They turned toward the outlet, and found Stephen having some trouble with a horse that was startled by the roar of steam. Edgar got up in front of the high trap, George helped Ethel to the seat behind, and they set off the next moment, flying down the wet road amid a cheerful hammer of hoofs and a rattle of wheels. For the first few minutes George said little as he looked about. On one side great oaks and ashes raised their naked boughs in sharp tracery against the pale saffron glow in the western sky. Ahead, across a deep valley, which was streaked with trains of mist, wide moors and hills rolled away, gray and darkly blue. Down the long slope to the hollow ran small fields with great trees breaking the lines of hedgerows; and the brawling of a river swollen by recent rain came sharply up to him.
It was all good to look upon, a beautiful, well-cared-for land, and he felt a thrill of pride and satisfaction. This was home, and he had come back to it with his work done. A roseate future stretched away before him, its peaceful duties brightened by love, and the contrast between it and the stress and struggle of the past two years added to its charm. Still, to his astonishment, he thought of the sterner and more strenuous life he had led on the western plains with a faint, half-tender regret.
By and by Edgar’s laugh rang out.
“The change in my brother is remarkable,” Ethel declared. “It was a very happy thought that made us let him go with you.”
“I’m not responsible,” George rejoined. “You have the country to thank. In some way, it’s a hard land; but it’s a good one.”
“Perhaps something is due to Miss Taunton’s influence.”
Edgar leaned over the back of the seat.
“That,” he said, “is a subject of which I’ve a monopoly; and I’ve volumes to say upon it as soon as there’s a chance of doing it justice. George, I hear that Singleton, who told us about the wheat, is home on a visit. Stephen has asked him over; you must meet him.”
George said he would be glad to do so, and turned to Ethel when Edgar resumed his conversation with his brother.
“I wired Herbert to have everything ready at my place, though I shall spend the night at Brantholme.”
“The Lodge is let. Didn’t you know?”
“I understood that the man’s tenancy ran out a few weeks ago.”
“He renewed it. Herbert didn’t know you were coming over; the terms were good.”
“Then I’m homeless for a time.”
“Oh, no!” said Ethel. “Stephen wanted me to insist on your coming with us now, but I know you will want to see Muriel and have a talk with her. However, we’ll expect you to come and take up your quarters with us to-morrow.”
George looked at her in some surprise.
“I’d be delighted, but Herbert will expect me to stay with him, and, of course—”
“Sylvia hadn’t arrived this afternoon; she was at Mrs. Kettering’s,” Ethel told him. “But remember that you must stay with us until you make your arrangements. We should find it hard to forgive you if you went to anybody else.”