The village Inn, a little white building whose small windows were overgrown with creepers, had a single guest’s bedroom on the upper floor, and a little sitting-room where Courtier took his meals. The rest of the house was but stone-floored bar with a long wooden bench against the back wall, whence nightly a stream of talk would issue, all harsh a’s, and sudden soft u’s; whence too a figure, a little unsteady, would now and again emerge, to a chorus of ‘Gude naights,’ stand still under the ash-trees to light his pipe, then move slowly home.
But on that evening, when the trees, like cattle, stood knee-deep in the moon-dust, those who came out from the bar-room did not go away; they hung about in the shadows, and were joined by other figures creeping furtively through the bright moonlight, from behind the Inn. Presently more figures moved up from the lanes and the churchyard path, till thirty or more were huddled there, and their stealthy murmur of talk distilled a rare savour of illicit joy. Unholy hilarity, indeed, seemed lurking in the deep tree-shadow, before the wan Inn, whence from a single lighted window came forth the half-chanting sound of a man’s voice reading out loud. Laughter was smothered, talk whispered.
“He’m a-practisin’ his spaches.” “Smoke the cunnin’ old vox out!” “Red pepper’s the proper stuff.” “See men sneeze! We’ve a-screed up the door.”
Then, as a face showed at the lighted window, a burst of harsh laughter broke the hush.
He at the window was seen struggling violently to wrench away a bar. The laughter swelled to hooting. The prisoner forced his way through, dropped to the ground, rose, staggered, and fell.
A voice said sharply:
Out of the sounds of scuffling and scattering came the whisper: “His lordship!” And the shade under the ash-trees became deserted, save by the tall dark figure of a man, and a woman’s white shape.
“Is that you, Mr. Courtier? Are you hurt?”
A chuckle rose from the recumbent figure.
“Only my knee. The beggars! They precious nearly choked me, though.”
Bertie Caradoc, leaving the smoking-room at Monkland Court that same evening,—on his way to bed, went to the Georgian corridor, where his pet barometer was hanging. To look at the glass had become the nightly habit of one who gave all the time he could spare from his profession to hunting in the winter and to racing in the summer.’
The Hon. Hubert Caradoc, an apprentice to the calling of diplomacy, more completely than any living Caradoc embodied the characteristic strength and weaknesses of that family. He was of fair height, and wiry build. His weathered face, under sleek, dark hair, had regular, rather small features, and wore an expression of alert resolution, masked by impassivity. Over his inquiring, hazel-grey eyes the lids were