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   Chapter 4 AFTERNOON IN A GARDEN

The Half-Hearted By John Buchan Characters: 14522

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


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 red-brick 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 well-known 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 shirker 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.

"What made you choose that outlandish place, my dear?" asked his aunt.

"Oh, partly the chance of a shot at big game, partly a restless interest in frontier politics which now and then seizes me. But really it was Wratislaw's choice."

"Do you know Wratislaw?" asked Mr. Stocks abruptly.

"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!

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