Felix started slightly, and did but just check himself from rising from the table. A “servant” was a slave; it was the euphemism used instead of the hateful word, which not even the most degraded can endure to bear. The class of the nobles to which he belonged deemed it a disgrace to sit down with a slave, to eat with him, even to accidently touch him. With the retainers, or free men, they were on familiar terms, though despotic to the last degree; the slave was less than the dog. Then, stealing a glance at the man’s face, Felix saw that he had no moustache; he had not noticed this before. No slaves were allowed to wear the moustache.
This man having been at home ill some days had neglected to shave, and there was some mark upon his upper lip. As he caught his guest’s glance, the slave hung his head, and asked his guest in a low and humble voice not to mention this fault. With his face slightly flushed, Felix finished his meal; he was confused to the last degree. His long training and the tone of the society in which he had moved (though so despised a member of it) prejudiced him strongly against the man whose hospitality was so welcome. On the other hand, the ideas which had for so long worked in his mind in his solitary intercommunings in the forest were entirely opposed to servitude. In abstract principle he had long since condemned it, and desired to abolish it. But here was the fact.
He had eaten at a slave’s table, and sat with him face to face. Theory and practice are often strangely at variance. He felt it an important moment; he felt that he was himself, as it were, on the balance; should he adhere to the ancient prejudice, the ancient exclusiveness of his class, or should he boldly follow the dictate of his mind? He chose the latter, and extended his hand to the servant as he rose to say good-bye. The act was significant; it recognised man as distinct from caste. The servant did not know the conflict that had taken place; but to be shaken hands with at all, even by a retainer as he supposed Felix to be, was indeed a surprise. He could not understand it; it was the first time his hand had been taken by any one of superior position since he had been born. He was dumb with amazement, and could scarcely point out the road when asked; nor did he take the small coin Felix offered, one of the few he possessed. Felix therefore left it on the table and again started.
Passing through the town, Felix followed the track which led in the direction indicated. In about half a mile it led him to a wider track, which he immediately recognised as the main way and road to the camp by the ruts and dust, for the sward had been trampled down for fifty yards wide, and even the corn was cut up by wheels and horses’ hoofs. The army had passed, and he had but to follow its unmistakable trail.