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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Bicycle Of Cathay: A Novel - Chapter 5. The Lady And The Cavalier
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A Bicycle Of Cathay: A Novel - Chapter 5. The Lady And The Cavalier Post by :sbeard Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2364

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A Bicycle Of Cathay: A Novel - Chapter 5. The Lady And The Cavalier

CHAPTER V. THE LADY AND THE CAVALIER

The day was fine, and the landscape lay clean and sharply defined under the blue sky and white clouds. I sped along in a cheerful mood, well pleased with what my good cycle had so far done for me. Again I passed the open gate of the Putney estate, and glanced through it at the lodge. I saw no one, and was glad of it--better pleased, perhaps, than I could have given good reason for. When I had gone on a few hundred yards I was suddenly startled by a voice--a female voice.

"Well! well!" cried some one on my right, and turning, I saw, above a low wall, the head and shoulders of the young lady with the dark eyes with whom I had parted an hour or so before. A broad hat shaded her face, her eyes were very dark and very wide open, and I saw some of her beautiful teeth, although she was not smiling or laughing. It was plain that she had not come down there to see me pass; she was genuinely astonished; I dismounted and approached the wall.

(Illustration: "I dismounted and approached the wall")

"I thought you were miles and miles on your way!" said she. It occurred to me that I had recently heard a remark very like this, and yet the words, as they came from the slender girl and from this one, seemed to have entirely different meanings. She was desirous, earnestly desirous, to know how I came to be passing this place at this time, when I had left their gate so long before, and, as I was not unwilling to gratify her curiosity, I told her the whole story of the accident the day before, and of everything which had followed it.

"And you went all the way back," she said, "to inquire after that Burton girl?"

"Do you know her?" I asked.

"No," she said, "I do not know her; but I have seen her often, and I know all about her family. They seem to be of such little consequence, one way or the other, that I can scarcely understand how things could so twist themselves that you should consider it necessary to go back there this morning before you really started on your day's journey."

I do not remember what I said, but it was something commonplace, no doubt, but I imagined I perceived a little pique in the young lady. Of course I did not object to this, for nothing could be more flattering to a young man than the exhibition of such a feeling on an occasion such as this.

But if she felt any pique she quickly brushed it out of sight, for, as I have said before, she was a young woman who had great command of herself. Of course I said to her that I was very glad to have this chance of seeing her again, and she answered, with a laugh:

"If you really are glad, you ought to thank the Burton girl. This is one of my favorite walks. The path runs along inside the wall for a considerable distance and then turns around the little hill over there, and so leads back to the house. When I happened to look over the wall and saw you I was truly surprised."

The ground was lower on the outside of the wall than on the inside, and as I stood and looked almost into the eyes of this girl, as she leaned with her arms upon the smooth top of the wall, the idea which the gardener's wife put into my head came into it again. This was a beautiful face, and the expression upon it was different from anything I had seen there before. Her surprise had disappeared, her pique had gone, but a very great interest in the incident of my passing this spot at the moment of her being there was plainly evident. As I gazed at her my blood ran warmer through my veins, and there came upon me a feeling of the olden time--of the days when the brave cavalier rode up to the spot where, waiting for him, his lady sat upon her impatient jennet.

Without the least hesitation, I asked:

"Do you ride a wheel?"

She looked wonderingly at me for a moment, and then broke into a laugh.

"Why on earth do you ask such a question as that? I have a bicycle, but I am not a very good rider, and I never venture out upon the public road by myself."

"You shouldn't think of such a thing," said I; and then I stood silent, and my mind showed me two young people, each mounted, not upon a swift steed, but upon a far swifter pair of wheels, skimming onward through the summer air, still rolling on, on, on, through country lanes and woodland roads, laughing at pursuit if they heard the trampling of eager hoofs behind them, with never a telegraph wire to stretch menacingly above them, and so on, on, on, their eyes sparkling, their hearts beating high with youthful hope.

Again, through the tender mists of the afternoon, I saw them returning from some secluded Gretna Green to bend their knees and bow their heads before the lord of the fair bride's home.

When all this had passed through my brain, I wondered how such a pair would be received. I knew the gardener and his wife would welcome them, to begin with; Brownster would be very glad to see them; and I believe the mother would stand with tears of joy and open arms, in whatever quiet room she might feel free to await them. Moreover, when the sterner parent heard my tale and read my pedigree, might he not consider good name on the one side an equivalent for good money on the other?

I looked up at her; she did not ask me what I had been thinking about nor remark upon my silence. She, too, had been wrapped in revery; her face was grave. She raised her arms from the wall and stood up.

It was plainly time for me to do something, and she decided the point for me by slightly moving away from the wall. "Some time, when you are riding out from Walford," she said, "we should be glad to have you stop and take luncheon. Father likes to have people at luncheon."

"I should be delighted to do so," said I; and if she had asked me to delay my journey and take luncheon with them that day I think I should have accepted the invitation. But she did not do that, and she was not a young lady who would stand too long by a public road talking to a young man. She smiled very sweetly and held out her hand over the wall. "Good-bye again," she said. As I took her hand I felt very much inclined to press it warmly, but I refrained. Her grasp was firm and friendly, and I would have liked very much to know whether or not it was more so than was her custom.

I was mounting my wheel when she called to me again. "Now, I suppose," she said, "you are going straight on?"

"Oh yes," I replied, with emphasis, "straight on."

"And the name of the hotel where you will stay to-night," said she, "it is the Cheltenham. I forgot it when I spoke to you before. I do not believe, really, it is more than three miles beyond the other little place where you thought of stopping."

Then she walked away from the wall and I mounted. I moved very slowly onward, and as I turned my head I saw that a row of straggling bushes which grew close to the wall were now between her and me. But I also saw, or thought I saw, between the leaves and boughs, that her face was towards me, and that she was waving her handkerchief. If I had been sure of that, I think I should have jumped over the wall, pushed through the bushes, and should have asked her to give me that handkerchief, that I might fasten it on the front of my cap as, in olden days, a knight going forth to his adventures bound upon his helmet the glove of his lady-love.

But I was not sure of it, and, seized by a sudden energetic excitement, I started off at a tremendous rate of speed. The ground flew backward beneath me as if I had been standing on the platform of a railroad car. Not far ahead of me there came from a side road into the main avenue on which I was travelling a Scorcher, scorching. As he spun away in front of me, his body bent forward until his back was nearly horizontal, and his green-stockinged legs striking out behind him with the furious rapidity of a great frog trying to push his head into the mud, he turned back his little face with a leer of triumphant derision at every moving thing which might happen to be behind him.

(Illustration: "I THOUGHT FOR A FEW MOMENTS")

At the sight of this green-legged Scorcher my blood rose, and it was with me as if I had heard the clang of trumpets and the clash of arms. I leaned slightly forward; I struck out powerfully, swiftly, and steadily; I gained upon the Scorcher; I sent into his emerald legs a thrill of startled fear, as if he had been a terrified hare bounding madly away from a pursuing foe, and I passed him as if I had been a swift falcon swooping by a quarry unworthy of his talons.

On, on I sped, not deigning even to look back. The same spirit possessed me as that which fired the hearts of the olden knights. I would have been glad to meet with another Scorcher, and yet another, that for the sake of my fair lady I might engage with each and humble his pride in the dust.

"It is true," I said to myself, with an inward laugh, "I carry no glove or delicate handkerchief bound upon my visor--" but at this point my mind wandered. I went more slowly, and at last I stopped and sat down under the shade of a way-side tree. I thought for a few minutes, and then I said to myself, "It seems to me this would be a good time to take one of those capsules," and I took one. I then fancied that perhaps I ought to take two, but I contented myself with one.

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