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An Old Meerschaum by David Christie Murray

'Then the bovine Hodges went his way


Next

morning he was up early, ate a cheerful breakfast, delighted his host with foreign affabilities, paid his bill, and went away by train to London. Leaving his luggage in a cloak-room at the station, he took a stroll about town, dropping into public-houses here and there, and drinking terrible brandy. At home he drank _mastica_ as Englishmen drink beer, and brandy was insipid as water to his palate, and had just now almost as little effect upon his head. Demetri Agryopoulo had discovered the one secret of the true dissembler, that he who controls his features controls his mind. A man who can put a smile on his face while torments rack him, can thereby calm the torments. The resolute will which arrests the facial expression of grief or rage, allays the grief or rage. He went about with an aspect of calm insouciance, and therefore with a feeling of calm and ease within. Yet he was like one who walks with a madman, knowing that if his own courage should for one instant seem to waver, the maniac will be upon him. In his journey to town he had been alone, and between one station and another he had opened his portmanteau and taken therefrom a small breech-loading revolver and a stiletto. He laid his hand upon these now and again, and smiled to himself.

The afternoon grew into evening. He took train to Wimbledon, and thence struck across country in the direction of the houseboat. He skirted the village with its straggling lights, and made his way across

the fields to the river side. Nearing the boat cautiously, he ensconced himself in the bushes on the bank, and watched and listened. There were two voices audible. Barndale and Leland were engaged in serious and indeed in angry talk. There was a woman in the question apparently, and it would seem that the friends were quarrelling concerning her. But the Greek soon heard enough to convince him that this woman was not Thecla Perzio. The voices grew louder, and some open breach of the peace seemed imminent. The friends were rehearsing their own especial scene in Barndale's comedy.

It becomes necessary to this history at this point to set forth the fact that one Hodges, resident in the village, had within an hour of this time received intelligence of the straying of a cow. This man was a yokel of no interest to us, apart from this one episode in his career. He had supplied the inmates of the house-boat with new milk and fresh butter from the time of their first coming. And it was he who had set afloat a report, not unknown at the historic 'Swan,' to the effect that for all so sweet as them two young gents did go about wi' one another, they was a naggin' like blazes every night,' He came by now, driving his recovered cow before him, and passed within a foot of the Greek, who lay as still as death in the brushwood. The quarrel, when at its height, ceased suddenly, and the voices fell so low that neither Hodges nor the Greek could hear anything more than a murmur. The amateurs were criticising the dialogue and its rendering over pipes and beer.

'Well,' said Hodges, addressing vacancy, 'if theer ain't murder afore long, it _is_ a pity.'

Then the bovine Hodges went his way. Events supplied him with an excitement which lasted him for life; and the younger Hodges who has succeeded to his father's cows and remembrances, will not willingly let die the story of his progenitor's association with this tragic tale.

The Greek lay hidden in the bushes, and listened to the soft retreating steps in the field and the murmur of voices in the boat. By-and-by the door opened, and the friends appeared.


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