“Lord Ronsdale is there?”
“Yes; couldn’t keep him away from Strathorn House now,” he laughed. “As a matter of fact he has asked my permission to—there!” Sir Charles stopped, then laughed again with a little embarrassment. “I’ve nearly let the cat out of the bag.”
John Steele spoke no word; his face was set, immovable; his lashes shaded his eyes. A flood of traffic at a corner held them; he appeared attentive only for it. The wheels pounded and rattled; the whips snapped and cracked.
“You mean he has proposed for her hand and she—” Steele seemed to speak with difficulty—“has consented?”
The noise almost drowned the question but Sir Charles heard.
“Well, not exactly. She appears complaisant, as it were,” he answered. “But really, I shouldn’t have mentioned the matter at all; quite premature, you understand. Let’s say no more about it. And—what was it you said about going back with me?”
“Yes,” said John Steele with a sudden strength and energy that Sir Charles might attribute to the desire to make himself understood above the din of the street. “I’ll go back with you at”—the latter words, lower spoken, the other did not catch—“no matter what cost!”
Sir Charles dodged a vehicle; he did not observe the light, the fire, the sudden play of fierce, dark passion on his companion’s face.
“Good!” he said. “And when you get tired of ’books in the running brooks’—”
Steele’s hand closed on his arm. “When do you leave?” he asked abruptly.
“To-day—to-morrow—Suit your convenience.”
“Let it be to-day, then! To-day!”
Sir Charles looked at him quickly; John Steele’s face recovered its composure.
“I believe I have become weary of what your niece calls the ’dusty byways,’” he explained with a forced laugh.
* * * * *
AWAY FROM THE TOWN
When John Steele, contrary to custom, set aside, in deciding to leave London that day, all logical methods of reasoning and acted on what was nothing more than an irresistible impulse, he did not attempt to belittle to himself the possible consequences that might accrue from his action. He was not following the course intelligence had directed; he was not embarking on a journey his best interests would have prompted; on the contrary, he knew himself mad, foolish. But not for one moment did he regret his decision; stubbornly, obstinately he set his back toward the town; with an enigmatical gleam in his dark eyes he looked away from the blur Sir Charles and he had left behind them.
Green pastures, bright prospects! Whence were they leading him? His gaze was now somber, then bright; though more often shadows passed over his face, like clouds in the sky.