As he strode forward at a swinging pace, his thoughts swept swiftly again into another channel, one they had been flowing in when he had first entered the park that day. Above him the leaves rustled ceaselessly; their restless movements seemed in keeping with his mood wherein impatience mingled with other and fiercer emotions. Fate had been against him, the inevitable “what must be,” which, in the end, crushes alike Faintheart or Strongheart. Of what avail to square his shoulders? the danger pressed close; he felt it, by that intuition men sometimes have. What if he left, left the field, this England? Who could accuse him of cowardice if in that black moment he yielded to the hateful course and went, like the guilty, pitiable skulkers?
“How do you do, Steele? Just the man I wanted to see!”
Near the main exit, toward which John Steele had unconsciously stepped, the sound of a familiar voice and the appearance of a well-known stocky form broke in, with startling abruptness, on the dark train of thought.
“Deep in some point of law?” went on Sir Charles. “’Pon honor, believe you would have cut me. However, don’t apologize; you’re forgiven!”
“Most amiable of you to say so, Sir Charles!” perfunctorily.
“Not at all! Especially as our meeting is quite apropos. Obliged to run up to town on a little matter of business; but, thank goodness, it’s done. Never saw London more deserted. Dined at the club, nobody there. Supped at the hotel, dining-room empty. Strolled up Piccadilly, not a soul to be seen. That is,” he added, “no one whom one has seen before, which is the same thing. But how did you enjoy your trip to the continent?”
“It was not exactly a trip for pleasure,” returned the other with a slight accent of constraint.
“Ah, yes; so I understood. But fancy going to the continent on business! One usually goes for—which reminds me, how would you like to go back into the country with me?”
“I? It is impossible at the moment for—”
But Sir Charles seemed not to listen. “Deuced dull journey for a man to take alone; good deal of it by coach. You’ll find a few salmon to kill—trout and all that. Think of the joy of whipping a stream, after having been mewed up all these months in the musty metropolis! Besides, I made a wager with Jocelyn you wouldn’t refuse a second opportunity to bask in Arcadia.” He laughed. “’I really couldn’t presume to ask him again,’ is the way she expressed it, ’but if you can draw a sufficiently eloquent picture of the rural attractions of Strathorn to woo him from his beloved dusty byways, you have my permission to try.’”
“Did she say that?” John Steele spoke quickly. Then, “I am sorry, it is impossible, but,” in a low tone, “how is Miss Wray?”
“Never better. Enjoying every moment. Jolly party and all that. Lord Ronsdale and—” Here Sir Charles enumerated a number of people.