A Bicycle of Cathay (Chapter 10, page 2 of 6)


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Chapter 10

That dinner was a most lively meal. Everybody seemed to be talking at
once, yet they all found time to eat. The father talked so much that
his daughter Edith took the carving-fork from him and served out the
mutton-chops herself. The mother, from the other end of the table,
with tears in her eyes, continually asked me if I would not have
something or other, and how I could ever screw up my courage to go
about with an absolutely strange bear.

There was a young man, apparently the oldest son, with a fine, frank
manner and very broad shoulders. He was so wonderfully developed about
the bust that he seemed almost deformed, his breast projecting so far
that it gave him the appearance of being round-shouldered in front.
This, my practised eye told me, was the result of undue exercise in
the direction of chest-expansion. He was a good-natured fellow, and
overlooked my not answering several of his questions, owing to the
evident want of opportunity to do so.

There was a yellow-haired girl with a long plait down her back; there
was a half-grown boy, wearing a blue calico shirt with a red cravat;
there was a small girl who sat by her mother; and there was a young
lady, very upright and slender, who did not seem to belong to the
family, for she never used the words "father" and "mother," which were
continually in the mouths of the others. This young lady talked
incessantly, and fired her words after the manner of a Gatling gun,
without taking aim at anybody in particular. Sometimes she may have
been talking to me, but, as she did not direct her gaze towards me on
such occasions, I did not feel bound to consider any suppositions in
regard to the matter.

I, of course, was the principal object of general attention. They
wanted to know what I really thought of Billy Marshall as a scholar.
They wanted to know if I would have some more. They wanted to know if
I had had any previous experience with bears. The father asked which
I thought it would be easier to manage, a boy or a bear. The boy Percy
wanted to know how I placed my feet when I stood up in front of a
runaway horse. Others asked if I intended to go back to my school at
Walford, and how I liked the village, and if I were president of the
literary society there, which Mrs. Larramie thought I ought to be, on
account of my scholastic position.

But before the meal was over the bear had come to be the absorbing
subject of conversation. I was asked my plans about him, and they were
all disapproved.

"It would be of no use to take him to the Cheltenham," said Walter,
the oldest son. "They couldn't keep him there. They have too many
horses--a livery-stable. They wouldn't let you come on the place with
him."

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