Was that the attitude of Randall, whom I had known all his life long? I shivered, like a fool, all night. The only consolation I had was to bring commonsense to my aid and to meditate on the statistical fact that the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge were practically empty.
But my soul was sick for young Randall Holmes.
On the wedding eve Betty brought the happy young man to dine with me. He was in that state of unaccustomed and somewhat embarrassed bliss in which a man would have dined happily with Beelzebub. A fresh-coloured boy, with fair crisply set hair and a little moustache a shade or two fairer, he kept on blushing radiantly, as if apologising in a gallant sort of fashion for his existence in the sphere of Betty’s affection. As I had known him but casually and desired to make his closer acquaintance, I had asked no one to meet them, save Betty’s aunt, whom a providential cold had prevented from facing the night air. So, in the comfortable little oak-panelled dining-room, hung round with my beloved collection of Delft, I had the pair all to myself, one on each side; and in this way I was able to read exchanges of glances whence I might form sage conclusions. Bella, spruce parlour-maid, waited deftly. Sergeant Marigold, when not occupied in the mild labour of filling glasses, stood like a guardian ramrod behind my chair—a self-assigned post to which he stuck grimly like a sentinel. As I always sat with my back to the fire there must have been times when, the blaze roaring more fiercely than usual up the chimney, he must have suffered martyrdom in his hinder parts.
As I talked—for the first time on such intimate footing—with young Connor, I revised my opinion of him and mentally took back much that I had said in his disparagement. He was by no means the dull dog that I had labelled him. By diligent and sympathetic enquiry I learned that he had been a Natural Science scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he had taken a first-class degree—specialising in geology; that by profession (his father’s) he was a mining-engineer, and, in pursuit of his vocation, had travelled in Galicia, Mexico and Japan; furthermore, that he had been one of the ardent little band who of recent years had made the Cambridge Officers Training Corps an effective school. Hitherto, when I had met him he had sat so agreeably smiling and modestly mumchance that I had accepted him at his face value.
I was amused to see how Betty, in order to bring confusion on me, led him to proclaim himself. And I loved the manner in which he did so. To hear him, one would have thought that he owed everything in the world to Betty—from his entrance scholarship at the University to the word of special commendation which his company had received from the General of his Division at last week’s inspection. Yes, he was the modest, clean-bred, simple English gentleman who, without self-consciousness or self-seeking, does his daily task as well as it can be done, just because it is the thing that is set before him to do. And he was over head and ears in love with Betty.