A large party were assembled in the drawing room of Greendale, Sir John Greendale’s picturesque old mansion house. It was early in September. The men had returned from shooting, and the guests were gathered in the drawing room; in the pleasant half hour of dusk when the lamps have not yet been lighted, though it is already too dark to read. The conversation was general, and from the latest news from India had drifted into the subject of the Italian belief in the Mal Occhio.
“Do you believe in it, Captain Mallett?” asked Bertha, Sir John’s only child, a girl of sixteen; who was nestled in an easy chair next to that in which the man she addressed was sitting.
“I don’t know, Bertha.”
He had known her from childhood, and she had not yet reached an age when the formal “Miss Greendale” was incumbent upon her acquaintances.
“I do not believe in the Italian superstition to anything like the extent they carry it. I don’t think I should believe it at all if it were not that one man has always been unlucky to me.”
“How unlucky, Captain Mallett?”
“Well, I don’t know that unlucky is the proper word, but he has always stood between me and success; at least, he always did, for it is some years since our paths have crossed.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Well, I have no objection, but there is not a great deal to tell.
“I was at school with—I won’t mention his name. We were about the same age. He was a bully. I interfered with him, we had a fight, and I scored my first and only success over him. It was a very tough fight—by far the toughest I ever had. I was stronger than he, but he was the more active. I fancied that it would not be very difficult to thrash him, but found that I had made a great mistake. It was a long fight, and it was only because I was in better condition that I won at last.
“Well, you know when boys fight at school, in most cases they become better friends afterwards; but it was not so here. He refused to shake hands with me, and muttered something about its being his turn next time. Till then he had not been considered a first-rate hand at anything; he was one of those fellows who saunter through school, get up just enough lessons to rub along comfortably, never take any prominent part in games, but have a little set of their own, and hold themselves aloof from school in general.
“Once or twice when we had played cricket he had done so excellently that it was a grievance that he would not play regularly, and there was a sort of general idea that if he chose he could do most things well. After that fight he changed altogether. He took to cricket in downright earnest, and was soon acknowledged to be the best bat and best bowler in the school. Before that it had been regarded as certain that when the captain left I should be elected, but when the time came he got a majority of votes. I should not have minded that, for I recognised that he was a better player than I, but I fancied that he had not done it fairly, for many fellows whom I regarded as certain to support me turned round at the last moment.