“What made you choose that outlandish place, my dear?” asked his aunt.
“Oh, partly the chance of a shot at big game, partly a restless interest in frontier politics which now and then seizes me. But really it was Wratislaw’s choice.”
“Do you know Wratislaw?” asked Mr. Stocks abruptly.
“Tommy?—why, surely! My best of friends. He had got his fellowship some years before I went up, but I often saw him at Oxford, and he has helped me innumerable times.” The young man spoke eagerly, prepared to extend warm friendship to any acquaintance of his friend’s.
“He and I have sometimes crossed swords,” said Mr. Stocks pompously.
Lewis nodded, and forbore to ask which had come off the better.
“He is, of course, very able,” said Mr. Stocks, making a generous admission.
His hearer wondered why he should be told of a man’s ability when he had spoken of him as his friend.
“Have you heard much of him lately?” he asked. “We corresponded regularly when I was abroad, but of course he never would speak about himself, and I only saw him for a short time last week in London.”
The gentleman addressed waved a deprecating hand.
“He has had no popular recognition. Such merits as he has are too aloof to touch the great popular heart. But we who believe in the people and work for them have found him a bitter enemy. The idle, academic, superior person, whatever his gifts, is a serious hindrance to honest work,” said the popular idol.
“I shouldn’t call him idle or superior,” said Lewis quietly. “I have seen hard workers, but I have never seen anything like Tommy. He is a perfect mill-horse, wasting his fine talent on a dreary routine, merely because he is conscientious and nobody can do it so well.”
He always respected honesty, so he forbore to be irritated with this assured speaker.
But Alice interfered to prevent jarring.
“I read your book, Mr. Haystoun. What a time you must have had! You say that north of Bardur or some place like that there are two hundred miles of utterly unknown land till you come to Russian territory. I should have thought that land important. Why doesn’t some one penetrate it?
“Well, for various causes. It is very high land and the climate is not mild. Also, there are abundant savage tribes with a particularly effective crooked kind of knife. And, finally, our Government discourages British enterprise there, and Russia would do the same as soon as she found out.”
“But what a chance for an adventurer!” said Alice, with a face aglow.
Lewis looked up at the slim figure in the chair above him, and caught the gleam of dark eyes.
“Well, some day, Miss Wishart—who knows?” he said slowly and carelessly.
But three people looked at him, Bertha, his aunt, and Mr. Stocks, and three people saw the same thing. His face had closed up like a steel trap. It was no longer the kindly, humorous face of the sportsman and good fellow, but the keen, resolute face of the fighter, the schemer, the man of daring. The lines about his chin and brow seemed to tighten and strengthen and steel, while the grey eyes had for a moment a glint of fire.