“Well, I would like to go, Janet,” he said, but with no gladness in his voice; “and it is not more than a week or two I should like to be away; but I do not think the mother would like it; and it is enough money I have spent this year already—”
“There is no concern about the money, Keith,” said she, simply, “since you have not touched what I gave you. And if you are set upon it, you know auntie will agree to whatever you wish.”
“But how can I explain to her? It is unreasonable to be going away.”
How, indeed, could he explain? He was almost assuming that those gentle eyes now fixed on him could read his heart, and that she would come to aid him in his suffering without any further speech from him. And that was precisely what Janet Macleod did—whether or not she had guessed the cause of his desire to get away.
“If you were a schoolboy, Keith, you would be cleverer at making an excuse for playing truant,” she said, laughing. “And I could make one for you now.”
“I will not call it an excuse, Keith,” she said, “because I think you would be doing a good work; and I will bear the expense of it, if you please.”
He looked more puzzled than ever.
“When we were at Salen yesterday I saw Major Stuart, and he has just came back from Dunrobin. And he was saying very great things about the machine for the drying of crops in wet weather, and he said he would like to go to England to see the newer ones and all the later improvements, if these was a chance of any one about here going shares with them. And it would not be very much. Keith, if you were to share with him; and the machine it can be moved about very well; and in the bad weather you could give the cotters some help, to say nothing about our own hay and corn. And that is what Major Stuart was saying yesterday, that if there was any place that you wanted a drying-machine for the crops it was in Mull.”
“I have been thinking of it myself,” he said, absently, “but our farm is too small to make it pay—”
“But if Major Stuart will take half the expense? And even if you lost a little, Keith, you would save a great deal to the poorer people who are continually losing their little patches of crops. And will you go and be my agent, Keith, to go and see whether it is practicable?”
“They will not thank you, Janet, for letting them have this help for nothing.”
“They shall not have it for nothing,” said she—for she had plenty of experience in dealing with the poorer folk around—“they must pay for the fuel that is used. And now, Keith, if it is a holiday you want, will not that be a very good holiday, and one to be used for a very good purpose, too?”
She left him. Where was the eager joy with which he ought to have accepted this offer? Here was the very means placed within his reach of satisfying the craving desire of his heart; and yet, all the same, he seemed to shrink back with a vague and undefined dread. A thousand impalpable fears and doubts beset his mind. He had grown timid as a woman. The old happy audacity had been destroyed by sleepless nights and a torturing anxiety. It was a new thing for Keith Macleod to have become a prey to strange unintelligible forebodings.