HIS FIRST VISIT TO CHALLIS COURT
"Shall you be able to help me in collating your notes of the Tikopia observations to-day, sir?" Lewes asked next morning. He rose from the breakfast-table and lit a cigarette. There was no ceremony between Challis and his secretary.
"You forget our engagement for ten o'clock," said Challis.
"Need that distract us?"
"It need not, but doesn't it seem to you that it may furnish us with valuable material?"
"Hardly pertinent, sir, is it?"
"What line do you think of taking up, Lewes?" asked Challis with apparent irrelevance.
"With regard to this—this phenomenon?"
"No, no. I was speaking of your own ambitions." Challis had sauntered over to the window; he stood, with his back to Lewes, looking out at the blue and white of the April sky.
Lewes frowned. He did not understand the gist of the question. "I suppose there is a year's work on this book before me yet," he said.
"Quite, quite," replied Challis, watching a cloud shadow swarm up the slope of Deane Hill. "Yes, certainly a year's work. I was thinking of the future."
"I have thought of laboratory work in connection with psychology," said Lewes, still puzzled.
"I thought I remembered your saying something of the kind," murmured Challis absently. "We are going to have more rain. It will be a late spring this year."
"Had the question any bearing on our engagement of this morning?" Lewes was a little anxious, uncertain whether this inquiry as to his future had not some particular significance; a hint, perhaps, that his services would not be required much longer.
"Yes; I think it had," said Challis. "I saw the governess cart go up the road a few minutes since."
"I suppose the boy will be here in a quarter of an hour?" said Lewes by way of keeping up the conversation. He was puzzled; he did not know Challis in this mood. He did not conceive it possible that Challis could be nervous about the arrival of so insignificant a person as this Stott child.
"It's all very ridiculous," broke out Challis suddenly; and he turned away from the window, and joined Lewes by the fire. "Don't you think so?"
"I'm afraid I don't follow you, sir."
Challis laughed. "I'm not surprised," he said; "I was a trifle inconsecutive. But I wish you were more interested in this child, Lewes. The thought of him engrosses me, and yet I don't want to meet him. I should be relieved to hear that he wasn't coming. Surely you, as a student of psychology ..." he broke off with a lift of his heavy shoulders.
"Oh! Yes! I am interested, certainly, as you say, as a student of psychology. We ought to take some measurements. The configuration of the skull is not abnormal otherwise than in its relation to the development of the rest of his body, but ..." Lewes meandered off into somewhat abstruse speculation with regard to the significance of craniology.
Challis nodded his head and murmured: "Quite, quite," occasionally. He seemed glad that Lewes should continue to talk.
The lecture was interrupted by the appearance of the governess cart.
"By Jove, he has come," ejaculated Challis in the middle of one of Lewes's periods. "You'll have to see me through this, my boy. I'm damned if I know how to take the child."
Lewes flushed, annoyed at the interruption of his lecture. He had believed that he had been interesting. "Curse the kid," was the thought in his mind as he followed Challis to the window.
Jessop, the groom deputed to fetch the Wonder from Pym, looked a little uneasy, perhaps a little scared. When he drew up at the porch, the child pointed to the door of the cart and indicated that it was to be opened for him. He was evidently used to being waited upon. When this command had been obeyed, he descended deliberately and then pointed to the front door.
"Open!" he said clearly, as Jessop hesitated. The Wonder knew nothing of bells or ceremony.
Jessop came down from the cart and rang.
The butler opened the door. He was an old servant and accustomed to his master's eccentricities, but he was not prepared for the vision of that strange little figure, with a large head in a parti-coloured cricket-cap, an apparition that immediately walked straight by him into the hall, and pointed to the first door he came to.
"Oh, dear! Well, to be sure," gasped Heathcote. "Why, whatever——"
"Open!" commanded the Wonder, and Heathcote obeyed, weak-kneed.
The door chanced to be the right one, the door of the breakfast-room, and the Wonder walked in, still wearing his cap.
Challis came forward to meet him with a conventional greeting. "I'm glad you were able to come ..." he began, but the child took no notice; he looked rapidly round the room, and not finding what he wanted, signified his desire by a single word.
"Books," he said, and looked at Challis.
Heathcote stood at the door, hesitating between amazement and disapproval. "I've never seen the like," was how he phrased his astonishment later, in the servants' hall, "never in all my born days. To see that melon-'eaded himp in a cricket-cap hordering the master about. Well, there——"
"Jessop says he fair got the creeps drivin' 'im over," said the cook. "'E says the child's not right in 'is 'ead."
Much embroidery followed in the servants' hall.