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but if you will keep this till I come back?" she smiled interrogatively, and held out the basket with the air of an Atlas transferring his burden of heaven.
The miller's man displayed a little not unnatural surprise. "It is so hot," explained Cicely, "and so awkward. Only please put it away somewhere. I don't want any one to see it."
The man took it into the mill and put it in a cupboard. A new idea seized Cicely. The two novels were slippery to hold; besides, would she want them? Of course if it proved very dull,-well, she could send for them to the mill. She hesitated a moment, and rather to her surprise found herself blushing a little; but her guilt had begun with the discarding of the bait-tin; she might as well complete it. So she slipped the two novels into the cupboard by the fishing-basket, and left without explanation.
A minute or two later she was in her retreat with her rug and her box of chocolates, a survival which, from the point of view of the ordinary angler, would not have seemed of the fittest; but Cicely knew better. She had seen the top-joint of a fishing-rod protruding above the reeds not many yards away down stream, while a faint wreath of tobacco-smoke curled upwards.
She spread out her rug on the grass, and selected a chocolate with care. The smoke-wreath vanished and was not renewed; the top-joint of the fishing-rod disappeared from view; its owner could probably see from his hiding-place without being seen. But Cicely never once looked in that direction. She waited patiently, consuming another chocolate; in her own way she had the makings of an angler. There was a rustling amid the reeds, a rustling that became fainter and more distant. Cicely criticized these tactics with a smile; she had not long to wait.
Some one was approaching with a firm unhurried tread along the bank above. The some one was behind, and stepped down in the same careless manner. "Ah, good morning, Miss Lauriston. Have you had any sport?"
Cicely looked up from under the brim of a very large hat, and made a little amused bow. Talbot had undergone a subtle change since the preceding afternoon. In the first place he was shaved; certain scars near the angle of the jaw would have argued to the male intelligence that the razor was unfamiliar; he had, in fact, used the razor of the magnificent Charles. His clothes seemed to be more carefully adjusted. Yesterday he had worn no tie; to-day his spotless cricketing shirt displayed a neat bow of college colors, while a silk sash to match replaced his serviceable leathern belt; a straw hat that displayed recent attempts at washing had been substituted for the gray felt; altogether he gave the impression of a man who tries to make the best of a bad business.
He carried his rod and creel from which protruded something that to Cicely looked like gray felt. "Oh, do let me see what you've got in your basket," she asked innocently.
"There aren't any fish as yet," he said seeking to evade her.
"Haven't you got any flies or something interesting?" she persevered. "No, nothing," he replied stoutly, conscious that there reposed within certain things which to his friends would have told a tale. His shaving had caused comment at breakfast; otherwise till he reached the rushes he to the male eye had been as before.
"But you're not fishing," he exclaimed, becoming conscious that his studied impromptu opening was inapposite.
"Then I've no right to occupy the
best spot for the pre-please what is its Latin name again?"
Talbot repeated the massive words with a smile. Cicely said them over to herself twice. "I shall remember them now," she declared. "I haven't frightened the fish away for you, have I?" Talbot deemed it improbable, and asked her if she had been there long. "Oh, the duplicity of man," thought she and replied out loud, "Only a few minutes."
"Then I could only have been more fortunate by a few minutes," he returned with a touch of sarcasm at his own expense.
Having seen the top-joint above the reeds Cicely understood him. "They quite believed me about the fish," she digressed.
"I hoped you were coming to catch some more," he hazarded.
"I have come, you see." Cicely held herself in reserve.
"Perhaps you would like to try my rod?" he suggested.
"You are determined to instruct me?" she asked smiling.
"Surely, since you are here to be instructed," he returned.
Cicely ate a chocolate and offered him one. "Unless you prefer your pipe," she said. Talbot did; he sat down and struck a match.
"Do you always keep it ready filled?" she asked mischievously.
"Generally," he said without truth. "I was wondering if you would come," he observed irrelevantly.
"It seems my fate to be instructed," she returned; "and now I have a reputation to keep up as an angler."
"Fortune favored the fair," he ventured.
"In sending the brave to assist," she laughed. "But now please give me an object-lesson, as I shall have so little opportunity again."
"Are you going back to town?" he asked in alarm.
"All this part is your territory, or rather the house-boat's," she went on to explain, "so we are going to move. Aunt Charlotte doesn't like finding people in the river when she takes an early morning stroll. She wanted to tell you to go, but we couldn't do that, so we're moving ourselves to-morrow morning."
Talbot remembered that Charles had related with much humor the sudden flight of a stout middle-aged party who had surprised him at his morning swim. At breakfast the incident had awakened mirth; now, however, he felt indignant with Charles who, it was plain, lacked true chivalry and reasonable caution.
"Are you moving far?" he asked anxiously.
"About two miles, I think," she said. "Up stream?"
Cicely assented. Talbot became thoughtful. "There's a place very like this in a field with a scare-crow in it," was the result of his cogitation. "It's on this bank and just about two miles up-stream. You'll find a lot of perch there, I should say."
"You are sure I shouldn't be robbing you of a good pitch?" she inquired demurely.
He assured her that she would be robbing nobody, least of all himself. As he intended to share the advantages of that chosen nook he Was strictly within the truth.
Cicely thanked him. "I shall try it some afternoon perhaps," she conceded. She bent down over her chocolate-box and disappeared from view under the brim of her hat. "He's really quite intelligent," she was saying to herself; "but I shan't go there the first afternoon. What would Aunt Charlotte think?"
Meanwhile Talbot was watching his float, since he found he could not watch anything better, and pursuing a kindred train of thought which, to his own surprise, at last took shape in a question. "Did you expect to see me here this afternoon?" he asked her suddenly.
"Why should I?" Cicely thought he was advancing a little too far. She answered him with such supreme innocence that Talbot was staggered. He devoted his attention to his float. and not unsuccessfully. In fact he caught several perch, and what with this and the instructive conversation that it occasioned the time passed rapidly. The sound of William's gong roused them to its lapse.
"You've brought me luck," said Talbot surveying his catch.
"Then I shall claim one from you," Cicely replied.
Talbot hastend to put them all at her disposal, but she would only accept two of medium size. A difficulty arose in his mind; how was she to carry them? "I've got a basket at the mill," she confessed.
Talbot accompanied her thither. "Your creel," he commented in surprise.
"I ought to have been fishing this afternoon," she explained.
"But you've no rod?"
"You see I can do without one."
"But- -" he demurred and then hesitated. The objection might be tactless.
"Well, I have a rod too," she confessed, "so it's all right. It was so hot,
and I left it in a hollow tree, and the worm-tin's in a bush. I shall march into camp quite in proper style."
The fish were now in the basket; Cicely had recovered her novels and prepared to set out alone.
"I believe you did expect me this afternoon," said he.
Cicely held out her hand with a little blush, "Thanks very much for the perch," she returned.
One of her novels slipped; he caught it and held it out to her. “And you left these behind? I am indeed flattered," he said as she adjusted them. Cicely hurried away without replying.
Talbot watched her till she had crossed the lock-bridge and disappeared. She walked gracefully despite her burdens and carried herself with quite a dignity. She knew that his eyes followed her. "I wonder how 1 shall see her next and when," he was thinking.
The miller's man roused him, by a tactful tribute to Miss Cicely's good looks, for which he was justly and richly rewarded. The wair of the tortured frying-pan smote clangorously on Talbot's ears, and he started off for the house-boat at a run. Only when he reached the stile did he remember that he was, or would be considered, over-dressed. He stopped short and mechanically took off his sash, tie, and straw hat, replacing them by the leathern belt and the wide-awake. It is to be feared that, as he hid his straw hat carefully in the osier-bed, the duplicity of this action was obscured by a half formulated idea that loomed before him, immense, overwhelming, by whose side the hiding of a straw hat would seem a piece of conspicuous candor. "If they move up to that back-water," he murmured, "we" but his thought was too revolutionary to be expressed in words, even to himself.
Mr. Lauriston had promised his wife that he would not go far, She was all for packing up the moment she had finished breakfast, during which meal she had stated her case with such emphasis and conviction that there was positively no more to be said by anybody.
Her husband, indeed, had mildly recorded his opinion that there was no harm in a young man's diving off his own house-boat at so early an hour in the morning, especially as that young man could not have known that there was a lady in the vicinity who might object to his so doing. But Mrs. Lauriston paid no attention to this view of the matter. The shock had gone too deep for argument or reason. It was one of those cases in which the marvellous gift of intuition, which is the special privilege of her sex, shows itself superior to all the ordinary methods by which other human beings proceed to action. Mrs. Lauriston knew it was right to move, so move she would; and her party would move with her.
On this, therefore, there was no possibility of dispute, but in the matter of packing up and starting forth the united efforts of the party could effect some small modification.
"Where," asked her husband after conceding the main point, "are we to move to?"
"And what," asked Cicely, "is the good of beginning to pack up until we know that we can move somewhere?" "We had better find a place at once," said Agatha.
This suggestion seemed sensible and it was agreed that two search-parties should be sent out; one, consisting of Mr. Lauriston and Agatha, was to take the boat and go down stream, the other, consisting of Martin, was to go up stream along the bank.
Reports were made at lunch. Both parties had found spots that seemed suitable, and Martin had even found another farm which would supply them with provisions. They decided, therefore, to act on his report and to move the camp to a nook on the bank of another back-water some two miles higher up and to charter the farmer's wagon for that purpose; it appeared that the lane would round to a point but a field away from the new camp. ing-ground, a fact which materially lightened the task of transport. After this, Cicely, as has been seen, announced her intention of fishing and set out; when she had gone Mr. Lauriston in spite of the fatigues of the morning said something about a walk. a short one in deference to his wife's anxiety about the packing.
He was rather glad that he had not been obliged to meet Miss Cicely's expressive eyes as he mentioned what he was going to do; she knew too much, and he felt that she was amused at his behavior. However much one may absolve oneself to oneself, one still does not like one's righteous dealing to be regarded with amused suspicion by others. There might also in the back of his mind have been a hardly realized impression that his pretty niece a little despised what she must consider such crooked dealing. And so Mr. Lauriston set out for the house-boat a second time unsuspected. His object in going may readily be guessed; he felt that he owed it to the hospitable young men at least to say good-bye. He had appreciated Charles's tact in not returning his call. It argued a rare power of sympathy in that young man that he had accepted the intimation, which it had been impossible to give in so many words, that Mr. Lauriston for domestic reasons must only be known as you know a man at the club, the house-boat being the club. Moreover, it need not necessarily be good
bye. Two miles are but two miles,if one is aware of the fact; but if he merely disappeared without informing them that he was going they would not be aware of the fact, and then two miles are no better than two hundred, --and besides, they might feel hurt.
Some such thoughts as these passed through his mind as he followed in Cicely's track rather later. He walked past the little holly-tree and the useful pollard without suspecting what secrets of Cicely's they could reveal, and when he reached the mill he turned to the left instead of to the right or he might have discovered yet more of her secrets. But at that moment Mr. Lauriston was fully occupied with his own. When he reached the house-boat he was disappointed to find it deserted. Even the faithful William, whom somehow he had come to regard as a kind of fixture like the fire-place, was absent. Mr. Lauriston went close to the vessel and coughed rather loudly, thinking that some one might be inside, but in vain.
He wondered whether he should leave a card on the table to show that he had intended to do the right thing; but there were several objections to that course. A plain card might be taken as an invitation to return his call, as a sign that the domestic disabilties, so tactfully appreciated, had been removed, and that was far from being the case; he might put P. P. C. in the corner, but that would not be strictly true, and he did not want to take formal leave; he might scribble a line or two to explain matters, but a scribbled line or two have often constituted an incriminating document before now, especially to married men. No, Mr. Lauriston decided that he could not leave a card.
Rather disconsolate he determined to ascend the knoll and gain the high road; his walk must be a real one after all. The ascent was steep, and he
stopped more than once to mop his brow and rest. About two-thirds of the way up he paused under the shade of a small spreading oak, and turned to glance at the view before him. Suddenly he became conscious that something was moving over his head and looked up. To his surprise he saw a pair of white canvas shoes dangling over a branch some twenty feet above him. Allowing his eye to travel upwards he made out the figure of a man, whose face in the shadow he could not at first distinguish; presently, however, his eyes became more accustomed to the shade and he was able to trace the features of Sir Seymour Haddon, who appeared to be about to light a cigarette.
"Hullo," said Mr. Lauriston more than a little astonished.
Charles paused in the lighting of his cigarette and looked down. "Hullo." he returned. "Oh, it's Mr. Lauriston. How are you? It's a nice day, isn't it?"
Mr. Lauriston felt a natural curiosity as to Charles's movements. He could not remember ever to have seen any person of mature age up in a tree before; and Charles, though fairly young, was certainly no longer a boy. "Are you-bird-nesting?" he asked doubtfully.
"No," said Charles, "I'm looking for a Gladstone bag."
"A what?" said Mr. Lauriston more astonished than ever.
"A Gladstone bag," returned Charles, "but it isn't here. Wait a minute; I'm coming down." He quickly descended from his perch, letting himself down from branch to branch with an agility that Mr. Lauriston envied.
"You haven't seen a Gladstone bag about, I suppose?" said Charles as he regained the earth. Mr. Lauriston denied having seen such a thing rather emphatically and cast a dubious eye on his interrogator. "I have mislaid