The Half-Hearted HTML version

12. Pastoral And Tragedy
The news of the election, brought to Glenavelin by a couple of ragged runners, had a
different result from that forecast by Lewis. Alice heard it with a heart unquickened; and
when, an hour after, the flushed, triumphant Mr. Stocks arrived in person to claim the
meed of success, he was greeted with a painful carelessness. Lady Manorwater had
been loud in her laments for her nephew, but to Mr. Stocks she gave the honest praise
which a warm-hearted woman cannot withhold from the fighter.
"Our principles have won," she cried. "Now who will call the place a Tory stronghold?
Oh, Mr. Stocks, you have done wonderfully, and I am very glad. I'm not a bit sorry for
Lewis, for he well deserved his beating."
But with Alice there could be neither pleasure nor its simulation. Her terrible honesty
forbade her the easy path of false congratulations. She bit her lip till tears filled her
eyes. What was this wretched position into which she had strayed? Lewis was all she
had feared, but he was Lewis, and far more than any bundle of perfections. A hot,
passionate craving for his presence was blinding her to reason. And this man who had
won--this, the fortunate politician--she cared for him not a straw. A strong dislike began
to grow in her heart to the blameless Mr. Stocks.
Dinner that night was a weary meal to the girl. Lady Manorwater prattled about the day's
events, and Lord Manorwater, hopelessly bored, ate his food in silence. The lively
Bertha had gone to bed with a headache, and the younger Miss Afflint was the
receptacle for the moment of her hostess's confidences. Alice sat between Mr. Stocks
and Arthur, facing a tall man with a small head and immaculate hair who had ridden
over to dine and sleep. One of the two had the wisdom to see her humour and keep
silent, though the thought plunged him into a sea of ugly reflections. It would be hard if,
now that things were going well with him, the lady alone should prove obdurate. For in
all this politician's daydreams a dainty figure walked by his side, sat at his table's head,
received his friends, fascinated austere ministers, and filled his pipe of an evening at
Arthur was silent, and to him the lady turned in vain. He treated her with an elaborate
politeness which sat ill on his brusque manners, and for the most part showed no desire
to enliven the prevailing dulness. But after dinner he carried her off to the gardens on
the plea of fresh air and a fine sunset, and the girl, who liked the boy, went gladly. Then
the reason of his silence was made plain. He dismayed her by becoming lovesick.
"Tell me your age, Alice," he implored.
"I am twenty at Christmas time," said the girl, amazed at the question.