When the others had gone yawning to bed, he returned and sat at the window for a little, smoking hard and puzzling out the knots which confronted him. He had a dismal anticipation of failure. Not defeat—that was a little matter; but an abject show of incompetence. His feelings pulled him hither and thither. He could not utter moral platitudes to checkmate his opponent’s rhetoric, for, after all, he was honest; nor could he fill the part of the cold critic of hazy sentiment; gladly though he would have done it, he feared the reproach in girlish eyes. This good man was on the horns of a dilemma. Love and habit, a generous passion and a keen intellect dragged him alternately to their side, and as a second sign of weakness the unwilling scribe has to record that his conclusion as he went to bed was to let things drift—to take his chance.
THE EPISODES OF A DAY
It is painful to record it, but when the Glenavelin party arrived at noon of the next day it was only to find the house deserted. Lady Manorwater, accustomed to the vagaries of her nephew, led the guests over the place and found to her horror that it seemed undwelt in. The hall was in order, and the tart and rosy lairds of Etterick looked down from their Raeburn canvases on certain signs of habitation; but the drawing-rooms were dingy with coverings and all the large rooms were in the same tidy disarray. Then, wise from experience, she led the way to Lewis’s sanctum, and found there a pretty luncheon-table and every token of men’s presence. Soon the four tenants arrived, hot and breathless, from the hill, to find Bertha Afflint deep in rods and guns, Miss Wishart and Lady Manorwater ensconced in the great armchairs, and Mr. Stocks casting a critic’s eye over the unruly bookshelves.
Wratislaw’s presence at first cast a certain awe on the assembly. His name was so painfully familiar, so consistently abused, that it was hard to refrain from curiosity. Lady Manorwater, an ancient ally, greeted him effusively, and Alice cast shy glances at this strong man with the kind smile and awkward manners. The truth is that Wratislaw was acutely nervous. With Mr. Stocks alone was he at his ease. He shook his hand heartily, declared himself delighted to meet him again, and looked with such manifest favour on this opponent that the gentleman was cast into confusion.