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"Then, my dear, we'll sit tight. If anyone should go it's he, since he's been here a month, and we've only been one day. But if he goes it will only be because you make him. You've no ill-will towards him?"
"I've no feeling at all about him, except that it's awkward his being here."
"Then we'll just put the blame on Providence, and sit tight, as I said before. I'll see you come to no harm, my child. I could make that young man, or any young man, fly to the other end of the island by simply looking at him."
"Think so, dear?" and Margaret, the issue being decided for her, came back to equanimity.
"Sure!" said Miss Penny.
He was sitting on the low stone wall that shut off the cobble-paved forecourt from the road, with his back towards them, when they sauntered through the open door after breakfast. He was smoking the choice after-breakfast pipe of peace, legs dangling, back bent, hands loosely clasped between his knees. He was very beautifully dressed as regards tie and collar--for the rest, light tweeds and cap of the same, and shoes which struck Miss Penny as flat. But these things she only noticed later. At present all she saw was a square light-tweed back, and a curl of fragrant smoke rising over its left shoulder.
Below him in the dust were his two friends,--Punch, gravely observant of his every movement, and occasionally following the smoke with an interested eye; Scamp, no less watchful, but panting like a motor-car, and apparently exhausted with unrewarded scoutings up and down every possible route for the day's programme.
In the hedge, on the opposite side of the road, sat a very small boy bunched up into an odd little heap, out of which looked a long sharp little face and a pair of black eyes as sharp as gimlets and as bright as a rat's, and beside him sat a big black cat busy on its toilet, which it interrupted in order to eye the ladies keenly when they appeared.
"Now, see you here, my son," they heard from the other side of the broad tweed back, "if you don't make it fine for the next thirty days you and I will have words together. If you want it to rain, let it rain in the night. Not a drop after four A.M., you understand. If you turn it on after four in the morning there'll be another rupture of diplomatic relations between you and me, same as there was last night."
The small boy's beady eyes twinkled, and he squeaked a few words in Sarkese.
"You have the advantage of me, Johnnie. And I've told you before it's not polite to address a gentleman in a language he's not familiar with, when you're perfectly acquainted with his own. The only word I caught was 'Guyablle!' and that's not a word for young people like you and me, though it may suit Marielihou. I'm very much afraid I'll have to speak to the schoolmaster about you, after all, and to the Vicar too, maybe. What? A Wesleyan, are you? Very well then, it's Monsieur Bisson I must speak to."
Here the small boy, with his face crumpled up into a grin, pointed a thin grimy finger past the young man, and he turned and saw the ladies. He doffed his cap and jumped down and tapped out his pipe, and the dogs sprang up expectant;--Punch, grave as ever but light on his feet for instant start; Scamp twisting himself into figure-eights, and rending the air with such yelps of delight that not a word could they pa.s.s.
"Johnnie! Stop him!" shouted Graeme. The small boy in the hedge flung out his arm with a sudden threatening gesture, and the circling Scamp fled through the gateway and up the garden with a shriek of dismay, and remained there yelping as if he had been struck.
"Odd that, isn't it?" said Graeme. "Johnnie's the only person that can stop that small dog talking; and, what's more, he can do it a hundred yards away. If the dog can see him that's enough, and yet they're good enough friends as a rule. Look at Punch!"
The big brown fellow was standing eyeing the small boy with an odd expression, intent, expectant, doubtful, with just a touch of apprehension in it, and perhaps of latent anger.
"Can you do it with Punch?" asked Miss Penny.
The small boy shook his head. "G.o.dzamin, he'd eat me if I tried," he said, and lifted his eyes from the dog's, and the dog walked quietly up to Margaret and pushed his great head under her hand.
"He's a fine fellow," she said, caressing him.
"A most gentlemanly dog," said Miss Penny. "His eyes are absolutely poetical,--charged with thoughts too deep for words."
"Yes, he's dumb," said Graeme, stooping to pull a long brown ear.
"Really?" asked Margaret, looking into his face to make sure he was not joking.
"We've been close friends for a month now, and I've never heard his voice even in a whisper, nor has anyone else. I've an idea Johnnie here has put a spell on him."
"Poor old fellow!" said Margaret, fondling the big brown head.
"Oh, he's quite happy--bold as a lion and graceful as a panther, and Scamp talks more than enough for the two of them."
"And what a fine big cat you have, Johnnie!" said Miss Penny, and stretched a friendly hand towards Marielihou. "What do you call it?"
"Marrlyou," growled Johnnie; and Marielihou bristled and spat at the advancing white hand, which retired rapidly.
"The nasty beast!" said Miss Penny, and Marielihou glared at her with eyes of scorching green fire.
"Marielihou is not good company for anyone but herself," said Graeme.
"Now, where would you like to go?"
"We were up that way before breakfast," said Miss Penny, nodding due north.
"Been to the Coupee yet?"
"No, we've been nowhere except just along here. We were afraid of getting lost or tumbling over the edges."
"Then you must see the Coupee at once. And we'll call at John Philip's as we pa.s.s, to get you some shoes."
"Shoes?" and each stuck out a dainty brown boot and examined it critically for inadequacies, and then looked up at him enquiringly.
"Yes, I know. They're delicious, but in Sark you must wear Sark shoes--this kind of thing"--sticking up his own--"or you may come to a sudden end. And, seeing that you're in my charge--"
"Oh?" said Margaret.
"Come along to John Philip's," said Miss Penny. And as they turned down the road with Punch, the hedge opened and Scamp came wriggling through, with white-eyed glances for Johnnie Vautrin and Marielihou sitting in the bushes farther up.
Miss Penny and Graeme did most of the talking. Margaret was unusually silent, pondering, perhaps, her friend's utterances of the early morning, and still wondering at the strange turn of events that had so unexpectedly thrown herself and John Graeme into such close companionship that he could actually claim to be in charge of her, and had proved it beyond question by making her buy a pair of shoes which she considered anything but shapely.
Graeme understood and kept to his looking-gla.s.s promise.
His heart was dancing within him. It was impossible to keep the lilt of it entirely out of his eyes. They were radiant with this unlooked-for happiness.
It was Margaret's shadow that mingled with his own on the sunny road--when it wasn't Miss Penny's. It was Margaret's pleated blue skirt that swung beside him to a tune that set his pulses leaping.
Miss Penny's skirt was there too, indeed, but a thousand of it flapping in a gale would not have quickened his pulse by half a beat.
And Miss Penny probably understood--some things, or parts of things--or thought she did, and was extremely happy in that which was vouchsafed to her. Oh, she knew, did Miss Penny! She had not, indeed, had much--if put into a corner and made to confess to bare and literal truth, not any--experience, that is personal and practical experience, of such matters,--if, indeed, such matters are capable of being brought to the test of such a word as practical. But she had read much about them--in search of truth, and right and fitting books to be admitted to the school library--and she knew all about it. And here, unless she, Henrietta Penny, was very much mistaken, was a veritable live love-affair budding and blossoming--at least she hoped it would blossom--before her very eyes. Budding it undoubtedly was, on one side at all events, and blossom it certainly should if she could help it on; for he had ripply hair, and deep attractive eyes, and a frank open face, and she liked him.
They were suddenly in the shade, threading a narrow cutting between high gorse-topped banks of crumbly yellow rock. Then, without any warning, the rock-walls fell away. They were out into the sunshine again, and in front stretched a wavering rock path, the narrow crown of a ridge whose sides sank sharply out of sight. From somewhere far away below came the surge and rush of many waters.
"This is the Coupee," said Graeme, as the dogs raced across. "Over there is Little Sark."
"It is grand!" said Margaret, gazing at the huge rock b.u.t.tresses whose loins came up through the white foam three hundred feet below.
"It's awful!" said Miss Penny. "You're never going across, Mr.
Graeme?" as he strolled on along the narrow ridge.