8. Mr. Wratislaw's Advent
As the three men went home in the dusk they talked of the day. Lewis had been in a
bad humour, but the company of his friends exorcised the imp of irritation, and he felt
only the mellow gloom of the evening and the sweet scents of the moor. In such
weather he had a trick of walking with his head high and his nostrils wide, sniffing the air
like the wild ass of the desert with which the metaphorical George had erstwhile
compared him. That young man meanwhile was occupied with his own reflections. His
good nature had been victimized, he had been made to fetch and carry continually, and
the result was that he had scarcely spoken a word to Miss Wishart. His plans thus early
foiled, nothing remained but to draw the more fortunate Arthur, so in a conspirator's
aside he asked him his verdict. But Arthur refused to speak. "She is pretty and clever,"
he said, "and excellent company." And with this his lips were sealed, and his thoughts
went off on his own concerns.
Lewis heard and smiled. The sun and wind of the hills beat in his pulses like wine. To
have breathed all day the fragrance of heather and pines, to have gladdened the eye
with an infinite distance and blue lines of mountain, was with this man to have drunk the
cup of intoxicating youth. The cool gloaming did not chill; rather it was the high and
solemn aftermath of the day's harvesting. The faces of gracious women seemed blent
with the pageant of summer weather; kindly voices, simple joys--for a moment they
seemed to him the major matters in life. So far it was pleasing fancy, but Alice soon
entered to disturb with the disquieting glory of her hair. The family of the Haystouns had
ever a knack of fine sentiment. Fantastic, unpractical, they were gluttons for the
romantic, the recondite, and the dainty. But now had come a breath of strong wind
which rent the meshes of a philandering fancy. A very new and strange feeling was
beginning to make itself known. He had come to think of Alice with the hot pained
affection which makes the high mountains of the world sink for the time to a species of
mole-hillock. She danced through his dreams and usurped all the paths of his ambition.
Formerly he had thought of himself--for the man was given to self-portraiture--as the
adventurer, the scorner of the domestic; now he struggled to regain the old attitude, but
he struggled in vain. The ways were blocked, a slim figure was ever in view, and lo!
when he blotted it from his sight the world was dark and the roads blind. For a moment
he had lost his bearings on the sea of life. As yet the discomfiture was sweet, his
confusion was a joy; and it is the first trace of weakness which we have seen in the man
that he accepted the unsatisfactory with composure.
At the door of Etterick it became apparent that something was astir. Wheel-marks were
clear in the gravel, and the ancient butler had an air of ceremony. "Mr. Wratislaw has
arrived, sir," he whispered to Lewis, whereat that young man's face shone.