Twelve years have passed since Bottles sent in his papers, and in twelve years many things happen. Amongst them recently it had happened that our hero’s only and elder brother had, owing to an unexpected development of consumption among the expectant heirs, tumbled into a baronetcy and eight thousand a year, and Bottles himself into a modest but to him most ample fortune of as many hundred. When the news reached him he was the captain of a volunteer corps engaged in one of the numerous Basuto wars in the Cape Colony. He served the campaign out, and then, in obedience to his brother’s entreaties and a natural craving to see his native land, after an absence of nearly fourteen years, resigned his commission and returned to England.
Thus it came to pass that the next scene of this little history opens, not upon the South African veld, or in a whitewashed house in some half-grown, hobbledehoy colonial town, but in a set of the most comfortable chambers in the Albany, the local and appropriate habitation of the bachelor brother aforesaid, Sir Eustace Peritt.
In a very comfortable arm-chair in front of a warm fire (for the month is November) sits the Bottles of old days–bigger, uglier, shyer than ever, and in addition, disfigured by an assegai wound through the cheek. Opposite to him, and peering at him occasionally with fond curiosity through an eyeglass, is his brother, a very different stamp of man. Sir Eustace Peritt is a well-preserved, London-looking gentleman, of apparently any age between thirty and fifty. His eye is so bright, his figure so well preserved, that to judge from appearances alone you would put him down to the former age. But when you come to know him so as to be able to measure his consummate knowledge of the world, and to have the opportunity of reflecting upon the good-natured but profound cynicism which pleasantly pervades his talk as absolutely as the flavour of lemon pervades rum punch, you would be inclined to assign his natal day to a much earlier date. In reality he was forty, neither more nor less, and had both preserved his youthful appearance and gained the mellowness of his experience by a judicious use of the opportunities of life.
“Well, my dear George,” said Sir Eustace, addressing his brother–determined to take this occasion of meeting after so long a time to be rid of the nickname “Bottles,” which he hated–“I haven’t had such a pleasure for years.”
“As meeting you again, of course. When I saw you on the vessel I knew you at once. You have not changed at all, unless expansion can be called a change.”
“Nor have you, Eustace, unless contraction can be called a change. Your waist used to be bigger, you know.”
“Ah, George, I drank beer in those days; it is one of things of which I have lived to see the folly. In fact, there are not many things of which I have not lived to see the folly.”
“Except living itself, I suppose?”
“Exactly–except living. I have no wish to follow the example of our poor cousins,” he answered with a sigh, “to whose considerate behaviour, however,” he added, brightening, “we owe our present improved position.” Then came a pause.
“Fourteen years is a long time, George; you must have had a rough time of it.”