“You’re very good, sir. My name is Louis Ferrand; no address at present. I’ll make her understand; she’s half stupefied just now.”
Shelton returned to the perusal of his paper, too disturbed to read; the young vagrant’s words kept sounding in his ears. He raised his eyes. The plump hand of the lady with the Roman nose still rested on her lap; it had been recased in its black glove with large white stitching. Her frowning gaze was fixed on him suspiciously, as if he had outraged her sense of decency.
“He did n’t get anything from me,” said the voice of the red-faced man, ending a talk on tax-gatherers. The train whistled loudly, and Shelton reverted to his paper. This time he crossed his legs, determined to enjoy the latest murder; once more he found himself looking at the vagrant’s long-nosed, mocking face. “That fellow,” he thought, “has seen and felt ten times as much as I, although he must be ten years younger.”
He turned for distraction to the landscape, with its April clouds, trim hedgerows, homely coverts. But strange ideas would come, and he was discontented with himself; the conversation he had had, the personality of this young foreigner, disturbed him. It was all as though he had made a start in some fresh journey through the fields of thought.
Five years before the journey just described Shelton had stood one afternoon on the barge of his old college at the end of the summer races. He had been “down” from Oxford for some years, but these Olympian contests still attracted him.
The boats were passing, and in the usual rush to the barge side his arm came in contact with a soft young shoulder. He saw close to him a young girl with fair hair knotted in a ribbon, whose face was eager with excitement. The pointed chin, long neck, the fluffy hair, quick gestures, and the calm strenuousness of her grey-blue eyes, impressed him vividly.
“Oh, we must bump them!” he heard her sigh.
“Do you know my people, Shelton?” said a voice behind his back; and he was granted a touch from the girl’s shy, impatient hand, the warmer fingers of a lady with kindly eyes resembling a hare’s, the dry hand-clasp of a gentleman with a thin, arched nose, and a quizzical brown face.
“Are you the Mr. Shelton who used to play the ‘bones’ at Eton?” said the lady. “Oh; we so often heard of you from Bernard! He was your fag, was n’t he? How distressin’ it is to see these poor boys in the boats!”
“Mother, they like it!” cried the girl.
“Antonia ought to be rowing, herself,” said her father, whose name was Dennant.
Shelton went back with them to their hotel, walking beside Antonia through the Christchurch meadows, telling her details of his college life. He dined with them that evening, and, when he left, had a feeling like that produced by a first glass of champagne.