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   Chapter 2 GUARDIAN ANGELS

The Terrible Twins By Edgar Jepson Characters: 31799

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


At seven o'clock Captain Baster took his leave to dine at his inn. Of his own accord he promised faithfully to return at nine sharp. He left the house a proud and happy man, for he knew that he had been shining before Mrs. Dangerfield with uncommon brilliance.

He was not by any means blind to her charm and beauty, for though she was four years older than he, she contrived never to look less than two years younger, and that without any aid from the cosmetic arts. But he chiefly saw in her an admirable ladder to those social heights to which his ardent soul aspired to climb. She had but to return to the polite world from which the loss of her husband and her straightened circumstances had removed her, to find herself a popular woman with a host of friends in the exalted circles Captain Baster burned to adorn. Yet it must not for a moment be supposed that he was proposing a mercenary marriage for her; he was sure that she loved him, for he felt rather than knew that with women he was irresistible.

It was not love, however, that knitted Mrs. Dangerfield's brow in a troubled frown as she dressed; nor was it love that caused her to select to wear that evening one of her oldest and dowdiest gowns, a gown with which she had never been truly pleased. The troubled air did not leave her face during dinner; and it seemed to affect the Twins, for they, too, were gloomy. They were pleased, indeed, with the beginning of the campaign, but still very doubtful of success in the end. Where their interests were concerned their mother was of a firmness indeed hard to move.

Moreover, she kept looking at them in an odd considering fashion that disturbed them, especially at the Terror. Erebus in a pretty light frock of her mother's days of prosperity, which had been cut down and fitted to her, was a sight to brighten any one's eyes; but the sleeves of the dark coat which the Terror wore on Sundays and on gala evenings, bared a length of wrist distressing to a mother's eye.

The fine high spirits of Captain Baster were somewhat dashed by his failure to find his keys and open his portmanteau, since he would be unable to ravish Mrs. Dangerfield's eye that evening by his distinguished appearance in the unstained evening dress of an English gentleman. After a long hunt for the mislaid keys, in which the harried staff of The Plough took part, he made up his mind that he must appear before her, with all apologies, in the tweed suit he was wearing. It was a bitter thought, for in a tweed suit he could not really feel a conquering hero after eight o'clock at night.

Then he put his foot into a dress-boot full of cold water. It was a good water-tight boot; and it had faithfully retained all of the water its lining had not soaked up. The gallant officer said a good deal about its retentive properties to the mute boot.

At dinner be learned from Mrs. Pittaway that the obliging Terror had himself fetched the cigarette-case from his bedroom. A flash of intuition connected the Terror with the watered boot; and he begged her, with loud acerbity, never again to let any one-any one!!-enter his bedroom. Mrs. Pittaway objected that slops could not be emptied, or beds made without human intervention. He begged her, not perhaps unreasonably, not to talk like a fool; and she liked him none the better for his directness.

Food always soothed him; and he rose from his dinner in better spirits. As he rose from it, the Terror, standing among the overarching trees which made the muddy patch in the lane so dark, was drawing a clothes-line tight. It ran through the hedge that hid him to the hedge on the other side of the lane. There it was fastened to a stout stake; and he was fastening it to the lowest rail of a post and rails. At its tightest it rose a foot above the roadway just at the beginning of the mud-patch. It was at its tightest.

Heartened by his dinner and two extra whiskies and sodas, Captain Baster set out for Colet House at a brisk pace. As he moved through the bracing autumn air, his spirits rose yet higher; that night-that very night he would crown Mrs. Dangerfield's devotion with his avowal of an answering passion. He pressed forward swiftly like a conqueror; and like a conqueror he whistled. Then he found the clothes-line, suddenly, pitched forward and fell, not heavily, for the mud was thick, but sprawling. He rose, oozy and dripping, took a long breath, and the welkin shuddered as it rang.

The Terror did not shudder; he was going home like the wind.

Having sent Erebus to bed at a few minutes to nine Mrs. Dangerfield waited restlessly for her tardy guest, her charming face still set in a troubled frown. Her woman's instinct assured her that Captain Baster would propose that night; and she dreaded it. Two or three times she rose and walked up and down the room; and when she saw her deep, dark, troubled eyes in the two old, almost giltless round mirrors, they did not please her as they usually did. Those eyes were one of the sources from which had sprung Captain Baster's attraction to her.

But there were the Twins; she longed to do so many useful, needful things for them; and marriage with Captain Baster was the way of doing them. She told herself that he would make an excellent stepfather and husband; that under his unfortunate manner were a good heart and sterling qualities. She assured herself that she had the power to draw them out; once he was her husband, she would change him. But still she was ill at ease. Perhaps, in her heart of hearts, she was doubtful of her power to make a silk purse out of rhinoceros hide.

When at last a note came from The Plough to say that he was unfortunately prevented from coming that evening, but would come next morning to take her for a walk, she was filled with so extravagant a relief that it frightened her. She sat down and wrote out a telegram to her brother, rang for old Sarah, their trusty hard-working maid, and bade her tell the Terror, who had slipped quietly upstairs to bed at one minute to nine, to send it off in the morning. She did not wish to take the chance of not waking and despatching it as early as possible. She must have advice; and Sir Maurice Falconer was not only a shrewd man of the world, but he would also advise her with the keenest regard for her interests. She tried not to hope that he would find marriage with Captain Baster incompatible with them.

Captain Baster awoke in less than his usual cheerfulness. He thought for a while of the Terror and boots and mud with a gloomy unamiability. Then he rose and betook himself to his toilet. In the middle of it he missed his shaving-brush. He hunted for it furiously; he could have sworn that he had taken it out of his portmanteau. He did swear, but not to any definite fact. There was nothing for it: he must expose his tender chin to the cruel razor of a village barber.

Then he disliked the look of his tweed suit; all traces of mud had not vanished from it. In one short night it had lost its pristine freshness. This and the ordeal before his chin made his breakfast gloomy; and soon after it he entered the barber's shop with the air of one who has abandoned hope. Later he came out of it with his roving black eye full of tears of genuine feeling; his scraped chin was smarting cruelly and unattractive in patches-red patches. At the door the breathless, excited and triumphant maid of the inn accosted him with the news that she had just found his keys and his shaving-brush under the mattress of his bed. He looked round the village of Little Deeping blankly; it suddenly seemed to him a squalid place.

None the less it was a comforting thought that he would not be put to the expense of having his portmanteau broken open and fitted with a new lock, for his great wealth had never weakened the essential thriftiness of his soul. Half an hour later, in changed tweeds but with unchanged chin, he took his way to Colet House, thinking with great unkindness of his future stepson. As he drew near it he saw that that stepson was awaiting him at the garden gate; nearer still he saw that he was awaiting him with an air of ineffable serenity.

The Terror politely opened the gate for him, and with a kind smile asked him if he had slept well.

The red blood of the Basters boiled in the captain's veins, and he said somewhat thickly: "Look here, my lad, I don't want any more of your tricks! You play another on me, and I'll give you the soundest licking you ever had in your life!"

The serenity on the Terror's face broke up into an expression of the deepest pain: "Whatever's the matter?" he said in a tone of amazement. "I thought you loved a joke. You said you did-yesterday-at tea."

"You try it on again!" said Captain Baster.

"Now, whatever has put your back up?" said the Terror in a tone of even greater amazement. "Was it the apple-pie bed, or the lost keys, or the water in the boot, or the clothes-line across the road?"

It was well that the Terror could spring with a cat's swiftness: Captain Baster's boot missed him by a hair's breadth.

The Terror ran round the house, in at the back door and up to the bedroom of Erebus.

"Waxy?" he cried joyously. "He's black in the face! I told him he said he loved a joke."

Erebus only growled deep down in her throat. She was bitterly aggrieved that she had not had a hand in Captain Baster's downfall the night before. The Terror had awakened her to tell her joyfully of his glorious exploit and of the shuddering welkin.

He paid no heed to the rumbling of her discontent; he said: "Now, you quite understand. You'll stick to them like a leech. You won't give him any chance of talking to Mum alone. It's most important."

"I understand. But what's that? Anybody could do it," she said in a tone of extreme bitterness. "It's you that's getting all the real fun."

"But you'll be able to make yourself beastly disagreeable, if you're careful," said the Terror.

"Of course, I shall. But what's that? I tell you what it is: I'm going to have my proper share of the real fun. The first chance I get, I'm going to stone him-so there!" said Erebus fiercely.

"All right. But it doesn't seem quite the thing for a girl to do," said the Terror in a judicial tone.

"Rats!" said Erebus.

It was well that Mrs. Dangerfield kept Captain Baster waiting; it gave the purple tinge, which was heightening his floridness somewhat painfully, time to fade. When she did come to him, he was further annoyed by the fact that Erebus came too, and with a truculent air announced her intention of accompanying them. Mrs. Dangerfield was surprised; Erebus seldom showed any taste for such a gentle occupation. Also she was relieved; she did not want Captain Baster to propose before she had taken counsel with her brother.

Captain Baster started in a gloomy frame of mind; he did not try to hide from himself the fact that Mrs. Dangerfield had lost some of her charm: she was the mother of the Terror. He found, too, that his instinctive distaste for the company of Erebus was not ungrounded. She was a nuisance; she would talk about wet boots; the subject seemed to fascinate her. Then, when at last he recovered his spirits, grew once more humorous, and even rose to the proposing point, there was no getting rid of her. She was impervious to hints; she refused, somewhat pertly, to pause and gather the luscious blackberries. How could a man be his humorous self in these circumstances? He felt that his humor was growing strained, losing its delightful lightness.

Then the accident: it was entirely Erebus' own fault (he could swear it) that he tripped over her foot and pitched among those infernal brambles. Her howls of anguish were all humbug: he had not hurt her ankle (he could swear it); there was not a tear. The moment he offered, furiously, to carry her, she walked without a vestige of a limp.

Mrs. Dangerfield had no right to look vexed with him; if one brought up one's children like that-well. Certainly she was losing her charm; she was the mother of Erebus also.

His doubt, whether the mother of such children was the right kind of wife for him, had grown very serious indeed, when, as they drew near Colet House, a slim, tall young man of an extreme elegance and distinction came through the garden gate to meet them.

With a cry of "Uncle Maurice!" the crippled Erebus dashed to meet him with the light bounds of an antelope. Captain Baster could hardly believe his eyes; he knew the young man by sight, by name and by repute. It was Sir Maurice Falconer, a man he longed to boast his friend. With his aid a man might climb to the highest social peaks.

When Mrs. Dangerfield introduced him as her brother (he had never dreamed it) he could not believe his good fortune. But why had he not learned this splendid fact before? Why had he been kept in the dark? He did not reflect that he had been so continuously busy making confidences about himself, his possessions and his exploits to her that he had given her the smallest opportunities of telling him anything about herself.

But he was not one to lose a golden opportunity; he set about making up for lost time with a will; and never had he so thoroughly demonstrated his right to the name of Pallybaster. His friendliness was overwhelming. Before the end of lunch he had invited Sir Maurice to dine with him at his mess, to dine with him at two of his clubs, to shoot with him, to ride a horse of his in the forthcoming regimental steeplechases, to go with him on a yachting cruise in the Mediterranean.

All through the afternoon his friendliness grew and grew. He could not bear that any one else should have a word with Sir Maurice. The Twins were intolerable with their interruptions, their claims on their uncle's attention. They disgusted Captain Baster: when he became their stepfather, it would be his first task to see that they learned a respectful silence in the presence of their elders.

He never gave a thought to his proposal; he sought no occasion to make it. Captain Baster's love was of his life a thing apart, but his social aspirations were the chief fact of his existence. Besides, there was no haste; he knew that Mrs. Dangerfield was awaiting his avowal with a passionate eagerness; any time would do for that. But he must seize the fleeting hour and bind Sir Maurice to himself by the bond of the warmest friendship.

Again and again he wondered how Sir Maurice could give his attention to the interrupting exacting Twins, when he had a man of the world, humorous, knowing, wealthy, to talk to. He tried to make opportunities for him to escape from them; Sir Maurice missed those opportunities; he did not seem to see them. In truth Captain Baster was a little disappointed in Sir Maurice: he did not find him frankly responsive: polite-yes; indeed, politeness could go no further. But he lacked warmth. After all he had not pinned him down to the definite acceptance of a single invitation.

When, at seven o'clock, he tore himself away with the hearty assurance that he would be back at nine sharp, he was not sure that he had made a bosom friend. He felt that the friendship might need clenching.

As the front door shut behind him, Sir Maurice wiped his brow with the air of one who has paused from exhausting toil: "I feel sticky-positively sticky," he said. "Oh, Erebus, you do have gummy friends! I thought we should never get rid of him. I thought he'd stuck himself to us for the rest of our natural lives."

Mrs. Dangerfield smiled; and the Terror said in a tone of deep meaning: "That's what he's up to."

"He's not a friend of mine!" cried Erebus hotly.

"We call him the Cruncher-because of his teeth," said the Terror.

"Then beware, Erebus-beware! You are young and possibly savory," said Sir Maurice.

"You children had better go and get

ready for dinner," said Mrs. Dangerfield.

The Twins went to the door. On the threshold Erebus turned and said: "It's Mum he wants to crunch up-not me."

The bolt shot, she fled through the door.

Sir Maurice looked at his sister and said softly:

"Oho! I see-heroism. That was what you wanted to consult me about." Then he laid his hand on her shoulder affectionately and added: "It won't do, Anne-it won't do at all. I am convinced of it."

"Do you think so?" said Mrs. Dangerfield in a tone in which disappointment and relief were very nicely blended.

"Think? I'm sure of it," said Sir Maurice in a tone of complete conviction.

"But the children; he could do so much for the children," pleaded Mrs. Dangerfield.

"He could, but he wouldn't. That kind of bounder never does any one any good but himself. No, no; the children are right in calling him the Cruncher. He would just crunch you up; and it is a thousand times better for them to have an uncrunched mother than all the money that ever came out of pickles."

"Well, you know best. You do understand these things," said Mrs. Dangerfield; and she sighed.

"I do understand Basters," said Sir Maurice in a confident tone.

Mrs. Dangerfield ran up-stairs to dress, on the light feet of a girl; a weight oppressive, indeed, had been lifted from her spirit.

Dinner was a very bright and lively meal, though now and again a grave thoughtfulness clouded the spirits of Erebus. Once Sir Maurice asked her the cause of it. She only shook her head.

Captain Baster ate his dinner in a sizzling excitement: he knew that he had made a splendid first impression; he was burning to deepen it. But on his eager way back to Colet House, he walked warily, feeling before him with his stick for clotheslines. He came out of the dark lane into the broad turf road, which runs across the common to the house, with a strong sense of relief and became once more his hearty care-free self.

There was not enough light to display the jaunty air with which he walked in all its perfection; but there seemed to be light enough for more serious matters, for a stone struck him on the thigh with considerable force. He had barely finished the jump of pained surprise with which he greeted it, when another stone whizzed viciously past his head; then a third struck him on the shoulder.

With the appalling roar of a bull of Bashan the gallant officer dashed in the direction whence, he judged, the stones came. He was just in time to stop a singularly hard stone with his marble brow. Then he found a gorse-bush (by tripping over a root) a gorse-bush which seemed unwilling to release him from its stimulating, not to say prickly, embrace. As he wallowed in it another stone found him, his ankle-bone.

He wrenched himself from the embrace of the gorse-bush, found his feet and realized that there was only one thing to do. He tore along the turf road to Colet House as hard as he could pelt. A stone struck the garden gate as he opened it. He did not pause to ring; he opened the front door, plunged heavily across the hall into the drawing-room. The Terror formed the center of a domestic scene; he was playing draughts with his Uncle Maurice.

Captain Baster glared at him with unbelieving eyes and gasped: "I-I made sure it was that young whelp!"

This sudden violent entry of a bold but disheveled hussar produced a natural confusion; Mrs. Dangerfield, Sir Maurice and the Terror sprang to their feet, asking with one voice what had befallen him.

Captain Baster sank heavily on to a chair and instantly sprang up from it with a howl as he chanced on several tokens of the gorse-bush's clinging affection.

"I've been stoned-stoned by some hulking scoundrels on the common!" he cried; and he displayed the considerable bump rising on his marble brow.

Mrs. Dangerfield was full of concern and sympathy; Sir Maurice was cool, interested but cool; he did not blaze up into the passionate indignation of a bosom friend.

"How many of them were there?" said the Terror.

"From the number of stones they threw I should think there were a dozen," said Captain Baster; and he panted still.

The Terror looked puzzled.

"I know-I know what it is!" cried Mrs. Dangerfield with an illuminating flash of womanly intuition. "You've been humorous with some of the villagers!"

"No, no! I haven't joked with a single one of them!" cried Captain Baster. "But I'll teach the scoundrels a lesson! I'll put the police on them tomorrow morning. I'll send for a detective from London. I'll prosecute them."

Then Erebus entered, her piquant face all aglow: "I couldn't find your handkerchief anywhere, Mum. It took me ever such a time," she said, giving it to her.

The puzzled air faded from the Terror's face; and he said in a tone of deep meaning: "Have you been running to find it? You're quite out of breath."

For a moment a horrid suspicion filled the mind of Captain Baster.… But no: it was impossible-a child in whose veins flowed some of the bluest blood in England. Besides, her slender arms could never have thrown the stones as straight and hard as that.

On the other hand Sir Maurice appeared to have lost for once his superb self-possession; he was staring at his beautiful niece with his mouth slightly open. He muttered; something about finding his handkerchief, and stumbled out of the room. They heard a door bang up-stairs; then, through the ceiling, they heard a curious drumming sound. It occurred to the Terror that it might be the heels of Sir Maurice on the floor.

Mrs. Dangerfield rang for old Sarah and instructed her to pull the gorse prickles out of Captain Baster's clothes. She had nearly finished when Sir Maurice returned. He carried a handkerchief in his hand, and he had recovered his superb self-possession; but he seemed somewhat exhausted.

Captain Baster was somewhat excessive in the part of the wounded hero; and for a while he continued to talk ferociously of the vengeance he would wreak on the scoundrelly villagers. But after a while he forgot his pricks and bruises to bask in the presence of Sir Maurice; and he plied him with unflagging friendliness for the rest of the evening.

The Twins were allowed to sit up till ten o'clock since their Uncle Maurice was staying with them; and since the Terror was full of admiration and approval of Erebus' strenuous endeavor to instil into Captain Baster the perils and drawbacks of stepfatherhood, he brushed out her abundant hair for her, an office he sometimes performed when she was in high favor with him. As he did it she related gleefully the stoning of their enemy.

When she had done, he said warmly: "It was ripping. But the nuisance is: he doesn't know it was you who did it, and so it's rather wasted."

"Don't you worry: I'll let him know sometime to-morrow," said Erebus firmly.

"Yes; but he's awfully waxy: suppose he prosecutes you?" said the Terror doubtfully.

Erebus considered the point; then she said: "I don't think he'd do that; he'd look so silly being stoned by a girl. Anyhow, I'll chance it."

"All right," said the Terror. "It's worth chancing it to put him off marrying mother. And of course Uncle Maurice is here. He'll see nothing serious happens."

"Of course he will," said Erebus.

It must have been that the unflagging friendliness of Captain Baster had weighed on their uncle's mind, for Erebus, coming softly on him from behind as he leaned over the garden gate after breakfast, heard him singing to himself, and paused to listen to his song.

It went:

"Where did his colonel dig him up,

So young, so fair, so sweet,

With his shining nose, and his square, square toes?

Was it Wapping or Basinghall Street?"

He was so pleased with the effort that he sang it over to himself, softly, twice with an air of deep satisfaction; and twice the moving but silent lips of Erebus repeated it.

He was silent; and she said: "Oh, uncle! It's splendid!"

Sir Maurice started and turned sharply: "You tell any one, little pitcher, and I'll pull your long ears," he said amiably.

Erebus made no rash promises; she gazed at him with inscrutable eyes; then nodding toward a figure striding swiftly over the common, she said: "Here he comes."

Sir Maurice gained the threshold of the front door in two bounds, paused and cried: "I'm going back to bed! Tell him I'm in bed!"

He vanished, slamming the door behind him.

Captain Baster asked for Sir Maurice cheerfully; and his face fell when Erebus told him that he had gone back to bed. Mrs. Dangerfield, informed of her brother's shrinking, had to be very firm with his new friend to induce him to go for a walk with her and Erebus. He showed an inclination to linger about the house till his sun should rise.

Then he tried to shorten the walk; but in this matter too Mrs. Dangerfield was firm. She did not bring him back till half past twelve, only to learn that Sir Maurice was very busy writing letters in his bedroom. Captain Baster hoped for an invitation to lunch (he hinted as much) but he was disappointed. In the end he returned to The Plough, chafing furiously; he felt that his morning had been barren.

He was soon back at Colet House, but too late; Sir Maurice had started on a walk with the Terror. Captain Baster said cheerily that he would overtake them, and set out briskly to do so. He walked hard enough to compass that end; and it is probable that he would have had a much better chance of succeeding, had not Erebus sent him eastward whereas Sir Maurice and the Terror had gone westward.

Captain Baster returned to Colet House in time for tea; and his heart swelled big within him to learn that Mrs. Dangerfield had invited some friends to meet him and her brother. Here was his chance to shine, to show Sir Maurice his social mettle.

He could have wished that the party had been larger. They were only a dozen all told: Mr. Carruthers, the squire of Little Deeping, the vicar and his wife, the higher mathematician, father of Wiggins, Mrs. Blenkinsop and Mrs. Morton, and Wiggins himself, who had spent most of the afternoon with Erebus. Captain Baster would have preferred thirty or forty, but none the less he fell to work with a will.

Mrs. Dangerfield had taken advantage of the Indian summer afternoon to have tea in the garden; and it gave him room to expand. He was soon the life and soul of the gathering. He was humorous with the vicar about the church, and with the squire about the dulling effect of the country on the intelligence. He tried to be humorous with Mr. Carrington, the higher mathematician, whom he took to have retired from some profession or business. This was so signal a failure that he dropped humor and became important, telling them of his flat in town and his country-house, their size and their expensive furniture; he told them about his motor-cars, his exploits at regimental cricket, at polo and at golf.

He patronized every one with a splendid affability, every one except Sir Maurice; and him he addressed, with a flattering air of perfect equality, as "Maurice, old boy," or "Maurice, old chap," or plain "Maurice." He did shine; his agreeable exertions threw him into a warm perspiration; his nose shone especially; and they all hated him.

The Twins were busy handing round tea-cups and cakes, but they were aware that their mother's tea-party was a failure. As a rule her little parties were so pleasant with their atmosphere of friendliness; and her guests went away pleased with themselves, her and one another. The Terror was keenly alive to the effect of Captain Baster; and a faint persistent frown troubled his serenity. Erebus was more dimly aware that her enemy was spoiling the party. Only Sir Maurice and Mr. Carrington really enjoyed the humorist; and Sir Maurice's enjoyment was mingled with vexation.

Every one had finished their tea; and they were listening to Captain Baster in a dull aggravation and blank silence, when he came to the end of his panegyric on his possessions and accomplishments, and remembered his grievance. Forthwith he related at length the affair of the night before: how he had been stoned by a dozen hulking scoundrels on the common. When he came to the end of it, he looked round for sympathy.

His audience wore a strained rather than sympathetic air, all of them except the higher mathematician who had turned away and was coughing violently.

The vicar broke the silence; he said: "Er-er-yes; most extraordinary. But I don't think it could have been the villagers. They're-er-very peaceful people."

"It must have been some rowdies from Rowington," said the squire in the loud tone of a man trying to persuade his hearers that he believed what he said.

Erebus rose and walked to the gravel path; their eyes fixed in an incredulous unwinking stare.

She picked up three pebbles from the path, choosing them with some care. The first pebble hit the weathercock, which rose above the right gable of the house, plumb in the middle; the second missed its tail by a couple of inches; the third hit its tail, and the weathercock spun round as if a vigorous gale were devoting itself to its tail only.

"That's where I meant to hit it the first time," said Erebus with a little explanatory wave of her hand; and she returned to her seat.

The silence that fell was oppressive. Captain Baster gazed earnestly at Erebus, his roving black eyes fixed in an incredulous unwinking stare.

"That shows you the danger of jumping to hasty conclusions," said the higher mathematician in his clear agreeable voice. "I made sure it was the Terror."

"So did I," said the vicar.

"I'd have bet on it," said the squire.

The silence fell again. Mechanically Captain Baster rubbed the blue bump on his marble brow.

Erebus broke the silence; she said: "Has any one heard Wiggins' new song?"

The squire, hastily and thoughtlessly, cried: "No! Let's hear it!"

"Come on, Wiggins!" cried the vicar heartily.

They felt that the situation was saved.

Sir Maurice did not share their relief; he knew what was coming, knew it in the depths of his horror-stricken heart. He ground his teeth softly and glared at the piquant and glowing face of his niece as if he could have borne the earth's suddenly opening and swallowing her up.

The blushing Wiggins held back a little, and kicked his left foot with his right. Then pushed forward by the eager Terror, to whom Erebus had chanted the song before lunch, he stepped forward and in his dear shrill treble, sang, slightly out of tune:

"Where did his colonel dig him up,

So young, so fair, so sweet,

With his shining nose, and his square, square toes?

Was it Wapping or Basinghall Street?"

As he sang Wiggins looked artlessly at Captain Baster; as he finished everybody was looking at Captain Baster's boots; his feet required them square-toed.

Captain Baster's face was a rich rose-pink; he, glared round the frozen circle now trying hard not to look at his boots; he saw the faces melt into irrepressible smiles; he looked to Sir Maurice, the man he had made his bosom friend, for an indignant outburst; Sir Maurice was smiling, too.

Captain Baster snorted fiercely; then he swelled with splendid dignity, and said loudly, but thickly, "I refuse! Yes, I refuse to mix in a society where children are brought up as hooligans yes: as hooligans!"

He turned on his heel, strode to the gate, and turned and bellowed, "Hooligans!"

He flung himself through the gate and strode violently across the common.

"Oh, Wiggins! How could you?" cried Mrs. Dangerfield in a tone of horror.

"It wasn't Wiggins! It was me! I taught him. He didn't understand," said Erebus loyally.

"I did understand--quite. But why did he call me Freckles?" said Wiggins in a vengeful tone. "Nobody can help having freckles."

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