The tramp was very dusty about the feet and legs, and his clothes were very ragged and dirty, but he had cheerful twinkly gray eyes, and he touched his cap to the girls when he spoke to us, though a little as though he would rather not.
We were on the top of the big wall of the Roman ruin in the Three Tree pasture. We had just concluded a severe siege with bows and arrows–the ones that were given us to make up for the pistol that was confiscated after the sad but not sinful occasion when it shot a fox.
To avoid accidents that you would be sorry for afterwards, Oswald, in his thoughtfulness, had decreed that every one was to wear wire masks.
Luckily there were plenty of these, because a man who lived in the Moat House once went to Rome, where they throw hundreds and thousands at each other in play, and call it a Comfit Battle or Battaglia di Confetti (that’s real Italian). And he wanted to get up that sort of thing among the village people–but they were too beastly slack, so he chucked it.
And in the attic were the wire masks he brought home with him from Rome, which people wear to prevent the nasty comfits getting in their mouths and eyes.
So we were all armed to the teeth with masks and arrows, but in attacking or defending a fort your real strength is not in your equipment, but in your power of Shove. Oswald, Alice, Noel and Denny defended the fort. We were much the strongest side, but that was how Dicky and Oswald picked up.
The others got in, it is true, but that was only because an arrow hit Dicky on the nose, and it bled quarts as usual, though hit only through the wire mask. Then he put into dock for repairs, and while the defending party weren’t looking he sneaked up the wall at the back and shoved Oswald off, and fell on top of him, so that the fort, now that it had lost its gallant young leader, the life and soul of the besieged party, was of course soon overpowered and had to surrender.
Then we sat on the top and ate some peppermints Albert’s uncle brought us a bag of from Maidstone when he went to fetch away the Roman pottery we tried to sell the Antiquities with.
The battle was over, and peace raged among us as we sat in the sun on the big wall and looked at the fields, all blue and swimming in the heat.
We saw the tramp coming through the beet-field. He made a dusty blot on the fair scene.
When he saw us he came close to the wall, and touched his cap, as I have said, and remarked:
“Excuse me interrupting of your sports, young gentlemen and ladies, but if you could so far oblige as to tell a laboring man the way to the nearest pub. It’s a dry day and no error.”
“The ‘Rose and Crown’ is the best pub,” said Dicky, “and the landlady is a friend of ours. It’s about a mile if you go by the field path.”
“Lor’ love a duck!” said the tramp, “a mile’s a long way, and walking’s a dry job this ere weather.”
We said we agreed with him.
“Upon my sacred,” said the tramp, “if there was a pump handy I believe I’d take a turn at it–I would indeed, so help me if I wouldn’t! Though water always upsets me and makes my ‘and shaky.”
We had not cared much about tramps since the adventure of the villainous sailor-man and the Tower of Mystery, but we had the dogs on the wall with us (Lady was awfully difficult to get up, on account of her long deer-hound legs), and the position was a strong one, and easy to defend. Besides, the tramp did not look like that bad sailor, nor talk like it. And we considerably out-numbered the tramps, anyway.