“Well, I’ll think about it,” Brooks promised.
A QUESTION AND AN ANSWER
Brooks returned to London to find the annual exodus already commenced. Lady Caroom and Sybil had left for Homburg. Lord Arranmore was yachting in the Channel. Brooks settled down to work, and found it a little wearisome.
He saw nothing of Mary Scott, whose duties now brought her seldom to the head office. He began to think that she was avoiding him, and there came upon him about this time a sense of loneliness to which he was sometimes subject. He fought it with hard work—early and late, till the colour left his cheeks and black lines bordered his eyes. They pressed him to take a holiday, but he steadily declined. Mr. Bullsom wrote begging him to spend a week-end at least at Woton Hall. He refused this and all other invitations.
One day he took up a newspaper which was chiefly concerned with the doings of fashionable people, and Lady Caroom’s name at once caught his eye. He read that her beautiful daughter Lady Sybil was quite the belle of Homburg, that the Duke of Atherstone was in constant attendance, that an interesting announcement might at any moment be made. He threw aside the paper and looked thoughtfully out into the stuffy little street, where even at night the air seemed stifling and unwholesome. After all, was he making the best of his life? He had started a great work. Hundreds and thousands of his fellow creatures would be the better for it. So far all was well enough. But personally—was this entire self-abnegation necessary?—was he fulfilling his duty to himself? was he not rather sacrificing his future to a prejudice—an idea? In any case he knew that it was too late to retract. He had renounced his proper position in life, it was too late for him now to claim it. And there had gone with it—Sybil. After all, why should he arrogate to himself judgment? The sins of his father were not his concern. It was chiefly he who suffered by his present attitude, yet he had chosen it deliberately. He could not draw back. He had cut himself off from her world—he saw now the folly of his ever for a moment having been drawn into it. It must be a chapter closed.
The weeks passed on, and his loneliness grew. One day the opening of still another branch brought him for a moment into contact with Mary Scott. She too was looking pale, but her manner was bright, even animated. She seemed to feel none of the dejection which had stolen away from him the whole flavour of life. Her light easy laugh and cheerful conversation were like a tonic to him. He remembered those days at Medchester After all, she was the first woman whom he had ever looked upon as a comrade, whom he had ever taken out of her sex and considered singly.
She spoke of his ill-looks kindly and with some apprehension.
“I am all right,” he assured her, “but a little dull. Take pity on me and come out to dinner one night this week.”