Once on the heathy plateau the party scattered. Mr. Stocks caught the unwilling Arthur and treated him to a disquisition on the characteristics of the people whose votes he was soon to solicit. As his acquaintance with the subject was not phenomenal, the profit to the aggrieved listener was small. George, Lady Manorwater, and the two Miss Afflints sought diligently for a camping-ground, which they finally found by a clear spring of water on the skirts of a great grey rock. Meanwhile, Alice Wishart and Lewis, having an inordinate love of high places, set out for the ridge summit, and reached it to find a wind blowing from the far Gled valley and cooling the hot air.
Alice found a scrap of rock and climbed to the summit, where she sat like a small pixie, surveying a wide landscape and her warm and prostrate companion. Her bright hair and eyes and her entrancing grace of form made the callous Lewis steal many glances upwards from his lowly seat. The two had become excellent friends, for the man had that honest simplicity towards women which is the worst basis for love and the best for friendship. She felt that at any moment he might call her by some one or other of the endearing expressions used between men. He, for his part, was fast drifting from friendship to another feeling, but as yet he gave no sign of it, and kept up the brusque, kindly manners of his common life.
As she looked east and north to the heart of the hill-land, her eyes brightened, and she rose up and strained on tiptoe to scan the farthest horizon. Eagerly she asked the name of this giant and that, of this glint of water—was it loch or burn? Lewis answered without hesitation, as one to whom the country was as well known as his own name.
By and by her curiosity was satisfied and she slipped back into her old posture, and with chin on hand gazed into the remote distances. “And most of that is yours? Do you know, if I had a land like this I should never leave it again. You, in your ingratitude, will go wandering away in a year or two, as if any place on earth could be better than this. You are simply ‘sinning away your mercies,’ as my grandfather used to say.”
“But what would become of the heroic virtues that you adore?” asked the cynical Lewis. “If men were all home-keepers it would be a prosaic world.”
“Can you talk of the prosaic and Etterick in the same breath? Besides, it is the old fallacy of man that the domestic excludes the heroic,” said Alice, fighting for the privileges of her sex.
“But then, you know, there comes a thing they call the go-fever, which is not amenable to reason. People who have it badly do not care a straw for a place in itself; all they want is to be eternally moving from one spot to another.”
“Oh, I am not a sufferer yet, but I walk in fear, for at any moment it may beset me.” And, laughing, he climbed up beside her.