (I suppose) to the bedside. As she passed behind the Briton’s chair, that invaluable person kicked me under the table, and on my raising my eyes to him he gave me a large, robust wink.
I now burned to put many questions to the rest of the company. If, through my foolish and outreaching slyness with the girl behind the counter, the door of my comprehension had been shut, Juno had now opened it sufficiently wide for a number of facts to come crowding in, so to speak, abreast. Indeed, their simultaneous arrival was not a little confusing, as if several visitors had burst in upon me and at once begun speaking loudly, each shouting a separate and important matter which demanded my intelligent consideration. John Mayrant worked in the custom house, and Kings Port frowned upon this; not merely Kings Port in general—which counted little with the boy, if indeed he noticed general opinion at all—but the boy’s particular Kings Port, his severe old aunts, and his cousins, and the pretty girl at the Exchange, and the men he played cards with, all these frowned upon it, too; yet even this condemnation one could disregard if some lofty personal principle, some pledge to one’s own sacred honor, were at stake—but here was no such thing: John Mayrant hated the position himself. The salary? No, the salary would count for nothing in the face of such a prejudice as I had seen glitter from his eye! A strong, clever youth of twenty-three, with the world before him, and no one to support—stop! Hortense Rieppe! There was the lofty personal principle,