Cai advanced along the pathway and gravely doffed his hat. “Good morning, ma’am—if I don’t intrude?”
“Not at all. In fact I was expecting you.”
“Er—on which errand, ma’am?”
“—Which?” echoed Mrs Bosenna, as if she did not understand.
“Shall we take the more painful business first?” suggested Cai humbly. “If indeed it has not—er—wiped out the other. The damage done yesterday to your field, ma’am—”
“Have you brought Captain Hunken along with you?” asked Mrs Bosenna, interrupting him.
“No, ma’am. He will be here in half an hour, sharp.” Cai consulted his watch.
“You have stolen a march on him then?” she smiled.
Cai flushed. “No, again, ma’am. Er—in point of fact we tossed up which should call first.”
“Then,” said she calmly, “we’ll leave that part of the business until he arrives; though, since it concerns you both, I can’t see why you did not bring him along with you. Do you know,” she added with admirable simplicity, “it has struck me once or twice of late that you and Captain Hunken are not the friends you were?”
Still Cai stared, his face mantling with confusion. This woman was an enigma to him. Surely she must understand? Surely she must have received that brace of letters to which she evaded all allusion? And here was she just as blithely postponing all allusion to yesterday’s offence!
But no; not quite, it seemed; for she continued—
“I cannot think why you two should challenge one another as you did yesterday, and make sillies of yourselves before a lot of farmers. It—it humiliates you.”
“We were a pair of fools,” conceded Cai.
“What men cannot see somehow,” she went on angrily, “is that it doesn’t end there. That kind of thing humiliates a woman; especially when—when she happens to be cast on her own resources and it is everything to her to find a man she can trust.”
Mrs Bosenna threw into these words so much feeling that Cai in a moment forgot self. His awkwardness fell from him as a garment.
“You may trust me, ma’am. Truly you may. Tell me only what I can do.”
At this moment William Skin—a crab-apple of a man, whose infirmity of deafness had long since reduced all the world for him to a vain tolerable show, in which so much went unexplained that nothing caused surprise—came stumbling around the corner of the house with a waggon-rope and a second ladder, which he proceeded to rest alongside the first one; showing the while no recognition of Cai’s presence, even by a nod.
“I want you,” said Mrs Bosenna, “to invest a hundred pounds for me. Oh!”—as Cai gave a start and glanced at Skin—“we may talk before him: he’s as deaf as a haddock.”
“A hundred pounds?” queried Cai, still in astonishment.