i accepted my bag of strawberries from the insolent master of the roadside fruit stand, and nodded adieu to costermayne.
but costermayne was not to be nodded adieu to. the fellow actually grabbed my arm to prevent me from leaving him.
"to start life anew," he repeated in his most offensive tone. "a curious expression, is it not? why, asks the philosopher, would one wish to to start life anew? would not one's infinite fund of joyous and happy memories be wiped out at one swipe? who would wish for that, eh?"
"a most fascinating topic for discussion," i responded with as much iciness as i could muster. "for another time, perhaps." but the brute persisted in leeching himself to me.
"another time? what other time? what other time is there?" he fixed my eyes with his baleful blue ones. "what is time? what can time be to you, muggles, if you are spending it in here at a fruit stand by the side of the road, here in county k---------, in the year of our lord 1------, under an uncharacteristically blue sky, as a gentle breeze wafts from the bay? eh?"
i managed to pull my arm from his fat be-ringed hand, but he slyly gripped it again.
"and what it is it you, costermayne," i cried, " if i wish to buy my strawberries here, or if i travel to paris or istanbul to buy them? would you kindly let go of my arm?"
i glanced up, and fenwick had now become a mere spot in the distance. costermayne did not follow my gaze, but continued to look directly at me. "let go of your arm? and forego the fine feel of this excellent cloth - tell me, muggs, wherever did you purchase this splendid garment? not here in county k--------? surely on your world travels? you are a world traveler, are you not? looked in ladies' windows on seven continents, eh? ha ha ha ha ha! how high are the ladies' windows in st petersburg, eh? i have often wondered."
i pulled myself free again, and, slipping my bag of strawberries under one arm, made fair to brandish my walking stick in costermayne's face with the other.
his eyes widened in mock astonishment - a habit i remembered only too well from our days at mr muldoon's school. "muggs, muggs, i had thought you might have learned some semblance of civilized behavior since last i saw you." he shook his head. "but i see you are still the same pallid and uncomprehending wretch you were in first form."
"i am no longer in the first form."
"ah! only too true. but what jolly times we had, eh?"
"jolly for you, perhaps. now if you will excuse me." and i strode away from the stand and from costermayne, with a will. as i have explained previously i consider myself no mean pedestrian, capable of putting one foot in front of the other with the best of them. fenwick was, barely, still in my sights, and though i pumped my legs manfully i seemed to gain no ground on him. one foot, then the other, one foot, then the other - i could not fault my technique. fenwick, it appeared, was every bit my equal when it came to putting face to the wind, and i felt a twinge of despair at my inability to close the distance between us. suddenly i remembered the bag of strawberries under my arm. perhaps the effort of holding it to my side was interfering with the purity of my technique, and lessening, even if ever so slightly, my stride? it was indeed something to ponder, and i pondered mightily. i should say that once i get hold of an idea i do not abandon it lightly, not at all.
i see it through, no matter what the cost or time (and i have almost no cost but time). and as i cogitated, without i should add, slackening my pace or altering my technique - one foot, then the other, one foot, then the other - very good, i thought, no problem here. and then i was struck suddenly by another thought - the reason i had purchased the bag of strawberries! not for the strawberries, not for the accursed strawberries at all, but for the bag! the bag which i was going to put over my head! for my disguise, yes!
my disguise in the event fenwick should turn around and discover me following him. something at this point he showed no inclination of doing in any case - no, he was proving himself as devoted as myself to the old school of proceeding - looking neither to the right nor the left, neither to the left nor the right, one foot in the front of the other, as nature intended, steady as the sun climbing in the sky in the morning, one foot, then the other, showing faultless technique, i had to admit.
i felt the first stirrings of despair. what folly! if it had not been for the whole ill-advised affair of the disguise - i should have him easily in my sights, quite in my sights, yes, in my sights fat as a duck cruising over a pond, in my sights...
in my blind despair i had quite forgotten why i was following fenwick in the first place. why was i following fenwick? why indeed? what was fenwick to me, or i to him? what was fenwick in the grand scheme of things? what was i?
what was anybody? was there a grand scheme, or any scheme? the sky above seemed to laugh at me, but still i kept on, keeping final despair at bay, one foot, then the other, one foot, then the other...
and then - fenwick slowed down! his hands dropped to his side and he began to walk, not like a man with a mission, but like a bankers clerk out strolling beside a river on his lunch break. but might he turn round?
i moved into the slight shade of some trees on the side of the road - a road, i should add, which showed no sign of either ending or bending, no, a straight straight road as far as the eye could see - and said to myself ( like many of those of us who walk in darkness under a dark cloud, i frequently - not incessantly, but frequently - talk aloud to myself, particularly in moments of deepest despond) - i said, "perhaps one of these blasted strawberries will slake my thirst, as i have already paid for them".
and i took a strawberry out of the bag, barely slackening my pace, as i have learned in long hours of vigorous pedestrianship to do many things while keeping up my pace, or virtually keeping up my pace. i added, as an afterthought, as i lifted the berry to the general vicinity of my mouth, "i believe they are quite abundant in vitamin c, vitamin c yes."
and a voice behind me said, "yes, they are indeed a source of vitamin c, but not nearly as good as others not so well known, except to the initiated."
i turned, totally gobsmacked. who but costermayne! he had followed me, had, i supposed, been right behind me the whole way.
behind me the whole way as i put one foot in front of the other, totally concentrating on the task at hand, looking neither to the right nor left let alone behind me, as nature intended. and he had been behind me the whole time! there must have been a lesson there, but i was in no mood to learn it. and he showed no signs of the least exertion himself, but was lounging along as louche as could be, with his thumbs in his lapels.
"the guava, old boy, the kiwi , the humble brussel sprout, the exotic acerola berry - all are superior repositories of vitamin c. but if you really want a high concentration of vitamin c, you must go further afield, and find the baobab plant - or, best of all, the by no means easily obtained camu camu."
i managed to find my voice, not, i must admit, without losing my rhythm and faltering in my pace. "and did you really follow me out here to discuss the sources of vitamin c?"
"of course not," he replied easily. " i am here for the same reason you are - to follow the worthy colonel fenwick. look - he has taken his breather , and quickened his march again. let us do likewise. come, old fellow, you will have to do better. it has been all i could do to avoid treading on your heels. quickly, now - quickly. forrrr-ward - march!"