“His cousin, sir.” My companion appeared lost in thought, for he was puffing at his empty pipe again.
“Do you happen to know Sir Maurice?” I inquired.
“No,” returned the Preacher; “no, sir, but I have heard mention of him, and lately, though just when, or where, I cannot for the life of me recall.”
“Why, the name is familiar to a great many people,” said I; “you see, he is rather a famous character, in his way.”
Talking thus, we presently reached a stile beyond which the footpath led away through swaying corn and by shady hopgarden, to Sissinghurst village. Here the Preacher stopped and gave me his hand, but I noticed he still puffed at his pipe.
“And you are now a blacksmith?”
“And mightily content so to be.”
“You are a most strange young man!” said the Preacher, shaking his head.
“Many people have told me the same, sir,” said I, and vaulted over the stile. Yet, turning back when I had gone some way, I saw him leaning where I had left him, and with his pipe still in his mouth.
IN WHICH I MEET MY COUSIN, SIR MAURICE VIBART
As I approached the smithy, late though the hour was (and George made it a rule to have the fire going by six every morning), no sound of hammer reached me, and coming into the place, I found it empty. Then I remembered that to-day George was to drive over to Tonbridge, with Prudence and the Ancient, to invest in certain household necessities, for in a month’s time they were to be married.
Hereupon I must needs contrast George’s happy future with my dreary one, and fall bitterly to cursing myself; and, sitting on the Ancient’s stool in the corner, I covered my face, and my thoughts were very black.
Now presently, as I sat thus, I became conscious of a very delicate perfume in the air, and also, that some one had entered quietly. My breath caught in my throat, but I did not at once look up, fearing to dispel the hope that tingled within me. So I remained with my face still covered until something touched me, and I saw that it was the gold-mounted handle of a whip, wherefore I raised my head suddenly and glanced up.
Then I beheld a radiant vision in polished riding-boots and speckless moleskins, in handsome flowered waistcoat and perfect-fitting coat, with snowy frills at throat and wrists; a tall, gallant figure, of a graceful, easy bearing, who stood, a picture of cool, gentlemanly insolence, tapping his boot lightly with his whip. But, as his eye met mine, the tapping whip grew suddenly still; his languid expression vanished, he came a quick step nearer and bent his face nearer my own—a dark face, handsome in its way, pale and aquiline, with a powerful jaw, and dominating eyes and mouth; a face (nay, a mask rather) that smiled and smiled, but never showed the man beneath.