20. The Eastern Road ................................................................................................. 127
21. In The Heart Of The Hills....................................................................................... 134
22. The Outposts......................................................................................................... 140
From the heart of a great hill land Glenavelin stretches west and south to the wider Gled valley, where its stream joins with the greater water in its seaward course. Its head is far inland in a place of mountain solitudes, but its mouth is all but on the lip of the sea, and salt breezes fight with the flying winds of the hills. It is a land of green meadows on the brink of heather, of far-stretching fir woods that climb to the edge of the uplands and sink to the fringe of corn. Nowhere is there any march between art and nature, for the place is in the main for sheep, and the single road which threads the glen is little troubled with cart and crop-laden wagon. Midway there is a stretch of wood and garden around the House of Glenavelin, the one great dwelling-place in the vale. But it is a dwelling and a little more, for the home of the real lords of the land is many miles farther up the stream, in the moorland house of Etterick, where the Avelin is a burn, and the hills hang sharply over its source. To a stranger in an afternoon it seems a very vale of content, basking in sun and shadow, green, deep, and silent. But it is also a place of storms, for its name means the "glen of white waters," and mist and snow are commoner in its confines than summer heats.
On a very wet evening in June a young man in a high dogcart was driving up the glen. A deer-stalker's cap was tied down over his ears, and the collar of a great white waterproof defended his neck. A cheerful bronzed face was shadowed by the peak of his cap, and two very keen grey eyes peered out into the mist. He was driving with tight rein, for the mare was fresh and the road had awkward slopes and corners; but none the less he was dreaming, thinking pleasant thoughts, and now and then looking cheerily at the ribs of hill which at times were cleared of mist. His clean-shaven face was wet and shining with the drizzle, pools formed on the floor of the cart, and the mare's flanks were plastered with the weather.Suddenly he drew up sharp at the sight of a figure by the roadside. "Hullo, Doctor Gracey," he cried, "where on earth have you come from? Come in and I'll give you a lift."
The figure advanced and scrambled into the vacant seat. It was a little old man in a big topcoat with a quaint-fashioned wide-awake hat on his head. In ill weather all distinctions are swept away. The stranger might have been a statesman or a tramp.
"It is a pleasure to see you, Doctor," and the young man grasped a mittened hand and looked into his companion's face. There was something both kindly and mirthful in his grey eyes.
The old man arranged his seat comfortably, buttoned another button at the neck of the coat, and then scrutinised the driver. "It's four years--four years in October since I last cast eyes on you, Lewie, my boy," he said. "I heard you were coming, so I refused a lift from Haystounslacks and the minister. Haystounslacks was driving from Gledsmuir, and unless the Lord protects him he will be in Avelin water ere he gets home. Whisky and a Glenavelin road never agree, Lewie, as I who have mended the fool's head a dozen times should know. But I thought you would never come, and was prepared to ride in the next baker's van." The Doctor spoke with the pure English and high northern voice of an old school of professional men, whose tongue, save in telling a story, knew not the vernacular, and yet in its pitch and accent inevitably betrayed their birthplace. Precise in speech and dress, uncommonly skilful, a mild humorist, and old in the world's wisdom, he had gone down the evening way of life with the heart of a boy.
"I was delayed--I could not help it, though I was all afternoon at the job," said the young man. "I've seen a dozen and more tenants and I talked sheep and drains till I got out of my depth and was gravely corrected. It's the most hospitable place on earth, this, but I thought it a pity to waste a really fine hunger on the inevitable ham and eggs, so I waited for dinner. Lord, I have an appetite! Come and dine, Doctor. I am in solitary state just now, and long, wet evenings are dreary."
"I'm afraid I must excuse myself, Lewie," was the formal answer, with just a touch of reproof. Dinner to Doctor Gracey was a serious ceremony, and invitations should not be scattered rashly. "My housekeeper's wrath is not to be trifled with, as you should know.""I do," said the young man in a tone of decent melancholy. "She once cuffed my ears the month I stayed with you for falling in the burn. Does she beat you, Doctor?" "Indeed, no," said the little old gentleman; "not as yet. But physically she is my superior and I live in terror." Then abruptly, "For heaven's sake, Lewie, mind the mare." "It's all right," said the driver, as the dogcart swung neatly round an ugly turn. "There's the mist going off the top of Etterick Law, and--why, that's the end of the Dreichill?" "It's the Dreichill, and beyond it is the Little Muneraw. Are you glad to be home, Lewie?" "Rather," said the young man gravely. "This is my own countryside, and I fancy it's the last place a man forgets."
"I fancy so--with right-thinking people. By the way, I have much to congratulate you on. We old fogies in this desert place have been often seeing your name in the newspapers lately. You are a most experienced traveller."
"Fair. But people made a great deal more of that than it deserved. It was very simple, and I had every chance. Some day I will go out and do the same thing again with no advantages, and if I come back you may praise me then."
"Settle down," said the young man with mock pathos, "which in my case means settling up also. I suppose it is what you would call the crucial moment in my life. I am going in for politics, as I always intended, and for the rest I shall live a quiet country life at Etterick. I've a wonderful talent for rusticity."The Doctor shot an inquiring glance from beneath the flaps of his hat. "I never can make up my mind about you, Lewie." "I daresay not. It is long since I gave up trying to make up my mind about myself."
"When you were a very small and very bad boy I made the usual prophecy that you would make a spoon or spoil a horn. Later I declared you would make the spoon. I still keep to that opinion, but I wish to goodness I knew what shape your spoon would take.""Ornamental, Doctor, some odd fancy spoon, but not useful. I feel an inner lack of usefulness."
"Humph! Then things are serious, Lewie, and I, as your elder, should give advice; but confound it, my dear, I cannot think what it should be. Life has been too easy for you, a great deal too easy. You want a little of the salt and iron of the world. You are too clever ever to be conceited, and you are too good a fellow ever to be a fool, but apart from these sad alternatives there are numerous middle stages which are not very happy."The young man's face lengthened, as it always did either in repose or reflection. "You are old and wise, Doctor. Have you any cure for a man with sufficient money and no immediate profession to prevent stagnation?"
"None," said the Doctor; "but the man himself can find many. The chief is that he be conscious of his danger, and on the watch against it. As a last expedient I should recommend a second course of travel.""But am I to be barred from my home because of this bogey of yours?"
"No, Lewie lad, but you must be kept, as you say, 'up to scratch,'" and the old face smiled. "You are too good to waste. You Haystouns are high-strung, finicking people, on whom idleness sits badly. Also you are the last of your race and have responsibilities. You must remember I was your father's friend, and knew you all well."
At the mention of his father the young man's interest quickened.
"You are very like him, Lewie. He began nearly as well as you; but he settled down into a quiet life, which was the very thing for which he was least fitted. I do not know if he had altogether a happy time. He lost interest in things, and grew shy and rather irritable. He quarrelled with most of his neighbours, and got into a trick of magnifying little troubles till he shrank from the slightest discomfort.""And my mother?"
"Ah, your mother was different--a cheery, brave woman. While she lived she kept him in some measure of self-confidence, but you know she died at your birth, Lewie, and after that he grew morose and retiring. I speak about these things from the point of view of my profession, and I fancy it is the special disease which lies in your blood. You have all been over-cultured and enervated; as I say, you want some of the salt and iron of life."
The young man's brow was furrowed in a deep frown which in no way broke the goodhumour of his face. They were nearing a cluster of houses, the last clachan of sorts in the glen, where a kirk steeple in a grove of trees proclaimed civilization. A shepherd passed them with a couple of dogs, striding with masterful step towards home and comfort. The cheery glow of firelight from the windows pleased both men as they were whirled through the raw weather.
"There, you see," said the Doctor, nodding his head towards the retreating figure; "there's a man who in his own way knows the secret of life. Most of his days are spent in dreary, monotonous toil. He is for ever wrestling with the weather and getting scorched and frozen, and the result is that the sparse enjoyments of his life are relished with a rare gusto. He sucks his pipe of an evening with a zest which the man who lies on his back all day smoking knows nothing about. So, too, the labourer who hoes turnips for one and sixpence the day. They know the arduousness of life, which is a lesson we must all learn sooner or later. You people who have been coddled and petted must learn it, too; and for you it is harder to learn, but pleasanter in the learning, because you stand above the bare need of things, and have leisure for the adornments. We must all be fighters and strugglers, Lewie, and it is better to wear out than to rust out. It is bad to let choice things become easily familiar; for, you know, familiarity is apt to beget a proverbial offspring."
The young man had listened attentively, but suddenly he leaned from the seat and with a dexterous twitch of his whip curled it round the leg of a boy of sixteen who stood before a cottage.
"Hullo, Jock," he cried. "When are you coming up to see me? Bring your brother some day and we'll go and fish the Midburn." The urchin pulled off a ragged cap and grinned with pleasure.
"It was nothing," said the young man, flushing slightly. "I was crossing the ford and the stream was up a bit. The boy was fishing, wading pretty deep, and in turning round to stare at me he slipped and was carried down. I merely rode my horse out and collared him. There was no danger.""And the Black Linn just below," said the Doctor, incredulously. "You have got the usual modesty of the brave man, Lewie." "It was a very small thing. My horse knew its business--that was all." And he flicked nervously with the whip.
A grey house among trees rose on the left with a quaint gateway of unhewn stone. The dogcart pulled up, and the Doctor scrambled down and stood shaking the rain from his hat and collar. He watched the young man till, with a skilful turn, he had entered Etterick gates, and then with a more meditative face than is usual in a hungry man he went through the trees to his own dwelling.
When the afternoon train from the south drew into Gledsmuir station, a girl who had been devouring the landscape for the last hour with eager eyes, rose nervously to prepare for exit. To Alice Wishart the country was a novel one, and the prospect before her an unexplored realm of guesses. The daughter of a great merchant, she had lived most of her days in the ugly environs of a city, save for such time as she had spent at the conventional schools. She had never travelled; the world of men and things was merely a name to her, and a girlhood, lonely and brightened chiefly by the companionship of books, had not given her self-confidence. She had casually met Lady Manorwater at some political meeting in her father's house, and the elder woman had taken a strong liking to the quiet, abstracted child. Then came an invitation to Glenavelin, accepted gladly yet with much fear and searching of heart. Now, as she looked out on the shining mountain land, she was full of delight that she was about to dwell in the heart of it. Something of pride, too, was present, that she was to be the guest of a great lady, and see something of a life which seemed infinitely remote to her provincial thoughts. But when her journey drew near its end she was foolishly nervous, and scanned the platform with anxious eye.
The sight of her hostess reassured her. Lady Manorwater was a small middle-aged woman, with a thin classical face, large colourless eyes, and untidy fair hair. She was very plainly dressed, and as she darted forward to greet the girl with entire frankness and kindness, Alice forgot her fears and kissed her heartily. A languid young woman was introduced as Miss Afflint, and in a few minutes the three were in the Glenavelin carriage with the wide glen opening in front.
"Oh, my dear, I hope you will enjoy your visit. We are quite a small party, for Jack says Glenavelin is far too small to entertain in. You are fond of the country, aren't you? And of course the place is very pretty. There is tennis and golf and fishing; but perhaps you don't like these things? We are not very well off for neighbours, but we are large enough in number to be sufficient to ourselves. Don't you think so, Bertha?" And Lady Manorwater smiled at the third member of the group.
Miss Afflint, a silent girl, smiled back and said nothing. She had been engaged in a secret study of Alice's face, and whenever the object of the study raised her eyes she found a pair of steady blue ones beaming on her. It was a little disconcerting, and Alice gazed out at the landscape with a fictitious curiosity.
They passed out of the Gled valley into the narrower strath of Avelin, and soon, leaving the meadows behind, went deep into the recesses of woods. At a narrow glen bridged by the road and bright with the spray of cascades and the fresh green of ferns, Alice cried out in delight, "Oh, I must come back here some day and sketch it. What a Paradise of a place!""Then you had better ask Lewie's permission." And Lady Manorwater laughed. "Who is Lewie?" asked the girl, anticipating some gamekeeper or shepherd. "Lewie is my nephew. He lives at Etterick, up at the head of the glen."
Miss Afflint spoke for the first time. "A very good man. You should know Lewie, Miss Wishart. I'm sure you would like him. He is a great traveller, you know, and has written a famous book. Lewis Haystoun is his full name.""Why, I have read it," cried Alice. "You mean the book about Kashmir. But I thought the author was an old man."
"Lewie is not very old," said his aunt; "but I haven't seen him for years, so he may be decrepit by this time. He is coming home soon, he says, but he never writes. I know two of his friends who pay a Private Inquiry Office to send them news of him."
Alice laughed and became silent. What merry haphazard people were these she had fallen among! At home everything was docketed and ordered. Meals were immovable feasts, the hour for bed and the hour for rising were more regular than the sun's. Her father was full of proverbs on the virtue of regularity, and was wont to attribute every vice and misfortune to its absence. And yet here were men and women who got on very well without it. She did not wholly like it. The little doctrinaire in her revolted and she was pleased to be censorious.
"You are a very learned young woman, aren't you?" said Lady Manorwater, after a short silence. "I have heard wonderful stories about your learning. Then I hope you will talk to Mr. Stocks, for I am afraid he is shocked at Bertha's frivolity. He asked her if she was in favour of the Prisons Regulation Bill, and she was very rude."
"I only said," broke in Miss Afflint, "that owing to my lack of definite local knowledge I was not in a position to give an answer commensurate with the gravity of the subject." She spoke in a perfect imitation of the tone of a pompous man.
"Bertha, I do not approve of you," said Lady Manorwater. "I forbid you to mimic Mr. Stocks. He is very clever, and very much in earnest over everything. I don't wonder that a butterfly like you should laugh, but I hope Miss Wishart will be kind to him."
"I am afraid I am very ignorant," said Alice hastily, "and I am very useless. I never did any work of any sort in my life, and when I think of you I am ashamed." "Oh, my dear child, please don't think me a paragon," cried her hostess in horror. "I am a creature of vague enthusiasms and I have the sense to know it. Sometimes I fancy I am a woman of business, and then I take up half a dozen things till Jack has to interfere to prevent financial ruin. I dabble in politics and I dabble in philanthropy; I write review articles which nobody reads, and I make speeches which are a horror to myself and a misery to my hearers. Only by the possession of a sense of humour am I saved from insignificance."
To Alice the speech was the breaking of idols. Competence, responsibility were words she had been taught to revere, and to hear them light-heartedly disavowed seemed an upturning of the foundation of things. You will perceive that her education had not included that valuable art, the appreciation of the flippant.
By this time the carriage was entering the gates of the park, and the thick wood cleared and revealed long vistas of short hill grass, rising and falling like moorland, and studded with solitary clumps of firs. Then a turn in the drive brought them once more into shadow, this time beneath a heath-clad knoll where beeches and hazels made a pleasant tangle. All this was new, not three years old; but soon they were in the ancient part of the policy which had surrounded the old house of Glenavelin. Here the grass was lusher, the trees antique oaks and beeches, and grey walls showed the boundary of an old pleasure-ground. Here in the soft sunlit afternoon sleep hung like a cloud, and the peace of centuries dwelt in the long avenues and golden pastures. Another turning and the house came in sight, at first glance a jumble of grey towers and ivied walls. Wings had been built to the original square keep, and even now it was not large, a mere moorland dwelling. But the whitewashed walls, the crow-step gables, and the quaint Scots baronial turrets gave it a perfection to the eye like a house in a dream. To Alice, accustomed to the vulgarity of suburban villas with Italian campaniles, a florid lodge a stone's throw from the house, darkened too with smoke and tawdry with paint, this oldworld dwelling was a patch of wonderland. Her eyes drank in the beauty of the place-the great blue backs of hill beyond, the acres of sweet pasture, the primeval woods."Is this Glenavelin?" she cried. "Oh, what a place to live in!"
"Yes, it's very pretty, dear." And Lady Manorwater, who possessed half a dozen houses up and down the land, patted her guest's arm and looked with pleasure on the flushed girlish face.
Two hours later, Alice, having completed dressing, leaned out of her bedroom window to drink in the soft air of evening. She had not brought a maid, and had refused her hostess's offer to lend her her own on the ground that maids were a superfluity. It was her desire to be a very practical young person, a scorner of modes and trivialities, and yet she had taken unusual care with her toilet this evening, and had spent many minutes before the glass. Looking at herself carefully, a growing conviction began to be confirmed--that she was really rather pretty. She had reddish-brown hair and--a rare conjunction--dark eyes and eyebrows and a delicate colour. As a small girl she had lamented bitterly the fate that bad not given her the orthodox beauty of the dark or fair maiden, and in her school days she had passed for plain. Now it began to dawn on her that she had beauty of a kind--the charm of strangeness; and her slim strong figure had the grace which a wholesome life alone can give. She was in high spirits, curious, interested, and generous. The people amused her, the place was a fairyland and outside the golden weather lay still and fragrant among the hills.
When she came down to the drawing-room she found the whole party assembled. A tall man with a brown beard and a slight stoop ceased to assault the handle of a firescreen and came over to greet her. He had only come back half an hour ago, he explained, and so had missed her arrival. The face attracted and soothed her. Abundant kindness lurked in the humorous brown eyes, and a queer pucker on the brow gave him the air of a benevolent despot. If this was Lord Manorwater, she had no further dread of the great ones of the earth. There were four other men, two of them mild, spectacled people, who had the air of students and a precise affected mode of talk, and one a boy cousin of whom no one took the slightest notice. The fourth was a striking figure, a man of about forty in appearance, tall and a little stout, with a rugged face which in some way suggested a picture of a prehistoric animal in an old natural history she had owned. The high cheek-bones, large nose, and slightly protruding eyes had an unfinished air about them, as if their owner had escaped prematurely from a mould. A quantity of bushy black hair--which he wore longer than most men-enhanced the dramatic air of his appearance. It was a face full of vigour and a kind of strength, shrewd, a little coarse, and solemn almost to the farcical. He was introduced in a rush of words by the hostess, but beyond the fact that it was a monosyllable, Alice did not catch his name.
Lord Manorwater took in Miss Afflint, and Alice fell to the dark man with the monosyllabic name. He had a way of bowing over his hand which slightly repelled the girl, who had no taste for elaborate manners. His first question, too, displeased her. He asked her if she was one of the Wisharts of some unpronounceable place.She replied briefly that she did not know. Her grandfathers on both sides had been farmers. The gentleman bowed with the smiling unconcern of one to whom pedigree is a matter of course.
"I have heard often of your father," he said. "He is one of the local supports of the party to which I have the honour to belong. He represents one great section of our retainers, our host another. I am glad to see such friendship between the two." And he smiled elaborately from Alice to Lord Manorwater.
Alice was uncomfortable. She felt she must be sitting beside some very great man, and she was tortured by vain efforts to remember the monosyllable which had stood for his name. She did not like his voice, and, great man or not, she resented the obvious patronage. He spoke with a touch of the drawl which is currently supposed to belong only to the half-educated classes of England.
She turned to the boy who sat on the other side of her. The young gentleman--his name was Arthur and, apparently, nothing else--was only too ready to talk. He proceeded to explain, compendiously, his doings of the past week, to which the girl listened politely. Then anxiety got the upper hand, and she asked in a whisper, _a propos_ of nothing in particular, the name of her left-hand neighbour."They call him Stocks," said the boy, delighted at the tone of confidence, and was going on to sketch the character of the gentleman in question when Alice cut him short. "Will you take me to fish some day?" she asked.
"Any day," gasped the hilarious Arthur. "I'm ready, and I'll tell you what, I know the very burn--" and he babbled on happily till he saw that Miss Wishart had ceased to listen. It was the first time a pretty girl had shown herself desirous of his company, and he was intoxicated with the thought.
But Alice felt that she was in some way bound to make the most of Mr. Stocks, and she set herself heroically to the task. She had never heard of him, but then she was not well versed in the minutiae of things political, and he clearly was a politician. Doubtless to her father his name was a household word. So she spoke to him of Glenavelin and its beauties.He asked her if she had seen Royston Castle, the residence of his friend the Duke of Sanctamund. When he had stayed there he had been much impressed--
Then she spoke wildly of anything, of books and pictures and people and politics. She found him well-informed, clever, and dogmatic. The culminating point was reached when she embarked on a stray remark concerning certain events then happening in India.He contradicted her with a lofty politeness.
She quoted a book on Kashmir.
He laughed the authority to scorn. "Lewis Haystoun?" he asked. "What can he know about such things? A wandering dilettante, the worst type of the pseudo-culture of our universities. He must see all things through the spectacles of his upbringing."
Lady Manorwater opened mild eyes of surprise. "Why didn't the boy write?" And the young Arthur indulged in sundry exclamations, "Oh, ripping, I say! What? A clinking good chap, my cousin Lewie!""Who is this Lewis the well-beloved?" said Mr. Stocks. "I was talking about a very different person--Lewis Haystoun, the author of a foolish book on Kashmir."
"Don't you like it?" said Lord Manorwater, pleasantly. "Well, it's the same man. He is my nephew, Lewie Haystoun. He lives at Etterick, four miles up the glen. You will see him over here to-morrow or the day after."
Mr. Stocks coughed loudly to cover his discomfiture. Alice could not repress a little smile of triumph, but she was forbearing and for the rest of dinner exerted herself to appease her adversary, listening to his talk with an air of deference which he found entrancing.
Meanwhile it was plain that Lord Manorwater was not quite at ease with his company. Usually a man of brusque and hearty address, he showed his discomfort by an air of laborious politeness. He was patronized for a brief minute by Mr. Stocks, who set him right on some matter of agricultural reform. Happening to be a specialist on the subject and an enthusiastic farmer from his earliest days, he took the rebuke with proper meekness. The spectacled people were talking earnestly with his wife. Arthur was absorbed in his dinner and furtive glances at his left-hand neighbour. There remained Bertha Afflint, whom he had hitherto admired with fear. To talk with her was exhausting to frail mortality, and he had avoided the pleasure except in moments of boisterous bodily and mental health. Now she was his one resource, and the unfortunate man, rashly entering into a contest of wit, found himself badly worsted by her ready tongue. He declared that she was worse than her mother, at which the unabashed young woman replied that the superiority of parents was the last retort of the vanquished. He registered an inward vow that Miss Afflint should be used on the morrow as a weapon to quell Mr. Stocks.
When Alice escaped to the drawing-room she found Bertha and her sister--a younger and ruddier copy--busy with the letters which had arrived by the evening post. Lady Manorwater, who reserved her correspondence for the late hours, seized upon the girl and carried her off to sit by the great French windows from which lawn and park sloped down to the moorland loch. She chattered pleasantly about many things, and then innocently and abruptly asked her if she had not found her companion at table amusing.
Alice, unaccustomed to fiction, gave a hesitating "Yes," at which her hostess looked pleased. "He is very clever, you know," she said, "and has been very useful to me on many occasions."Alice asked his occupation.
"Oh, he has done many things. He has been very brave and quite the maker of his own fortunes. He educated himself, and then I think he edited some Nonconformist paper. Then he went into politics, and became a Churchman. Some old man took a liking to him and left him his money, and that was the condition. So I believe he is pretty well off now and is waiting for a seat. He has been nursing this constituency, and since the election comes off in a month or two, we asked him down here to stay. He has also written a lot of things and he is somebody's private secretary." And Lady Manorwater relapsed into vagueness.
The girl listened without special interest, save that she modified her verdict on Mr. Stocks, and allowed, some degree of respect for him to find place in her heart. The fighter in life always appealed to her, whatever the result of his struggle.
Then Lady Manorwater proceeded to hymn his excellences in an indeterminate, artificial manner, till the men came into the room, and conversation became general. Lord Manorwater made his way to Alice, thereby defeating Mr. Stocks, who tended in the same direction. "Come outside and see things, Miss Wishart," he said. "It's a shame to miss a Glenavelin evening if it's fine. We must appreciate our rarities."
And Alice gladly followed him into the still air of dusk which made hill and tree seem incredibly distant and the far waters of the lake merge with the moorland in one shimmering golden haze. In the rhododendron thickets sparse blooms still remained, and all along by the stream-side stood stately lines of yellow iris above the white waterranunculus. The girl was sensitive to moods of season and weather, and she had almost laughed at the incongruity of the two of them in modern clothes in this fit setting for an old tale. Dickon of Glenavelin, the sworn foe of the Lord of Etterick, on such nights as this had ridden up the water with his bands to affront the quiet moonlight. And now his descendant was pointing out dim shapes in the park which he said were prize cattle.
"Whew! what a weariness is civilization!" said the man, with comical eyes. "We have been making talk with difficulty all the evening which serves no purpose in the world. Upon my word, my kyloes have the best of the bargain. And in a month or so there will be the election and I shall have to go and rave--there is no other word for it, Miss Wishart--rave on behalf of some fool or other, and talk Radicalism which would make your friend Dickon turn in his grave, and be in earnest for weeks when I know in the bottom of my heart that I am a humbug and care for none of these things. How lightly politics and such matters sit on us all!"
"Right, little woman," said he, smiling; "that is what Stocks tells me twice a day, but, somehow, reproof comes better from you. Dear me! it's a sad thing that a middle-aged legislator should be reproved by a very little girl. Come and see the herons. The young birds will be everywhere just now."
For an hour in the moonlight they went a-sightseeing, and came back very cool and fresh to the open drawing-room window. As they approached they caught an echo of a loud, bland voice saying, "We must remember our moral responsibilities, my dear Lady Manorwater. Now, for instance--"
And a strange thing happened. For the first time in her life Miss Alice Wishart felt that the use of loud and solemn words could jar upon her feelings. She set it down resignedly to the evil influence of her companion.
In the calm of her bedroom Alice reviewed her recent hours. She admitted to herself that she would enjoy her visit. A healthy and active young woman, the mere prospect of an open-air life gave her pleasure. Also she liked the people. Mentally she epitomized each of the inmates of the house. Lady Manorwater was all she had pictured her--a dear, whimsical, untidy creature, with odd shreds of cleverness and a heart of gold. She liked the boy Arthur, and the spectacled people seemed harmless. Bertha she was prepared to adore, for behind the languor and wit she saw a very kindly and capable young woman fashioned after her own heart. But of all she liked Lord Manorwater best. She knew that he had a great reputation, that he was said to be incessantly laborious, and she had expected some one of her father's type, prim, angular, and elderly. Instead she found a boyish person whom she could scold, and with women reproof is the first stone in the foundation of friendship. On Mr. Stocks she generously reserved her judgment, fearing the fate of the hasty.
When Alice woke next morning the cool upland air was flooding through the window, and a great dazzle of sunlight made the world glorious. She dressed and ran out to the lawn, then past the loch right to the very edge of the waste country. A high fragrance of heath and bog-myrtle was in the wind, and the mouth grew cool as after long draughts of spring water. Mists were crowding in the valleys, each bald mountain top shone like a jewel, and far aloft in the heavens were the white streamers of morn. Moorhens were plashing at the loch's edge, and one tall heron rose from his early meal. The world was astir with life: sounds of the _plonk-plonk_ of rising trout and the endless twitter of woodland birds mingled with the far-away barking of dogs and the lowing of the fulluddered cows in the distant meadows. Abashed and enchanted, the girl listened. It was an elfin land where the old witch voices of hill and river were not silenced. With the wind in her hair she climbed the slope again to the garden ground, where she found a solemn-eyed collie sniffing the fragrant wind in his morning stroll.
Breakfast over, the forenoon hung heavy on her hands. It was Lady Manorwater's custom to let her guests sit idle in the morning and follow their own desire, but in the afternoon she would plan subtle and far-reaching schemes of enjoyment. It was a common saying that in her large good-nature she amused people regardless of their own expense. She would light-heartedly make town-bred folk walk twenty miles or bear the toil of infinite drives. But this was after lunch; before, her guests might do as they pleased. Lord Manorwater went off to see some tenant; Arthur, after vain efforts to decoy Alice into a fishing expedition, went down the stream in a canoe, because to his fool's head it seemed the riskiest means of passing the time at his disposal; Bertha and her sister were writing letters; the spectacled people had settled themselves below shady trees with voluminous papers and a pile of books. Alice alone was idle. She made futile expeditions to the library, and returned with an armful of volumes which she knew in her heart she would never open. She found the deepest and most comfortable chair and placed it in a shady place among beeches. But she could not stay there, and must needs wander restlessly about the gardens, plucking flowers and listlessly watching the gardeners at their work.
Lunch-time found this young woman in a slightly irritable frame of mind. The cause direct and indirect was Mr. Stocks, who had found her alone, and had saddled her with his company for the space of an hour and a half. His vein had been _badinage_ of the serious and reproving kind, and the girl had been bored to distraction. But a misspent hour is soon forgotten, and the sight of her hostess's cheery face would have restored her to good humour had it not been for a thought which could not be exorcised. She knew of Lady Manorwater's reputation as an inveterate matchmaker, and in some subtle way the suspicion came to her that that goddess had marked herself as a quarry. She found herself next Mr. Stocks at meals, she had already listened to his eulogy from her hostess's own lips, and to her unquiet fancy it seemed as if the others stood back that they two might be together. Brought up in an atmosphere of commerce, she was perfectly aware that she was a desirable match for an embryo politician, and that sooner or later she would be mistress of many thousands. The thought was a barbed vexation. To Mr. Stocks she had been prepared to extend the tolerance of a happy aloofness; now she found that she was driven to dislike him with all the bitterness of unwelcome proximity.
The result of such thoughts was that after lunch she disregarded her hostess's preparations and set out for a long hill walk. Like all perfectly healthy people, much exercise was as welcome to her as food and sleep; ten miles were refreshing; fifteen miles in an afternoon an exaltation. She reached the moor beyond the policies, and, once past this rushy wilderness, came to the Avelin-side and a single plank bridge which she crossed lightly without a tremor. Then came the highway, and then a long planting of firs, and last of all the dip of a rushing stream pouring down from the hills in a lonely wooded hollow. The girl loved to explore, and here was a field ripe for adventure.
Soon she grew flushed with the toil and the excitement; climbing the bed of the stream was no child's play, for ugly corners had to be passed, slippery rocks to be skirted, and many breakneck leaps to be effected. Her spirits rose as the spray from little falls brushed her face and the thick screen of the birches caught in her hair. When she reached a vantage-rock and looked down on the chain of pools and rapids by which she had come, a cry of delight broke from her lips. This was living, this was the zest of life! The upland wind cooled her brow; she washed her hands in a rocky pool and arranged her tangled tresses. What did she care for Mr. Stocks or any man? He was far down on the lowlands talking his pompous nonsense; she was on the hills with the sky above her and the breeze of heaven around her, free, sovereign, the queen of an airy land.
With fresh wonder she scrambled on till the trees began to grow sparser and an upland valley opened in view. Now the burn was quiet, running in long shining shallows and falling over little rocks into deep brown pools where the trout darted. On either side rose the gates of the valley--two craggy knolls each with a few trees on its face. Beyond was a green lawnlike place with a great confusion of blue mountains hemmed around its head. Here, if anywhere, primeval peace had found its dwelling, and Alice, her eyes bright with pleasure, sat on a green knoll, too rapt with the sight for word or movement.
Then very slowly, like an epicure lingering at a feast, she walked up the banks of the burn, now high above a trough of rock, now down in a green winding hollow. Suddenly she came on the spirits of the place in the shape of two boys down on their faces groping among the stones of a pool.
One was very small and tattered, one about sixteen; both were barefoot and both were wet and excited. "Tam, ye stot, ye've let the muckle yin aff again," groaned the smaller. "Oh, be canny, man! If we grip him it'll be the biggest trout that the laird will have in his basket," The elder boy, who was bearing the heat and burden of the work, could only groan "Heather!" at intervals. It seemed to be his one exclamation.
Now it happened that the two ragamuffins lifted their eyes and saw to their amazement a girl walking on the bank above them, a girl who smiled comrade-like on them and seemed in no way surprised. They propped themselves on their elbows and stared. "Heather!" they ejaculated in one breath. Then they, too, grinned broadly, for it was impossible to resist so good-humoured an intruder. She held her head high and walked like a queen, till a turn of the water hid her. "It's a wumman," gasped the smaller boy. "And she's terrible bonny," commented the more critical brother. Then the two fell again to the quest of the great trout.
Meanwhile the girl pursued her way till she came to a fall where the bank needed warier climbing. As she reached the top a little flushed and panting, she became conscious that the upland valley was not without inhabitants. For, not six paces off, stood a man's figure, his back turned towards her, and his mind apparently set on mending a piece of tackle.
She stood for a moment hesitating. How could she pass without being seen? The man was blissfully unconscious of her presence, and as he worked he whistled Schubert's "Wohin," and whistled it very badly. Then he fell to apostrophizing his tackle, and then he grew irritable. "Somebody come and keep this thing taut," he cried. "Tam, Jock! where on earth are you?"The thing in question was lying at Alice's feet in wavy coils.
"Jock, you fool, where are you?" cried the man, but he never looked round and went on biting and tying. Then an impulse took the girl and she picked up the line. "That's right," cried the man, "pull it as tight as you can," and Alice tugged heroically at the waterproof silk. She felt horribly nervous, and was conscious that she must look a very flushed and untidy young barbarian. Many times she wanted to drop it and run away, but the thought of the menaces against the absent Jock and of her swift discovery deterred her. When he was done with her help he might go on working and never look round. Then she would escape unnoticed down the burn.
But no such luck befell her. With a satisfied tug he pronounced the thing finished and wheeled round to regard his associates. "Now, you young wretches--" and the words froze on his lips, for in the place of two tatterdemalion boys he saw a young girl holding his line limply and smiling with much nervousness.
"Oh," he cried, and then became dumb and confused. He was shy and unhappy with women, save the few whom he had known from childhood. The girl was no better. She had blushed deeply, and was now minutely scanning the stones in the burn. Then she raised her eyes, met his, and the difficulty was solved by both falling into fits of deep laughter. She was the first to speak.
"I am so sorry I surprised you. I did not see you till I was close to you, and then you were abusing somebody so terribly that to stop such language I had to stop and help you. I saw Tam and Jock at a pool a long way down, so they couldn't hear you, you know.""And I'm very much obliged to you. You held it far better than Tam or Jock would have done. But how did you get up here?"
"I climbed up the burn," said Alice simply, putting up a hand to confine a wandering tress. The young man saw a small, very simply dressed girl, with a flushed face and bright, deep eyes. The small white hat crowned a great tangle of wonderful reddish gold hair. She held herself with the grace which is born of natural health and no modish training; the strong hazel stick, the scratched shoes, and the wet fringes of her gown showed how she had spent the afternoon. The young man, having received an excellent education, thought of Dryads and Oreads.
Alice for her part saw a strong, well-knit being, with a brown, clean-shaven face, a straight nose, and a delicate, humorous mouth. He had large grey eyes, very keen, quizzical, and kindly. His raiment was disgraceful--an old knickerbocker suit with a ruinous Norfolk jacket, patched at the elbows and with leather at wrist and shoulder. Apparently he scorned the June sun, for he had no cap. His pockets seemed bursting with tackle, and a discarded basket lay on the ground. The whole figure pleased her, its rude health, simplicity, and disorder. The atrocious men who sometimes came to her father's house had been miracles of neatness, and Mr. Stocks was wont to robe his person in the most faultless of shooting suits.
A fugitive memory began to haunt the girl. She had met or heard of this man before. The valley was divided between Glenavelin and Etterick. He was not the Doctor, and he was not the minister. Might not he be that Lewie, the well-beloved, whose praises she had heard consistently sung since her arrival? It pleased her to think that she had been the first to meet the redoubtable young man.
To them there entered the two boys, the younger dangling a fish. "It is the big trout ye lost," he cried. "We guddled 'um. We wad has gotten 'um afore, but a wumman frichted 'um." Then turning unabashed to Alice, he said in accusing tones, "That's the wumman!" The elder boy gently but firmly performed on his brother the operation known as "scragging." It was a subdued spirit which emerged from the fraternal embrace.
"Pit the fush in the basket, Tam," said he, "and syne gang away wide up the hill till I cry ye back." The tones implied that his younger brother was no fit company for two gentlemen and a lady.
"I won't spoil your fishing," said Alice, fearing fratricidal strife. "You are fishing up, so I had better go down the burn again." And with a dignified nod to the others she turned to go.
Jock sprang forward with a bound and proceeded to stone the small Tarn up the hill. He coursed that young gentleman like a dog, bidding him "come near," or "gang wide," or "lie down there," to all of which the culprit, taking the sport in proper spirit, gaily responded."I think you had better not go down the burn," said the man reflectively. "You should keep the dry hillside. It is safer." "Oh, I am not afraid," said the girl, laughing. "But then I might want to fish down, and the trout are very shy there," said he, lying generously. "Well, I won't then, but please tell me where Glenavelin is, for the stream-side is my only direction."
"You are staying there?" he asked with a pleased face. "We shall meet again, for I shall be over to-morrow. That fence on the hillside is their march, and if you follow it you will come to the footbridge on the Avelin. Many thanks for taking Jock's place and helping me."
He watched her for a second as she lightly jumped the burn and climbed the peaty slope. Then he turned to his fishing, and when Alice looked back from the vantageground of the hill shoulder she saw a figure bending intently below a great pool. She was no coquette, but she could not repress a tinge of irritation at so callous and selfabsorbed a young man. Another would have been profuse in thanks and would have accompanied her to point out the road, or in some way or other would have declared his appreciation of her presence. He might have told, her his name, and then there would have been a pleasant informal introduction, and they could have talked freely. If he came to Glenavelin to-morrow, she would have liked to appear as already an acquaintance of so popular a guest.
But such thoughts did not long hold their place. She was an honest young woman, and she readily confessed that fluent manners and the air of the _cavaliere servente_ were things she did not love. Carelessness suited well with a frayed jacket and the companionship of a hill burn and two ragged boys. So, comforting her pride with proverbs, she returned to Glenavelin to find the place deserted save for dogs, and in their cheering presence read idly till dinner.
The gardens of Glenavelin have an air of antiquity beyond the dwelling, for there the modish fashions of another century have been followed with enthusiasm. There are clipped yews and long arched avenues, bowers and summer-houses of rustic make, and a terraced lawn fringed with a Georgian parapet. A former lord had kept peacocks innumerable, and something of the tradition still survived. Set in the heart of hilly moorlands, it was like a cameo gem in a tartan plaid, a piece of old Vauxhall or Ranelagh in an upland vale. Of an afternoon sleep reigned supreme. The shapely immobile trees, the grey and crumbling stone, the lone green walks vanishing into a bosky darkness were instinct with the quiet of ages. It needed but Lady Prue with her flounces and furbelows and Sir Pertinax with his cane and buckled shoon to re-create the ancient world before good Queen Anne had gone to her rest.
In one of the shadiest corners of a great lawn Lady Manorwater sat making tea. Bertha, with a broad hat shading her eyes, dozed over a magazine in a deck-chair. That morning she and Alice had broken the convention of the house and gone riding in the haughlands till lunch. Now she suffered the penalty and dozed, but her companion was very wide awake, being a tireless creature who knew not lethargy. Besides, there was sufficient in prospect to stir her curiosity. Lady Manorwater had announced some twenty times that day that her nephew Lewis would come to tea, and Alice, knowing the truth of the prophecy, was prepared to receive him.
The image of the forsaken angler remained clear in her memory, and she confessed to herself that he interested her. The girl had no connoisseur's eye for character; her interest was the frank and unabashed interest in a somewhat mysterious figure who was credited by all his friends with great gifts and a surprising amiability. After breakfast she had captured one of the spectacled people, whose name was Hoddam. He was a little shy man, one of the unassuming tribe of students by whom all the minor intellectual work of the world is done, and done well. It is a great class, living in the main in redbrick villas on the outskirts of academic towns, marrying mild blue-stockings, working incessantly, and finally attaining to the fame of mention in prefaces and foot-notes, and a short paragraph in the _Times_ at the last. . . . Mr. Hoddam did not seek the company of one who was young, pretty, an heiress, and presumably flippant, but he was flattered when she plainly sought him."Mr. Lewis Haystoun is coming here this afternoon," she had announced. "Do you know him?" "I have read his book," said her victim. "Yes, but did you not know him at Oxford? You were there with him, were you not?" "Yes, we were there together. I knew him by sight, of course, for he was a very wellknown person. But, you see, we belonged to very different sets." "How do you mean?" asked the blunt Alice.
"Well, you see," began Mr. Hoddam awkwardly--absolute honesty was one of his characteristics--"he was very well off, and he lived with a sporting set, and he was very exclusive.""But I thought he was clever--I thought he was rather brilliant?"
"Oh, he was! Indubitably! He got everything he wanted, but then he got them easily and had a lot of time for other things, whereas most of us had not a moment to spare. He got the best First of his year and the St. Chad's Fellowship, but I think he cared far more about winning the 'Varsity Grind. Men who knew him said he was an extremely good fellow, but he had scores of rich sporting friends, and nobody else ever got to know him. I have heard him speak often, and his manner gave one the impression that he was a tremendous swell, you know, and rather conceited. People used to think him a sort of universal genius who could do everything. I suppose he was quite the ablest man that had been there for years, but I should think he would succeed ultimately as the man of action and not as the scholar.""You give him a most unlovely character," said the girl.
"I don't mean to. I own to being entirely fascinated by him. But he was never, I think, really popular. He was supposed to be intolerant of mediocrity; and also he used to offend quite honest, simple-minded people by treating their beliefs very cavalierly. I used to compare him with Raleigh or Henri IV.--the proud, confident man of action."
Alice had pondered over Mr. Hoddam's confessions and was prepared to receive the visitor with coldness. The vigorous little democrat in her hated arrogance. Before, if she had asked herself what type on earth she hated most, she would have decided for the unscrupulous, proud man. And yet this Lewis must be lovable. That brown face had infinite attractiveness, and she trusted Lady Manorwater's acuteness and goodness of heart.
Lord Manorwater had gone off on some matter of business and taken the younger Miss Afflint with him. As Alice looked round the little assembly on the lawn, she felt for the first time the insignificance of the men. The large Mr. Stocks was not at his best in such surroundings. He was the typical townsman, and bore with him wherever he went an atmosphere of urban dust and worry. He hungered for ostentation, he could only talk well when he felt that he impressed his hearers; Bertha, who was not easily impressed, he shunned like a plague. The man, reflected the censorious Alice, had no shades or half-tones in his character; he was all bald, strong, and crude. Now he was talking to his hostess with the grace of the wise man unbending."I shall be pleased indeed to meet your nephew," he said. "I feel sure that we have many interests in common. Do you say he lives near?"
Lady Manorwater, ever garrulous on family matters, readily enlightened him. "Etterick is his, and really all the land round here. We simply live on a patch in the middle of it. The shooting is splendid, and Lewie is a very keen sportsman. His mother was my husband's sister, and died when he was born. He is wonderfully unspoiled to have had such a lonely boyhood."
"How did the family get the land?" he asked. It was a matter which interested him, for democratic politician though he was, he looked always forward to the day when he should own a pleasant country property, and forget the troubles of life in the Nirvana of the respectable.
"Oh, they've had it for ages. They are a very old family, you know, and look down upon us as parvenus. They have been everything in their day--soldiers, statesmen, lawyers; and when we were decent merchants in Abbeykirk three centuries ago, they were busy making history. When you go to Etterick you must see the pictures. There is a fine one by Jameson of the Haystoun who fought with Montrose, and Raeburn painted most of the Haystouns of his time. They were a very handsome race, at least the men; the women were too florid and buxom for my taste.""And this Lewis--is he the only one of the family?"
"The very last, and of course he does his best to make away with himself by risking his precious life in Hindu Kush or Tibet or somewhere." Her ladyship was geographically vague."What a pity he does not realize his responsibilities!" said the politician. "He might do so much."
But at the moment it dawned upon the speaker that the skirker of responsibilities was appearing in person. There strode towards them, across the lawn, a young man and two dogs.
"How do you do, Aunt Egeria?" he cried, and he caught her small woman's hand in a hard brown one and smiled on the little lady.
Bertha Afflint had flung her magazine to the winds and caught his available left hand. "Oh, Lewie, you wretch! how glad we are to see you again." Meantime the dogs performed a solemn minuet around her ladyship's knees.
The young man, when he had escaped from the embraces of his friends, turned to the others. He seemed to recognize two of them, for he shook hands cordially with the two spectacled people. "Hullo, Hoddam, how are you? And Imrie! Who would have thought of finding you here?" And he poured forth a string of kind questions till the two beamed with pleasure.
Then Alice heard dimly words of introduction: "Miss Wishart, Mr. Haystoun," and felt herself bowing automatically. She actually felt nervous. The disreputable fisher of the day before was in ordinary riding garments of fair respectability. He recognized her at once, but he, too, seemed to lose for a moment his flow of greetings. His tone insensibly changed to a conventional politeness, and he asked her some of the stereotyped questions with which one greets a stranger. She felt sharply that she was a stranger to whom the courteous young man assumed more elaborate manners. The freedom of the day before seemed gone. She consoled herself with the thought that whereas then she had been warm, flushed, and untidy, she was now very cool and elegant in her prettiest frock.
Then Mr. Stocks arose and explained that he was delighted to meet Mr. Lewis Haystoun, that he knew of his reputation, and hoped to have some pleasant talk on matters dear to the heart of both. At which Lewis shunned the vacant seat between Bertha and that gentleman, and stretched himself on the lawn beside Alice's chair. A thrill of pleasure entered the girl's heart, to her own genuine surprise.
"Are Tam and Jock at peace now?" she asked. "Tam and Jock are never at peace. Jock is sedate and grave and old for his years, while Tam is simply a human collie. He has the same endearing manners and irresponsible mind. I had to fish him out of several rock-pools after you left."Alice laughed, and Lady Manorwater said in wonder, "I didn't know you had met Lewie before, Alice." "Miss Wishart and I forgathered accidentally at the Midburn yesterday," said the man. "Oh, you went there," cried the aggrieved Arthur, "and you never told me! Why, it is the best water about here, and yesterday was a first-rate day. What did you catch, Lewie?" "Twelve pounds-about four dozen trout."
"Listen to that! And to think that that great hulking chap got all the sport!" And the boy intercepted his cousin's tea by way of retaliation.
Then Mr. Stocks had his innings, with Lady Manorwater for company, and Lewis was put through a strict examination on his doings for the past years.
"Tommy?--why, surely! My best of friends. He had got his fellowship some years before I went up, but I often saw him at Oxford, and he has helped me innumerable times." The young man spoke eagerly, prepared to extend warm friendship to any acquaintance of his friend's."He and I have sometimes crossed swords," said Mr. Stocks pompously. Lewis nodded, and forbore to ask which had come off the better. "He is, of course, very able," said Mr. Stocks, making a generous admission. His hearer wondered why he should be told of a man's ability when he had spoken of him as his friend.
"Have you heard much of him lately?" he asked. "We corresponded regularly when I was abroad, but of course he never would speak about himself, and I only saw him for a short time last week in London."The gentleman addressed waved a deprecating hand.
"He has had no popular recognition. Such merits as he has are too aloof to touch the great popular heart. But we who believe in the people and work for them have found him a bitter enemy. The idle, academic, superior person, whatever his gifts, is a serious hindrance to honest work," said the popular idol.
"I shouldn't call him idle or superior," said Lewis quietly. "I have seen hard workers, but I have never seen anything like Tommy. He is a perfect mill-horse, wasting his fine talent on a dreary routine, merely because he is conscientious and nobody can do it so well."He always respected honesty, so he forbore to be irritated with this assured speaker. But Alice interfered to prevent jarring. "I read your book, Mr. Haystoun. What a time you must have had! You say that north of
Bardur or some place like that there are two hundred miles of utterly unknown land till you come to Russian territory. I should have thought that land important. Why doesn't some one penetrate it?
"Well, for various causes. It is very high land and the climate is not mild. Also, there are abundant savage tribes with a particularly effective crooked kind of knife. And, finally, our Government discourages British enterprise there, and Russia would do the same as soon as she found out.""But what a chance for an adventurer!" said Alice, with a face aglow. Lewis looked up at the slim figure in the chair above him, and caught the gleam of dark eyes. "Well, some day, Miss Wishart--who knows?" he said slowly and carelessly.
But three people looked at him, Bertha, his aunt, and Mr. Stocks, and three people saw the same thing. His face had closed up like a steel trap. It was no longer the kindly, humorous face of the sportsman and good fellow, but the keen, resolute face of the fighter, the schemer, the man of daring. The lines about his chin and brow seemed to tighten and strengthen and steel, while the grey eyes had for a moment a glint of fire.
Three people never forgot that face. It was a pity that the lady at his side was prevented from seeing it by her position, for otherwise life might have gone differently with both. But the things which we call chance are in the power of the Fateful Goddesses who reserve their right to juggle with poor humanity.
Alice only heard the words, but they pleased her. Mr. Stocks fell farther into the background of disfavour. She had imagination and fire as well as common sense. It was the purple and fine gold which first caught her fancy, though on reflection she might decide for the hodden-grey. So she was very gracious to the young adventurer. And Arthur's brows grew dark as Erebus.
Lewis rode home in the late afternoon to Etterick in a haze of golden weather with an abstracted air and a slack bridle. A small, dainty figure tripped through the mazes of his thoughts. This man, usually oblivious of woman's presence, now mooned like any schoolboy. Those fresh young eyes and the glory of that hair! And to think that once he had sworn by black!
It was the sultriest of weather in London--days when the city lay in a fog of heat, when the paving cracked, and the brow was damp from the slightest movement and the mind of the stranger was tortured by the thought of airy downs and running rivers. The leaves in the Green Park were withered and dusty, the window-boxes in Mayfair had a tarnished look, and horse and man moved with unwilling languor. A tall young man in a grey frockcoat searched the street for shadow, and finding none entered the doorway of a club which promised coolness.
Mr. George Winterham removed his top-hat, had a good wash, and then sought the smoking room. Seen to better advantage, he was sufficiently good-looking, with an elegant if somewhat lanky frame, a cheerful countenance, and a great brown moustache which gave him the air military. But he was no soldier, being indeed that anomalous creature, the titular barrister, who shows his profession by rarely entering the chambers and by an ignorance of law more profound than Necessity's.
He found the shadiest corner of the smoking room and ordered the coolest drink he could think of. Then he smiled, for he saw advancing to him across the room another victim of the weather. This was a small, thin man, with a finely-shaped dark head and the most perfectly-fitting clothes. He had been deep in a review, but at the sight of the wearied giant in the corner he had forgotten his interest in the "Entomology of the Riviera." He looked something of the artist or the man of letters, but in truth he had no taint of Bohemianism about him, being a very respectable person and a rising politician. His name was Arthur Mordaunt, but because it was the fashion at the time for a certain class of people to address each other in monosyllables, his friends invariably knew him as "John."He dropped into a chair and regarded his companion with half-closed eyes. "Well, John. Dished, eh? Most infernal heat I ever endured! I can't stand it, you know. I'll have to go away."
"Think," said the other, "think that at this moment somewhere in the country there are great, cool, deep woods and lakes and waterfalls, and we might be sitting in flannels instead of being clothed in these garments of sin."
"Think," said George, "of nothing of the kind. Think of high upland glens and full brown rivers, and hillsides where there is always wind. Why do I tantalize myself and talk to a vexatious idiot like you?"
This young man had a deep voice, a most emphatic manner of speech, and a trick of cheerfully abusing his friends which they rather liked than otherwise.
"And why should I sit opposite six feet of foolishness which can give me no comfort? Whew! But I think I am getting cool at last. I have sworn to make use of my first halfhour of reasonable temperature and consequent clearness of mind to plan flight from this place.""May I come with you, my pretty maid? I am hideously sick of July in town. I know Mabel will never forgive me, but I must risk it."
Mabel was the young man's sister, and the friendship between the two was a perpetual joke. As a small girl she had been wont to con eagerly her brother's cricketing achievements, for George had been a famous cricketer, and annually went crazy with excitement at the Eton and Harrow match. She exercised a maternal care over him, and he stood in wholesome fear of her and ordered his doings more or less at her judgment. Now she was married, but she still supervised her tall brother, and the victim made no secret of the yoke.Suddenly Arthur jumped to his feet. "I say, what about Lewis Haystoun? He is home now, somewhere in Scotland. Have you heard a word about him?"
"He has never written," groaned George, but he took out a pocket-book and shook therefrom certain newspaper cuttings. "The people I employ sent me these about him to-day." And he laid them out on his knee.
The first of them was long, and consisted of a belated review of Mr. Haystoun's book. George, who never read such things, handed it to Arthur, who glanced over the lines and returned it. The second explained in correct journalese that the Manorwater family had returned to Glenavelin for the summer and autumn, and that Mr. Lewis Haystoun was expected at Etterick shortly. The third recorded the opening of a bazaar in the town of Gledsmuir which Mr. Haystoun had patronised, "looking," said the fatuous cutting, "very brown and distinguished after his experiences in the East."--"Whew!" said George. "Poor beggar, to have such stuff written about him!"--The fourth discussed the possible retirement of Sir Robert Merkland, the member for Gledsmuir, and his possible successor. Mr. Haystoun's name was mentioned, "though indeed," said the wiseacre, "that gentleman has never shown any decided leanings to practical politics. We understand that the seat will be contested in the Radical interest by Mr. Albert Stocks, the well-known writer and lecturer."
"You know everybody, John. Who's the fellow?" George asked.
"Oh, a very able man indeed, one of the best speakers we have. I should like to see a fight between him and Lewie: they would not get on with each other. This Stocks is a sort of living embodiment of the irritable Radical conscience, a very good thing in its way, but not quite in Lewie's style."
George lay back in his chair gasping. "I never thought it would come to this. I always thought Lewie the least impressionable of men. I wonder what sort of woman he has fallen in love with. But it may not be true."
"We'll pray that it isn't true. But I was never quite sure of him. You know there was always an odd romantic strain in the man. The ordinary smart, pretty girl, who adorns the end of a dinner-table and makes an admirable mistress of a house, he would never think twice about. But for all his sanity Lewie has many cranks, and a woman might get him on that side."
"Don't talk of it. I can picture the horrid reality. He will marry some thin-lipped creature who will back him in all his madness, and his friends will have to bid him a reluctant farewell. Or, worse still, there are scores of gushing, sentimental girls who might capture him. I wish old Wratislaw were here to ask him what he thinks, for he knows Lewie better than any of us. Is he a member here?""Oh yes, he is a member, but I don't think he comes much. You people are too frivolous for him."
"Well, that is all the good done by subscribing to a news-cutting agency for news of one's friends. I feel as low as ditch water. There is that idiot who goes off to the ends of the earth for three years, and when he comes back his friends get no good of him for the confounded women." George echoed the ancient complaint which is doubtless old as David and Jonathan.Then these two desolated young men, in view of their friend's defection, were full of sad memories, much as relations after a funeral hymn the acts of the deceased.
George lit a cigar and smoked it savagely. "So that is the end of Lewis! And to think I knew the fool at school and college and couldn't make a better job of him than this! Do you remember, John, how we used to call him 'Vaulting Ambition,' because he won the high jump and was a cocky beggar in general?"
"And do you remember when he got his First, and they wanted him to stand for a fellowship, but he was keen to get out of England and travel? Do you remember that last night at Heston, when he told us all he was going to do, and took a bet with Wratislaw about it?"
It is probable that this sad elegy would have continued for hours, had not a servant approached with letters, which he distributed, two to Arthur Mordaunt and one to Mr. Winterham. A close observer might have seen that two of the envelopes were identical. Arthur slipped one into his pocket, but tore open the other and read."It's from Lewie," he cried. "He wants me down there next week at Etterick. He says he is all alone and crazy to see old friends again." "Mine's the same!" said George, after puzzling out Mr. Haystoun's by no means legible writing. "I say, John, of course we'll go. It's the very chance we were wishing for."
Then he added with a cheerful face, "I begin to think better of human nature. Here were we abusing the poor man as a defaulter, and ten minutes after he heaps coals of fire on our heads. There can't be much truth in what that newspaper says, or he wouldn't want his friends down to spoil sport."
"I wonder what he'll be like? Wratislaw saw him in town, but only for a little, and he notices nothing. He's rather famous now, you know, and we may expect to find him very dignified and wise. He'll be able to teach us most things, and we'll have to listen with proper humility."
"I'll give you fifty to one he's nothing of the kind," said George. "He has his faults like us all, but they don't run in that line. No, no, Lewie will be modest enough. He may have the pride of Lucifer at heart, but he would never show it. His fault is just this infernal modesty, which makes him shirk fighting some blatant ass or publishing his merits to the world."
Arthur looked curiously at his companion. Mr. Winterham was loved of his friends as the best of good fellows, but to the staid and rising politician he was not a person for serious talk. Hence, when he found him saying very plainly what had for long been a suspicion of his own, he was willing to credit him with a new acuteness."You know I've always backed Lewie to romp home some day," went on the young man. "He has got it in him to do most things, if he doesn't jib and bolt altogether." "I don't see why you should talk of your friends as if they were racehorses or prize dogs."
"Well, there's a lot of truth in the metaphor. You know yourself what a mess of it he might make. Say some good woman got hold of him--some good woman, for we will put aside the horrible suggestion of the adventuress. I suppose he'd be what you call a 'good husband.' He would become a magistrate and a patron of local agricultural societies and flower shows. And eveybody would talk about him as a great success in life; but we--you and I and Tommy--who know him better, would feel that it was all a ghastly failure."Mr. Lewis Haystoun's character erred in its simplicity, for it was at the mercy of every friend for comment. "What makes you dread the women so?" asked Arthur with a smile.
"I don't dread 'em. They are all that's good, and a great deal better than most men. But then, you know, if you get a man really first-class he's so much better than all but the very best women that you've got to look after him. To ordinary beggars like myself it doesn't matter a straw, but I won't have Lewie throwing himself away.""Then is the ancient race of the Haystouns to disappear from the earth?"
"Oh, there are women fit for him, sure enough, but you won't find them at every garden party. Why, to find the proper woman would be the making of the man, and I should never have another doubt about him. But I am afraid. He's a deal too kindly and goodnatured, and he'd marry a girl to-morrow merely to please her. And then some day quite casually he would come across the woman who was meant by Providence for him, and there would be the devil to pay and the ruin of one good man. I don't mean that he'd make a fool of himself or anything of that sort, for he's not a cad; but in the middle of his pleasant domesticity he would get a glimpse of what he might have been, and those glimpses are not forgotten.""Why, George, you are getting dithyrambic," said Arthur, still smiling, but with a new vague respect in his heart.
"For you cannot harness the wind or tie--tie the bonds of the wild ass," said George, with an air of quotation. "At any rate, we're going to look after him. He is a good chap and I've got to see him through."
For Mr. Winterham, who was very much like other men, whose language was free, and who respected few things indeed in the world, had unfailing tenderness for two beingshis sister and his friend.The two young men rose, yawned, and strolled out into the hall. They scanned carelessly the telegram boards. Arthur pointed a finger to a message typed in a corner. "That will make a good deal of difference to Wratislaw."
George read: "The death is announced, at his residence in Hampshire, of Earl Beauregard. His lordship had reached the age of eighty-five, and had been long in weak health. He is succeeded by his son the Right Hon. Lord Malham, the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs."
"It means that if Wratislaw's party get back with a majority after August, and if Wratislaw gets the under-secretaryship as most people expect, then, with his chief in the Lords, he will be rather an important figure in the Commons."
"And I suppose his work will be pretty lively," said George. He had been reading some of the other telegrams, which were, as a rule, hysterical messages by way of foreign capitals, telling of Russian preparations in the East.
"Oh, lively, yes. But I've confidence in Tommy. I wish the Fate which decides men's politics had sent him to our side. He knows more about the thing than any one else, and he knows his own mind, which is rare enough. But it's too hot for serious talk. I suppose my seat is safe enough in August, but I don't relish the prospect of a three weeks' fight. Wratislaw, lucky man, will not be opposed. I suppose he'll come up and help Lewis to make hay of Stock's chances. It's a confounded shame. I shall go and talk for him."
On the steps of the club both men halted, and looked up and down the sultry white street. The bills of the evening papers were plastered in a row on the pavement, and the glaring pink and green still further increased the dazzle. After the cool darkness within each shaded his eyes and blinked."This settles it," said George. "I shall wire to Lewie to-night." "And I," said the other; "and to-morrow evening we'll be in that cool green Paradise of a glen. Think of it! Meantime I shall grill through another evening in the House, and pair."
A July morning had dawned over the Dreichill, and the glen was filled with sunlight, though as yet there seemed no sun. Behind a peak of hill it displayed its chastened morning splendours, but a stray affluence of brightness had sought the nooks of valley in all the wide uplands, courier of the great lord of heat and light and the brown summer. The house of Etterick stands high in a crinkle of hill, with a background of dark pines, and in front a lake, set in shores of rock and heather. When the world grew bright Lewis awoke, for that strange young man had a trick of rising early, and as he rubbed sleep from his eyes at the window he saw the exceeding goodliness of the morning. He roused his companions with awful threats, and then wandered along a corridor till he came to a low verandah, whence a little pier ran into a sheltered bay of the loch. This was his morning bathing-place, and as he ran down the surface of rough moorland stone he heard steps behind him, and George plunged into the cold blue waters scarcely a second after his host.
It was as chill as winter save for the brightness of the morning, which made the loch in open spaces a shining gold. As they raced each other to the far end, now in the dark blue of shade, now in the gold of the open, the hill breeze fanned their hair, and the great woody smell of pines was sweet around them. The house stood dark and silent, for the side before them was the men's quarters, and at that season given up to themselves; but away beyond, the smoke of chimneys curled into the still air. A man was mowing in some field on the hillside, and the cry of sheep came from the valley. By and by they reached the shelving coast of fine hill gravel, and as they turned to swim easily back a sleepy figure staggered down the pier and stumbled rather than plunged into the water."Hullo!" gasped George, "there's old John. He'll drown, for I bet you anything he isn't awake. Look!"
But in a second a dark head appeared which shook itself vigorously, and a figure made for the other two with great strokes. He was by so much the best swimmer of the three that he had soon reached them, and though in all honesty he first swam to the farther shore, yet he touched the pier very little behind them. Then came a rush for the house, and in half an hour three fresh-coloured young men came downstairs, whistling for breakfast.
The breakfast-room was a place to refresh a townsman's senses. Long and cool and dark, it was simply Lewis's room, and he preferred to entertain his friends there instead of wandering among unused dining-rooms. It had windows at each end with oldfashioned folding sashes; and the view on one side was to a great hill shoulder, fir-clad and deep in heather, and on the other to the glen below and the shining links of the Avelin. It was panelled in dark oak, and the furniture was a strange medley. The deep arm-chairs by the fire and the many pipes savoured of the smoking-room; the guns, rods, polo sticks, whips, which were stacked or hung everywhere, and the heads of deer on the walls, gave it an atmosphere of sport. The pictures were few but good--two water-colours, a small Raeburn above the fireplace, and half a dozen fine etchings. In a corner were many old school and college groups--the Eton Ramblers, the O.U.A.C., some dining clubs, and one of Lewis on horseback in racing costume, looking deeply miserable. Low bookcases of black oak ran round the walls, and the shelves were crammed with books piled on one another, many in white vellum bindings, which showed pleasantly against the dark wood. Flowers were everywhere-common garden flowers of old-fashioned kinds, for the owner hated exotics, and in a shallow silver bowl in the midst of the snowy table-cloth was a great mass of purple heather-bells.
Three very hungry young men sat down to their morning meal with a hearty goodwill. The host began to rummage among his correspondence, and finally extracted an unstamped note, which he opened. His face brightened as he read, and he laid it down with a broad smile and helped himself to fish."Are you people very particular what you do to-day?" he asked. Arthur said, No. George explained that he was in the hands of his beneficent friend. "Because my Aunt Egeria down at Glenavelin has got up some sort of a picnic on the moors, and she wants us to meet her at the sheepfolds about twelve." "Oh," said George meditatively. "Excellent! I shall be charmed." But he looked significantly at Arthur, who returned the glance. "Who are at Glenavelin?" asked that simple young man with an air of innocence. "There's a man called Stocks, whom you probably know." Arthur nodded. "And there's Bertha Afflint and her sister." It was George's turn to nod approvingly. The sharp-witted Miss Afflint was a great ally of his.
"And there's a Miss Wishart--Alice Wishart," said Lewis, without a word of comment. "And with my Aunt Egeria that will be all."
The pair got the cue, and resolved to subject the Miss Wishart whose name came last on their host's tongue to a friendly criticism. Meanwhile they held their peace on the matter like wise men.
"What a strange name Egeria is!" said Arthur. "Very," said Lewis; "but you know the story. My respectable aunt's father had a large family of girls, and being of a classical turn of mind he called them after the Muses. The Muses held out for nine, but for the tenth and youngest he found himself in a difficulty. So he tried another tack and called the child after the nymph Egeria. It sounds outlandish, but I prefer it to Terpsichore."Thereafter they lit pipes, and, with the gravity which is due to a great subject, inspected their friend's rods and guns. "I see no memorials of your travels, Lewie," said Arthur. "You must have brought back no end of things, and most people like to stick them round as a remembrance."
"I have got a roomful if you want to see them," said The traveller; "but I don't see the point of spoiling a moorland place with foreign odds and ends. I like homely and native things about me when I am in Scotland."
"You're a sentimentalist, old man," said his friend; and George, who heard only the last word, assumed that Arthur had then and there divulged his suspicions, and favoured that gentleman with a wild frown of disapproval.
As Lewis sat on the edge of the Etterick burn and looked over the shining spaces of morning, forgetful of his friends, forgetful of his past, his mind was full of a new turmoil of feeling. Alice Wishart had begun to claim a surprising portion of his thoughts. He told himself a thousand times that he was not in love--that he should never be in love, being destined for other things; that he liked the girl as he liked any fresh young creature in the morning of life, with youth's beauty and the grace of innocence. But insensibly his everyday reflections began to be coloured by her presence. "What would she think of this?" "How that would please her!" were sentences spoken often by the tongue of his fancy. He found charm in her presence after his bachelor solitude; her demure gravity pleased him; but that he should be led bond-slave by love--that was a matter he valiantly denied.II
The sheepfolds of Etterick lie in a little fold of glen some two miles from the dwelling, where the heathy tableland, known all over the glen as "The Muirs," relieves the monotony of precipitous hills. On this day it was alert with life. The little paddock was crammed with sheep, and more stood huddling in the pens. Within was the liveliest scene, for there a dozen herds sat on clipping-stools each with a struggling ewe between his knees, and the ground beneath him strewn with creamy folds of fleece. From a thing like a gallows in a corner huge bags were suspended which were slowly filling. A cauldron of pitch bubbled over a fire, and the smoke rose blue in the hot hill air. Every minute a bashful animal was led to be branded with a great E on the left shoulder and then with awkward stumbling let loose to join her naked fellow-sufferers. Dogs slept in the sun and wagged their tails in the rear of the paddock. Small children sat on gates and lent willing feet to drive the flocks. In a corner below a little shed was the clippers' meal of ale and pies, with two glasses of whisky each, laid by under a white cloth. Meantime from all sides rose the continual crying of sheep, the intermittent bark of dogs, and the loud broad converse of the men.
Lewis and his friends jumped a fence, and were greeted heartily in the enclosure. He seemed to know each herd by name or rather nickname, for he had a word for all, and they with all freedom grinned _badinage_ back."Where's my stool, Yed?" he cried. "Am I not to have a hand in clipping my own sheep?"
An obedient shepherd rose and fetched one of the triangular seats, while Lewis with great ease caught the ewe, pulled her on her back, and proceeded to call for shears. An old pair was found for him, and with much dexterity he performed the clipping, taking little longer to the business than the expert herd, and giving the shears a professional wipe on the sacking with which he had prudently defended his clothes.
From somewhere in the back two boys came forward--the Tam and Jock of a former day--eager to claim acquaintance. Jock was clearly busy, for his jacket was off and a very ragged shirt was rolled about two stout brown arms. The "human collie" seemed to be a gentleman of some leisure, for he was arrayed in what was for him the pink of fashion in dress. The two immediately lay down on the ground beside Lewis exactly in the manner of faithful dogs.
The men talked cheerfully, mainly on sheep and prices. Now talk would touch on neighbours, and there would be the repetition of some tale or saying. "There was a man in the glen called Rorison. D'ye mind Jock Rorison, Sandy?" And Sandy would reply, "Fine I mind Jock," and then both would proceed to confidences."Hullo, Tam," said Lewis at last, realizing his henchman's grandeur. "Why this magnificence of dress? "I'm gaun to the Sabbath-school treat this afternoon," said that worthy. "And you, Jock-are you going too?" "No me! I'm ower auld, and besides, I've cast out wi' the minister." "How was that?"
"Oh, I had been fechtin'," said Jock airily. "It was Andra Laidlaw. He called me ill names, so I yokit on him and bate him too, but I got my face gey sair bashed. The minister met me next day when I was a' blue and yellow, and, says he, 'John Laverlaw, what have ye been daein'? Ye're a bonny sicht for Christian een. How do ye think a face like yours will look between a pair o' wings in the next warld?' I ken I'm no bonny," added the explanatory Jock; "but ye canna expect a man to thole siccan language as that."Lewis laughed and, being engaged in clipping his third sheep, forgot the delicacy of his task and let the shears slip. A very ugly little cut on the animal's neck was the result.
"Oh, confound it!" cried the penitent amateur. "Look what I've done, Yed. I'll have to rub in some of that stuff of yours and sew on a bandage. The files will kill the poor thing if we leave the cut bare in this infernal heat."
The old shepherd nodded, and pointed to where the remedies were kept. Jock went for the box, which contained, besides the ointment, some rolls of stout linen and a huge needle and twine. Lewis doctored the wound as best he could, and then proceeded to lay on the cloth and sew it to the fleece. The ewe grew restless with the heat and the pinching of the cut, and Jock was given the task of holding her head.
Clearly Lewis was not meant by Providence for a tailor. He made lamentable work with the needle. It slipped and pricked his fingers, while his unfeeling friends jeered and Tam turned great eyes of sympathy upwards from his Sunday garments."Patience, patience, man!" said the old herd. "Ca' cannier and be a wee thing quieter in your langwidge. There's a wheen leddies comin' up the burn."
It was too late. Before Lewis understood the purport of the speech Lady Manorwater and her party were at the folds, and as he made one final effort with the refractory needle a voice in his ear said:"Please let me do that, Mr. Haystoun. I've often done it before."
He looked up and met Alice Wishart's laughing eyes. She stood beside him and deftly finished the bandage till the ewe was turned off the stool. Then, very warm and red, he turned to find a cool figure laughing at his condition.
"I'll have to go and wash my hands, Miss Wishart," he said gravely. "You had better come too." And the pair ran down to a deep brown pool in the burn and cleansed from their fingers the subtle aroma of fleeces."Ugh! my clothes smell like a drover's. That's the worst of being a dabbler in most trades. You can never resist the temptation to try your hand." "But, really, your whole manner was most professional, Mr. Haystoun. Your language--"
"Please, don't," said the penitent; and they returned to the others to find that once cheerful assembly under a cloud. Every several man there was nervously afraid of women and worked feverishly as if under some great Taskmistress's eye. The result was a superfluity of shear-marks and deep, muffled profanity. Lady Manorwater ran here and there asking questions and confusing the workers; while Mr. Stocks, in pursuance of his democratic sentiments, talked in a stilted fashion to the nearest clipper, who called him "Sir" and seemed vastly ill at ease.
Lewis restored some cordiality. Under her nephew's influence Lady Manorwater became natural and pleasing. Jock was ferreted out of some corner and, together with the reluctant Tam, brought up for presentation.
"Tam," said his patron, "I'll give you your choice. Whether will you go to the Sabbathschool treat, or come with us to a real picnic? Jock is coming, and I promise you better fun and better things to eat."
It was no case for hesitation. Tam executed a doglike gambol on the turf, and proceeded to course up the burn ahead of the party, a vision of twinkling bare legs and ill-fitting Sunday clothes. The sedate Jock rolled down his sleeves, rescued a ragged jacket, and stalked in the rear.III
Once on the heathy plateau the party scattered. Mr. Stocks caught the unwilling Arthur and treated him to a disquisition on the characteristics of the people whose votes he was soon to solicit. As his acquaintance with the subject was not phenomenal, the profit to the aggrieved listener was small. George, Lady Manorwater, and the two Miss Afflints sought diligently for a camping-ground, which they finally found by a clear spring of water on the skirts of a great grey rock. Meanwhile, Alice Wishart and Lewis, having an inordinate love of high places, set out for the ridge summit, and reached it to find a wind blowing from the far Gled valley and cooling the hot air.
Alice found a scrap of rock and climbed to the summit, where she sat like a small pixie, surveying a wide landscape and her warm and prostrate companion. Her bright hair and eyes and her entrancing grace of form made the callous Lewis steal many glances upwards from his lowly seat. The two had become excellent friends, for the man had that honest simplicity towards women which is the worst basis for love and the best for friendship. She felt that at any moment he might call her by some one or other of the endearing expressions used between men. He, for his part, was fast drifting from friendship to another feeling, but as yet he gave no sign of it, and kept up the brusque, kindly manners of his common life.
As she looked east and north to the heart of the hill-land, her eyes brightened, and she rose up and strained on tiptoe to scan the farthest horizon. Eagerly she asked the name of this giant and that, of this glint of water--was it loch or burn? Lewis answered without hesitation, as one to whom the country was as well known as his own name.
By and by her curiosity was satisfied and she slipped back into her old posture, and with chin on hand gazed into the remote distances. "And most of that is yours? Do you know, if I had a land like this I should never leave it again. You, in your ingratitude, will go wandering away in a year or two, as if any place on earth could be better than this. You are simply 'sinning away your mercies,' as my grandfather used to say.""But what would become of the heroic virtues that you adore?" asked the cynical Lewis. "If men were all home-keepers it would be a prosaic world."
"Can you talk of the prosaic and Etterick in the same breath? Besides, it is the old fallacy of man that the domestic excludes the heroic," said Alice, fighting for the privileges of her sex.
"But then, you know, there comes a thing they call the go-fever, which is not amenable to reason. People who have it badly do not care a straw for a place in itself; all they want is to be eternally moving from one spot to another.""And you?" "Oh, I am not a sufferer yet, but I walk in fear, for at any moment it may beset me." And, laughing, he climbed up beside her.
It may be true that the last subject of which a man tires is himself, but Lewis Haystoun in this matter must have been distinct from the common run of men. Alice had given him excellent opportunities for egotism, but the blind young man had not taken them. The girl, having been brought up to a very simple and natural conception of talk, thought no more about it, except that she would have liked so great a traveller to speak more generously. No doubt, after all, this reticence was preferable to self-revelation. Mr. Stocks had been her companion that morning in the drive to Etterick, and he had entertained her with a sketch of his future. He had declined, somewhat nervously, to talk of his early life, though the girl, with her innate love of a fighter, would have listened with pleasure. But he had sketched his political creed, hinted at the puissance of his friends, claimed a monopoly of the purer sentiments of life, and rosily augured the future. The girl had been silent--the man had thought her deeply impressed; but now the morning's talk seemed to point a contrast, and Mr. Lewis Haystoun climbed to a higher niche in the temple of her esteem.
Afar off the others were signaling that lunch was ready, but the two on the rock were blind.
"And I am glad you agree with me, Miss Wishart. 'Here is the shore, and the far wide world's before me,' as the song says. There is little doing in these uplands, but there's a vast deal astir up and down the earth, and it would be a pity not to have a hand in it."
Then he stopped suddenly, for at that moment the light and colour went out of his picture of the wanderer's life, and he saw instead a homelier scene-a dainty figure moving about the house, sitting at his table's head, growing old with him in the fellowship of years. For a moment he felt the charm of the red hearth and the quiet life. Some such sketch must the Goddess of Home have drawn for Ulysses or the wandering Olaf, and if Swanhild or the true Penelope were as pretty as this lady of the rock there was credit in the renunciation. The man forgot the wide world and thought only of the pin-point of Glenavelin.
Some such fancy too may have crossed the girl's mind. At any rate she cast one glance at the abstracted Lewis and welcomed a courier from the rest of the party. This was no other than the dandified Tam, who had been sent post-haste by George-that true friend having suffered the agonies of starvation and a terrible suspicion as to what rash step his host might be taking. Plainly the young man had not yet made Miss Wishart's acquaintance.IV
The sun set in the thick of the dark hills, and a tired and merry party scrambled down the burnside to the highway. They had long outstayed their intention, but care sat lightly there, and Lady Manorwater alone was vexed by thoughts of a dinner untouched and a respectable household in confusion. The sweet-scented dusk was soothing to the senses, and there in the narrow glen, with the wide blue strath and the gleam of the river below, it was hard to find the link of reality and easy to credit fairyland. Arthur and Miss Wishart had gone on in front and were now strayed among boulders. She liked this trim and precise young man, whose courtesy was so grave and elaborate, while he, being a recluse by nature but a humanitarian by profession, was half nervous and half entranced in her cheerful society. They talked of nothing, their hearts being set on the scramble, and when at last they reached the highway and the farm where the Glenavelin traps had been put up, they found themselves a clear ten minutes in advance of the others.
As they sat on the dyke in the soft cool air Alice spoke casually of the place. "Where is Etterick?" she asked; and a light on a hillside farther up the glen was pointed out to her.
"It's a very fresh and pleasant place to stay at," said Arthur. "We're much higher than you are at Glenavelin, and the house is bigger and older. But we simply camp in a corner of it. You can never get Lewie to live like other people. He is the best of men, but his tastes are primeval. He makes us plunge off a verandah into a loch first thing in the morning, you know, and I shall certainly drown some day, for I am never more than half awake, and I always seem to go straight to the bottom. Then he is crazy about long expeditions, and when the Twelfth comes we shall never be off the hill. He is a long way too active for these slack modern days."
Lewie, Lewie! It was Lewie everywhere! thought the girl. What could become of a man who was so hedged about by admirers? He had seemed to court her presence, and her heart had begun to beat faster of late when she saw his face. She dared not confess to herself that she was in love--that she wanted this Lewis to herself, and bated the pretensions of his friends. Instead she flattered herself with a fiction. Her ground was the high one of an interest in character. She liked the young man and was sorry to see him in a way to be spoiled by too much admiration. And the angel who records our innermost thoughts smiled to himself, if such grave beings can smile.
Meantime Lewis was delivered bound and captive to the enemy. All down the burn his companion had been Mr. Stocks, and they had lagged behind the others. That gentleman had not enjoyed the day; he had been bored by the landscape and scorched by the sun; also, as the time of contest approached, he was full of political talk, and he had found no ears to appreciate it. Now he had seized on Lewis, and the younger man had lent him polite attention though inwardly full of ravening and bitterness."Your friend Mr. Mordaunt has promised to support my candidature. You, of course, will be in the opposite camp." Lewis said he did not think so-that he had lost interest in party politics, and would lie low. Mr. Stocks bowed in acquiescence. "And what do you think of my chances?"
Lewis replied that he should think about equal betting. "You see the place is Radical in the main, with the mills at Gledfoot and the weavers at Gledsmuir. Up in Glenavelin they are more or less Conservative. Merkland gets in usually by a small majority because he is a local man and has a good deal of property down the Gled. If two strangers fought it the Radical would win; as it is it is pretty much of a toss-up either way." "But if Sir Robert resigns?""Oh, that scare has been raised every time by the other party. I should say that there's no doubt that the old man will keep on for years." Mr. Stocks looked relieved. "I heard of his resignation as a certainty, and I was afraid that a stronger man might take his place."
So it fell out that the day which began with pastoral closed, like many another day, with politics. Since Lewis refrained from controversy, Mr. Stocks seemed to look upon him as a Gallio from whom no danger need be feared, nay, even as a convert to be fostered. He became confident and talked jocularly of the tricks of his trade. Lewis's boredom was complete by the time they reached the farmhouse and found the Glenavelin party ready to start."We want to see Etterick, so we shall come to lunch to-morrow, Lewie," said his aunt. "So be prepared, my dear, and be on your best behaviour." Then, with his two friends, he turned towards the lights of his home.
The day before the events just recorded two men had entered the door of a certain London club and made their way to a remote little smoking-room on the first floor. It was not a handsome building, nor had it any particular outlook or position. It was a small, old-fashioned place in a side street, in style obviously of last century, and the fittings within were far from magnificent. Yet no club carried more distinction in its membership. Its hundred possible inmates were the cream of the higher professions, the chef and the cellar were things to wonder at, and the man who could write himself a member of the Rota Club had obtained one of the rare social honours which men confer on one another. Thither came all manner of people--the distinguished foreigner travelling incognito, and eager to talk with some Minister unofficially on matters of import, the diplomat on a secret errand, the traveller home for a brief season, the soldier, the thinker, the lawyer. It was a catholic assembly, but exclusive--very. Each man bore the stamp of competence on his face, and there was no cheap talk of the "well-informed" variety. When the members spoke seriously they spoke like experts; otherwise they were apt to joke very much like schoolboys let loose. The Right Hon. Mr. M---- was not above twitting Lord S---- with gunroom stories, and suffering in turn good-natured libel.
Of the two men lighting their pipes in the little room one was to the first glance a remarkable figure. About the middle height, with a square head and magnificent shoulders, he looked from the back not unlike some professional strong man. But his face betrayed him, for it was clearly the face of the intellectual worker, the man of character and mind. His jaw was massive and broad, saved from hardness only by a quaintly humorous mouth; he had, too, a pair of very sharp blue eyes looking from under shaggy eyebrows. His age was scarcely beyond thirty, but one would have put it ten years later, for there were lines on his brow and threads of grey in his hair. His companion was slim and, to a hasty glance, insignificant. He wore a peaked grey beard which lengthened his long, thin face, and he had a nervous trick of drumming always with his fingers on whatever piece of furniture was near. But if you looked closer and marked the high brow, the keen eyes, and the very resolute mouth, the thought of insignificance disappeared. He looked not unlike a fighting Yankee colonel who had had a Puritan upbringing, and the impression was aided by his simplicity in dress. He was, in fact, a very great man, the Foreign Secretary of the time, formerly known to fame as Lord Malham, and at the moment, by his father's death, Lord Beauregard, and, for his sins, an exile to the Upper House. His companion, whose name was Wratislaw, was a younger Member of Parliament who was credited with peculiar knowledge and insight on the matters which formed his lordship's province. They were close friends and allies of some years' standing, and colloquies between the two in this very place were not unknown to the club annals.
Lord Beauregard looked at his companion's anxious face. "Do you know the news?" he said.
"Good Heavens!" said the great man. "Let me see the thing," and he snatched a newspaper cutting from Wratislaw's hand, returning it the next moment with a laugh. It ran thus: "Telegrams from the Punjab declare that an expedition, the personnel of which is not yet revealed, is about to start for the town of Bardur in N. Kashmir, to penetrate the wastes beyond the frontier. It is rumoured that the expedition has a semi-official character.""That's our friend," said Wratislaw, putting the paper into his pocket.
Lord Beauregard wrinkled his brow and stared at the bowl of his pipe. "I see the motive clearly, but I am hanged if I understand why an evening paper should print it. Who in this country knows of the existence of Bardur?""Many people since Haystoun's book," said the other. "I have just glanced at it. Is there anything important in it?" "Nothing that we did not know before. But things are put in a fresh light. He covered ground himself of which we had only a second-hand account." "And he talks of this Bardur?"
"A good deal. He is an expert in his way on the matter and uncommonly clever. He kept the best things out of the book, and it would be worth your while meeting him. Do you happen to know him?""No--o," said the great man doubtfully. "Oh, stop a moment. I have heard my young brother talk of somebody of the same name. Rather a figure at Oxford, wasn't he?" Wratislaw nodded. "But to talk of Marka," he add. "His mission is, of course, official, and he has abundant resources."
"So much I gathered," said Wratislaw. "But his designs?
"He knows the tribes in the North better than any living man, but without a base at hand he is comparatively harmless. The devil in the thing is that we do not know how close that base may be. Fifty thousand men may be massed within fifty miles, and we are in ignorance."
"It is the lack of a secret service," said the other. "Had we that, there are a hundred young men who would have risked their necks there and kept us abreast of our enemies. As it is, we have to wait till news comes by some roundabout channel, while that cheerful being, Marka, keeps the public easy by news of hypothetical private expeditious."
"And meantime there is that thousand-mile piece of desert of which we know nothing, and where our friends may be playing pranks as they please. Well, well, we must wait on developments. It is the last refuge of the ill-informed. What about the dissolution? You are safe, I suppose?"Wratislaw nodded.
"I have been asked my forecast fifty times to-day, and I steadily refuse to speak. But I may as well give it to you. We shall come back with a majority of from fifty to eighty, and you, my dear fellow, will not be forgotten.""You mean the Under-Secretaryship," said the other. "Well, I don't mind it."
"I should think not. Why, you will get that chance your friends have hoped so long for, and then it is only a matter of time till you climb the last steps. You are a youngish man for a Minister, for all your elderly manners."
Wratislaw smiled the pleased smile of the man who hears kind words from one whom he admires. "It won't be a bed of roses, you know. I am very unpopular, and I have the grace to know it."
The elder man looked on the younger with an air of kindly wisdom. "Your pride may have a fall, my dear fellow. You are young and confident, I am old and humble. Some day you will be glad to hope that you are not without this despised popularity."
Wratislaw looked grave. "God forbid that I should despise it. When it comes my way I shall think that my work is done, and rest in peace. But you and I are not the sort of people who can court it with comfort. We are old sticks and very full of angles, but it would be a pity to rub them off if the shape were to be spoiled."Lord Beauregard nodded. "Tell me more about your friend Haystoun." Wratislaw's face relaxed, and he became communicative. "He is a Scots laird, rather well off, and, as I have said, uncommonly clever. He lives at a place called Etterick in the Gled valley." "I saw Merkland to-day, and he spoke his farewell to politics. The Whips told me about it yesterday." "Merkland! But he always raised that scare!" "He is serious this time. He has sold his town house." "Then that settles it. Lewis shall stand in his place." "Good," said the great man. "We want experts. He would strengthen your feeble hands and confirm your tottering knees, Tommy."
"If he gets in; but he will have a fight for it. Our dear friend Albert Stocks has been nursing the seat, and the Manorwaters and scores of Lewie's friends will help him. That young man has a knack of confining his affections to members of the opposite party.""What was Merkland's majority? Two-fifty or something like that?"
"There or about. But he was an old and well-liked country laird, whereas Lewie is a very young gentleman with nothing to his credit except an Oxford reputation and a book of travels, neither of which will appeal to the Gledsmuir weavers.""But he is popular?" "Where he is known--adored. But his name does not carry confidence to those who do not know the man, for his family were weak-kneed gentry."
"Yes, I knew his father. Able, but crotchety and impossible! Tommy, this young man must get the seat, for we cannot afford to throw away a single chance. You say he knows the place," and he jerked his head to indicate that East to which his thoughts were ever turning. "Some time in the next two years there will be the devil's own mess in that happy land. Then your troubles will begin, my friend, and I can wish nothing better for you than the support of some man in the Commons who knows that Bardur is not quite so pastoral as Hampshire. He may relieve you of some of the popular odium you are courting, and at the worst he can be sent out."
Wratislaw whistled long and low. "I think not," he said. "He is too good to throw away. But he must get in, and as there is nothing in the world for me to do I shall go up to Ettorick tomorrow and talk to him. He will do as I tell him, and we can put our back into the fight. Besides, I want to see Stocks again. That man is the joy of my heart!" "Lucky beggar!" said the Minister. "Oh, go by all means and enjoy yourself, while I swelter here for another three weeks over meaningless telegrams enlivened by the idiot diplomatist. Good-bye and good luck, and bring the young man to a sense of his own value."