The Sahib was from home, at Gilgit, but Madame would receive the strangers. So the two found themselves in a drawing-room aggressively English in its air, shaking hands with a small woman with kind eyes and a washed-out complexion.
Mrs. Logan was unaffectedly glad to see them. She had that trick of dominating her surroundings which English ladies seem to bear to the uttermost ends of the globe. There, in that land of snows and rock, with savage tribesmen not thirty miles away, and the British frontier-line something less than fifty, she gave them tea and talked small talk with the ease and gusto of an English country home.
“It’s the most unfortunate thing in the world,” she cried. “If you had only wired, Gilbert would have stayed, but as it is he has gone down to Gilgit about some polo ponies, and won’t be back for two days. Things are so humdrum and easy-going up here that one loses interest in one’s profession. Gilbert has nothing to do except arrange with the foreman of the coolies who are making roads, and hold stupid courts, and consult with Captain Thwaite and the garrison people. The result is that the poor man has become crazy about golf, and wastes all his spare money on polo ponies. You can have no idea what a godsend a new face is to us poor people. It is simply delightful to see you again, Mr. Haystoun. You left us about sixteen months ago, didn’t you? Did you enjoy going back?”
Lewis said yes, with an absurd sense of the humour of the question. The lady talked as if home had been merely an interlude, instead of the crisis of his life.
“And what did you do? And whom did you see? Please tell me, for I am dying for a gossip.”
“I have been home in Scotland, you know. Looking after my affairs and idling. I stood for Parliament and got beaten.”
“Really! How exciting! Where is your home in Scotland, Mr. Haystoun? You told me once, but I have forgotten. You know I have no end of Scotch relatives.”
“It’s in rather a remote part, a place called Etterick, in Glenavelin.”
“Glenavelin, Glenavelin,” the lady repeated. “That’s where the Manorwaters live, isn’t it?”
“My uncle,” said Lewis.
“I had a letter from a friend who was staying there in the summer. I wonder if you ever met her. A Miss Wishart. Alice Wishart?”
Lewis strove to keep any extraordinary interest out of his eyes. This voice from another world bad broken rudely in upon his new composure.
“I knew her,” he said, and his tone was of such studied carelessness that Mrs. Logan looked up at him curiously.
“I hope you liked her, for her mother was a relation of my husband, and when I have been home the small Alice has always been a great friend of mine. I wonder if she has grown pretty. Gilbert and I used to bet about it on different sides. I said she would be very beautiful some day.”
“She is very beautiful,” said Lewis in a level voice, and George, feeling the thin ice, came to his friend’s rescue. He could at least talk naturally of Miss Wishart.