His valet was knocking timorously on the door. “All right!” called Langton, lifting his cane and lowering it slowly—for his victim lay still. He stooped to drag aside the arm covering the huddled face. As he did so, Mr. Silk snarled again, raised his head and bit blindly, fastening his teeth in the flesh of the left hand. Langton wrenched free and, as the man scrambled to his feet, dealt him with the same hand a smashing blow on the mouth—a blow that sent him reeling, to overbalance and pitch backward to the floor again across an overturned chair.
Somehow the pleasure of getting in that blow restored—literally at a stroke—Langton’s good temper. He laughed and tossed the cane into a corner.
“You may stand up now,” said he sweetly. “You are not going to be beaten any more.”
Mr. Silk stood up. His mouth trickled blood, and he nursed his right wrist, where the cane had smitten across the bone. Langton stepped to the door and, unlocking it, admitted his trembling valet.
“My good fool,” he said, “didn’t I call to you not to be alarmed? Mr. Silk, here, has been seized with a—a kind of epileptic fit. Help him downstairs and call a chair for him. Don’t stare; he will not bite again for a very long time.”
But in this Mr. Langton was mistaken.
He took the precaution of cauterising his bitten hand; and before retiring to rest that night contemplated it grimly, holding it out to the warmth of his bachelor fire. It was bandaged; but above the edge of the bandage his knuckles bore evidence how they had retaliated upon Mr. Silk’s teeth.
He eyed these abrasions for a while and ended with a soft complacent laugh. “Queer, how little removed we are, after all, from the natural savage!” he murmured. “Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce to your notice Batty Langton, Esquire, a child of nature— not perhaps of the best period—still using his naked fists and for a woman—primitive cause of quarrel. And didn’t he enjoy it, by George!”
He laughed again softly. But, could he have foreseen, he had been willing rather to cut the hand off for its day’s work.
Ruth was happy. To-day, and for a whole week to come, she was determined to be purely happy, blithe as the spring sunshine upon the terrace. For a week she would, like Walton’s milkmaid, cast away care and refuse to load her mind with any fears of many things that will never be. Her spirit sang birdlike within her. And the reason?—that the Venus had arrived in harbour, with Dicky on board.
Peace had been signed, or was on the point to be signed, and in the North Atlantic waters His Majesty’s captains of frigates could make a holiday of duty. Captain Harry used his holiday to sail up for Boston, standing in for Carolina on his way and fetching off his wife and his firstborn—a bouncing boy. It was time, they agreed, to pay their ceremonial visit to Sir Oliver and his bride; high time also for Dicky to return and embrace his father.