“Unless it would lower Winterbotham’s dignity or give him a cold in the head,” said I, “why shouldn’t he come out here?”
Sir Anthony crossed the pavement briskly, gave a message to the doorkeeper of the Town Hall, and returned to Hosea and myself.
“It’s a dreadful thing. Dreadful. I never realised till yesterday, when I read his record, what a distinguished soldier he was. A modern Bayard. For the last year or so he seemed to put my back up. Behaved in rather a curious way, never came near the house where once he was always welcome, and when I asked him to dinner he turned me down flat. But that’s all over. Sometimes one has these pettifogging personal vanities. The best thing is to be heartily ashamed of ’em like an honest man, and throw ’em out in the dung-heap where they belong. That’s what I told Edith last night, and she agreed with me. Don’t you?”
I smiled. Here was another typical English gentleman ridding his conscience of an injustice done to Leonard Boyce.
“Of course I do,” said I. “Boyce is a queer fellow. A man with his exceptional qualities has to be judged in an exceptional way.”
“And then,” said Sir Anthony, “it’s that poor dear old lady that I’ve been thinking of. Edith went to see her yesterday afternoon, but found she had gone up to London. In her frail health it’s enough to kill her.”
“It won’t,” said I. “A woman doesn’t give birth to a lion without having something of the lion in her nature.”
“I’ve never thought of that,” said Sir Anthony.
His face turned grave and he looked far away over the red-brick post-office on the opposite side of the square. Then he sighed, looked at me with a smile, and nodded.
“You’re right, Duncan.”
“I know I am,” said I. “I broke the news to Mrs. Boyce. That’s why he asked me to go up and see him.”
Winterbotham appeared—a tall, cadaverous man in a fur coat and a soft felt hat. He shook hands with me in a melancholy way. In a humbler walk of life, I am sure he would have been an undertaker.
“Now,” said Sir Anthony, “tell us all about your interview with Boyce.”
“Before I commit myself,” said I, “with the Civic Authorities, will you kindly inform me what this conference coram publico is all about?”
“Why, my dear chap, haven’t I told you?” cried Sir Anthony. “We’re going to give Colonel Boyce a Civic Reception.”
Thenceforward nothing was talked of but the home-coming of Colonel Boyce. He touched the public imagination. All kinds of stories, some apocryphal, some having a basis of truth, some authentic, went the round of the little place. It simmered with martial fervour. Elderly laggards enrolled themselves in the Volunteer Training Corps. Young married men who had not attested under the Derby Scheme rushed out to enlist.