“But you know you are talking nonsense,” said the serious Alice. “After all, these things are the most important, for they mean duty and courage and—and—all that sort of thing.”
“Right, little woman,” said he, smiling; “that is what Stocks tells me twice a day, but, somehow, reproof comes better from you. Dear me! it’s a sad thing that a middle-aged legislator should be reproved by a very little girl. Come and see the herons. The young birds will be everywhere just now.”
For an hour in the moonlight they went a-sightseeing, and came back very cool and fresh to the open drawing-room window. As they approached they caught an echo of a loud, bland voice saying, “We must remember our moral responsibilities, my dear Lady Manorwater. Now, for instance—”
And a strange thing happened. For the first time in her life Miss Alice Wishart felt that the use of loud and solemn words could jar upon her feelings. She set it down resignedly to the evil influence of her companion.
In the calm of her bedroom Alice reviewed her recent hours. She admitted to herself that she would enjoy her visit. A healthy and active young woman, the mere prospect of an open-air life gave her pleasure. Also she liked the people. Mentally she epitomized each of the inmates of the house. Lady Manorwater was all she had pictured her—a dear, whimsical, untidy creature, with odd shreds of cleverness and a heart of gold. She liked the boy Arthur, and the spectacled people seemed harmless. Bertha she was prepared to adore, for behind the languor and wit she saw a very kindly and capable young woman fashioned after her own heart. But of all she liked Lord Manorwater best. She knew that he had a great reputation, that he was said to be incessantly laborious, and she had expected some one of her father’s type, prim, angular, and elderly. Instead she found a boyish person whom she could scold, and with women reproof is the first stone in the foundation of friendship. On Mr. Stocks she generously reserved her judgment, fearing the fate of the hasty.
When Alice woke next morning the cool upland air was flooding through the window, and a great dazzle of sunlight made the world glorious. She dressed and ran out to the lawn, then past the loch right to the very edge of the waste country. A high fragrance of heath and bog-myrtle was in the wind, and the mouth grew cool as after long draughts of spring water. Mists were crowding in the valleys, each bald mountain top shone like a jewel, and far aloft in the heavens were the white streamers of morn. Moorhens were plashing at the loch’s edge, and one tall heron rose from his early meal. The world was astir with life: sounds of the plonk-plonk of rising trout and the endless twitter of woodland birds mingled with the far-away barking of dogs and the lowing of the full-uddered cows in the distant meadows. Abashed and enchanted, the girl listened. It was an elfin land where the old witch voices of hill and river were not silenced. With the wind in her hair she climbed the slope again to the garden ground, where she found a solemn-eyed collie sniffing the fragrant wind in his morning stroll.