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The House of Cobwebs and Other Stories by George Gissing

Part 6 out of 6

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sewing. Miss Fouracres wore a long white apron, which protected her dress
from neck to feet, and gave her an appearance of great neatness and
coolness. She had a fresh complexion, and features which made no
disagreeable impression. At sight of the visitor she rose, and, as her
habit was, stood with one hand touching her chin, whilst she smiled the
discreetest of modest welcomes.

'Good day, Miss Fouracres,' said the under-master, after his usual little
cough.

'Good day, sir,' was the reply, in a country voice which had a peculiar
note of honesty. Miss Fouracres had never yet learnt her acquaintance's
name.

'Splendid weather for the crops. I'll take a ginger-beer, if you please.'

'Indeed, that it is, sir. Ginger-beer; yes, sir.'

Then followed two or three minutes of silence. Miss Fouracres had resumed
her sewing, though not her seat. Mr. Ruddiman sipped his beverage more
gravely than usual.

'How is Mr. Fouracres?' he asked at length.

'I'm sorry to say, sir,' was the subdued reply, 'that he's thinking about
the Prince.'

'Oh, dear!' sighed Mr. Ruddiman, as one for whom this mysterious answer had
distressing significance. 'That's a great pity.'

'Yes, sir. And I'm sorry to say,' went on Miss Fouracres, in the same
confidential tone, 'that the Prince is coming here. I don't mean _here_,
sir, to the Pig and Whistle, but to Woodbury Manor. Father saw it in the
newspaper, and since then he's had no rest, day or night. He's sitting out
in the garden. I don't know whether you'd like to go and speak to him,
sir?'

'I will. Yes, I certainly will. But there's something I should like to ask
you about first, Miss Fouracres. I'm thinking of staying in this part of
the country through the holidays'--long ago he had made known his
position--'and it has struck me that perhaps I could lodge here. Could you
let me have a room? Just a bedroom would be enough.'

'Why, yes, sir,' replied the landlord's daughter. 'We have two bedrooms,
you know, and I've no doubt my father would be willing to arrange with
you.'

'Ah, then I'll mention it to him. Is he in very low spirits?'

'He's unusual low to-day, sir. I shouldn't wonder if it did him good to see
you, and talk a bit.'

Having finished his ginger-beer, Mr. Ruddiman walked through the house and
passed out into the garden, where he at once became aware of Mr. Fouracres.
The landlord, a man of sixty, with grizzled hair and large, heavy
countenance, sat in a rustic chair under an apple-tree; beside him was a
little table, on which stood a bottle of whisky and a glass. Approaching,
Mr. Ruddiman saw reason to suspect that the landlord had partaken too
freely of the refreshment ready to his hand. Mr. Fouracres' person was in a
limp state; his cheeks were very highly coloured, and his head kept nodding
as he muttered to himself. At the visitor's greeting he looked up with a
sudden surprise, as though he resented an intrusion on his privacy.

'It's very hot, Mr. Fouracres,' the under-master went on to remark with
cordiality.

'Hot? I dare say it is,' replied the landlord severely. 'And what else do
you expect at this time of the year, sir?'

'Just so, Mr. Fouracres, just so!' said the other, as good-humouredly as
possible. 'You don't find it unpleasant?'

'Why should I, sir? It was a good deal hotter day than this when His Royal
Highness called upon me; a good deal hotter. The Prince didn't complain;
not he. He said to me--I'm speaking of His Royal Highness, you understand;
I hope you understand that, sir?'

'Oh, perfectly!'

'His words were--"Very seasonable weather, Mr. Fouracres." I'm not likely
to forget what he said; so it's no use you or any one else trying to make
out that he didn't say that. I tell you he _did_! "Very season weather, Mr.
Fouracres"--calling me by name, just like that. And it's no good you nor
anybody else--'

The effort of repeating the Prince's utterance with what was meant to be a
princely accent proved so exhausting to Mr. Fouracres that he sank together
in his chair and lost all power of coherent speech. In a moment he seemed
to be sleeping. Having watched him a little while, Mr. Ruddiman spoke his
name, and tried to attract his attention; finding it useless he went back
into the inn.

'I'm afraid I shall have to put it off to another day, was his remark to
the landlord's daughter. 'Mr. Four-acres is--rather drowsy.'

'Ah, sir!' sighed the young woman. 'I'm sorry to say he's often been like
that lately.'

Their eyes met, but only for an instant. Mr. Ruddiman looked and felt
uncomfortable.

'I'll come again very soon, Miss Fouracres,' he said. 'You might just speak
to your father about the room.'

'Thank you, sir. I will, sir.'

And, with another uneasy glance, which was not returned, the under-master
went his way. Descending towards Longmeadows, he thought over the
innkeeper's story, which may be briefly related. Some ten years before this
Mr. Fouracres occupied a very comfortable position; he was landlord of a
flourishing inn--called an hotel--in a little town of some importance as an
agricultural centre, and seemed perfectly content with the life and the
society natural to a man so circumstanced. His manners were marked by a
certain touch of pompousness, and he liked to dwell upon the excellence of
the entertainment which his house afforded, but these were innocent
characteristics which did not interfere with his reputation as a sensible
and sound man of business. It happened one day that two gentlemen on
horseback, evidently riding for their pleasure, stopped at the inn door,
and, after a few inquiries, announced that they would alight and have
lunch. Mr. Fouracres--who himself received these gentlemen--regarded one of
them with much curiosity, and presently came to the startling conclusion
that he was about to entertain no less a person than the Heir Apparent. He
knew that the Prince was then staying at a great house some ten miles away,
and there could be no doubt that one of his guests had a strong resemblance
to the familiar portraits of His Royal Highness. In his excitement at the
supposed discovery, Mr. Fouracres at once communicated it to those about
him, and in a very few minutes half the town had heard the news. Of course
the host would allow no one but himself to wait at the royal table--which
was spread in the inn's best room, guarded against all intrusion. In vain,
however, did he listen for a word from either of the gentlemen which might
confirm his belief; in their conversation no name or title was used, and no
mention made of anything significant. They remained for an hour. When their
horses were brought round for them a considerable crowd had gathered before
the hotel, and the visitors departed amid a demonstration of exuberant
loyalty. On the following day, one or two persons who had been present at
this scene declared that the two gentlemen showed surprise, and that,
though both raised their hats in acknowledgment of the attention they
received, they rode away laughing.

For the morrow brought doubts. People began to say that the Prince had
never been near the town at all, and that evidence could be produced of his
having passed the whole day at the house where he was a visitor. Mr.
Fouracres smiled disdainfully; no assertion or argument availed to shake
his proud assurance that he had entertained the Heir to the Throne. From
that day he knew no peace. Fired with an extraordinary arrogance, he viewed
as his enemy every one who refused to believe in the Prince's visit; he
quarrelled violently with many of his best friends; he brought insulting
accusations against all manner of persons. Before long the man was honestly
convinced that there existed a conspiracy to rob him of a distinction that
was his due. Political animus had, perhaps, something to do with it, for
the Liberal newspaper (Mr. Fouracres was a stout Conservative) made more
than one malicious joke on the subject. A few townsmen stood by the
landlord's side and used their ingenuity in discovering plausible reasons
why the Prince did not care to have it publicly proclaimed that he had
visited the town and lunched at the hotel. These partisans scorned the
suggestion that Mr. Fouracres had made a mistake, but they were unable to
deny that a letter, addressed to the Prince himself, with a view to putting
an end to the debate, had elicited (in a secretarial hand) a brief denial
of the landlord's story. Evidently something very mysterious underlay the
whole affair, and there was much shaking of heads for a long time.

To Mr. Fouracres the result of the honour he so strenuously vindicated was
serious indeed. By way of defiance to all mockers he wished to change the
time-honoured sign of the inn, and to substitute for it the Prince of
Wales's Feathers. On this point he came into conflict with the owner of the
property, and, having behaved very violently, received notice that his
lease, just expiring, would not be renewed. Whereupon what should Mr.
Fouracres do but purchase land and begin to build for himself an hotel
twice as large as that he must shortly quit. On this venture he used all,
and more than all, his means, and, as every one had prophesied, he was soon
a ruined man. In less than three years from the fatal day he turned his
back upon the town where he had known respect and prosperity, and went
forth to earn his living as best he could. After troublous wanderings, on
which he was accompanied by his daughter, faithful and devoted, though she
had her doubts on a certain subject, the decayed publican at length found a
place of rest. A small legacy from a relative had put it in his power to
make a new, though humble, beginning in business; he established himself at
the Pig and Whistle.

The condition in which he had to-day been discovered by Mr. Ruddiman was
not habitual with him. Once a month, perhaps, his melancholy thoughts drove
him to the bottle; for the most part he led a sullen, brooding life,
indifferent to the state of his affairs, and only animated when he found a
new and appreciative listener to the story of his wrongs. That he had been
grievously wronged was Mr. Fouracres' immutable conviction. Not by His
Royal Highness; the Prince knew nothing of the strange conspiracy which had
resulted in Fouracres' ruin; letters addressed to His Royal Highness were
evidently intercepted by underlings, and never came before the royal eyes.
Again and again had Mr. Fouracres written long statements of his case, and
petitioned for an audience. He was now resolved to adopt other methods; he
would use the first opportunity of approaching the Prince's person, and
lifting up his voice where he could not but be heard. He sought no vulgar
gain; his only desire was to have this fact recognised, that he had,
indeed, entertained the Prince, and so put to shame all his scornful
enemies. And now the desired occasion offered itself. In the month of
September His Royal Highness would be a guest at Woodbury Manor, distant
only some couple of miles from the Pig and Whistle. It was the excitement
of such a prospect which had led Mr. Fouracres to undue indulgence under
the apple-tree this afternoon.

A week later Mr. Ruddiman again ascended the hill, and, after listening
patiently to the narrative which he had heard fifty times, came to an
arrangement with Mr. Fouracres about the room he wished to rent for the
holidays. The terms were very moderate, and the under-master congratulated
himself on this prudent step. He felt sure that a couple of months at the
Pig and Whistle would be anything but disagreeable. The situation was high
and healthy; the surroundings were picturesque. And for society, well,
there was Miss Fouracres, whom Mr. Ruddiman regarded as a very sensible and
pleasant person.

Of course, no one at Longmeadows had an inkling of the under-master's
intention. On the day of 'breaking up' he sent his luggage, as usual, to
the nearest railway station, and that same evening had it conveyed by
carrier to the little wayside inn, where, much at ease in mind and body, he
passed his first night.

He had a few books with him, but Mr. Ruddiman was not much of a reader. In
the garden of the inn, or somewhere near by, he found a spot of shade, and
there, pipe in mouth, was content to fleet the hours as they did in the
golden age. Now and then he tried to awaken his host's interest in
questions of national finance. It was one of Mr. Ruddiman's favourite
amusements to sketch Budgets in anticipation of that to be presented by the
Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he always convinced himself that his own
financial expedients were much superior to those laid before Parliament.
All sorts of ingenious little imposts were constantly occurring to him, and
his mouth watered with delight at the sound of millions which might thus be
added to the national wealth. But to Mr. Fouracres such matters seemed
trivial. A churchwarden between his lips, he appeared to listen, sometimes
giving a nod or a grunt; in reality his thoughts were wandering amid bygone
glories, or picturing a day of brilliant revenge.

Much more satisfactory were the conversations between Mr. Ruddiman and his
host's daughter; they were generally concerned with the budget, not of the
nation, but of the Pig and Whistle. Miss Fouracres was a woman of much
domestic ability; she knew how to get the maximum of comfort out of small
resources. But for her the inn would have been a wretched little place--as,
indeed, it was before her time. Miss Fouracres worked hard and prudently.
She had no help; the garden, the poultry, all the cares of house and inn
were looked after by her alone--except, indeed, a few tasks beyond her
physical strength, which were disdainfully performed by the landlord. A
pony and cart served chiefly to give Mr. Fouracres an airing when his life
of sedentary dignity grew burdensome. One afternoon, when he had driven to
the market town, his daughter and her guest were in the garden together,
gathering broad beans and gossiping with much contentment.

'I wish I could always live here!' exclaimed Mr. Ruddiman, after standing
for a moment with eyes fixed meditatively upon a very large pod which he
had just picked.

Miss Fouracres looked at him as if in surprise, her left hand clasping her
chin.

'Ah, you'd soon get tired of it, sir.'

'I shouldn't! No, I'm sure I shouldn't. I like this life. It suits me. I
like it a thousand times better than teaching in a school.'

'That's your fancy, sir.'

As Miss Fouracres spoke a sound from the house drew her attention; some one
had entered the inn.

'A customer?' said Mr. Ruddiman. 'Let me go and serve him--do let me!'

'But you wouldn't know how, sir.'

'If it's beer, and that's most likely, I know well enough. I've watched you
so often. I'll go and see.'

With the face of a schoolboy he ran into the house, and was absent about
ten minutes. Then he reappeared, chinking coppers in his hand and laughing
gleefully.

'A cyclist! Pint of half-and-half! I served him as if I'd done nothing else
all my life.'

Miss Fouracres looked at him with wonder and admiration. She did not laugh;
demonstrative mirth was not one of her characteristics; but for a long time
there dwelt upon her good, plain countenance a half-smile of placid
contentment. When they went in together, Mr. Ruddiman begged her to teach
him all the mysteries of the bar, and his request was willingly granted. In
this way they amused themselves until the return of the landlord, who, as
soon as he had stabled his pony, called Mr. Ruddiman aside, and said in a
hoarse whisper--

'The Prince comes to-morrow!'

'Ha! does he?' was the answer, in a tone of feigned interest.

'I shall see him. It's all settled. I've made friends with one of the
gardeners at Woodbury Manor, and he's promised to put me in the way of
meeting His Royal Highness. I shall have to go over there for a day or two,
and stay in Woodbury, to be on the spot when the chance offers.'

Mr. Fouracres had evidently been making his compact with the aid of strong
liquor; he walked unsteadily, and in other ways betrayed imperfect command
of himself. Presently, at the tea-table, he revealed to his daughter the
great opportunity which lay before him, and spoke of the absence from home
it would necessitate.

'Of course you'll do as you like, father,' replied Miss Fouracres, with her
usual deliberation, and quite good-humouredly, 'but I think you're going on
a fool's errand, and that I tell you plain. If you'd just forget all about
the Prince, and settle down quiet at the Pig and Whistle, it 'ud be a good
deal better for you.'

The landlord regarded her with surprise and scorn. It was the first time
that his daughter had ventured to express herself so unmistakably.

'The Pig and Whistle!' he exclaimed. 'A pothouse! I who have kept an hotel
and entertained His Royal Highness. You speak like an ignorant woman. Hold
your tongue, and don't dare to let me hear your voice again until to-morrow
morning!'

Miss Fouracres obeyed him. She was absolutely mute for the rest of the
evening, save when obliged to exchange a word or two with rustic company or
in the taproom. Her features expressed uneasiness rather than
mortification.

The next day, after an early breakfast, Mr. Fouracres set forth to the town
of Woodbury. He had the face of a man with a fixed idea, and looked more
obstinate, more unintelligent than ever. To his daughter he had spoken only
a few cold words, and his last bidding to her was 'Take care of the
pothouse!' This treatment gave Miss Fouracres much pain, for she was a
softhearted woman, and had never been anything but loyal and affectionate
to her father all through his disastrous years. Moreover, she liked the Pig
and Whistle, and could not bear to hear it spoken of disdainfully. Before
the sound of the cart had died away she had to wipe moisture from her eyes,
and at the moment when she was doing so Mr. Ruddiman came into the parlour.

'Has Mr. Fouracres gone?' asked the guest, with embarrassment.

'Just gone, sir,' replied the young woman, half turned away, and nervously
fingering her chin.

'I shouldn't trouble about it if I were you, Miss Fouracres,' said Mr.
Ruddiman in a tone of friendly encouragement. 'He'll soon be back, he'll
soon be back, and you may depend upon it there'll be no harm done.'

'I hope so, sir, but I've an uneasy sort of feeling; I have indeed.'

'Don't you worry, Miss Fouracres. When the Prince has gone away he'll be
better.'

Miss Fouracres stood for a moment with eyes cast down, then, looking
gravely at Mr. Ruddiman, said in a sorrowful voice--

'He calls the Pig and Whistle a pothouse.'

'Ah, that was wrong of him!' protested the other, no less earnestly. 'A
pothouse, indeed! Why, it's one of the nicest little inns you could find
anywhere. I'm getting fond of the Pig and Whistle. A pothouse, indeed! No,
I call that shameful.'

The listener's eyes shone with gratification.

'Of course we've got to remember,' she said more softly, 'that father has
known very different things.'

'I don't care what he has known!' cried Mr. Ruddiman. 'I hope I may never
have a worse home than the Pig and Whistle. And I only wish I could live
here all the rest of my life, instead of going back to that beastly
school!'

'Don't you like the school, Mr. Ruddiman?'

'Oh, I can't say I _dis_like it. But since I've been living here--well,
it's no use thinking of impossibilities.'

Towards midday the pony and trap came back, driven by a lad from Woodbury,
who had business in this direction. Miss Fouracres asked him to unharness
and stable the pony, and whilst this was being done Mr. Ruddiman stood by,
studiously observant. He had pleasure in every detail of the inn life.
To-day he several times waited upon passing guests, and laughed exultantly
at the perfection he was attaining. Miss Fouracres seemed hardly less
pleased, but when alone she still wore an anxious look, and occasionally
heaved a sigh of trouble.

Mr. Ruddiman, as usual, took an early supper, and soon after went up to his
room. By ten o'clock the house was closed, and all through the night no
sound disturbed the peace of the Pig and Whistle.

The morrow passed without news of Mr. Fouracres. On the morning after, just
as Mr. Ruddiman was finishing his breakfast, alone in the parlour, he heard
a loud cry of distress from the front part of the inn. Rushing out to see
what was the matter, he found Miss Fouracres in agitated talk with a man on
horseback.

'Ah, what did I say!' she cried at sight of the guest. 'Didn't I _know_
something was going to happen? I must go at once--I must put in the pony--'

'I'll do that for you,' said Mr. Ruddiman. 'But what has happened?'

The horseman, a messenger from Woodbury, told a strange tale. Very early
this morning, a gardener walking through the grounds at Woodbury Manor, and
passing by a little lake or fishpond, saw the body of a man lying in the
water, which at this point was not three feet in depth. He drew the corpse
to the bank, and, in so doing, recognised his acquaintance, Mr. Fouracres,
with whom he had spent an hour or two at a public-house in Woodbury on the
evening before. How the landlord of the Pig and Whistle had come to this
tragic end neither the gardener nor any one else in the neighbourhood could
conjecture.

Mr. Ruddiman set to work at once on harnessing the pony, while Miss
Fouracres, now quietly weeping, went to prepare herself for the journey. In
a very few minutes the vehicle was ready at the door. The messenger had
already ridden away.

'Can you drive yourself, Miss Fouracres?' asked Ruddiman, looking and
speaking with genuine sympathy.

'Oh yes, sir. But I don't know what to do about the house. I may be away
all day. And what about you, sir?'

'Leave me to look after myself, Miss Fouracres. And trust me to look after
the house too, will you? You know I can do it. Will you trust me?'

'It's only that I'm ashamed, sir--'

'Not a bit of it. I'm very glad, indeed, to be useful; I assure you I am.'

'But your dinner, sir?'

'Why, there's cold meat. Don't you worry, Miss Fouracres. I'll look after
myself, and the house too; see if I don't. Go at once, and keep your mind
at ease on my account, pray do!'

'It's very good of you, sir, I'm sure it is. Oh, I _knew_ something was
going to happen! Didn't I _say_ so?'

Mr. Ruddiman helped her into the trap; they shook hands silently, and Miss
Fouracres drove away. Before the turn of the road she looked back. Ruddiman
was still watching her; he waved his hand, and the young woman waved to him
in reply.

Left alone, the under-master took off his coat and put on an apron, then
addressed himself to the task of washing up his breakfast things.
Afterwards he put his bedroom in order. About ten o'clock the first
customer came in, and, as luck had it, the day proved a busier one than
usual. No less than four cyclists stopped to make a meal. Mr. Ruddiman was
able to supply them with cold beef and ham; moreover, he cooked eggs, he
made tea--and all this with a skill and expedition which could hardly have
been expected of him. None the less did he think constantly of Miss
Fouracres. About five in the afternoon wheels sounded; aproned and in his
shirt-sleeves, he ran to the door--as he had already done several times at
the sound of a vehicle--and with great satisfaction saw the face of his
hostess. She, too, though her eyes showed she had been weeping long, smiled
with gladness; the next moment she exclaimed distressfully.

'Oh, sir! To think you've been here alone all day! And in an apron!'

'Don't think about me, Miss Fouracres. You look worn out, and no wonder.
I'll get you some tea at once. Let the pony stand here a little; he's not
so tired as you are. Come in and have some tea, Miss Fouracres.'

Mr. Ruddiman would not be denied; he waited upon his hostess, got her a
very comfortable tea, and sat near her whilst she was enjoying it. Miss
Fouracres' story of the day's events still left her father's death most
mysterious. All that could be certainly known was that the landlord of the
Pig and Whistle had drunk rather freely with his friend the gardener at an
inn at Woodbury, and towards nine o'clock in the evening had gone out, as
he said, for a stroll before bedtime. Why he entered the grounds of
Woodbury Manor, and how he got into the pond there, no one could say.
People talked of suicide, but Miss Fouracres would not entertain that
suggestion. Of course there was to be an inquest, and one could only await
the result of such evidence as might be forthcoming. During the day Miss
Fouracres had telegraphed to the only relatives of whom she knew anything,
two sisters of her father, who kept a shop in London. Possibly one of them
might come to the funeral.

'Well,' said Mr. Ruddiman, in a comforting tone, 'all you have to do is to
keep quiet. Don't trouble about anything. I'll look after the business.'

Miss Fouracres smiled at him through her tears.

'It's very good of you, sir, but you make me feel ashamed. What sort of a
day have you had?'

'Splendid! Look here!'

He exhibited the day's receipts, a handful of cash, and, with delight
decently subdued, gave an account of all that had happened.

'I like this business!' he exclaimed. 'Don't you trouble about anything.
Leave it all to me, Miss Fouracres.'

One of the London aunts came down, and passed several days at the Pig and
Whistle. She was a dry, keen, elderly woman, chiefly interested in the
question of her deceased brother's property, which proved to be
insignificant enough. Meanwhile the inquest was held, and all the
countryside talked of Mr. Fouracres, whose story, of course, was published
in full detail by the newspapers. Once more opinions were divided as to
whether the hapless landlord really had or had not entertained His Royal
Highness. Plainly, Mr. Fouracres' presence in the grounds of Woodbury Manor
was due to the fact that the Prince happened to be staying there. In a
state of irresponsibility, partly to be explained by intoxication, partly
by the impulse of his fixed idea, he must have gone rambling in the dark
round the Manor, and there, by accident, have fallen into the water. No
clearer hypothesis resulted from the legal inquiry, and with this all
concerned had perforce to be satisfied. Mr. Fouracres was buried, and, on
the day after the funeral, his sister returned to London. She showed no
interest whatever in her niece, who, equally independent, asked neither
counsel nor help.

Mr. Ruddiman and his hostess were alone together at the Pig and Whistle.
The situation had a certain awkwardness. Familiars of the inn--country-folk
of the immediate neighbourhood--of course began to comment on the state of
things, joking among themselves about Mr. Ruddiman's activity behind the
bar. The under-master himself was in an uneasy frame of mind. When Miss
Fouracres' aunt had gone, he paced for an hour or two about the garden; the
hostess was serving cyclists. At length the familiar voice called to him.

'Will you have your dinner, Mr. Ruddiman?'

He went in, and, before entering the parlour, stood looking at a cask of
ale which had been tilted forward.

'We must tap the new cask,' he remarked.

'Yes, sir, I suppose we must,' replied his hostess, half absently.

'I'll do it at once. Some more cyclists might come.'

For the rest of the day they saw very little of each other. Mr. Ruddiman
rambled musing. When he came at the usual hour to supper, guests were
occupying the hostess. Having eaten, he went out to smoke his pipe in the
garden, and lingered there--it being a fine, warm night--till after ten
o'clock. Miss Fouracres' voice aroused him from a fit of abstraction.

'I've just locked up, sir.'

'Ah! Yes. It's late.'

They stood a few paces apart. Mr. Ruddiman had one hand in his waistcoat
pocket, the other behind his back; Miss Fouracres was fingering her chin.

'I've been wondering,' said the under-master in a diffident voice, 'how
you'll manage all alone, Miss Fouracres.'

'Well, sir,' was the equally diffident reply, 'I've been wondering too.'

'It won't be easy to manage the Pig and Whistle all alone.'

'I'm afraid not, sir.'

'Besides, you couldn't live here in absolute solitude. It wouldn't be
safe.'

'I shouldn't quite like it, sir.'

'But I'm sure you wouldn't like to leave the Pig and Whistle, Miss
Fouracres?'

'I'd much rather stay, sir, if I could any way manage it.'

Mr. Ruddiman drew a step nearer.

'Do you know, Miss Fouracres, I've been thinking just the same. The fact
is, I don't like the thought of leaving the Pig and Whistle; I don't like
it at all. This life suits me. Could you'--he gave a little laugh--'engage
me as your assistant, Miss Fouracres?'

'Oh, sir!'

'You couldn't?'

'How can you think of such a thing, sir.'

'Well, then, there's only one way out of the difficulty that I can see. Do
you think--'

Had it not been dark Mr. Ruddiman would hardly have ventured to make the
suggestion which fell from him in a whisper. Had it not been dark Miss
Fouracres would assuredly have hesitated much longer before giving her
definite reply. As it was, five minutes of conversation solved what had
seemed a harder problem than any the under-master set to his class at
Longmeadows, and when these two turned to enter the Pig and Whistle, they
went hand in hand.

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