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Barbara’s Wedding
by [?]

The Colonel is in the sitting-room of his country cottage, staring through the open windows at his pretty garden. He is a very old man, and is sometimes bewildered nowadays. He calls to Dering, the gardener, who is on a ladder, pruning. Dering, who comes to him, is a rough, capable young fellow with fingers that are already becoming stumpy because he so often uses his hands instead of a spade. This is a sign that Dering will never get on in the world. His mind is in the same condition as his fingers, working back to clods. He will get a rise of one and sixpence in a year or two, and marry on it and become duller and heavier; and, in short, the clever ones could already write his epitaph.

* * * * *

‘A beautiful morning, Dering.’

‘Too much sun, sir. The roses be complaining, and, to make matters worse, Miss Barbara has been watering of them–in the heat of the day.’

The Colonel is a very gentle knight nowadays. ‘Has she? She means well.’ But that is not what is troubling him. He approaches the subject diffidently. ‘Dering, you heard it, didn’t you?’ He is longing to be told that Dering heard it.

‘What was that, sir?’

‘The thunderstorm–early this morning.’

‘There was no thunderstorm, sir.’

Dispirited, ‘That is what they all say.’ The Colonel is too courteous to contradict any one, but he tries again; there is about him the insistence of one who knows that he is right. ‘It was at four o’clock. I got up and looked out at the window. The evening primroses were very beautiful.’

Dering is equally dogged. ‘I don’t hold much with evening primroses, sir; but I was out and about at four; there was no thunderstorm.’

The Colonel still thinks that there was a thunderstorm, but he wants to placate Dering. ‘I suppose I just thought there was one. Perhaps it was some thunderstorm of long ago that I heard. They do come back, you know.’

Heavily, ‘Do they, sir?’

‘I am glad to see you moving about in the garden, Dering, with everything just as usual.’

There is a cautious slyness about this, as if the Colonel was fishing for information; but it is too clever for Dering, who is going with a ‘Thank you, sir.’

‘No, don’t go.’ The old man lowers his voice and makes a confession reluctantly, ‘I am–a little troubled, Dering.’

Dering knows that his master has a wandering mind, and he answers nicely, ‘Everything be all right, sir.’

‘I’m glad of that,’ the Colonel says with relief. ‘It is pleasant to see that you have come back, Dering. Why did you go away for such a long time?’

‘Me, sir?’ Dering is a little aggrieved. ‘I haven’t had a day off since Christmas.’

‘Haven’t you? I thought–‘

The Colonel tries to speak casually, but there is a trembling eagerness in his voice. ‘Is everything just as usual, Dering?’

‘Yes, sir. There never were a place less changed than this.’

‘That’s true.’ The Colonel is appeased. ‘Thank you, Dering, for saying that.’ But next moment he has lowered his voice again. ‘Dering, there is nothing wrong, is there? Is anything happening that I am not being told about?’

‘Not that I know of, sir.’

‘That is what they all say, but–I don’t know.’ He stares at his old sword which is hanging on the wall. ‘Dering, I feel as if I was needed somewhere. I don’t know where it is. No one will tell me. Where is every one?’

‘They’re all about, sir. There’s a cricket match on at the village green.’

‘Is there?’

‘If the wind had a bit of south in it you could hear their voices. You were a bit of a nailer at cricket yourself, sir.’

The Colonel sees himself standing up to fast ones. He is gleeful over his reminiscences.