The wide stare stared itself out for one while; the Sun went down in a red, green, golden glory; the stars came out in the heavens, and the fire-flies mimicked them in the lower air, as men may feebly imitate the goodness of a better order of beings; the long dusty roads and the interminable plains were in repose--and so deep a hush was on the sea, that it scarcely whispered of the time when it shall give up its dead.
CHAPTER 2 Fellow Travellers
'No more of yesterday's howling over yonder to-day, Sir; is there?'
'I have heard none.'
'Then you may be sure there is none. When these people howl, they howl to be heard.'
'Most people do, I suppose.'
'Ah! but these people are always howling. Never happy otherwise.'
'Do you mean the Marseilles people?'
'I mean the French people. They're always at it. As to Marseilles, we know what Marseilles is. It sent the most insurrectionary tune into the world that was ever composed. It couldn't exist without allonging and marshonging to something or other--victory or death, or blazes, or something.'
The speaker, with a whimsical good humour upon him all the time, looked over the parapet-wall with the greatest disparagement of Marseilles; and taking up a determined position by putting his hands in his pockets and rattling his money at it, apostrophised it with a short laugh.
'Allong and marshong, indeed. It would be more creditable to you, I think, to let other people allong and marshong about their lawful business, instead of shutting 'em up in quarantine!'
'Tiresome enough,' said the other. 'But we shall be out to-day.'
'Out to-day!' repeated the first. 'It's almost an aggravation of the enormity, that we shall be out to-day. Out! What have we ever been in for?'
'For no very strong reason, I must say. But as we come from the East, and as the East is the country of the plague--'
'The plague!' repeated the other. 'That's my grievance. I have had the plague continually, ever since I have been here. I am like a sane man shut up in a madhouse; I can't stand the suspicion of the thing. I came here as well as ever I was in my life; but to suspect me of the plague is to give me the plague. And I have had it--and I have got it.'
'You bear it very well, Mr Meagles,' said the second speaker, smiling.
'No. If you knew the real state of the case, that's the last observation you would think of making. I have been waking up night after night, and saying, NOW I have got it, NOW it has developed itself, NOW I am in for it, NOW these fellows are making out their case for their precautions. Why, I'd as soon have a spit put through me, and be stuck upon a card in a collection of beetles, as lead the life I have been leading here.'
'Well, Mr Meagles, say no more about it now it's over,' urged a cheerful feminine voice.
'Over!' repeated Mr Meagles, who appeared (though without any ill- nature) to be in that peculiar state of mind in which the last word spoken by anybody else is a new injury. 'Over! and why should I say no more about it because it's over?'
It was Mrs Meagles who had spoken to Mr Meagles; and Mrs Meagles was, like Mr Meagles, comely and healthy, with a pleasant English face which had been looking at homely things for five-and-fifty years or more, and shone with a bright reflection of them.
'There! Never mind, Father, never mind!' said Mrs Meagles. 'For goodness sake content yourself with Pet.'
'With Pet?' repeated Mr Meagles in his injured vein. Pet, however, being close behind him, touched him on the shoulder, and Mr Meagles immediately forgave Marseilles from the bottom of his heart.
Pet was about twenty. A fair girl with rich brown hair hanging free in natural ringlets. A lovely girl, with a frank face, and wonderful eyes; so large, so soft, so bright, set to such perfection in her kind good head. She was round and fresh and dimpled and spoilt, and there was in Pet an air of timidity and dependence which was the best weakness in the world, and gave her the only crowning charm a girl so pretty and pleasant could have been without.