It was Stanley who answered: “That sort of agitation business is all very well until it begins to affect your neighbors; then it’s time it stopped. You know the Mallorings who own all the land round Tod’s. Well, they’ve fallen foul of the Mallorings over what they call injustice to some laborers. Questions of morality involved. I don’t know all the details. A man’s got notice to quit over his deceased wife’s sister; and some girl or other in another cottage has kicked over—just ordinary country incidents. What I want is that Tod should be made to see that his family mustn’t quarrel with his nearest neighbors in this way. We know the Mallorings well, they’re only seven miles from us at Becket. It doesn’t do; sooner or later it plays the devil all round. And the air’s full of agitation about the laborers and ‘the Land,’ and all the rest of it—only wants a spark to make real trouble.”
And having finished this oration, Stanley thrust his hands deep into his pockets, and jingled the money that was there.
John said abruptly:
“Felix, you’d better go down.”
Felix was sitting back, his eyes for once withdrawn from his brothers’ faces.
“Odd,” he said, “really odd, that with a perfectly unique person like Tod for a brother, we only see him once in a blue moon.”
“It’s because he is so d—d unique.”
Felix got up and gravely extended his hand to Stanley.
“By Jove,” he said, “you’ve spoken truth.” And to John he added: “Well, I will go, and let you know the upshot.”
When he had departed, the two elder brothers remained for some moments silent, then Stanley said:
“Old Felix is a bit tryin’! With the fuss they make of him in the papers, his head’s swelled!”
John did not answer. One could not in so many words resent one’s own brother being made a fuss of, and if it had been for something real, such as discovering the source of the Black River, conquering Bechuanaland, curing Blue-mange, or being made a Bishop, he would have been the first and most loyal in his appreciation; but for the sort of thing Felix made up—Fiction, and critical, acid, destructive sort of stuff, pretending to show John Freeland things that he hadn’t seen before—as if Felix could!—not at all the jolly old romance which one could read well enough and enjoy till it sent you to sleep after a good day’s work. No! that Felix should be made a fuss of for such work as that really almost hurt him. It was not quite decent, violating deep down one’s sense of form, one’s sense of health, one’s traditions. Though he would not have admitted it, he secretly felt, too, that this fuss was dangerous to his own point of view, which was, of course, to him the only real one. And he merely said:
“Will you stay to dinner, Stan?”