Felix and Oliver, a few yards distant, were waiting with rising tempers. The spectacle of the Baron in his native might of physique, humbly standing, hat in hand, before this Court messenger, discoursing on cherries, and offering flowers and fruit, filled them with anger and disgust. The affected gesture and subdued voice of the courtier, on the other hand, roused an equal contempt.
As Lord John turned, he saw them. He did not quite guess their relationship, but supposed they were cadets of the house, it being customary for those in any way connected to serve the head of the family. He noted the flag basket in Felix’s hand, and naturally imagined that he had been at work.
“You have been to-to plough, eh?” he said, intending to be very gracious and condescending. “Very healthy employment. The land requires some rain, does it not? Still I trust it will not rain till I am home, for my plume’s sake,” tossing his head. “Allow me,” and as he passed he offered Oliver a couple of cigars. “One each,” he added; “the best Devon.”
Oliver took the cigars mechanically, holding them as if they had been vipers, at arm’s length, till the courtier had left the garden, and the hedge interposed. Then he threw them into the water-carrier. The best tobacco, indeed the only real tobacco, came from the warm Devon land, but little of it reached so far, on account of the distance, the difficulties of intercourse, the rare occasions on which the merchant succeeded in escaping the vexatious interference, the downright robbery of the way. Intercourse was often entirely closed by war.
These cigars, therefore, were worth their weight in silver, and such tobacco could be obtained only by those about the Court, as a matter of favour, too, rather than by purchase. Lord John would, indeed, have stared aghast had he seen the rustic to whom he had given so valuable a present cast them into a ditch. He rode towards the Maple Gate, excusing his haste volubly to Sir Constans, who was on foot, and walked beside him a little way, pressing him to take some refreshment.
His sons overtook the Baron as he walked towards home, and walked by his side in silence. Sir Constans was full of his fruit.
“The wall cherry,” said he, “will soon have a few ripe.”
Oliver swore a deep but soundless oath in his chest. Sir Constans continued talking about his fruit and flowers, entirely oblivious of the silent anger of the pair beside him. As they approached the house, the warder blew his horn thrice for noon. It was also the signal for dinner.
THE FOREST TRACK
When the canoe was finished, Oliver came to help Felix launch it, and they rolled it on logs down to the place where the stream formed a pool. But when it was afloat, as Oliver had foretold, it did not swim upright in the water. It had not been shaped accurately, and one side was higher out of the water than the other.