He rose and stretched his large limbs and smiled confidently at the world out of his clear blue eyes. Two little words of Zora had inspired him with the old self-reliance and sense of predestination to great things. Out of her own mouth had come the words which, when they had come out of Rattenden’s, had made his heart sink in despair. She had called him a “big man.” Like many big men, he was superstitious. He believed Rattenden’s prophetic utterance concerning Zora. He was, indeed, set in front of a new universe, and Septimus had done it by means of the tail of a little china dog.
As he was stretching himself, Wiggleswick shambled in, with the fear of Zora written on his wrinkled brow, and removed the tray and the plate of broken victuals. What had passed between them neither he nor Zora would afterwards relate; but Wiggleswick spent the whole of that night and the following days in unremitting industry, so that the house became spick and span as his own well-remembered prison cells. There also was a light of triumph in Zora’s eyes when she entered a few moments afterwards with the tea-tray, which caused Sypher to smile and a wicked feeling of content to enter Septimus’s mild bosom.
“I think it was high time I came home,” she remarked, pouring out the tea.
The two men supported the proposition. The western hemisphere, where she had tarried so long, could get on very well by itself. In the meantime the old eastern hemisphere had been going to pieces. They had a gay little meal. Now that Zora had settled Wiggleswick, arranged her plan of campaign against Emmy, and established very agreeable and subtle relations between Sypher and herself, she could afford to shed all her charm and gaiety and graciousness on her subjects. She was infinitely glad to be with them again. Nunsmere had unaccountably expanded; she breathed freely and no longer knocked her head against beams in bedroom ceilings.
She rallied Septimus on his new gun.
“He’s afraid of it,” said Sypher.
“What! Afraid of its going off?” she laughed.
“Oh, no,” said Septimus. “I’ve heard lots of them go off.”
“When?” asked Zora.
Septimus reddened, and for once was at a loss for one of the curiously evasive answers in which his timidity took refuge. He fidgeted in his chair. Zora repeated her jesting question. “Was it when they were firing royal salutes in St. James’s Park?”
“No,” said Septimus.
His back being against the fading light she could not perceive the discomfiture on his face. She longed to elicit some fantastic irrelevance.
“Well, where was it? Why this mystery?”
“I’ll tell you two,” said Septimus. “I’ve never told you before. In fact, I’ve never told any one—not even Wiggleswick. I don’t like to think of it. It hurts. You may have wondered how I ever got any practical acquaintance with gunnery. I once held a commission in the Militia Garrison Artillery. That’s how I came to love guns.”