‘I knew nothing about the school bounds at the time, or I should never have allowed you! And on the way you asked me if I had hurt myself in falling. I told you “No”; but that was a fib, for my hip was growing weak even then. It’s by reason of my hip that I have to lie here. But in those days there was no one else to take the dancing classes, and it would never have done to confess. And–and that was all. I only met you once after that–it was in the post office at St Swithun’s, and you ran in to get a stamp. I was standing by the counter, weighing a letter; and you, being in a hurry, did not recognise me. But I asked the old postmistress your name. Do you remember her?’
‘She knew everybody’s name,’ said the colonel. ‘And so that was all?’
‘That was all, except that my blessing has gone with you, sir, from that day. Man and boy it has gone with you.’
‘Ma’am, if I had guessed it, some weary days in India might have been less weary.’
So they sat talking for a while; but, by degrees, the invalid’s eyes had grown pre-occupied.
‘Netta, dear,’ she asked at length, ‘do you think we might ask the colonel to honour us by sharing our Christmas dinner to-morrow?’
In that luckless moment Colonel Baigent glanced up, caught sight of Miss Netta’s face, and saw that in it which made his own colour to the roots of his hair. Then he gave a gulp, and faced the situation like the brave man he was.
‘Ma’am,’ he said gently, ‘you have taken me for a friend, and God knows, my friends are few enough. I am going to treat you as a very old friend, and to dismiss all tact. You will eat your Christmas dinner with me to-morrow, here, in this house.’
On his way back to the hotel Colonel Baigent halted to stare up at the minster tower. So much of his life had been spent under the shadow of it!–and yet, of all his sowing, one small act alone, long forgotten, had taken root here and survived.
In his dreams next morning he heard the minster bell ringing for early service. In his dreams, for a stroke or two, the remembered note of it carried him back to boyhood. Then he awoke with a start, and jumped out of bed.
Far up the hill the bugles from the barracks challenged the note of the bell. Over the muslin blind drawn half-way across his window the sun shone on a clear, frosty morning; and in the haze of it, as he dressed, his eyes rested, across the clustered roofs, on an angle of the minster tower, and beyond it on the hill with the quarry hewn in its side, and the clump of trees remembered of all who in boyhood have been sons of the city’s famous school.
He dressed rapidly. The street below had not yet awakened to Christmas Day, and the colonel, with Christmas in his heart, felt eager as a messenger of good news.
An hour later, as he returned, all refreshed in soul, from the minster, he ran against the second waiter, blinking in the sunlight on the door-step of the hotel, and looking as though he had slept in his evening suit.
‘I want breakfast at once,’ said the colonel; ‘and for luncheon you may put me up a basket.’
‘There was to have been a cold turkey,’ said the waiter, ‘it being Christmas Day.’
‘Put in the turkey, then–the whole turkey, please–and two bottles of champagne. I’ll take my luncheon out.’
‘Two bottles, sir, did I understand you to say?’
‘Certainly. Two bottles.’
‘Which the amount for corkage is cruel,’ said the waiter as he delivered his order at the office. ‘My word, and what an appetite! But I done him an injustice in one respec’. He do seem to be every inch a gentleman.’
So the waiter’s verdict, after all, sounded much the same as Miss Lapenotiere’s. And the conclusion seems to be that you can not only say the same thing in different ways, but quite different things in identical words.