“You forget, sir, I shall never be without a friend.”
“God knows it, boy,” answered Sir Richard, and his hand fell and rested for a moment upon my shoulder. “Peter,” said he, very slowly and heavily, “I’m growing old—and I shall never marry—and sometimes, Peter, of an evening I get very lonely and—lonely, Peter.” He stopped for a while, gazing away towards the green slopes of distant Shooter’s Hill. “Oh, boy!” said he at last, “won’t you come to the Hall and help me to spend my money?”
Without answering I reached up and clasped his hand; it was the hand which held his whip, and I noticed how tightly he gripped the handle, and wondered.
“Sir Richard,” said I at last, “wherever I go I shall treasure the recollection of this moment, but—”
“Oh, dammit!” he exclaimed, and set spurs to his mare. Yet once he turned in his saddle to flourish his whip to me ere he galloped out of sight.
I SET OUT
The clock of the square-towered Norman church, a mile away, was striking the hour of four as I let myself out into the morning. It was dark as yet, and chilly, but in the east was already a faint glimmer of dawn. Reaching the stables, I paused with my hand on the door-hasp, listening to the hiss, hissing that told me Adam, the groom, was already at work within. As I entered he looked up from the saddle he was polishing and touched his forehead with a grimy forefinger.
“You be early abroad, Mr. Peter.”
“Yes,” said I. “I wish to be on Shooter’s Hill at sunrise; but first I came to say ‘good-by’ to ‘Wings.’”
“To be sure, sir,” nodded Adam, picking up his lanthorn.
Upon the ensuing interview I will not dwell; it was affecting both to her and to myself, for we were mutually attached.
“Sir,” said Adam, when at last the stable door had closed behind us, “that there mare knows as you’re a-leaving her.”
“I think she does, Adam.”
“’Osses be wonderful wise, sir!”
“This is a bad day for Wings, sir—and all of us, for that matter.”
“I hope not, Adam.”
“You be a-going away, they tell me, sir?”
“Yes, going away,” I nodded.
“Wonder what’ll become o’ the mare, sir?”
“Ah, yes, I wonder,” said I.
“Everything to be sold under the will, I think, sir?”
“Excuse me, sir,” said he, knuckling his forehead, “you won’t be wanting ever a groom, will you?”
“No, Adam,” I answered, shaking my head, “I sha’n’t be wanting a groom.”
“Nor yet a body servant, sir?”
“No, Adam, nor yet a body servant.”
Here there ensued a silence during which Adam knuckled his right temple again and I tightened the buckle of my knapsack.