The last day of his stay in London arrived; he rose with a sense of some awful doom hanging over him that he could in nowise shake off. It was a strange day, too—the world of London vaguely shining through a pale fog, the sun a globe of red fire. There was hoar-frost on the window-ledges; at last the winter seemed about to begin.
And then, as ill luck would have it, Miss White had some important business at the theatre to attend to, so that she could not see him till the afternoon; and he had to pass the empty morning somehow.
“You look like a man going to be hanged,” said the major, about noon. “Come, shall we stroll down to the river now? We can have a chat with your friend before lunch, and a look over his boat.”
Colonel Ross, being by chance at Erith, had heard of Macleod’s being in town, and had immediately come up in his little steam-yacht, the Iris, which now lay at anchor close to Westminster Bridge, on the Lambeth side. He had proposed, merely for the oddity of the thing, that Macleod and his friend the major should lunch on board, and young Ogilvie had promised to run up from Aldershot.
“Macleod,” said the gallant soldier, as the two friends walked leisurely down towards the Thames, “if you let this monomania get such a hold of you, do you know how it will end? You will begin to show signs of having a conscience.”
“What do you mean?” said he, absently.
“Your nervous system will break down, and you will begin to have a conscience. That is a sure sign, in either a man or a nation. Man, don’t I see it all around us now in this way of looking at India and the colonies! We had no conscience—we were in robust health as a nation—when we thrashed the French out of Canada, and seized India, and stole land just wherever we could put our fingers on it all over the globe; but now it is quite different; we are only educating these countries up to self-government; it is all in the interest of morality that we protect them; as soon as they wish to go we will give them our blessing—in short, we have got a conscience, because the national health is feeble and nervous. You look out, or you will get into the same condition. You will begin to ask whether it is right to shoot pretty little birds in order to eat them; you will become a vegetarian; and you will take to goloshes.”
“Good gracious!” said Macleod, waking up, “what is all this about?”
“Rob Roy,” observed the major, oracularly, “was a healthy man. I will make you a bet he was not much troubled by chilblains.”
“Stuart,” Macleod cried, “do you want to drive me mad? What on earth are you talking about?”
“Anything,” the major confessed, frankly, “to rouse you out of your monomania, because I don’t want to have my throat cut by a lunatic some night up at Castle Dare.”
“Castle Dare,” repeated Macleod, gloomily. “I think I shall scarcely know the place again; and we have been away about a fortnight!”