As he passed Glenavelin among the trees the thought of Alice was a sharp pang of regret. He could never more lift his eyes in that young and radiant presence. He pictured the successful Stocks welcomed by her, and words of praise for which he would have given his immortal soul, meted out lavishly to that owl-like being. It was a dismal business, and ruefully, but half-humorously, he caught at the paradox of his fate.
Through the swiftly failing darkness the inn of Etterick rose before him, a place a little apart from the village street. A noise of talk floated from the kitchen and made him halt at the door and dismount. The place would be full of folk discussing the election, and he would go in among them and learn the worst opinion which men might have of him. After all, they were his own people, who had known him in his power as they now saw him in his weakness. If he had failed he was not wholly foolish; they knew his few redeeming virtues, and they would be generous.
The talk stopped short as he entered, and he saw through the tobacco reek half a dozen lengthy faces wearing the air of solemnity which the hillman adopts in his pleasures. They were all his own herds and keepers, save two whom he knew for foresters from Glenavelin. He was recognized at once, and with a general nervous shuffling they began to make room for the laird at the table. He cried a hasty greeting to all, and sat down between a black-bearded giant, whose clothes smelt of sheep, and a red-haired man from one of the remoter glens. The notion of the thing pleased him, and he ordered drinks for each with a lavish carelessness. He asked for a match for his pipe, and the man who gave it wore a decent melancholy on his face and shook his head with unction.
“This is a bad job, Lewie,” he said, using the privileged name of the ancient servant. “Whae would have ettled sic a calaamity to happen in your ain countryside? We a’ thocht it would be a grand pioy for ye, for ye would settle down here and hae nae mair foreign stravaigins. And then this tailor body steps in and spoils a’. It’s maist vexaatious.”
“It was a good fight, and he beat me fairly; but we’ll drop the matter. I’m sick—tired of politics, Adam. If I had been a better man they might have made a herd of me, and I should have been happy.”
“Wheesht, Lewie,” said the man, grinning. “A herd’s job is no for the likes o’ you. But there’s better wark waiting for ye than poalitics. It’s a beggar’s trade after a’, and far better left to bagman bodies like yon Stocks. It’s a puir thing for sac proper a man as you.”