“But I told you—” he began, in a tone of indignant command.
“You don’t know Mr Middlecoat’s temper. I’m afraid—if they meet—” She hurried by him, towards the gate.
Cai took fresh breath and dashed after her. They passed the gateway neck and neck. At a turning some fifty yards down the lane—Cai leading now by a stride or two—they pulled up, panting.
’Bias, his back blocking the way, stood there confronting a young farmer: and the young farmer’s face was red with a bull-fury.
“You damned trespasser!”
“Trespasser?” echoed ’Bias, squaring up. “What about your damned trespassing cattle?”
Mrs Bosenna stepped past Cai and flung herself between the combatants. Strange to say she ignored ’Bias, and faced the enemy, to plead with him.
“Mr Middlecoat, how can you be so foolish? He’s as good as a prize-fighter!”
The young farmer stared and lowered his guard slowly.
“Your servant, ma’am! . . . A prize-fighter? Why couldn’t he have told me so, at first?”
Again the two friends traversed back the valley road in silence: but this time they made no attempt to deceive themselves or to deceive one another by charging their constraint upon the atmosphere or the scenery. Each was aware that their friendship had a crisis to be overcome; each sincerely pitied the other, with some twinge of compunction for his own good fortune; each longed to make a clean breast—“a straight quarrel is soonest mended,” says the proverb,—and each, as they kept step on the macadam, came separately to the same decision, that the occasion must be taken that very evening, when pipes were lit after supper. The reader will note that even yet, on the very verge of the crisis, Cai and ’Bias owned:
“Two souls with but
a single thought,
Two hearts that beat as one.”
Now, in accordance with routine, supper should have been served that evening at ’Bias’s table. But Cai—on his way upstairs to titivate— perceived that the lamp was lit and the cloth spread in his own parlour; and, as he noted this with a vague surprise, encountered Mrs Bowldler.
“Which, if it is agreeable, we are at home to Captain Hunken this evening,” Mrs Bowldler began, in a panting hurry, and continued with a catch of the breath, “Which if you see it in a different light, I must request of you, sir, to allow Palmerston to carry down my box, and you may search it if you wish.”
“Oh! Conf—” began Cai in his turn, and checked himself. “I beg your pardon, ma’am; but it really does seem as if I never reach home nowadays without you meet me at the foot of the stairs, givin’ notice. What’s wrong this time?”
“If you drive me to it, sir,” said Mrs Bowldler in an aggrieved tone, “it’s Captain Hunken’s parrot.”