For the first time for many months he suffered his thoughts to travel over a wider range than usual. The doctor’s words had been sharp and to the point. He must have instant change—change, if not of scene, at least of occupation. Scarcely to be wondered at, Brooks thought to himself, with a faint smile, when he thought of the last twelve months, full to the brim of strenuous labour, of ceaseless striving within a herculean task. Well, he was in smoother waters now. He might withdraw his hand for a while, if necessary. He had gone his way, and held his own so far against all manner of onslaught. Just then he heard himself called by name, and, looking up, found himself face to face with Sybil Caroom.
“Mr. Brooks! Is it really you, then, at last?”
He set his teeth hard, but he could not keep the unusual colour from his cheeks.
“It is really I, Lady Sybil. How do you do?”
Sybil was charming in a lilac-coloured dress and hat as fresh and dainty as her own complexion. She looked straight into his eyes, and told him that he ought to be ashamed of himself.
“Oh, it’s not the least use your looking as though you were going to edge away every moment,” she declared, laughing. “I am going to keep you for quite a long time, and make you tell me about everything.”
“In which case, Lady Sybil,” her escort remarked, good-humouredly, “you will perhaps find a better use for me at some future time.”
“How sweet of you,” she answered, blandly. “Do you know Mr. Brooks? Mr. Kingston Brooks, Lord Bertram. Mr. Brooks is a very old friend, and I have so many questions I want to ask him.”
Lord Bertram, a slim, aristocratic young man, raised his hat, and glanced with some interest at the other man.
“The Mr. Kingston Brooks of the East End? Lavvy’s friend?” he asked, politely.
“I am afraid,” he said, “that I am the person who is being exposed—isn’t that the word? I warn you, Lady Sybil, that I am a questionable character.”
“I will take the risk,” she answered, gaily.
“I think you may safely do so,” Lord Bertram answered, raising his hat. “Good-morning, Lady Sybil—morning, Mr. Brooks!”
She led him towards the chairs.
“I am going to take the risk of your being in an extravagant frame of mind,” she said, “and make you pay for two chains—up here, on the back now. Now, first of all, do you know that you look shockingly ill?”
“I have just come from-n my doctor,” Brooks answered. “He agrees with you.”
“I am glad that you have had the sense to go to him,” she said. “Tell me, are you just run down, on is there anything more serious the matter?
“Nothing serious at all,” he answered. “I have had a great deal to do, and no holiday during the past year, so I suppose I am a little tired.”
“You look like a ghost,” she said. “You have been overworking yourself ridiculously. Now, will you be so good as to tell me why you have never been to see us?”