IN WHICH I HEAL A BICYCLE AND COME TO THE WHEEL OF PLEASURE
Moving the bicycle a little away, so that my operations upon it might not arouse her, I had soon made all right again, and when I laid it once more where she had left it, she was still sleeping as sound as ever. She had only to sleep long enough, a sly thought suggested, to necessitate her ending her day's journey at the same inn as myself, some five miles on the road. One virtue at least the reader will allow to this history,--we are seldom far away from an inn in its pages. When I thought of that I sat stiller than ever, hardly daring to turn over the pages of Apuleius, which I had taken from my knapsack to beguile the time, and, I confess, to give my eyes some other occupation than the dangerous one of gazing upon her face, dangerous in more ways than one, but particularly dangerous at the moment, because, as everybody knows, a steady gaze on a sleeping face is apt to awake the sleeper. And she wasn't to be disturbed!
"No! she mustn't waken before seven at the latest," I said to myself, holding my breath and starting in terror at every noise. Once a great noisy bee was within an ace of waking her, but I caught him with inspired dexterity, and he buzzed around her head no more.
But despite the providential loneliness of the road, there were one or two terrors that could not be disposed of so summarily. The worst of all was a heavy miller's cart which one could hardly crush to silence in one's handkerchief; but it went so slowly, and both man and horses were so sleepy, that they passed unheard and unnoticing.
A sprightly tramp promised greater difficulty, and nothing but some ferocious pantomime and a shilling persuaded him to forego a choice fantasia of cockney humour.
A poor tired Italian organ-grinder, tramping with an equally tired monkey along the dusty roads, had to be bought off in a similar manner,--though he only cost sixpence. He gave me a Southern smile and shrug of comprehension, as one acquainted with affairs of the heart,--which was a relief after the cockney tramp's impudent expression of, no doubt, a precisely similar sentiment.
And then at last, just as my watch pointed to 6.50 (how well I remember the exact moment!) Rosalind awoke suddenly, as women and children do, sitting straight up on the instant, and putting up her hands to her tousled hair, with a half-startled "Where am I?" When her hair was once more "respectable," she gave her skirts a shake, bent sideways to pull up her stockings and tighten her garters, looked at her watch, and then with an exclamation at the lateness of the hour, went over, with an air of desperate determination, to her bicycle.
"Now for this horrid puncture!" were the first words I was to hear fall from her lips.
She sought for the wound in the india- rubber with growing bewilderment.
"Goodness!" was her next exclamation, "why, there's nothing wrong with it. Can I have been dreaming?"
"I hope your dreams have been pleasanter than that," I ventured at this moment to stammer, rising, a startling apparition, from my ambush behind a mound of brambles; and before she had time to take in the situation I added that I hoped she'd excuse my little pleasantry, and told her how I had noticed her and the wounded bicycle, et cetera, et cetera, as the reader can well imagine, without giving me the trouble of writing it all out.
She was sweetness itself on the instant.
"Excuse you!" she said, "I should think so. Who wouldn't? You can't tell the load you've taken off my mind. I'm sure I must have groaned in my sleep--for I confess I cried myself to sleep over it."
"I thought so," I said with gravity, and eyes that didn't dare to smile outright till they had permission, which, however, was not long withheld them.
"How did you know?"
"Oh, intuition, of course--who wouldn't have cried themselves to sleep, and so tired too!"
"You're a nice sympathetic man, anyhow," she laughed; "what a pity you don't bicycle!"
"Yes," I said, "I would give a thousand pounds for a bicycle at this moment."
"You ought to get a good one for that," she laughed,--"all bright parts nickel, I suppose; indeed, you should get a real silver frame and gold handle-bars for that, don't you think? Well, it would be nice all the same to have your company a few miles, especially as it's growing dark," she added.
"Especially as it's growing dark," I repeated.
"You won't be going much farther to- night. Have you fixed on your inn?" I continued innocently. She had--but that was in a town too far to reach to-night, after her long sleep.
"You might have wakened me," she said.
"Yes, it was stupid of me not to have thought of it," I answered, offering no explanation of the dead bee which at the moment I espied a little away in the grass, and saying nothing of the merry tramp and the melancholy musician.
Then we talked inns, and thus she fell beautifully into the pit which I had digged for her; and it was presently arranged that she should ride on to the Wheel of Pleasure and order a dinner, which she was to do me the honour of sharing with me.
I was to follow on foot as speedily as might be, and it was with a high heart that I strode along the sunset lanes, hearing for some time the chiming of her bell in front of me, till she had wheeled it quite out of hearing, and it was lost in the distance.
I never did a better five miles in my life.Next