The gentleman lifted his hat directly he saw me, and apologised for his dog’s presence, until I assured him it made no difference to me; and then he drew a newspaper from his bag and tried to read by the somewhat flickering light. As I had nothing else to do, and his attention was evidently very much absorbed, I looked at him from time to time in an idle, furtive sort of way.
He had taken off his hat and put it on the seat; his dark smooth-shaven face reminded me of a Romish priest, but he had no tonsure; instead of that he had thick closely-cropped hair without a hint or suspicion of baldness, was strongly built and very broad, and looked like a man who had undergone training.
I was rather given to study the countenances of my fellow-passengers,—it was a way I had,—but I was not particularly prepossessed with this man’s face; it looked hard and stern, and his manner, though perfectly gentlemanly, was a little brusque. I abandoned the Romish priest theory after a second glance, and told myself he was more like a Roman gladiator.
As we approached Heathfield, he folded up his paper and patted his dog, who had sat all this time at his feet, with his head on his knees. It was a beautiful, intelligent animal, and had soft eyes like a woman, and by the way he wagged his tail and licked the hand that fondled his glossy head I saw he was devoted to his master.
Just then I encountered a swift, searching glance from the stranger, which rather surprised me. He had looked at me, as he spoke, in an indifferent way; but this second look was a little perplexing; it was as though he had suddenly recognised me, and that the fact amused him; and yet we had never met before,—it was such an uncommon face, so singular altogether, that I could never have forgotten it.
I grew irritated without reason, for how could a stranger recognise me? Happily the lights from the station flashed before my eyes at that moment, and I began nodding and smiling towards a corner by the bookstall, where a felt hat and brown head were all that I could see of Uncle Max.
‘Well, here you are, Ursula, punctual to a minute,’ exclaimed Max, as he shook hands. ‘Halloo, Hamilton, where did you spring from?’ going to the carriage door to speak to my fellow-passenger. I was so provoked at this, fearing an introduction, for Max was such a friendly soul, that I went to the luggage-van and began counting my boxes, and Max did not hurry himself to look after me.
‘Now, then,’ he observed cheerily, when he condescended to join me, ’is your luggage all right? Do you mean all those traps are yours? Bless me, Ursula, what will Mrs. Barton say? Put them on the fly, you fellows, and be sharp about it. Come along, child; it is pelting cats and dogs, if you know what that means: you have a wet welcome to Heathfield.’
I took the news philosophically, and assured him it did not matter in the least. We could hear the rain beating against the windows as we reached the booking-office. A closed waggonette with a pair of horses was waiting at the door; my fellow-passenger, whom Max had addressed as Hamilton, was standing on the pavement, speaking somewhat angrily to the coachman. I heard the man’s answer as he touched his hat.