As she rang the bell, Bobus came in from the conservatory, book in hand, to receive the morning kiss, for which he had to bend to his little mother. He was not tall, but he had attained his full height, and had a well-knit sturdy figure which, together with his heavy brow and deep-set eyes, made him appear older than his real age-nineteen. His hair and upper lip were dark, and his eyes keen with a sense of ready power and strong will.
“Good morning, Bobus; I didn’t see you all day yesterday,” said his mother.
“No, I couldn’t find you before you went out on Saturday night, to tell you I was going to run down to Belforest with Bauerson. I wanted to enlighten his mind as to wild hyacinths. They are in splendid bloom all over the copses, and I thought he would have gone down on his knees to them, like Linnaeus to the gorse.”
“I’m afraid he didn’t go on his knees to anything else.”
“Well, it is not much in his line.”
“Then can he be a nice Sunday companion?”
“Now, mother, I expected credit for not scandalising the natives. We got out at Woodgate, and walked over, quite ‘unknownst,’ to Kenminster.”
“I was not thinking of the natives, but of yourself.”
“As you are a sensible woman, Mother Carey, wasn’t it a more goodly and edifying thing to put a man like Bauerson in a trance over the bluebells, than to sit cramped up in foul air listening to the glorification of a wholesale massacre.”
“For shame, Bobus; you know I never allow you to say such things.”
“Then you should not drag me to Church. Was it last Sunday that I was comparing the Prussians at Bazeille with-”
“Hush, my dear boy, you frighten me; you know it is all explained. Fancy, if we had to deal with a nation of Thugs, and no means of guarding them-a different dispensation and all. But here come the children, so hush.”
Bobus gave a nod and smile, which his mother understood only too well as intimating acquiescence with wishes which he deemed feminine and conventional.
“My poor boy,” she said to herself, with vague alarm and terror, “what has he not picked up? I must read up these things, and be able to talk it over with him by the time he comes back from Norway.”
There, however, came the morning greeting of Elvira and Barbara, girls of fourteen and eleven, with floating hair and short dresses, the one growing up into all the splendid beauty of her early promise, the other thin and brown, but with a speaking face and lovely eyes. They were followed by Miss Ogilvie, as trim and self-possessed as ever, but with more ease and expansiveness of manner.
“So Babie,” said her brother, “you’ve earned your breakfast; I heard you hammering away.”
“Like a nuthatch,” was the merry answer.
“And Elfie?” asked Mrs. Brownlow.
“I’m not so late as Janet,” she answered; and the others laughed at the self-defence before the attack.