He would quite suddenly stop, stand like a top spinning, balanced on his toes, and cry, “Ah! Now I’ve got it! No, I haven’t! Yes, I have. By God, it’s gone again!”
To this also Mr. Lasher strongly objected, and Hugh heard him say, “Really, Pidgen, think of the boy! Think of the boy!” and Mr. Pidgen exclaimed, “By God, so I should!... Beg pardon, Lasher! Won’t do it again! Lord save me, I’m a careless old drunkard!” He had any number of strange phrases that were new and brilliant and exciting to the boy, who listened to him. He would say, “by the martyrs of Ephesus!” or “Sunshine and thunder!” or “God stir your slumbers!” when he thought any one very stupid. He said this last one day to Mrs. Lasher, and of course she was very much astonished. She did not from the first like him at all. Mr. Pidgen and Mr. Lasher had been friends at Cambridge and had not met one another since, and every one knows that that is a dangerous basis for the renewal of friendship. They had a little dispute on the very afternoon of Mr. Pidgen’s arrival, when Mr. Lasher asked his guest whether he played golf.
“God preserve my soul! No!” said Mr. Pidgen. Mr. Lasher then explained that playing golf made one thin, hungry and self-restrained. Mr. Pidgen said that he did not wish to be the first or last of these, and that he was always the second, and that golf was turning the fair places of England into troughs for the moneyed pigs of the Stock Exchange to swill in.
“My dear Pidgen!” cried Mr. Lasher, “I’m afraid no one could call me a moneyed pig with any justice—more’s the pity—and a game of golf to me is——”
“Ah! you’re a parson, Lasher,” said his guest.
In fact, by the evening of the second day of the visit it was obvious that Clinton St. Mary Vicarage might, very possibly, witness a disturbed Christmas. It was all very tiresome for poor Mrs. Lasher. On the late afternoon of Christmas Eve, Hugh heard the stormy conversation that follows—a conversation that altered the colour and texture of his after-life as such things may, when one is still a child.
Christmas Eve was always, to Hugh, a day with glamour. He did not any longer hang up his stocking (although he would greatly have liked to do so), but, all day, his heart beat thickly at the thought of the morrow, at the thought of something more than the giving and receiving of presents, something more than the eating of food, something more than singing hymns that were delightfully familiar, something more than putting holly over the pictures and hanging mistletoe on to the lamp in the hall. Something there was in the day like going home, like meeting people again whom one had loved once, and not seen for many years, something as warm and romantic and lightly coloured and as comforting as the most inspired and impossible story that one could ever, lying in bed and waiting for sleep, invent.