The sight of her hostess reassured her. Lady Manorwater was a small middle-aged woman, with a thin classical face, large colourless eyes, and untidy fair hair. She was very plainly dressed, and as she darted forward to greet the girl with entire frankness and kindness, Alice forgot her fears and kissed her heartily. A languid young woman was introduced as Miss Afflint, and in a few minutes the three were in the Glenavelin carriage with the wide glen opening in front.
“Oh, my dear, I hope you will enjoy your visit. We are quite a small party, for Jack says Glenavelin is far too small to entertain in. You are fond of the country, aren’t you? And of course the place is very pretty. There is tennis and golf and fishing; but perhaps you don’t like these things? We are not very well off for neighbours, but we are large enough in number to be sufficient to ourselves. Don’t you think so, Bertha?” And Lady Manorwater smiled at the third member of the group.
Miss Afflint, a silent girl, smiled back and said nothing. She had been engaged in a secret study of Alice’s face, and whenever the object of the study raised her eyes she found a pair of steady blue ones beaming on her. It was a little disconcerting, and Alice gazed out at the landscape with a fictitious curiosity.
They passed out of the Gled valley into the narrower strath of Avelin, and soon, leaving the meadows behind, went deep into the recesses of woods. At a narrow glen bridged by the road and bright with the spray of cascades and the fresh green of ferns, Alice cried out in delight, “Oh, I must come back here some day and sketch it. What a Paradise of a place!”
“Then you had better ask Lewie’s permission.” And Lady Manorwater laughed.
“Who is Lewie?” asked the girl, anticipating some gamekeeper or shepherd.
“Lewie is my nephew. He lives at Etterick, up at the head of the glen.”
Miss Afflint spoke for the first time. “A very good man. You should know Lewie, Miss Wishart. I’m sure you would like him. He is a great traveller, you know, and has written a famous book. Lewis Haystoun is his full name.”
“Why, I have read it,” cried Alice. “You mean the book about Kashmir. But I thought the author was an old man.”
“Lewie is not very old,” said his aunt; “but I haven’t seen him for years, so he may be decrepit by this time. He is coming home soon, he says, but he never writes. I know two of his friends who pay a Private Inquiry Office to send them news of him.”
Alice laughed and became silent. What merry haphazard people were these she had fallen among! At home everything was docketed and ordered. Meals were immovable feasts, the hour for bed and the hour for rising were more regular than the sun’s. Her father was full of proverbs on the virtue of regularity, and was wont to attribute every vice and misfortune to its absence. And yet here were men and women who got on very well without it. She did not wholly like it. The little doctrinaire in her revolted and she was pleased to be censorious.