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There was something wonderful about the name, a sort of music. This was odd, because the name, as a name, was far from being a favourite of his. Until that moment childish associations had prejudiced him against it. It had been inextricably involved in his mind with an atmosphere of stuffy schoolrooms and general misery, for it had been his misfortune that his budding mind was constitutionally incapable of remembering who had been Queen of England at the time of the Spanish Armada--a fact that had caused a good deal of friction with a rather sharp-tempered governess. But now it seemed the only possible name for a girl to have, the only label that could even remotely suggest those feminine charms which he found in this girl beside him. There was poetry in every syllable of it. It was like one of those deep chords which fill the hearer with vague yearnings for strange and beautiful things. He asked for nothing better than to stand here repeating it.


'Bill, dear!'

That sounded good too. There was music in 'Bill' when properly spoken. The reason why all the other Bills in the world had got the impression that it was a prosaic sort of name was that there was only one girl in existence capable of speaking it properly, and she was not for them.

'Bill, are you really fond of me?'

'Fond of you!'

She gave a sigh. 'You're so splendid!'

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Bill was staggered. These were strange words. He had never thought much of himself. He had always looked on himself as rather a chump--well-meaning, perhaps, but an awful ass. It seemed incredible that any one--and Elizabeth of all people--could look on him as splendid.

And yet the very fact that she had said it gave it a plausible sort of sound. It shook his convictions. Splendid! Was he? By Jove, perhaps he was, what? Rum idea, but it grew on a chap. Filled with a novel feeling of exaltation, he kissed Elizabeth eleven times in rapid succession.

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He felt devilish fit. He would have liked to run a mile or two and jump a few gates. He wished five or six starving beggars would come along; it would be pleasant to give the poor blighters money. It was too much to expect at that time of night, of course, but it would be rather jolly if Jess Willard would roll up and try to pick a quarrel. He would show him something. He felt grand and strong and full of beans. What a ripping thing life was when you came to think of it.

'This,' he said, 'is perfectly extraordinary!' And time stood still.

A sense of something incongruous jarred upon Bill. Something seemed to be interfering with the supreme romance of that golden moment. It baffled him at first. Then he realized that he was still holding Eustace by the tail.

Dudley Pickering had watched these proceedings--as well as the fact that it was extremely dark and that he was endeavouring to hide a portly form behind a slender bush would permit him--with a sense of bewilderment. A comic artist drawing Mr Pickering at that moment would no doubt have placed above his head one of those large marks of interrogation which lend vigour and snap to modern comic art. Certainly such a mark of interrogation would have summed up his feelings exactly. Of what was taking place he had not the remotest notion. All he knew was that for some inexplicable reason his quarry had come to a halt and seemed to have settled down for an indefinite stay. Voices came to him in an indistinguishable murmur, intensely irritating to a conscientious tracker. One of Fenimore Cooper's Indians--notably Chingachgook, if, which seemed incredible, that was really the man's name--would have crept up without a sound and heard what was being said and got in on the ground floor of whatever plot was being hatched. But experience had taught Mr Pickering that, superior as he was to Chingachgook and his friends in many ways, as a creeper he was not in their class. He weighed thirty or forty pounds more than a first-class creeper should. Besides, creeping is like golf. You can't take it up in the middle forties and expect to compete with those who have been at it from infancy.

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He had resigned himself to an all-night vigil behind the bush, when to his great delight he perceived that things had begun to move again. There was a rustling of feet in the undergrowth, and he could just see two indistinct forms making their way among the bushes. He came out of his hiding place and followed stealthily, or as stealthily as the fact that he had not even taken a correspondence course in creeping allowed. And profiting by earlier mistakes, he did succeed in making far less noise than before. In place of his former somewhat elephantine method of progression he adopted a species of shuffle which had excellent results, for it enabled him to brush twigs away instead of stepping flatfootedly on them. The new method was slow, but it had no other disadvantages.

Because it was slow, Mr Pickering was obliged to follow his prey almost entirely by ear. It was easy at first, for they seemed to be hurrying on regardless of noise. Then unexpectedly the sounds of their passage ceased.

He halted. In his boyish way the first thing he thought was that it was an ambush. He had a vision of that large man suspecting his presence and lying in wait for him with a revolver. This was not a comforting thought. Of course, if a man is going to fire a revolver at you it makes little difference whether he is a giant or a pygmy, but Mr Pickering was in no frame of mind for nice reasoning. It was the thought of Bill's physique which kept him standing there irresolute.

What would Chingachgook--assuming, for purposes of argument, that any sane godfather could really have given a helpless child a name like that--have done? He would, Mr Pickering considered, after giving the matter his earnest attention, have made a _detour_ and outflanked the enemy. An excellent solution of the difficulty. Mr Pickering turned to the left and began to advance circuitously, with the result that, before he knew what he was doing, he came out into a clearing and understood the meaning of the sudden silence which had perplexed him. Footsteps made no sound on this mossy turf.

He knew where he was now; the clearing was familiar. This was where Lord Wetherby's shack-studio stood; and there it was, right in front of him, black and clear in the moonlight. And the two dark figures were going into it.

Mr Pickering retreated into the shelter of the bushes and mused upon this thing. It seemed to him that for centuries he had been doing nothing but retreat into bushes for this purpose. His perplexity had returned. He could imagine no reason why burglars should want to visit Lord Wetherby's studio. He had taken it for granted, when he had tracked them to the clearing, that they were on their way to the house, which was quite close to the shack, separated from it only by a thin belt of trees and a lawn.