The sun had sunk behind a tor, but the warmth kept rising from the ground, and the sweet-briar on a cottage bathed them with its spicy perfume. From the converging lanes figures passed now and then, lounged by, staring at the strangers, gossiping amongst themselves, and vanished into the cottages that headed the incline. A clock struck seven, and round the shady lime-tree a chafer or some heavy insect commenced its booming rushes. All was marvellously sane and slumbrous. The soft air, the drawling voices, the shapes and murmurs, the rising smell of wood-smoke from fresh-kindled fires—were full of the spirit of security and of home. The outside world was far indeed. Typical of some island nation was this nest of refuge—where men grew quietly tall, fattened, and without fuss dropped off their perches; where contentment flourished, as sunflowers flourished in the sun.
Crocker’s cap slipped off; he was nodding, and Shelton looked at him. From a manor house in some such village he had issued; to one of a thousand such homes he would find his way at last, untouched by the struggles with famines or with plagues, uninfected in his fibre, his prejudices, and his principles, unchanged by contact with strange peoples, new conditions, odd feelings, or queer points of view!
The chafer buzzed against his shoulder, gathered flight again, and boomed away. Crocker roused himself, and, turning his amiable face, jogged Shelton’s arm.
“What are you thinking about, Bird?” he asked.
Shelton continued to travel with his college friend, and on Wednesday night, four days after joining company, they reached the village of Dowdenhame. All day long the road had lain through pastureland, with thick green hedges and heavily feathered elms. Once or twice they had broken the monotony by a stretch along the towing-path of a canal, which, choked with water-lily plants and shining weeds, brooded sluggishly beside the fields. Nature, in one of her ironic moods, had cast a grey and iron-hard cloak over all the country’s bland luxuriance. From dawn till darkness fell there had been no movement in the steely distant sky; a cold wind ruffed in the hedge-tops, and sent shivers through the branches of the elms. The cattle, dappled, pied, or bay, or white, continued grazing with an air of grumbling at their birthright. In a meadow close to the canal Shelton saw five magpies, and about five o’clock the rain began, a steady, coldly-sneering rain, which Crocker, looking at the sky, declared was going to be over in a minute. But it was not over in a minute; they were soon drenched. Shelton was tired, and it annoyed him very much that his companion, who was also tired, should grow more cheerful. His thoughts kept harping upon Ferrand: “This must be something like what he described to me, tramping on and on when you’re dead-beat,