“Where were you while I was at Pratt’s?”
“Sitting not far down the road eating bread and cheese,” he said. “Also I wrote a poem, a thing I very rarely do.”
“Well, I hope your ears burned,” I said, “for those Pratts have certainly raised you to the peerage.”
He got more uncomfortable than ever.
“Well,” he said, “I dare say it was all an error, but anyway I did follow you. When you turned off into that lane, I kept pretty close behind you. As it happens, I know this bit of country, and there are very often some hoboes hanging around the old quarry up that lane. They have a cave there where they go into winter quarters. I was afraid some of them might bother you. You could hardly have chosen a worse place to camp out. By the bones of George Eliot, Pratt ought to have warned you. I can’t conceive why you didn’t stop at his house overnight anyway.”
“If you must know, I got weary of hearing them sing your praises.”
I could see that he was beginning to get nettled.
“I regret having alarmed you,” he said. “I see that Peg has dropped a shoe. If you’ll let me fix it for you, after that I won’t bother you.”
We turned back again along the road, and I noticed the right side of his face for the first time. Under the ear was a large livid bruise.
“That hobo, or whoever he was,” I said, “must have been a better fighter than Andrew. I see he landed on your cheek. Are you always fighting?”
His annoyance disappeared. Apparently the Professor enjoyed a fight almost as much as he did a good book.
“Please don’t regard the last twenty-four hours as typical of me,” he said with a chuckle. “I am so unused to being a squire of dames that perhaps I take the responsibilities too seriously.”
“Did you sleep at all last night?” I asked. I think I began to realize for the first time that the gallant little creature had been out all night in a drizzling rain, simply to guard me from possible annoyance; and I had been unforgivably churlish about it.
“I found a very fine haystack in a field overlooking the quarry. I crawled into the middle of it. A haystack is sometimes more comfortable than a boarding-house.”
“Well,” I said penitently, “I can never forgive myself for the trouble I’ve caused you. It was awfully good of you to do what you did. Please put your cap on and don’t catch cold.”
We walked for several minutes in silence. I watched him out of the corner of my eye. I was afraid he might have caught his death of cold from being out all night in the wet, to say nothing of the scuffle he had had with the tramp; but he really looked as chipper as ever.
“How do you like the wild life of a bookseller?” he said. “You must read George Borrow. He would have enjoyed Parnassus.”
“I was just thinking, when I met you, that I could write a book about my adventures.”