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An Old Meerschaum From Coals Of Fire And Other Stories, Volume II. (of III.)

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The market-place at Trieste lay in a blaze of colour under the June sunlight. The scent of fruits and flowers was heavy on the air. A faint-hearted breeze which scarcely dared to blow came up from the harbour now and again, and made the heat just bearable. Mr. William Holmes Barndale, of Barndale in the county of Surrey, and King's Bench Walk-, Temple, sat in shadow in front of a restaurant with his legs comfortably thrust forth and his hat tilted over his eyes. He pulled his tawny beard lazily with one hand, and with the other caressed a great tumbler of iced beer. He was beautifully happy in his perfect idleness, and a sense was upon him of the eternal fitness of things in general. In the absolute serenity of his beatitude he fell asleep, with one hand still lazily clutching his beard, and the other still lingering lovingly near the great tumbler. This was surely not surprising, and on the face of things it would not have seemed that there was any reason for blushing at him. Yet a young lady, unmistakably English and undeniably pretty, gave a great start, beholding him, and blushed celestial rosy red. She was passing along the shady side of the square with papa and mamma, and the start and the blush came in with some hurried commonplace in answer to a commonplace. These things, papa and mamma noted not—good, easy, rosy, wholesome people, who had no great trouble in keeping their heads clear of fancies, and were chiefly engaged just then with devices for keeping cool.

Two minutes later, or thereabouts, came that way a young gentleman of whom the pretty young lady seemed a refined and feminine copy, save and except that the young lady was dearly and daintily demure, whilst from this youth impudence and mischief shone forth as light radiates from a lantern. He, pausing before the sleeping Barndale, blushed not, but poked him in the ribs with the end of his walking-stick, and regarded him with an eye of waggish joy, as who should say that to poke a sleeping man in the ribs was a stroke of comic genius whereof the world had never beheld the like. He sat on his stick, cocked Mr. Barndale's hat on one side, and awaited that gentleman's waking. Mr. Barndale, languidly stretching himself, arose, adjusted his hat, took a great drink of iced beer, and, being thereby in some degree primed for conversation, spoke.

'That you, Jimmy?' said Mr. Barndale.

'Billy, my boy?' said the awakener, 'how are you?'

'Thought you were in Oude, or somewhere,' said Mr. Barndale.

'Been back six months,' the other answered.

'Anybody with you here?'

'Yes,' said the awakener, 'the Mum, the Pater, and the Kid.'

Mr. Barndale did not look like the sort of man to be vastly shocked at these terms of irreverence, yet it is a fact that his brown and bearded cheeks flushed like any schoolgirl's.

'Stopping at the Hotel de la Ville,' said the awakener, 'and adoing of the Grand Tower, my pippin. I'm playing cicerone. Come up and have a smoke and a jaw.'

'All right,' said Mr. Barndale languidly. Nobody, to look at him now, would have guessed how fast his heart beat, and how every nerve in his body fluttered. 'I'm at the same place. When did you come?'

'Three hours ago. We're going on to Constantinople. Boat starts at six.'

'Ah!' said Barndale placidly. 'I'm going on to Constantinople too.'

'Now that's what I call jolly,' said the other. 'You're going to-night of course?'

'Of course. Nothing to stay here for.'

At the door of the hotel stood Barndale's servant, a sober-looking Scotchman dressed in dark tweed.

'Come with me, Bob,' said Barndale as he passed him. 'See you in the coffee-room in five minutes, Jimmy.'

In his own room Barndale sat down upon the bedside and addressed his servant.

'I have changed my mind about going home. Go to Lloyd's office and take places for this evening's boat to Constantinople. Wait a bit. Let me see what the fare is. There you are. Pack up and get everything down to the boat and wait there until I come.'

The man disappeared, and Barndale joined his friend. He had scarce seated himself when a feminine rustling was heard outside. The door opened, a voice of singular sweetness cried, 'Jimmy, dear!' and a young lady entered. It was the young lady who blushed and started when she saw Barndale asleep in front of the restaurant. She blushed again, but held her hand frankly out to him. He rose and took it with more tenderness than he knew of. The eyes of the third person twinkled, and he winked at his own reflection in a mirror.

'This,' Barndale said, 'is not an expected pleasure, and is all the greater on that account....