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   Chapter 2 No.2

The Explorer By W. Somerset Maugham Characters: 38693

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


While Lucy wandered by the seashore, occupied with painful memories, her old friend Dick, too lazy to walk with her, sat in the drawing-room of Court Leys, talking to his hostess.

Mrs. Crowley was an American woman, who had married an Englishman, and on being left a widow, had continued to live in England. She was a person who thoroughly enjoyed life; and indeed there was every reason that she should do so, since she was young, pretty, and rich; she had a quick mind and an alert tongue. She was of diminutive size, so small that Dick Lomas, by no means a tall man, felt quite large by the side of her. Her figure was exquisite, and she had the smallest hands in the world. Her features were so good, regular and well-formed, her complexion so perfect, her agile grace so enchanting, that she did not seem a real person at all. She was too delicate for the hurly-burly of life, and it seemed improbable that she could be made of the ordinary clay from which human beings are manufactured. She had the artificial grace of those dainty, exquisite ladies in the Embarquement pour Cithère of the charming Watteau; and you felt that she was fit to saunter on that sunny strand, habited in satin of delicate colours, with a witty, decadent cavalier by her side. It was preposterous to talk to her of serious things, and nothing but an airy badinage seemed possible in her company.

Mrs. Crowley had asked Lucy and Dick Lomas to stay with her in the house she had just taken for a term of years. She had spent a week by herself to arrange things to her liking, and insisted that Dick should admire all she had done. After a walk round the park he vowed that he was exhausted and must rest till tea-time.

'Now tell me what made you take it. It's so far from anywhere.'

'I met the owner in Rome last winter. It belongs to a Mrs. Craddock, and when I told her I was looking out for a house, she suggested that I should come and see this.'

'Why doesn't she live in it herself?'

'Oh, I don't know. It appears that she was passionately devoted to her husband, and he broke his neck in the hunting-field, so she couldn't bear to live here any more.'

Mrs. Crowley looked round the drawing-room with satisfaction. At first it had borne the cheerless look of a house uninhabited, but she had quickly made it pleasant with flowers, photographs, and silver ornaments. The Sheraton furniture and the chintzes suited the style of her beauty. She felt that she looked in place in that comfortable room, and was conscious that her frock fitted her and the circumstances perfectly. Dick's eye wandered to the books that were scattered here and there.

'And have you put out these portentous works in order to improve your mind, or with the laudable desire of impressing me with the serious turn of your intellect?'

'You don't think I'm such a perfect fool as to try and impress an entirely flippant person like yourself?'

On the table at his elbow were a copy of the Revue des Deux Mondes and one of the Fortnightly Review. He took up two books, and saw that one was the Fr?hliche Wissenschaft of Nietzsche, who was then beginning to be read in England by the fashionable world and was on the eve of being discovered by men of letters, while the other was a volume of Mrs. Crowley's compatriot, William James.

'American women amaze me,' said Dick, as he put them down. 'They buy their linen at Doucet's and read Herbert Spencer with avidity. And what's more, they seem to like him. An Englishwoman can seldom read a serious book without feeling a prig, and as soon as she feels a prig she leaves off her corsets.'

'I feel vaguely that you're paying me a compliment,' returned Mrs. Crowley, 'but it's so elusive that I can't quite catch it.'

'The best compliments are those that flutter about your head like butterflies around a flower.'

'I much prefer to fix them down on a board with a pin through their insides and a narrow strip of paper to hold down each wing.'

It was October, but the autumn, late that year, had scarcely coloured the leaves, and the day was warm. Mrs. Crowley, however, was a chilly being, and a fire burned in the grate. She put another log on it and watched the merry crackle of the flames.

'It was very good of you to ask Lucy down here,' said Dick, suddenly.

'I don't know why. I like her so much. And I felt sure she would fit the place. She looks a little like a Gainsborough portrait, doesn't she? And I like to see her in this Georgian house.'

'She's not had much of a time since they sold the family place. It was a great grief to her.'

'I feel such a pig to have here the things I bought at the sale.'

When the contents of Hamlyn's Purlieu were sent to Christy's, Mrs. Crowley, recently widowed and without a home, had bought one or two pictures and some old chairs. She had brought these down to Court Leys, and was much tormented at the thought of causing Lucy a new grief.

'Perhaps she didn't recognise them,' said Dick.

'Don't be so idiotic. Of course she recognised them. I saw her eyes fall on the Reynolds the very moment she came into the room.'

'I'm sure she would rather you had them than any stranger.'

'She's said nothing about them. You know, I'm very fond of her, and I admire her extremely, but she would be easier to get on with if she were less reserved. I never shall get into this English way of bottling up my feelings and sitting on them.'

'It sounds a less comfortable way of reposing oneself than sitting in an armchair.'

'I would offer to give Lucy back all the things I bought, only I'm sure she'd snub me.'

'She doesn't mean to be unkind, but she's had a very hard life, and it's had its effect on her character. I don't think anyone knows what she's gone through during these ten years. She's borne the responsibilities of her whole family since she was fifteen, and if the crash didn't come sooner, it was owing to her. She's never been a girl, poor thing; she was a child, and then suddenly she was a woman.'

'But has she never had any lovers?'

'I fancy that she's rather a difficult person to make love to. It would be a bold young man who whispered sweet nothings into her ear; they'd sound so very foolish.'

'At all events there's Bobbie Boulger. I'm sure he's asked her to marry him scores of times.'

Sir Robert Boulger had succeeded his father, the manufacturer, as second baronet; and had promptly placed his wealth and his personal advantages at Lucy's feet. His devotion to her was well known to his friends. They had all listened to the protestations of undying passion, which Lucy, with gentle humour, put smilingly aside. Lady Kelsey, his aunt and Lucy's, had done all she could to bring the pair together; and it was evident that from every point of view a marriage between them was desirable. He was not unattractive in appearance, his fortune was considerable, and his manners were good. He was a good-natured, pleasant fellow, with no great strength of character perhaps, but Lucy had enough of that for two; and with her to steady him, he had enough brains to make some figure in the world.

'I've never seen Mr. Allerton,' remarked Mrs. Crowley, presently. 'He must be a horrid man.'

'On the contrary, he's the most charming creature I ever met, and I don't believe there's a man in London who can borrow a hundred pounds of you with a greater air of doing you a service. If you met him you'd fall in love with him before you'd got well into your favourite conversation on bimetallism.'

'I've never discussed bimetallism in my life,' protested Mrs. Crowley.

'All women do.'

'What?'

'Fall in love with him. He knows exactly what to talk to them about, and he has the most persuasive voice you ever heard. I believe Lady Kelsey has been in love with him for five and twenty years. It's lucky they've not yet passed the deceased wife's sister's bill, or he would have married her and run through her money as he did his first wife's. He's still very good-looking, and there's such a transparent honesty about him that I promise you he's irresistible.'

'And what has happened to him since the catastrophe?'

'Well, the position of an undischarged bankrupt is never particularly easy, though I've known men who've cavorted about in motors and given dinners at the Carlton when they were in that state, and seemed perfectly at peace with the world in general. But with Fred Allerton the proceedings before the Official Receiver seem to have broken down the last remnants of his self-respect. He was glad to get rid of his children, and Lady Kelsey was only too happy to provide for them. Heaven only knows how he's lived during the last two years. He's still occupied with a variety of crack-brained schemes, and he's been to me more than once for money to finance them with.'

'I hope you weren't such a fool as to give it.'

'I wasn't. I flatter myself that I combined frankness with good-nature in the right proportion, and in the end he was always satisfied with the nimble fiver. But I'm afraid things are going harder with him. He has lost his old alert gaiety, and he's a little down at heel in character as well as in person. There's a furtive look about him, as though he were ready for undertakings that were not quite above board, and there's a shiftiness in his eye which makes his company a little disagreeable.'

'You don't think he'd do anything dishonest?' asked Mrs. Crowley quickly.

'Oh, no. I don't believe he has the nerve to sail closer to the wind than the law allows, and really, at bottom, notwithstanding all I know of him, I think he's an honest man. It's only behind his back that I have any doubts about him; when he's there face to face with me I succumb to his charm. I can believe nothing to his discredit.'

At that moment they saw Lucy walking towards them. Dick Lomas got up and stood at the window. Mrs. Crowley, motionless, watched her from her chair. They were both silent. A smile of sympathy played on Mrs. Crowley's lips, and her heart went out to the girl who had undergone so much. A vague memory came back to her, and for a moment she was puzzled; but then she hit upon the idea that had hovered about her mind, and she remembered distinctly the admirable picture by John Furse at Millbank, which is called Diana of the Uplands. It had pleased her always, not only because of its beauty and the fine power of the painter, but because it seemed to her as it were a synthesis of the English spirit. Her nationality gave her an interest in the observation of this, and her wide, systematic reading the power to compare and analyse. This portrait of a young woman holding two hounds in leash, the wind of the northern moor on which she stands, blowing her skirts and outlining her lithe figure, seemed to Mrs. Crowley admirably to follow in the tradition of the eighteenth century. And as Reynolds and Gainsborough, with their elegant ladies in powdered hair and high-waisted gowns, standing in leafy, woodland scenes, had given a picture of England in the age of Reason, well-bred and beautiful, artificial and a little airless, so had Furse in this represented the England of to-day. It was an England that valued cleanliness above all things, of the body and of the spirit, an England that loved the open air and feared not the wildness of nature nor the violence of the elements. And Mrs. Crowley had lived long enough in the land of her fathers to know that this was a true England, simple and honest; narrow perhaps, and prejudiced, but strong, brave, and of great ideals. The girl who stood on that upland, looking so candidly out of her blue eyes, was a true descendant of the ladies that Sir Joshua painted, but she had a bath every morning, loved her dogs, and wore a short, serviceable skirt. With an inward smile, Mrs. Crowley acknowledged that she was probably bored by Emerson and ignorant of English literature; but for the moment she was willing to pardon these failings in her admiration for the character and all it typified.

Lucy came in, and Mrs. Crowley gave her a nod of welcome. She was fond of her fantasies and would not easily interrupt them. She noted that Lucy had just that frank look of Diana of the Uplands, and the delicate, sensitive face, refined with the good-breeding of centuries, but strengthened by an athletic life. Her skin was very clear. It had gained a peculiar freshness by exposure to all manner of weather. Her bright, fair hair was a little disarranged after her walk, and she went to the glass to set it right. Mrs. Crowley observed with delight the straightness of her nose and the delicate curve of her lips. She was tall and strong, but her figure was very slight; and there was a charming litheness about her which suggested the good horse-woman.

But what struck Mrs. Crowley most was that only the keenest observer could have told that she had endured more than other women of her age. A stranger would have delighted in her frank smile and the kindly sympathy of her eyes; and it was only if you knew the troubles she had suffered that you saw how much more womanly she was than girlish. There was a self-possession about her which came from the responsibilities she had borne so long, and an unusual reserve, unconsciously masked by a great charm of manner, which only intimate friends discerned, but which even to them was impenetrable. Mrs. Crowley, with her American impulsiveness, had tried in all kindliness to get through the barrier, but she had never succeeded. All Lucy's struggles, her heart-burnings and griefs, her sudden despairs and eager hopes, her tempestuous angers, took place in the bottom of her heart. She would have been as dismayed at the thought of others seeing them as she would have been at the thought of being discovered unclothed. Shyness and pride combined to make her hide her innermost feelings so that no one should venture to offer sympathy or commiseration.

'Do ring the bell for tea,' said Mrs. Crowley to Lucy, as she turned away from the glass. 'I can't get Mr. Lomas to amuse me till he's had some stimulating refreshment.'

'I hope you like the tea I sent you,' said Dick.

'Very much. Though I'm inclined to look upon it as a slight that you should send me down only just enough to last over your visit.'

'I always herald my arrival in a country house by a little present of tea,' said Dick. 'The fact is it's the only good tea in the world. I sent my father to China for seven years to find it, and I'm sure you will agree that my father has not lived an ill-spent life.'

The tea was brought and duly drunk. Mrs. Crowley asked Lucy how her brother was. He had been at Oxford for the last two years.

'I had a letter from him yesterday,' the girl answered. 'I think he's getting on very well. I hope he'll take his degree next year.'

A happy brightness came into her eyes as she talked of him. She apologised, blushing, for her eagerness.

'You know, I've looked after George ever since he was ten, and I feel like a mother to him. It's only with the greatest difficulty I can prevent myself from telling you how he got through the measles, and how well he bore vaccination.'

Lucy was very proud of her brother. She found a constant satisfaction in his good looks, and she loved the openness of his smile. She had striven with all her might to keep away from him the troubles that oppressed her, and had determined that nothing, if she could help it, should disturb his radiant satisfaction with the world. She knew that he was apt to lean on her, but though she chid herself sometimes for fostering the tendency, she could not really prevent the intense pleasure it gave her. He was young yet, and would soon enough grow into manly ways; it could not matter if now he depended upon her for everything. She rejoiced in the ardent affection which he gave her; and the implicit trust he placed in her, the complete reliance on her judgment, filled her with a proud humility. It made her feel stronger and better capable of affronting the difficulties of life. And Lucy, living much in the future, was pleased to see how beloved George was of all his friends. Everyone seemed willing to help him, and this seemed of good omen for the career which she had mapped out for him.

The recollection of him came to Lucy now as she had last seen him. They had been spending part of the summer with Lady Kelsey at her house on the Thames. George was going to Scotland to stay with friends, and Lucy, bound elsewhere, was leaving earlier in the afternoon. He came to see her off. She was touched, in her own sorrow at leaving him, by his obvious emotion. The tears were in his eyes as he kissed her on the platform. She saw him waving to her as the train sped towards London, slender and handsome, looking more boyish than ever in his whites; and she felt a thrill of gratitude because, with all her sorrows and regrets, she at least had him.

'I hope he's a good shot,' she said inconsequently, as Mrs. Crowley handed her a cap of tea. 'Of course it's in the family.'

'Marvellous family!' said Dick, ironically. 'You would be wiser to wish he had a good head for figures.'

'But I hope he has that, too,' she answered.

It had been arranged that George should go into the business in which Lady Kelsey still had a large interest. Lucy wanted him to make great sums of money, so that he might pay his father's debts, and perhaps buy back the house which her family had owned so long.

'I want him to be a clever man of business-since business is the only thing open to him now-and an excellent sportsman.'

She was too shy to describe her ambition, but her fancy had already cast a glow over the calling which George was to adopt. There was in the family an innate tendency toward the more exquisite things of life, and this would colour his career. She hoped he would become a merchant prince after the pattern of those Florentines who have left an ideal for succeeding ages of the way in which commerce may be ennobled by a liberal view of life. Like them he could drive hard bargains and amass riches-she recognised that riches now were the surest means of power-but like them also he could love music and art and literature, cherishing the things of the soul with a careful taste, and at the same time excel in all sports of the field. Life then would be as full as a man's heart could wish; and this intermingling of interests might so colour it that he would lead the whole with a certain beauty and grandeur.

'I wish I were a man,' she cried, with a bright smile. 'It's so hard that I can do nothing but sit at home and spur others on. I want to do things myself.'

Mrs. Crowley leaned back in her chair. She gave her skirt a little twist so that the line of her form should be more graceful.

'I'm so glad I'm a woman,' she murmured. 'I want none of the privileges of the sex which I'm delighted to call stronger. I want men to be noble and heroic and self-sacrificing; then they can protect me from a troublesome world, and look after me, and wait upon me. I'm an irresponsible creature with whom they can never be annoyed however exacting I am-it's only pretty thoughtlessness on my part-and they must never lose their tempers however I annoy-it's only nerves. Oh, no, I like to be a

poor, weak woman.'

'You're a monster of cynicism,' cried Dick. 'You use an imaginary helplessness with the brutality of a buccaneer, and your ingenuousness is a pistol you put to one's head, crying: your money or your life.'

'You look very comfortable, dear Mr. Lomas,' she retorted. 'Would you mind very much if I asked you to put my footstool right for me?'

'I should mind immensely,' he smiled, without moving.

'Oh, please do,' she said, with a piteous little expression of appeal. 'I'm so uncomfortable, and my foot's going to sleep. And you needn't be horrid to me.'

'I didn't know you really meant it,' he said, getting up obediently and doing what was required of him.

'I didn't,' she answered, as soon as he had finished. 'But I know you're a lazy creature, and I merely wanted to see if I could make you move when I'd warned you immediately before that-I was a womanly woman.'

'I wonder if you'd make Alec MacKenzie do that?' laughed Dick, good-naturedly.

'Good heavens, I'd never try. Haven't you discovered that women know by instinct what men they can make fools of, and they only try their arts on them? They've gained their reputation for omnipotence only on account of their robust common-sense, which leads them only to attack fortresses which are already half demolished.'

'That suggests to my mind that every woman is a Potiphar's wife, though every man isn't a Joseph,' said Dick.

'Your remark is too blunt to be witty,' returned Mrs. Crowley, 'but it's not without its grain of truth.'

Lucy, smiling, listened to the nonsense they talked. In their company she lost all sense of reality; Mrs. Crowley was so fragile, and Dick had such a whimsical gaiety, that she could not treat them as real persons. She felt herself a grown-up being assisting at some childish game in which preposterous ideas were bandied to and fro like answers in the game of consequences.

'I never saw people wander from the subject as you do,' she protested. 'I can't imagine what connection there is between whether Mr. MacKenzie would arrange Julia's footstool, and the profligacy of the female sex.'

'Don't be hard on us,' said Mrs. Crowley. 'I must work off my flippancy before he arrives, and then I shall be ready to talk imperially.'

'When does Alec come?' asked Dick.

'Now, this very minute. I've sent a carriage to meet him at the station. You won't let him depress me, will you?'

'Why did you ask him if he affects you in that way?' asked Lucy, laughing.

'But I like him-at least I think I do-and in any case, I admire him, and I'm sure he's good for me. And Mr. Lomas wanted me to ask him, and he plays bridge extraordinarily well. And I thought he would be interesting. The only thing I have against him is that he never laughs when I say a clever thing, and looks so uncomfortably at me when I say a foolish one.'

'I'm glad I laugh when you say a clever thing,' said Dick.

'You don't. But you roar so heartily at your own jokes that if I hurry up and slip one in before you've done, I can often persuade myself that you're laughing at mine.'

'And do you like Alec MacKenzie, Lucy?' asked Dick.

She paused for a moment before she answered, and hesitated.

'I don't know,' she said. 'Sometimes I think I rather dislike him. But I'm like Julia, I certainly admire him.'

'I suppose he is rather alarming,' said Dick. 'He's difficult to know, and he's obviously impatient with other people's affectations. There's a certain grimness about him which disturbs you unless you know him intimately.'

'He's your greatest friend, isn't he?'

'He is.'

Dick paused for a little while.

'I've known him for twenty years now, and I look upon him as the greatest man I've ever set eyes on. I think it's an inestimable privilege to have been his friend.'

'I've not noticed that you treated him with especial awe,' said Mrs. Crowley.

'Heaven save us!' cried Dick. 'I can only hold my own by laughing at him persistently.'

'He bears it with unexampled good-nature.'

'Have I ever told you how I made his acquaintance? It was in about fifty fathoms of water, and at least a thousand miles from land.'

'What an inconvenient place for an introduction!'

'We were both very wet. I was a young fool in those days, and I was playing the giddy goat-I was just going up to Oxford, and my wise father had sent me to America on a visit to enlarge my mind-I fell over-board, and was proceeding to drown, when Alec jumped in after me and held me up by the hair of my head.'

'He'd have some difficulty in doing that now, wouldn't he?' suggested Mrs. Crowley, with a glance at Dick's thinning locks.

'And the odd thing is that he was absurdly grateful to me for letting myself be saved. He seemed to think I had done him an intentional service, and fallen into the Atlantic for the sole purpose of letting him pull me out.'

Dick had scarcely said these words when they heard the carriage drive up to the door of Court Leys.

'There he is,' cried Dick eagerly.

Mrs. Crowley's butler opened the door and announced the man they had been discussing. Alexander MacKenzie came in.

He was just under six feet high, spare and well-made. He did not at the first glance give you the impression of particular strength, but his limbs were well-knit, there was no superfluous flesh about him, and you felt immediately that he had great powers of endurance. His hair was dark and cut very close. His short beard and his moustache were red. They concealed the squareness of his chin and the determination of his mouth. His eyes were not large, but they rested on the object that attracted his attention with a peculiar fixity. When he talked to you he did not glance this way or that, but looked straight at you with a deliberate steadiness that was a little disconcerting. He walked with an easy swing, like a man in the habit of covering a vast number of miles each day, and there was in his manner a self-assurance which suggested that he was used to command. His skin was tanned by exposure to tropical suns.

Mrs. Crowley and Dick chattered light-heartedly, but it was clear that he had no power of small-talk, and after the first greetings he fell into silence; he refused tea, but Mrs. Crowley poured out a cup and handed it to him.

'You need not drink it, but I insist on your holding it in your hand. I hate people who habitually deny themselves things, and I can't allow you to mortify the flesh in my house.'

Alec smiled gravely.

'Of course I will drink it if it pleases you,' he answered. 'I got in the habit in Africa of eating only two meals a day, and I can't get out of it now. But I'm afraid it's very inconvenient for my friends.' He looked at Lomas, and though his mouth did not smile, a look came into his eyes, partly of tenderness, partly of amusement. 'Dick, of course, eats far too much.'

'Good heavens, I'm nearly the only person left in London who is completely normal. I eat my three square meals a day regularly, and I always have a comfortable tea into the bargain. I don't suffer from any disease. I'm in the best of health. I have no fads. I neither nibble nuts like a squirrel, nor grapes like a bird-I care nothing for all this jargon about pepsins and proteids and all the rest of it. I'm not a vegetarian, but a carnivorous animal; I drink when I'm thirsty, and I decidedly prefer my beverages to be alcoholic.'

'I was thinking at luncheon to-day,' said Mrs. Crowley, 'that the pleasure you took in roast-beef and ale showed a singularly gross and unemotional nature.'

'I adore good food as I adore all the other pleasant things of life, and because I have that gift I am able to look upon the future with equanimity.'

'Why?' asked Alec.

'Because a love for good food is the only thing that remains with man when he grows old. Love? What is love when you are five and fifty and can no longer hide the disgraceful baldness of your pate. Ambition? What is ambition when you have discovered that honours are to the pushing and glory to the vulgar. Finally we must all reach an age when every passion seems vain, every desire not worth the trouble of achieving it; but then there still remain to the man with a good appetite three pleasures each day, his breakfast, his luncheon, and his dinner.'

Alec's eyes rested on him quietly. He had never got out of the habit of looking upon Dick as a scatter-brained boy who talked nonsense for the fun of it; and his expression wore the amused disdain which one might have seen on a Saint Bernard when a toy-terrier was going through its tricks.

'Please say something,' cried Dick, half-irritably.

'I suppose you say those things in order that I may contradict you. Why should I? They're perfectly untrue, and I don't agree with a single word you say. But if it amuses you to talk nonsense, I don't see why you shouldn't.'

'My dear Alec, I wish you wouldn't use the mailed fist in your conversation. It's so very difficult to play a game with a spillikin on one side and a sledge-hammer on the other.'

Lucy, sitting back in her chair, quietly, was observing the new arrival. Dick had asked her and Mrs. Crowley to meet him at luncheon immediately after his arrival from Mombassa. This was two months ago now, and since then she had seen much of him. But she felt that she knew him little more than on that first day, and still she could not make up her mind whether she liked him or not. She was glad that they were staying together at Court Leys; it would give her an opportunity of really becoming acquainted with him, and there was no doubt that he was worth the trouble. The fire lit up his face, casting grim shadows upon it, so that it looked more than ever masterful and determined. He was unconscious that her eyes rested upon him. He was always unconscious of the attention he aroused.

Lucy hoped that she would induce him to talk of the work he had done, and the work upon which he was engaged. With her mind fixed always on great endeavours, his career interested her enormously; and it gained something mysterious as well because there were gaps in her knowledge of him which no one seemed able to fill. He knew few people in London, but was known in one way or another of many; and all who had come in contact with him were unanimous in their opinion. He was supposed to know Africa as no other man knew it. During fifteen years he had been through every part of it, and had traversed districts which the white man had left untouched. But he had never written of his experiences, partly from indifference to chronicle the results of his undertakings, partly from a natural secrecy which made him hate to recount his deeds to all and sundry. It seemed that reserve was a deep-rooted instinct with him, and he was inclined to keep to himself all that he discovered. But if on this account he was unknown to the great public, his work was appreciated very highly by specialists. He had read papers before the Geographical Society, (though it had been necessary to exercise much pressure to induce him to do so), which had excited profound interest; and occasionally letters appeared from him in Nature, or in one of the ethnographical publications, stating briefly some discovery he had made, or some observation which he thought necessary to record. He had been asked now and again to make reports to the Foreign Office upon matters pertaining to the countries he knew; and Lucy had heard his perspicacity praised in no measured terms by those in power.

She put together such facts as she knew of his career.

Alec MacKenzie was a man of considerable means. He belonged to an old Scotch family, and had a fine place in the Highlands, but his income depended chiefly upon a colliery in Lancashire. His parents died during his childhood, and his wealth was much increased by a long minority. Having inherited from an uncle a ranch in the West, his desire to see this occasioned his first voyage from England in the interval between leaving Eton and going up to Oxford; and it was then he made acquaintance with Richard Lomas, who had remained his most intimate friend. The unlikeness of the two men caused perhaps the strength of the tie between them, the strenuous vehemence of the one finding a relief in the gaiety of the other. Soon after leaving Oxford, MacKenzie made a brief expedition into Algeria to shoot, and the mystery of the great continent seized him. As sometimes a man comes upon a new place which seems extraordinarily familiar, so that he is almost convinced that in a past state he has known it intimately, Alec suddenly found himself at home in the immense distances of Africa. He felt a singular exhilaration when the desert was spread out before his eyes, and capacities which he had not suspected in himself awoke in him. He had never thought himself an ambitious man, but ambition seized him. He had never imagined himself subject to poetic emotion, but all at once a feeling of the poetry of an adventurous life welled up within him. And though he had looked upon romance with the scorn of his Scottish common sense, an irresistible desire of the romantic surged upon him, like the waves of some unknown, mystical sea.

When he returned to England a peculiar restlessness took hold of him. He was indifferent to the magnificence of the bag, which was the pride of his companions. He felt himself cribbed and confined. He could not breathe the air of cities.

He began to read the marvellous records of African exploration, and his blood tingled at the magic of those pages. Mungo Park, a Scot like himself, had started the roll. His aim had been to find the source and trace the seaward course of the Niger. He took his life in his hands, facing boldly the perils of climate, savage pagans, and jealous Mohammedans, and discovered the upper portions of that great river. On a second expedition he undertook to follow it to the sea. Of his party some died of disease, and some were slain by the natives. Not one returned; and the only trace of Mungo Park was a book, known to have been in his possession, found by British explorers in the hut of a native chief.

Then Alec MacKenzie read of the efforts to reach Timbuktu, which was the great object of ambition to the explorers of the nineteenth century. It exercised the same fascination over their minds as did El Dorado, with its golden city of Monoa, to the adventurers in the days of Queen Elizabeth. It was thought to be the capital of a powerful and wealthy state; and those ardent minds promised themselves all kinds of wonders when they should at last come upon it. But it was not the desire for gold that urged them on, rather an irresistible curiosity, and a pride in their own courage. One after another desperate attempts were made, and it was reached at last by another Scot, Alexander Gordon Laing. And his success was a symbol of all earthly endeavours, for the golden city of his dreams was no more than a poverty-stricken village.

One by one Alec studied the careers of these great men; and he saw that the best of them had not gone with half an army at their backs, but almost alone, sometimes with not a single companion, and had depended for their success not upon the strength of their arms, but upon the strength of their character. Major Durham, an old Peninsular officer, was the first European to cross the Sahara. Captain Clapperton, with his servant, Richard Lander, was the first who traversed Africa from the Mediterranean to the Guinea Coast. And he died at his journey's end. And there was something fine in the devotion of Richard Lander, the faithful servant, who went on with his master's work and cleared up at last the great mystery of the Niger. And he, too, had no sooner done his work than he died, near the mouth of the river he had so long travelled on, of wounds inflicted by the natives. There was not one of those early voyagers who escaped with his life. It was the work of desperate men that they undertook, but there was no recklessness in them. They counted the cost and took the risk; the fascination of the unknown was too great for them, and they reckoned death as nothing if they could accomplish that on which they had set out.

Two men above all attracted Alec Mackenzie's interest. One was Richard Burton, that mighty, enigmatic man, more admirable for what he was than for what he did; and the other was Livingstone, the greatest of African explorers. There was something very touching in the character of that gentle Scot. MacKenzie's enthusiasm was seldom very strong, but here was a man whom he would willingly have known; and he was strangely affected by the thought of his lonely death, and his grave in the midst of the Dark Continent he loved so well. On that, too, might have been written the epitaph which is on the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren.

Finally he studied the works of Henry M. Stanley. Here the man excited neither admiration nor affection, but a cold respect. No one could help recognising the greatness of his powers. He was a man of Napoleonic instinct, who suited his means to his end, and ruthlessly fought his way until he had achieved it. His books were full of interest, and they were practical. From them much could be learned, and Alec studied them with a thoroughness which was in his nature.

When he arose from this long perusal, his mind was made up. He had found his vocation.

He did not disclose his plans to any of his friends till they were mature, and meanwhile set about seeing the people who could give him information. At last he sailed for Zanzibar, and started on a journey which was to try his powers. In a month he fell ill, and it was thought at the mission to which his bearers brought him that he could not live. For ten weeks he was at death's door, but he would not give in to the enemy. He insisted in the end on being taken back to the coast, and here, as if by a personal effort of will, he recovered. The season had passed for his expedition, and he was obliged to return to England. Most men would have been utterly discouraged, but Alec was only strengthened in his determination. He personified in a way that deadly climate and would not allow himself to be beaten by it. His short experience had shown him what he needed, and as soon as he was back in England he proceeded to acquire a smattering of medical knowledge, and some acquaintance with the sciences which were wanted by a traveller. He had immense powers of concentration, and in a year of tremendous labour acquired a working knowledge of botany and geology, and the elements of surveying; he learnt how to treat the maladies which were likely to attack people in tropical districts, and enough surgery to set a broken limb or to conduct a simple operation. He felt himself ready now for a considerable undertaking; but this time he meant to start from Mombassa.

So far Lucy was able to go, partly from her own imaginings, and partly from what Dick had told her. He had given her the proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, and here she found Alec MacKenzie's account of his wanderings during the five years that followed. The countries which he explored then, became afterwards British East Africa.

But the bell rang for dinner, and so interrupted her meditations.

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