He forgot to close the window, and dressed in a temperature which would have meant, for many mortals, pneumonia. The events of yesterday; painful and agitating as they had been, had fallen away in the prospect that lay before him--he would see her to-day, and speak with her. These words, like a refrain; were humming in his head as honest Mr. Redbrook talked during breakfast, while Austen's answers may have been both intelligent and humorous. Mr. Redbrook, at least; gave no sign that they were not. He was aware that Mr. Redbrook was bringing arguments to bear on the matter of the meeting of the evening before, but he fended these lightly, while in spirit he flung a gem-studded bridle aver the neck of Pegasus.
And after breakfast--away from the haunts of men! Away from the bickerings, the subjection of mean spirits; material loss and gain and material passion! By eight o'clock (the Widow Peasley's household being an early and orderly one) he was swinging across the long hills, cleaving for himself a furrowed path in the untrodden snow, breathing deep as he gazed across the blue spaces from the crests. Bellerophon or Perseus, aided by immortals, felt no greater sense of achievements to come than he. Out here, on the wind-swept hills that rolled onward and upward to the mountains, the world was his.
With the same speed he returned, still by untrodden paths until he reached the country road that ended in the city street. Some who saw him paused in their steps, caught unconsciously by the rhythmic perfection of his motion. Ahead of him he beheld the state-house, its dial aflame in the light, emblematic to him of the presence within it of a spirit which cleansed it of impurities. She would be there; nay, when he looked at the dial from a different angle, was there. As he drew nearer, there rose out of the void her presence beside him which he had daily tried to summon since that autumn afternoon--her voice and her eyes, and many of the infinite expressions of each and both. Sprites that they were, they had failed him until to-day, when he was to see her again!
And then, somehow, he had threaded the groups beside the battle-flags in the corridor, and mounted the stairway. The doorkeeper of the House looked into his face, and, with that rare knowledge of mankind which doorkeepers possess, let him in. There were many ladies on the floor (such being the chivalrous custom when a debate or a speech of the importance of Mr. Crewe's was going on), but Austen swept them with a glance of disappointment. Was it possible, after all, that she had not come, or--more agitating thought--had gone back to New York?
At this disturbing point in his reflections Austen became aware that the hall was ringing with a loud and compelling voice which originated in front of the Speaker's desk.
The Honourable Humphrey Crewe was delivering his long-heralded speech on national affairs, and was arrayed for the occasion in a manner befitting the American statesman, with the conventional frock coat, which he wore unbuttoned. But the Gladstone collar and a tie gave the touch of individuality to his dress which was needed to set him aside as a marked man. Austen suddenly remembered, with an irresistible smile, that one of the reasons which he had assigned for his visit to the capital was to hear this very speech, to see how Mr. Crewe would carry off what appeared to be a somewhat difficult situation. Whether or not this motive had drawn others,--for the millionaire's speech had not lacked advertisement,--it is impossible to say, but there was standing room only on the floor of the House that day.
The fact that Mr. Crewe was gratified could not be wholly concealed. The thing that fascinated Austen Vane and others who listened was the aplomb with which the speech was delivered. The member from Leith showed no trace of the nervousness naturally to be expected in a maiden effort, but spoke with the deliberation of an old campaigner, of the man of weight and influence that he was. He leaned, part of the time, with his elbow on the clerk's desk, with his feet crossed; again, when he wished to emphasize a point, he came forward and seized with both hands the back of his chair. Sometimes he thrust his thumb in his waistcoat pocket, and turned with an appeal to Mr. Speaker Doby, who was apparently too thrilled and surprised to indulge in conversation with those on the bench beside him, and who made no attempt to quell hand-clapping and even occasional whistling; again, after the manner of experts, Mr. Crewe addressed himself forcibly to an individual in the audience, usually a sensitive and responsive person like the Honourable Jacob Botcher, who on such occasions assumed a look of infinite wisdom and nodded his head slowly. There was no doubt about it that the compelling personality of Mr. Humphrey Crewe was creating a sensation. Genius is sure of itself, and statesmen are born, not made.
Able and powerful as was Mr. Crewe's discourse, the man and not the words had fastened the wandering attention of Austen Vane. He did not perceive his friend of the evening before, Mr. Widgeon, coming towards him up the side aisle, until he felt a touch on the arm.