“Yes, I saw it outside the station; but the man didn’t recognise me— quite a small crowd came by the train—and of course I didn’t recognise him. So I bribed a porter to put my luggage on a barrow and come along with me. Half-way up the hill the cart overtook us—the driver full of apologies. While they transhipped my things I walked on ahead—yes, listen, there it comes; and—Oh, I say, what a lovely spot!”
Miss Bracy was listening—not for the wheels and not to the story, but critically to every word as it came from his lips. “The woman has certainly done wonders,” was her unspoken comment. At Victor’s frank outburst, however, she flushed with something like real pleasure. She was proud of her cottage and garden, and had even a sort of proprietary feeling about the view.
They sat down around the little tea-table; the boy first apologising for his travel-stains (he was, in fact, as neat as a pin) and afterwards chatting gaily about his journey—not talking too much, but appealing from one to another with a quick deferent grace, and allowing them always the lead. “This is better and better,” thought Miss Bracy as she poured tea; and, after a while, “But this is amazing!” He was a thorough child, too, with all his unconscious tact. The scent of a lemon-verbena plant fetched him suddenly to his feet with his eyes bright. “Please let me—” he thrust his face into the bush; “I have never seen it growing like this.”
Miss Bracy looked at Mr. Frank. How utterly different it was from their old-maidish expectations! They had pictured the scene a hundred times, and always it included some awkwardly decorous reference to the dead woman. This had been their terror—to do justice to the occasion without hurting the poor boy’s feelings—to meet his sullen shyness, perhaps antipathy, with a welcome which somehow excused the past. Yes, the past (they had felt) required excuse to him. And he had made no allusion to his mother, and obviously wished for none. Miss Bracy could not help smiling at the picture of their fears.
The boy turned, caught her smiling, and broke into a jolly laugh at his own absurdity. It echoed in the garden, where no one had laughed aloud for years.
And with that laugh Bassett’s revenge began.
For with that laugh they began to love him. They did not—or at any rate Miss Bracy ’did not—know it at the time. For some days they watched him; and he, the unsuspicious one, administered a score of shocks as again and again he took them neatly and decisively at unawares. He had accepted them at once and in entire good faith. They were (with just the right recognition of their seniority) good comrades in this jolliest of worlds. They were his holiday hosts, and it was not for the guest to hint (just yet) at the end of the holiday.