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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesKathleen - Chapter 8
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Kathleen - Chapter 8 Post by :chrisf Category :Long Stories Author :Christopher Morley Date :May 2012 Read :1244

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Kathleen - Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

A ruddy-cheeked housemaid in the correct evening uniform admitted Blair, and in the drawing-room he found Mr. Kent sitting by a shining fire. Points of light twinkled in the polished balls of the brass andirons. As soon as he entered, Blair felt the comely atmosphere of a charming and well-ordered home. Books lined the walls; a French window opened on to the lawn at the far end of the room; a large bowl of blue hyacinths, growing in a bed of pebbles, stood on the reading table. Mr. Kent was small, gray-haired, with a clear pink complexion and a guileless blue eye.

"Mr. Blair," he said, laying down his paper, "I am very glad to meet you. A friend of Joe's is always welcome here, and particularly when he's an antiquarian. I know you'll excuse our seeming rudeness in putting you off at luncheon."

Blair bowed, and made some polite reply.

"As a matter of fact," said Mr. Kent, "my wife was embarrassed this morning by strange happenings in the domestic department. Our cook, usually very faithful, did not turn up, and sent a substitute who has caused her--well, mingled annoyance and amusement. I have not seen the woman myself: my rheumatism has kept me pretty close to the fire this damp weather; but by all accounts the creature is very extraordinary. Well, well, you are not interested in that, of course. It is very pleasant to meet a fellow antiquarian. How did you happen to visit Wolverhampton? We have a number of quite unusual relics in these parts, but they are not so well known as they should be."

"To tell the truth, sir," said Blair, "it was your book, which I came across in the college library. I was particularly interested in your account of St. Philip's Church, and I made up my mind that I ought to see it. You see, we in America have so little antiquity of our own that these relics of old England are peculiarly fascinating to us."

"Quite so, quite so!" said Mr. Kent, rubbing his hands with pleasure. "Magnificent! Well, well, it is certainly a delight to hear you say so. After supper we will dismiss the ladies and have a good crack. There are some really startling things to be learned about Wolverhampton in Anglo-Saxon times. You know the town lay along the frontier that was much harried by the Danes, and Edward the Elder won a conspicuous victory over the invaders at Tettenhall, which is a village very near here."

"Yes," said Blair, "I walked out there this afternoon."

"Did you, indeed! Well, that was a proof of your perspicacity. You may recall that in my book I referred to the battle at Tettenhall--"

"That was in 910, was it not?" queried Blair, adroitly.

"Precisely. It is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle."

"Edward the Elder died in 924, didn't he?" asked the ruthless American.

"About that time, I think. I don't remember exactly. Upon my word, Mr. Blair, you have taken up history with true American efficiency! I do wish that our young men had the same zeal. I am happy to say, however, that I am expecting a young cleric this evening, a protege of the Bishop of Oxford, who is, I believe, also interested in these matters."

Blair's heart sank, but he had no time to ponder, for at this moment Mrs. Kent and Kathleen came in.

"My dear, this is Mr. Blair, Joe's friend from Oxford. We are great cronies already. My wife, Mr. Blair, and my daughter Kathleen."

The young Oxonian suffered one of the most severe heart contusions known in the history of the human race. It was a positive vertigo of admiration. This was indeed the creature he had seen on the railway platform: a dazzling blend of girl and woman. The grotesque appellation "flapper" fled from his mind. Her thick, dark hair was drawn smoothly across her head and piled at the back in a heavenly coil. Her clear gray eyes, under rich brown brows, were cool, laughing, and self-possessed. She was that most adorable of creatures, the tweenie, between girl and woman, with the magic of both and the weaknesses of neither. Blair could not have said how she was dressed. He saw only the arch face, the intoxicating clearness of her skin, the steady, friendly gaze.

"How do you do," he said, and remembering English reticence, hesitated to put out his hand; then cursed himself for not having done so.

Kathleen smiled, and murmured, "How do you do."

"I'm very glad to see you," said Mrs. Kent. "Do tell us what that crazy Joe has been up to. Did Mr. Kent tell you we've had three telegrams from her?"

Blair felt the room twirl under his feet. How one little pronoun can destroy a man! In his agony he saw Mrs. Kent and Kathleen sit down on the big couch, and painfully found his way to a chair.

"I--I beg your pardon?" he stammered. "I didn't just catch--"

"The mad girl has sent us three telegrams," said Mrs. Kent, "in which there was only one sensible thing, the reference to yourself. Her other remarks, about cooks and soccer and injured limbs, were quite over our heads."

With a dull sense of pain Blair felt Kathleen's bright eyes on him.

"Yes, Mr. Blair, is she ragging us? Or have the girls at Maggie Hall taken up soccer?" said a clear voice, every syllable of which seemed so precious and girlish and quaintly English that he could have clapped his hands.

He blessed her for the clue. "Maggie Hall!"--in other words, Lady Margaret Hall, one of the women's colleges at Oxford. So "Joe" was (in American parlance) a "co-ed!"

"Why--er--I believe they _have been playing a little," he said desperately. "I think he--er--something was said about having his--hum--her--arm--hurt in a rough game."

"Her leg, too," said Mr. Kent. "In my time, young girls didn't send telegrams about their legs. In fact, they didn't send telegrams at all."

"Well, we are quite nonplussed," said Mrs. Kent. "Kathleen says Joe must have had a rush of humour to the head. She wired for us to send Fred down to her. Of course she has sent wires to Fred before, as a joke; but she must have known we couldn't send him so far alone. I suppose Joe has told you all about Fred? He's quite one of the family."

"Yes," said the distracted Oxonian. "He must be a fine fellow. I'm very anxious to meet him."

There was a ring at the front door bell, and in a kind of stupor Blair realized that something--he hardly knew what--was about to happen.

"The Reverend Mr. Carter," announced the maid.

Blair had a keen desire to scream, but he kept his eyes firmly on the rug until he had mastered himself. In the general movement that followed he had presence of mind enough to seize a chair next to Kathleen. He saw Falstaff's burly figure enter, habited as the conventional "black beetle" of the church, and in the sharpened state of his wits noticed that the unpractised curate had put on his clerical collar the wrong way round. He rejoiced in Carter's look of dismay on finding his fellow-Scorpion already on the battlefield.

"Mr. Carter," said Mr. Kent, "this is Mr. Blair, of Trinity."

The two shook hands gravely.

Blair determined to make use of his hard-won information to set Carter astray.

"I know Mr. Carter by reputation," he said. "I have heard Joe speak of him in terms of great admiration."

The curate looked worried, but tried to play safe.

"Oh, yes, Joe!" he said. "Splendid chap."

Blair made haste to get back to the chair he coveted. He had no idea what mad schemes might lurk beneath Carter's episcopalian frock, and was determined to gain any headway he could.

"It seems funny your coming to Wolverhampton," said Kathleen. "So few 'varsity men ever get here. But it's certainly a blessing for Dad. He'll talk antiquities with you as long as you like."

"Are you interested in the subject?" asked Blair.

"I'm afraid not," she laughed. "It's too bad Dad is so laid up with his lumbago. He'd love to walk you out to Tettenhall and Boscobel, to see his burial mounds."

"How very interesting!" said Blair. "A kind of private family cemetery?"

"Oh, dear no," declared Kathleen in amazement. "Antiquities, you know, where the Danes buried themselves."

"Of course, of course. How I wish I could see them! Are you fond of walking?"

"Yes, when it isn't too muddy. It's been too wet lately to go out with Fred. He loves a good long walk, but he's getting old and his rheumatism bothers him."

"I dare say he may have inherited that from your father?"

"It's very common among Scotties," said Kathleen.

"Oh, is your family Scotch?" said Blair, feverishly trying to be polite.

"Our family?" queried Kathleen with a smile. "Heavens, no! I thought you were talking about Fred. You must see him, he's somewhere around."

"I should love to meet him," said Blair.

Kathleen went to the door and whistled. There was a scampering on the stairs, and a grizzled Skye terrier trotted into the room. Blair and Carter looked at each other sheepishly.

Mr. Kent had been referring to his watch several times, and Blair began to suspect that something was wrong. But just then supper was announced. As they passed into the dining-room, the American thought he noticed signs of agitation on the maid's face. He wondered secretly what the rest of the Scorpions were up to.

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