There was a figure lying on its face in the shadow by the house, as Ralph came up the path, and a small dog, that seemed to be trying to dig the head out from the hands in which it was buried, ceased his excavations and set up a shrill barking. The figure rolled over, and sat up; the pleasant brown face was all creased with laughter; small pieces of grass were clinging to the long hair, and Ralph, to his amazement, recognised the ex-Lord Chancellor of England.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” said More, rising and shaking himself. “I had no idea—you take me at a disadvantage; it is scarcely dignified”—and he stopped, smiling and holding out one hand, while he stretched the other deprecatingly, to quiet that insistent barking.
Ralph had a sensation of mingled contempt and sympathy as he took his hand.
“I had the honour of seeing you once before, Master More,” he said.
“Why, yes,” said More, “and I hope I cut a better figure last time, but Anubis would take no refusal. But I am ashamed, and beg you will not speak of it to Mrs. More. She is putting on a new coif in your honour.”
“I will be discreet,” said Ralph, smiling.
They went indoors almost immediately, when Sir Thomas had flicked the grass sufficiently off his gown to escape detection, and straight through to the hall where the table was laid, and three or four girls were waiting.
“Your mother is not here yet, I see,” said Sir Thomas, when he had made Ralph known to his daughters, and the young man had kissed them deferentially, according to the proper etiquette—“I will tell you somewhat—hush—” and he broke off again sharply as the door from the stairs opened, and a stately lady, with a rather solemn and uninteresting face, sailed in, her silk skirts rustling behind her, and her fresh coif stiff and white on her head. A middle-aged man followed her in, looking a little dejected, and made straight across to where the ladies were standing with an eagerness that seemed to hint at a sense of escape.
“Mrs. Alice,” said Sir Thomas, “this is Mr. Ralph Torridon, of whom you have heard me speak. I was fortunate enough to welcome him on the lawn just now.”
“I saw you, Mr. More,” said his wife with dignity, as she took Ralph’s hand and said a word about the weather.
“Then I will confess,” said Sir Thomas, smiling genially round, “I welcomed Mr. Torridon with the back of my head, and with Anubis biting my ears.”
Ralph felt strangely drawn to this schoolboy kind of man, who romped with dogs and lay on his stomach, and was so charmingly afraid of his wife. His contempt began to melt as he looked at him and saw those wise twinkling eyes, and strong humorous mouth, and remembered once more who he was, and his reputation.