One man in the smoking-room appeared to be thoroughly weary of talking politics. That man was the master of the house.
Randal noticed the worn, preoccupied look in his brother’s face, and determined to break up the meeting. The opportunity for which he was waiting occurred in another minute. He was asked as a moderate politician to decide between two guests, both members of Parliament, who were fast drifting into mere contradiction of each other’s second-hand opinions. In plain terms, they stated the matter in dispute: “Which of our political parties deserves the confidence of the English people?” In plain terms, on his sides Randal answered: “The party that lowers the taxes.” Those words acted on the discussion like water on a fire. As members of Parliament, the two contending politicians were naturally innocent of the slightest interest in the people or the taxes; they received the new idea submitted to them in helpless silence. Friends who were listening began to laugh. The oldest man present looked at his watch. In five minutes more the lights were out and the smoking-room was deserted.
Linley was the last to retire—fevered by the combined influences of smoke and noise. His mind, oppressed all through the evening, was as ill at ease as ever. Lingering, wakeful and irritable, in the corridor (just as Sydney had lingered before him), he too stopped at the open door and admired the peaceful beauty of the garden.
The sleepy servant, appointed to attend in the smoking room, asked if he should close the door. Linley answered: “Go to bed, and leave it to me.” Still lingering at the top of the steps, he too was tempted by the refreshing coolness of the air. He took the key out of the lock; secured the door after he had passed through it; put the key in his pocket, and went down into the garden.
Somebody Attends to the Door.
With slow steps Linley crossed the lawn; his mind gloomily absorbed in thoughts which had never before troubled his easy nature—thoughts heavily laden with a burden of self-reproach.
Arrived at the limits of the lawn, two paths opened before him. One led into a quaintly pretty inclosure, cultivated on the plan of the old gardens at Versailles, and called the French Garden. The other path led to a grassy walk, winding its way capriciously through a thick shrubbery. Careless in what direction he turned his steps, Linley entered the shrubbery, because it happened to be nearest to him.