Like a clap of thunder, the north wind, rushing seawards, seemed suddenly to threaten the ancient little building with destruction. The window sashes rattled, the beams which supported the roof creaked and groaned, the oil lamps by which alone the place was lit swung perilously in their chains. A row of maps designed for the instruction of the young—the place was a schoolhouse—commenced a devil’s dance against the wall. In the street without we heard the crash of a fallen chimneypot. My audience of four rose timorously to its feet, and I, glad of the excuse, folded my notes and stepped from the slightly raised platform on to the floor.
“I am much obliged to you for coming,” I said, “but I think that it is quite useless to continue, for I can scarcely make you hear, and I am not at all sure that the place is safe.”
I spoke hastily, my one desire being to escape from the scene of my humiliation unaccosted. One of my little audience, however, was of a different mind. Rising quickly from one of the back seats, she barred the way. Her broad comely face was full of mingled contrition and sympathy.
“I am so sorry, Mr. Ducaine,” she exclaimed. “It does seem a cruel pity, doesn’t it?—and such a beautiful lecture! I tried so hard to persuade dad and the others to come, but you know how they all love hearing anything about the war, and—”
“My dear Miss Moyat,” I interrupted, “I am only sorry that a mistaken sense of kindness should have brought you here. With one less in the audience I think I should have ventured to suggest that we all went round to hear Colonel Ray. I should like to have gone myself immensely.”
Blanche Moyat looked at me doubtfully.
“That’s all very well,” she declared, “but I think it’s jolly mean of the Duke to bring him down here the very night you were giving your lecture.”
“I do not suppose he knew anything about that,” I answered. “In any case, I can give my lecture again any time, but none of us may ever have another opportunity of hearing Colonel Ray. Allow me—”
I opened the door, and a storm of sleet and spray stung our faces. Old Pegg, who had been there to sell and collect tickets, shouted to us.
“Shut the door quick, master, or it’ll be blown to smithereens. It’s a real nor’easter, and a bad ’un at that. Why, the missie’ll hardly stand. I’ll see to the lights and lock up, Master Ducaine. Better be getting hoam while thee can, for the creeks’ll run full to-night.”
Once out in the village street I was spared the embarrassment of conversation. We had to battle the way step by step. We were drenched with spray and the driving rain. The wind kept us breathless, mocking any attempt at speech. We passed the village hall, brilliantly lit; the shadowy forms of a closely packed crowd of people were dimly visible through the uncurtained windows. I fancied that my companion’s clutch upon my arm tightened as we hurried past.