The belt of crags did not run completely around the hill. At the back of it, after a scramble out of the gully, they came on a slope of good turf, and so cantered easily to the summit.
Ruth gave a little cry of delight, and followed it up with a yet smaller one of disappointment. The country lay spread at her feet like a vast amphitheatre, ringed with wooded hills. Across the plain they encircled a river ran in loops, and from the crag at the edge of which she stood a streamlet emerged and took a brave leap down the hill to join it.
“But where is the sea?”
“That small hill yonder must hide it. You see it, with its line of elms? If those trees were down, we should see the Atlantic for a certainty. If you like the spot otherwise, I will have them removed.”
He said it seriously; but of course she took it for granted that he spoke in jest, albeit the jest puzzled her a little. Indeed when she glanced up at him he was smiling, with his eyes on the distant landscape.
“The mountain too,” he added, “if the trees will not suffice. Though not by faith, it shall be removed.”
“You may smoke,” said Dicky politely, setting down his glass.
“Thank you,” answered Mr. Hanmer. “But are you sure? In my experience of houses there’s always some one that objects.”
Dicky lifted his chin. “We call this the nursery because it has always been the nursery. But I do what I like here.”
Mr. Hanmer had accepted the boy’s invitation to pay him a visit ashore and help him to rig a model cutter—a birthday gift from his father; and the pair had spent an afternoon upon it, seated upon the floor with the toy between them and a litter of twine everywhere, Dicky deep in the mysteries of knots and splices, the lieutenant whittling out miniature blocks and belaying-pins with a knife that seemed capable of anything.
They had been interrupted by Manasseh, bearing a tray of refreshments— bread and honey and cakes, with a jug of milk for the one; for the other a decanter of brown sherry with a dish of ratafia biscuits. The repast was finished now, and Dicky, eager to fall to work again, feared that his friend might make an excuse for departing.
Mr. Hanmer put a hand in his pocket and drew out his pipe.
“Your father would call it setting a bad example, I doubt?”
To this the boy, had he been less loyal, might have answered that his father took no great stock in examples, bad or good. He said: “Papa smokes. He says it is cleaner than taking snuff; and so it is, if you have ever seen Mr. Silk’s waistcoat.”
So Mr. Hanmer filled and lit his pipe, doing wonders with a pocket tinder-box. Dicky watched the process gravely through every detail, laying up hints for manhood.
“I ought to have asked you before,” he said. “Nobody comes here ever, except Mr. Silk and the servants.”