“Don’t interrupt me,” he said peevishly, catching the servant in the act of staring at him. “Put down the bottle and go!” Forbidden to look at Mr. Sweetsir, the man’s eyes as he left the gallery turned wonderingly towards the famous landscape. And what did he see? He saw one towering big cloud in the sky that threatened rain, two withered mahogany-colored trees sorely in want of rain, a muddy road greatly the worse for rain, and a vagabond boy running home who was afraid of the rain. That was the picture, to the footman’s eye. He took a gloomy view of the state of Mr. Sweetsir’s brains on his return to the servants’ hall. “A slate loose, poor devil!” That was the footman’s report of the brilliant Felix.

Immediately on the servant’s departure, the silence in the picture-gallery was broken by voices penetrating into it from the drawing-room. Felix rose to a sitting position on the sofa. He had recognized the voice of Alfred Hardyman saying, “Don’t disturb Lady Lydiard,” and the voice of Moody answering, “I will just knock at the door of her Ladyship’s room, sir; you will find Mr. Sweetsir in the picture-gallery.”

The curtains over the archway parted, and disclosed the figure of a tall man, with a closely cropped head set a little stiffly on his shoulders. The immovable gravity of face and manner which every Englishman seems to acquire who lives constantly in the society of horses, was the gravity which this gentleman displayed as he entered the picture-gallery. He was a finely made, sinewy man, with clearly cut, regular features. If he had not been affected with horses on the brain he would doubtless have been personally popular with the women. As it was, the serene and hippic gloom of the handsome horse-breeder daunted the daughters of Eve, and they failed to make up their minds about the exact value of him, socially considered. Alfred Hardyman was nevertheless a remarkable man in his way. He had been offered the customary alternatives submitted to the younger sons of the nobility — the Church or the diplomatic service — and had refused the one and the other. “I like horses,” he said, “and I mean to get my living out of them. Don’t talk to me about my position in the world. Talk to my eldest brother, who gets the money and the title.” Starting in life with these sensible views, and with a small capital of five thousand pounds, Hardyman took his own place in the sphere that was fitted for him. At the period of this narrative he was already a rich man, and one of the greatest authorities on horse-breeding in England. His prosperity made no change in him. He was always the same grave, quiet, obstinately resolute man — true to the few friends whom he admitted to his intimacy, and sincere to a fault in the expression of his feelings among persons whom he distrusted or disliked. As he entered the picture-gallery and paused for a moment looking at Felix on the sofa, his large, cold, steady gray eyes rested on the little man with an indifference that just verged on contempt. Felix, on the other hand, sprang to his feet with alert politeness and greeted his friend with exuberant cordiality.

“Dear old boy! This is so good of you,” he began. “I feel it — I do assure you I feel it!”

“You needn’t trouble yourself to feel it,” was the quietly-ungracious answer. “Lady Lydiard brings me here. I come to see the house — and the dog.” He looked round the gallery in his gravely attentive way. “I don’t understand pictures,” he remarked resignedly. “I shall go back to the drawing-room.”

After a moment’s consideration, Felix followed him into the drawing-room, with the air of a man who was determined not to be repelled.

“Well?” asked Hardyman. “What is it?”

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“About that matter?” Felix said, inquiringly.

“What matter?”

“Oh, you know. Will next week do?”

“Next week won’t do.”

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Mr. Felix Sweetsir cast one look at his friend. His friend was too intently occupied with the decorations of the drawing-room to notice the look.