‘That is right, sir,’ said the stranger, approvingly; ’laughter is to the soul what food is to the body. I think, sir,’ in a Johnsonian manner, ‘the thought is a happy one.’
Villiers assented with a nod, and examined the speaker attentively. He was a man of medium height, rather portly than otherwise, with a clean-shaved face, clearly-cut features, and two merry grey eyes, which twinkled like stars as they rested on Villiers. His hair was greyish, and inclined to curl, but could not follow its natural inclination owing to the unsparing use of the barber’s shears. He wore a coat and trousers of white flannel, but no waistcoat; canvas shoes were on his feet, and a juvenile straw hat was perched on his iron-grey hair, the rim of which encircled his head like a halo of glory. He had small, well-shaped hands, one of which grasped a light cane, and the other a white silk pocket handkerchief, with which he frequently wiped his brow. He seemed very hot, and, leaning on the opposite side of the path against a rock, fanned himself first with his handkerchief and then with his hat, all the time looking at Mr Villiers with a beaming smile. At last he took a silver-mounted flask from his pocket and offered it to Villiers, with a pleasant bow.
‘It’s very hot, you know,’ he said, in his rich voice, as Villiers accepted the flask.
‘What, this?’ asked Villiers, indicating the flask, as he slowly unscrewed the top.
‘No; the day, my boy, the day. Ha! ha! ha!’ said the lively stranger, going off into fits of laughter, which vibrated like small thunder amid the high rocks surrounding them. ’Good line for a comedy, I think. Ha! ha!—gad, I’ll make a note of it,’ and diving into one of the pockets of his coat, he produced therefrom an old letter, on the back of which he inscribed the witticism with the stump of a pencil.
Meanwhile Villiers, thinking the flask contained brandy, or at least whisky, took a long drink of it, but found to his horror it was merely a weak solution of sherry and water.
‘Oh, my poor stomach,’ he gasped, taking the flask from his lips.
‘Colic?’ inquired the stranger with a pleasant smile, as he put back the letter and pencil, ’hot water fomentations are what you need. Wonderful cure. Will bring you to life again though you were at your last gasp. Ha!’ struck with a sudden idea, ’"His Last Gasp”, good title for a melodrama—mustn’t forget that,’ and out came the letter and the pencil again.
Mr Villiers explained in a somewhat gruff tone that it was not colic, but that his medical attendant allowed him to drink nothing but whisky.
‘To be taken twenty times a day, I presume,’ observed the stranger, with a wink; ‘no offence meant, sir,’ as Villiers showed a disposition to resent this, ’merely a repartee. Good for a comedy, I fancy; what do you think?’
‘I think,’ said Mr Villiers, handing him back the flask, ’that you’re very eccentric.’