"He did at first, sir, but not afterwards. Not his full mind. Perhaps he has something else upon it--some young lady, perhaps." His bright dark eyes glanced at me for the first time.
"He has not me upon his mind, I assure you, Mr. George," said I, laughing, "though you seem to suspect me."
He reddened a little through his brown and made me a trooper's bow. "No offence, I hope, miss. I am one of the roughs."
"Not at all," said I. "I take it as a compliment."
If he had not looked at me before, he looked at me now in three or four quick successive glances. "I beg your pardon, sir," he said to my guardian with a manly kind of diffidence, "but you did me the honour to mention the young lady's name--"
"Miss Summerson," he repeated, and looked at me again.
"Do you know the name?" I asked.
"No, miss. To my knowledge I never heard it. I thought I had seen you somewhere."
"I think not," I returned, raising my head from my work to look at him; and there was something so genuine in his speech and manner that I was glad of the opportunity. "I remember faces very well."
"So do I, miss!" he returned, meeting my look with the fullness of his dark eyes and broad forehead. "Humph! What set me off, now, upon that!"
His once more reddening through his brown and being disconcerted by his efforts to remember the association brought my guardian to his relief.
"Have you many pupils, Mr. George?"
"They vary in their number, sir. Mostly they're but a small lot to live by."
"And what classes of chance people come to practise at your gallery?"
"All sorts, sir. Natives and foreigners. From gentlemen to 'prentices. I have had Frenchwomen come, before now, and show themselves dabs at pistol-shooting. Mad people out of number, of course, but THEY go everywhere where the doors stand open."
"People don't come with grudges and schemes of finishing their practice with live targets, I hope?" said my guardian, smiling.
"Not much of that, sir, though that HAS happened. Mostly they come for skill--or idleness. Six of one, and half-a-dozen of the other. I beg your pardon," said Mr. George, sitting stiffly upright and squaring an elbow on each knee, "but I believe you're a Chancery suitor, if I have heard correct?"
"I am sorry to say I am."
"I have had one of YOUR compatriots in my time, sir."
"A Chancery suitor?" returned my guardian. "How was that?"
"Why, the man was so badgered and worried and tortured by being knocked about from post to pillar, and from pillar to post," said Mr. George, "that he got out of sorts. I don't believe he had any idea of taking aim at anybody, but he was in that condition of resentment and violence that he would come and pay for fifty shots and fire away till he was red hot. One day I said to him when there was nobody by and he had been talking to me angrily about his wrongs, 'If this practice is a safety-valve, comrade, well and good; but I don't altogether like your being so bent upon it in your present state of mind; I'd rather you took to something else.' I was on my guard for a blow, he was that passionate; but he received it in very good part and left off directly. We shook hands and struck up a sort of friendship."
"What was that man?" asked my guardian in a new tone of interest.
"Why, he began by being a small Shropshire farmer before they made a baited bull of him," said Mr. George.
"Was his name Gridley?"
"It was, sir."
Mr. George directed another succession of quick bright glances at me as my guardian and I exchanged a word or two of surprise at the coincidence, and I therefore explained to him how we knew the name. He made me another of his soldierly bows in acknowledgment of what he called my condescension.
"I don't know," he said as he looked at me, "what it is that sets me off again--but--bosh! What's my head running against!" He passed one of his heavy hands over his crisp dark hair as if to sweep the broken thoughts out of his mind and sat a little forward, with one arm akimbo and the other resting on his leg, looking in a brown study at the ground.