Chapter 161819398

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitleAN OLD FRIEND.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161819398
Full Date1895-04-06
Page Number36
Corrections2
Word Count2250
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-04-01
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleThe Third Volume
article text

CHAPTER 1.

AN OLD FRIEND.

When Spenser Tait took his seat at the breakfast-table, he cast a look around accord- ing to custom, to see that all was as orderly as he could wish. The neatest and most me- ththodical of men, be was positively old-maidish in his love of regularity and tidiness. His valet Dormer—with him for over fifteen years—had been trained by such long ser- vice into the particular ways of his master, and was almost as exacting as Tait himself in the matter of domestic details. No woman was permitted to penetrate into those cham- bers in Earls-street, St. James's, but had one been able to do so, she could have found no

iauit with them, either on the score of taste or of cleanliness. The shell of this hermit crab was eloquent of the idiosyncrasies of its

tenant.

The main characteristic of the breakfast room was one of severe simplicity. The carpet of green drappled brown, the curtains to match, and the furniture of oak, polished

and dark. On the white cloth of the table an appetising breakfast was set out in Bilver and china, and a vaee of flowerB showed that the little gentleman was not unmindful of the requirements of an artietio temperament. Even the Times carefully cut and warmed was neatly folded by the silver ringed napkin, and Dormer standing Btiff and lean by his master's chair was oalmly satisfied that no fault oould be found with hie work. For the past fifteen years, save on ocoaeions of foreign travel, the same etiquette had been observed, the same aolioiis performed, for like the laws of the

Medes and Persians the habits of Tait were fixed and determined.

He was a pleaeant creature of thirty-four years, small in stature, clean-shaven, and brown-locked. HiB plump little body was olothed m a well-brushed Bmoking suit of maroon-ooloured olotb, his neat feet encased in 8iippere of red morooco, and he soanned the room through a gold-mounted pinoe-nez. Heat and firm as he was, women did not oare for him in the least, and he returned the compli ment by heartily disliking the female sex. Yet with men he was a great favourite, and the members of bis olub liked to hear the sententious speeches of this little man, delivered with point and deliberation in the smoking-room from eleven till midnight. When the clock struok twelve he invariably went to bed, and no persuasion or temptation oould induoe him to break thie excellent rule.

Dormer, a tall, thin man of Kent, who adored his preoise master, was equally as misogynistio as Tait, aud silent on all oooa sions save when spoken to. Then he replied in dry monosyllables and stood bolt upright during suoh replies in a military fashion which he had picked up many years before in the army. Tait humoured his oddities on aocount of bis fidelity, knowing that this ngly, rough-hewn specimen of humauity was as true as steel and entirely devoted to his interests. Nowadays it is unusual to meet with such equal appreciation between maBter

and servant.

"I think. Dormer," said Tait, while the man ministered to bis wants, " that yon might

call at Mudie'a this morning and get me a

oopy of the new novel, * A. Whim of Fate,' by

John Parver. I heard lost night that it oon tained a description of Thirston."

"Very good, Sir," replied Dormer, noting the same in his pooket-book. '

And take a seat for me at tbeUnrtaio

Tbeatre, in tbe fifth row of the stalls, not too

near the Bide."

" Anything else, Sir?"

"I think nob," said his master, taking a morsel of toast. " I am going down to Rich mond by the 12 o'olook train to lnnoheon with Mr. Freak. Lay ont the Berge suit."

Dormer saluted in a military fashion, and disappeared, leaving Tait to skim the paper and finish his breakfast. Methodical as ever, the little man first read the leading artioles, thence passed to tbe oity news, perused the general information, and wound up with a glance at the advertisements. In suah order be ever prooeeded, and never by any chanoe thought of beginning with tbe advertisements and working back to the leading article. Habit was everything with Spenser Tait.

As neual, his day's programme was care fully sketched out, and he knew what he was about to do with every moment of his time from noon till midnight. But his plans on thiB speoial day were upset at the outset, forsoarcely had he lighted bis morning pipe than the door was thrown open and a

visitor was announced.

"Mr. Laroher," said Dormer, stiffly, and ushered in a tall young man with a bright face and a breezy manner.

" Hullo, little Tait,"cried tbe new comer, hastily striding aoroBs tbe room, "here I am agaiu. Come from wandering up and down the earth, Sir, like a certain person whom I

need not mention."

" Dear me," said Tait, welcoming bis guest with prim kindliness, "it is Claude Laicher. I am very glad to see you, my dear follow, and rather surprised; for I assure you 1 thought you were at the Antipodes."

" I have just returned from that quarter of tbe globe. YeB ! Landed at the docks yester day from one of the Shaw, Seville line. Had a capital passage from New Zealand. Sea like a millpond from Wellington Heads to the

Lizird."

" Have you had breakfast, Laroher?" asked Tait, touching the bell.

"A trifle 1 A trifle! I oould eat another. What have you ? Bacon and eggs, wateroress, coffee, and the best of bread and butter. Hgad, Spenser, you had tho same viotuals two years ago when I last called here."

"j am a oreature of-habit, Claude," replied Tait, senteutiously; and when Dormer made his appearance gave grave directions for fresh coffee and another dish of eggs and baoon.

Laroher drew in his chair, and with his elbows on the table ejed tbe little man with friendly eyes. They were old sohoolfellows and fast friends, though a greater contrast than that whioh existed between them obq scarcely be imagined. Tait, a prim, chilly misogynist; Laroher, a hot-blooded im petuous lover of women. Tbe one a stay-at

home, and a slave to habit; the other a' roaming engineer, careless and impulsive. Yet by some vein of sympathy the pair, so unlike in looks and temperament, were ex ceedingly friendly, and always glad to meet when circumstances threw them together. Such friendship, based on no logical grounds, was a standing contradiction to the rule that like draws to like.

It was aaaroely to ba expeoted that a well favoured mortal like Laroher should share hit friend's distaste for the femaie sex. Far from disliking them, he sought them on all possible dcoasipus, oftentimes to his own disadvan tage; and was generally involved in some ?btape oonneoted with apettiooat. Tait, who was the older of the two by five years, vainly exhorted and warned bis friend againBt anoh follies, but as yet his arguments had come to nought. At the age of thirty, Iiaroher was etill as inflammable, and answered all Tail's expostulations with a laugh of soorn.

It were easy to dower this hero with all the perfections, phyaioal or mental, whiohliiB with in the soope of' imagination, but the truth must be told at wbatever oost. Olaude was no Ureek god, no prodigy of learning, neither an Apollo for books nor an Admirable Orioh tpn for knowledge; he was simply a well looking young man, ' clean - limbed, olear •kinned, healthy, atbletio, and dauntlees, euoh bb nan be found by the dozen in England. Thews and sinews he bad, but was no damson or Hercules, yet his etrong frame and easy graee won the heart of many a woman, while with bis own ssx he passed for a true comrade and a friend worth having.

He was an engineer, and built bridges and tnilways in divers quarters of the globe,

pioneering civilization, as it were, in the most ; barbarous regions.

For the past ten years he had roamed all brer the world, and hie adventures, begotten

by a daring and reokless spirit, were already j

euffioient to fill a volume. blaster of at least half a dozen tongues, he could find his way from the tropics to tbe pole, and waB

equally at home on tbe prairie as in Picoa- j

djlly. Indeed, be preferred the former, fur

civilization was little to his taste, and lie was j infinitely more at ease in Pekin than London. North and South America, Africa, Oliina,

India, he knew them all, and on this ooeasion ' had returned from a prolonged sojourn in the I Antipodes, where he had been building bridges aarosB rapid New Zealand rivers.

" Well, my friend," said be, addressing j

.himself to a second moal with a hearty appe

tite. "I need not ask how you are. Tbe I same prim, finnicking, little mortal as ever I j

tee. Five years have made no difference in i you, Spenser. You've not married, I sup pose 1"

"Not I,"returned Tait, with etormy dis gust. "You kuow my views on tbe subject Of matrimony. You might go away for one hundred years and would return to find me ptiti a bachelor. But you, Claude"

"Oh, I'm still in the market. I wasn't rich enough for tbe New Zealand relies."

"Eh I You have live hundred a year in dependent of your earnings as an engineer."

" What is the U9e of setting up house on a thousand a year all told," retorted Claude, coolly. " But the fact is, despite my in flammability, which you are pleased to re proach, I have nut yet seen the woman I care Co make Mrs. Laroher."

" Perhaps it is just as well for the woman," answered Tait, drily. " I don't think you are out)put for a domestia life."

I liavo had no experience of it>, so I can't | Say," said Laroher, a shade passing over bin j faoe. " You must not forget tbat I eras left an orphan at five years of age, Tait. If it had not been for old Hdliston, the lawyer, who looked after me and my small fortune, I don't know what would have beuorao of toe. All things considering, I think I have turned out fairly decent, I have worked hard at my profession, I have not spent my substance in riotous living, and have seen muoh more of life than most young men, All df which is self-praise, and that we know being no recom mendation, give me another cup of coffee."

Tait laughed and obeyed, " What are you going to do now?" he demanded, after a 4>ause; " stay in town, or make another dash

for the wilds?" j

"I'll be here for a few months till some

thing turns up," said Larcher carelessly. "I did very well out of that Maoriland business, and bought some land there with the proceeds. I suppose I'll go and look up Mr. Hillisbon, see all the theatres, wurry you, aud hunt for a

wife."

" I shan't assist you in the last," retorted Tait, testily. " However, as youare here you must stay with me for the day. What are your immediate plane?"

" Oh t I wish to call at the olub and see if there are any letters. Then I am at your disposal, unJessyou have a prior engagement."

"I have a lunoheon at Richmond, but I'll putbbatnff. It is not very important, and a wire will arrange matters. Finish your break fast while Idtpes.

"Go, you effete dandy of au exhausted civilization. I saw you looking at mv rig out, and I dare say it is very bad. It has been

paoked away for the last five years. However, ! you oantake me to your tailor, and I'll set a

freBh outfit. You won't walk down Bond

street with me unless I assume a tall hat, j patentleathers, and a frook coat." j

"Oh, by the way, would yon like to go to the Curtain Theatre to-night?" asked Tait, vnuoheafingno roply to this epeeoh. "They are playing a good pieoe, and I sent for a seat for myself."

"You selfish little man; just send for two while you're about it."

" With pleasure," repltol Tait, who per mitted Larcher morn freedom of epeeoh than he did any other of hie friends. I won't be more than ten minutes dressing,"

" Very good. I'll smoke a pipe during your absence, and see with what further fribbles you have adorned your rooms. Then we'll go to the olub, and afterwards to the tailor's. I don't suppose my letters will detain me long."

In this Laroher waa wrong, for bis letters detained him longer than heexpeoted. This opened the way to a new course of life, of which at that moinenb he knew nothing. Laughing and jesting in his friend's rooms, heart whole and untrammelled, ho little knew what Fortune had in store for bira on tbat fateful morning. It is just as well that the future is hidden from men, else they would hardly go forward with so slight a step co faoe Juries. Hitherto Laroher'e life had been ail ?unehine, but now darknesses were rising above the horizon, and these letters, to whieh be so lightly alluded, were the first warnings of the coming storm.