“But I suppose he’s really good,” she said, “I mean, all those things he told you about were only—”
“Good!” he answered, fidgeting; “I don’t really know what the word means.”
Her eyes clouded. “Dick, how can you?” they seemed to say.
Shelton stroked her sleeve.
“Tell us about Mr. Crocker,” she said, taking no heed of his caress.
“The lunatic!” he said.
“Lunatic! Why, in your letters he was splendid.”
“So he is,” said Shelton, half ashamed; “he’s not a bit mad, really—that is, I only wish I were half as mad.”
“Who’s that mad?” queried Mrs. Dennant from behind the urn—“Tom Crocker? Ah, yes! I knew his mother; she was a Springer.”
“Did he do it in the week?” said Thea, appearing in the window with a kitten.
“I don’t know,” Shelton was obliged to answer.
Thea shook back her hair.
“I call it awfully slack of you not to have found out,” she said.
“You were very sweet to that young foreigner, Dick,” she murmured with a smile at Shelton. “I wish that we could see him.”
But Shelton shook his head.
“It seems to me,” he muttered, “that I did about as little for him as I could.”
Again her face grew thoughtful, as though his words had chilled her.
“I don’t see what more you could have done,” she answered.
A desire to get close to her, half fear, half ache, a sense of futility and bafflement, an inner burning, made him feel as though a flame were licking at his heart.
Just as Shelton was starting to walk back to Oxford he met Mr. Dennant coming from a ride. Antonia’s father was a spare man of medium height, with yellowish face, grey moustache, ironical eyebrows, and some tiny crow’s-feet. In his old, short grey coat, with a little slit up the middle of the back, his drab cord breeches, ancient mahogany leggings, and carefully blacked boats, he had a dry, threadbare quality not without distinction.
“Ah, Shelton!” he said, in his quietly festive voice; “glad to see the pilgrim here, at last. You’re not off already?” and, laying his hand on Shelton’s arm, he proposed to walk a little way with him across the fields.
This was the first time they had met since the engagement; and Shelton began to nerve himself to express some sentiment, however bald, about it. He squared his shoulders, cleared his throat, and looked askance at Mr. Dennant. That gentleman was walking stiffly, his cord breeches faintly squeaking. He switched a yellow, jointed cane against his leggings, and after each blow looked at his legs satirically. He himself was rather like that yellow cane-pale, and slim, and jointed, with features arching just a little, like the arching of its handle.