’Well, yes! They’re always proud of the senior wrangler of the year up at Cambridge. Next year I must abdicate.’
The squire sate and gazed into the embers, still holding his useless pipe-stem. At last he said, in a low voice, as if scarcely aware he had got a listener,—’I used to write to her when she was away in London, and tell her the home news. But no letter will reach her now! Nothing reaches her!’
Roger started up.
‘Where’s the tobacco-box, father? Let me fill you another pipe!’ and when he had done so, he stooped over his father and stroked his cheek. The squire shook his head.
’You’ve only just come home, lad. You don’t know me, as I am now-a-days! Ask Robinson—I won’t have you asking Osborne, he ought to keep it to himself—but any of the servants will tell you I’m not like the same man for getting into passions with them. I used to be reckoned a good master, but that is past now! Osborne was once a little boy, and she was once alive—and I was once a good master—a good master—yes! It is all past now.’
He took up his pipe, and began to smoke afresh, and Roger, after a silence of some minutes, began a long story about some Cambridge man’s misadventure on the hunting-field, telling it with such humour that the squire was beguiled into hearty laughing. When they rose to go to bed, his father said to Roger,—
’Well, we’ve had a pleasant evening—at least, I have. But perhaps you have not; for I’m but poor company now, know.’
‘I don’t know when I’ve passed a happier evening, father,’ said Roger. And he spoke truly, though he did not trouble himself to find out the cause of his happiness.
MRS GIBSON’S LITTLE DINNER
All this had taken place before Roger’s first meeting with Molly and Cynthia at Miss Brownings’; and the little dinner on the Friday at Mr. Gibson’s, which followed in due sequence.
Mrs. Gibson intended the Hamleys to find this dinner pleasant; and they did. Mr. Gibson was fond of these two young men, both for their parents’ sake and their own, for he had known them since boyhood; and to those whom he liked Mr. Gibson could be remarkably agreeable. Mrs. Gibson really gave them a welcome—and cordiality in a hostess is a very becoming mantle for any other deficiencies there may be. Cynthia and Molly looked their best, which was all the duty Mrs Gibson absolutely required of them, as she was willing enough to take her full share in the conversation. Osborne fell to her lot, of course, and for some time he and she prattled on with all the ease of manner and commonplaceness of meaning which go far to make the ’art of polite conversation.’ Roger, who ought to have made himself agreeable to one or the other of the young ladies, was exceedingly interested in what Mr. Gibson was telling him of a paper on comparative osteology in some foreign journal