She stood almost a head taller than he, and he gazed up into a singularly noble face, proud and strong, somewhat pinched about the lips, but having such eyes and brows as belong to the few accustomed to confront great thoughts. It gave her the ineffable touch of greatness which more than redeemed her shabby black gown and antique bonnet; and, on an afterthought, the old gentleman decided that it must have been beautiful in its day. Just now it was pale, and one hand clutched the silk shawl crossed upon her bosom. He noted, too, that the hand was shapely, though roughened with housework where the mitten did not hide it.
She had scarcely glanced at him, and after a while he dropped his scrutiny and gazed with her across the ring.
“H’m,” said he, “dander up, this time!”
“Yes,” the lady answered, “I know that look, sir, though I have never seen it on him. And I trust to see him wear it, one day, in a better cause.”
“Tut, madam, the cause is good enough. You don’t tell me I’m talking to a Whig?—not that I’d dispute with a lady, Whig or Tory.”
“A Whig?” She fetched up a smile: she had evidently a reserve of mirth. “Indeed, no: but I was thinking, sir, of the cause of Christ.”
“Oh!” said the old gentleman shortly, and took snuff.
They were right. Young Wesley stepped out this time with a honeyed smile, but with a new-born light in his hazel eyes—a demoniac light, lambent and almost playful. Master Randall, caressed by them, read the danger signal a thought too late. A swift and apparently reckless feint drew another of his slogging strokes, and in a flash the enemy was under his guard. Even so, for the fraction of a second, victory lay in his arms, a clear gift to be embraced: a quick crook of the elbow, and Master Wesley’s head and neck would be snugly in Chancery. Master Wesley knew it—knew, further, that there was no retreat, and that his one chance hung on getting in his blow first and disabling with it. He jabbed it home with his right, a little below the heart: and in a second the inclosing fore-arm dragged limp across his neck. He pressed on, aiming for the point of the jaw; but slowly lowered his hands as Randall tottered back two steps with a face of agony, dropped upon one knee, clutching at his breast, and so to the turf, where he writhed for a moment and fainted.
As the ring broke up, cheering, and surged across the green, the old gentleman took snuff again and snapped down the lid of his box.
“Good!” said he; then to the lady, “Are you a relative of his?”
“I am his mother, sir.”
She moved across the green to the corner where Charles was coolly sponging his face and chest over a basin. “In a moment, ma’am!” said he, looking up with a twinkle in his eye as the boys made way for her.
She read the meaning of it and smiled at her own mistake as she drew back the hand she had put out to take the sponge from him. He was her youngest, and she had seen him but twice since, at the age of eight, he had left home for Westminster School. In spite of the evidence of her eyes he was a small child still—until his voice warned her.