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Boyhood, like measles, is one of those complaints which a man should catch young and have done with, for when it comes in middle life it is apt to be serious. Dudley Pickering had escaped boyhood at the time when his contemporaries were contracting it. It is true that for a few years after leaving the cradle he had exhibited a certain immatureness, but as soon as he put on knickerbockers and began to go about a little he outgrew all that. He avoided altogether the chaotic period which usually lies between the years of ten and fourteen. At ten he was a thoughtful and sober-minded young man, at fourteen almost an old fogy.
And now--thirty-odd years overdue--boyhood had come upon him. As he examined the revolver in his bedroom, wild and unfamiliar emotions seethed within him. He did not realize it, but they were the emotions which should have come to him thirty years before and driven him out to hunt Indians in the garden. An imagination which might well have become atrophied through disuse had him as thoroughly in its control as ever he had had his Pickering Giant.
He believed almost with devoutness in the plot which he had detected for the spoliation of Lord Wetherby's summer-house, that plot of which he held Lord Dawlish to be the mainspring. And it must be admitted that circumstances had combined to help his belief. If the atmosphere in which he was moving was not sinister then there was no meaning in the word.
Summer homes had been burgled, there was no getting away from that--half a dozen at least in the past two months. He was a stranger in the locality, so had no means of knowing that summer homes were always burgled on Long Island every year, as regularly as the coming of the mosquito and the advent of the jelly-fish. It was one of the local industries. People left summer homes lying about loose in lonely spots, and you just naturally got in through the cellar window. Such was the Long Islander's simple creed.
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