“Do I? Well, I have certainly drunk a deal more wine than is good for me, and it will be revenged to-morrow. As a rule,”—he glanced around at his fellow-topers—“I pride myself that in head and legs I am inexpugnable. We all have our gifts; and i’ faith until a moment ago I was patting myself on the back for owning this one.”
“And why, Mr. Langton?”
“On the thought, Mistress Josselin, that I had cut out the frigate, as our tars say, and towed the prize to moorings before the others could fire a gun.”
“I had hoped,” she murmured, and bent her eyes on the wine-bubbles winking against the rim of her glass, “you did it in simple kindness.”
“Well,” he owned slowly, “and so I did. This belittling of good intentions, small enough to begin with, is a cursed habit, and I’ll renounce it for once. It was little—it was nothing; yet behold me eager to be thanked.”
“I thank you.” She fingered the stem of the glass, not lifting her eyes. “But you have belittled me, too. I read it in books, and here on the threshold, as I step outside of books, you meet me with it. We women are always, it seems, poor ships, beating the seas, fleeing capture; and our tackle, our bravery—” She broke off, and sat musing, while her fingers played with the base of the glass.
“I take back my metaphors, Miss Josselin. I admit myself no buccaneer, but a simple ass who for once pricked ears on an honest impulse.”
“That is better. But hush! Mr. Manley, yonder, is preparing to sing.”
Mr. Manley, a young protege of the Collector’s, had a streak of genius as an architect and several lesser gifts, among them a propensity for borrowing and a flexible tenor voice. He trolled an old song, slightly adapted—
“Here’s a health
unto Sir Oliver,
With a fal-la-la, lala-la-la;
Confusion to his enemies,
With a fa-la-la, lala-la-la;
And he that will not drink his health,
I wish him neither wit nor wealth,
Nor yet a rope to hang himself—
With a fa-la-la, lala-la-la.”
The effort was applauded. Above the applause the bull voice of Mr. Silk shouted,—
“But Miss Josselin has not drunk it yet! Langton monopolises her. Miss Josselin! What has Miss Josselin to say?”
The cry was taken up. “Miss Josselin! Miss Josselin!”
Batty Langton arose, glass in hand. “Is it a toast, gentlemen?” He glanced at Sir Oliver, who sat sombre, not lifting his eyes. “Our host permits me. . . . Then I give you ‘Miss Josselin!’” Acclamations drowned his voice here, and the men sprang up, waving their glasses. Sir Oliver stood with the rest.
“Miss Josselin! Miss Josselin!” they shouted, and drank what their unsteady hands left unspilt. Langton waited, his full glass half upraised.
“Miss Josselin,” he repeated very deliberately on the tail of the uproar, “who honours this occasion as Sir Oliver’s ward.”