The “forced draught” conversation—the phrase was Sir Creighton’s—which the two girls exchanged at lunch and which has been in some measure recorded, formed excellent exercise for their wits, Sir Creighton thought, though he had not the privilege of listening to their latest battledore and shuttlecock in this direction, the fact being that he and Lady Severn were partaking of a more exciting meal aboard the new electric turbine yacht which Sir Creighton had just perfected. It was certainly a stimulating reflection that for the first time since the waters were spread over a portion of the surface of the earth, a meal was partaken of in comfort aboard a vessel moving at the rate of forty-two miles an hour. Even the conversation of the two girls in the dining-room at home could scarcely beat that Sir Creighton remarked to his wife as she clutched at her cap on the hurricane deck and gasped. (There was a pretty fair amount of cap clutching and gasping aboard that boat while it was flying over the measured mile.)

But when the girls were being motored to the Technical School of Literature, their chat was of such commonplaces as the new evening dress bodice with the lace up to the throat, and the future of the Khaki dresses which every one was wearing as a token of respect to the Colonial office. They had not exhausted the latter question when they arrived at the school.

It was located in an interesting house in Hanover Square for the present, Amber explained to her friend; and her friend cordially opined with her that it would be foolish to enter into possession of an important building before the school had taken a sure hold upon the affections of the people of Great Britain.

Mr. Richmond was just opening the fiction class in the largest room when Miss Severn and Miss West entered. Mr. Richmond, who represented the latest of Amber’s experiments, had met Miss West a few days before. He knew that her father was a member of the Government and he hoped to be able to squeeze a grant out of the Government with his assistance, therefore—the logic was Mr. Richmond’s and thoroughly sound—he thought it well to pay as little attention as was consistent with good manners to Miss West, and even to her friend and his friend, Miss Severn. He had a pretty fair working knowledge of a world in which woman has at all times played a rather prominent part, and he knew that while some young women are affected by flattery, those who are most potent in getting grants from their fathers in favour of certain enterprises resent being singled out for attention.

He paid no attention to the entrance of the two girls, but commenced his lesson—he refused to make use of the commonplace word “lecture”: the mention of such a word should be enough to frighten people away from the school, he said; and on the same principle he chose to call his undertaking a school, not a college.

Josephine and Amber took seats at one of the desks, with paper and pens in front of them, and the former glanced round the class. It was composed of some interesting units. At a desk well to the front sat bolt upright a gentleman of rather more than middle-age. Half-pay was writ large all over him. There was not a wrinkle in his coat that did not harbour a little imp that shrieked out “half pay—half pay!” for all the world to hear. His hair was thin in places, but at no place was it too thin to afford cover to half a dozen of those frolicsome demons with their shriek of “half pay!” His over-brushed frock coat (of the year before last), his over-blackened boots, and the general air of over-tidiness that he carried about with him proclaimed the elderly officer of correct habits who after trying for a year or two to obtain congenial employment as the secretary to a club and for another year or two to persuade people to drink the wines of Patagonia, for the sale of which he had been appointed sole agent for Primrose Hill, had resolved to commence life again as a popular novelist.

Not far off sat a youth with receding forehead and chin, and a face like a marmot of the Alps. He kept his small eyes fixed upon the head of a drowsily pretty girl, with towzled hair of an orange tint unknown to nature but well known to art—the art of the second class coiffure. She did the reviews for a humble paper but hoped to qualify to be herself the reviewed one some day. It was clear that she would not ruin her chances by a misalliance with the well-balanced scheme of retrocession observable in his profile.

Two interested young girls sat at another desk guardianed by a governess—they, at any rate, Josephine thought, possessed the first qualification for success in fiction, for they observed every one about them, and made rude remarks to each other respecting their fellow-creatures. The governess took notes by the aid of a stumpy pencil the blunt end of which she audibly touched with the tip of her tongue after every few words; and Josephine perceived that she was anaemic.

Her simple methods contrasted with the elaborate batterie d’’écriture of a young lady who sat at the desk next to that at which Josephine and Amber had placed themselves; for she had placed in front of her a silver-mounted case, monstrously monogrammed, with double ink-bottles, each containing something under half a pint. A rack holding half a dozen pens of varying shapes and sizes, stood imposingly at one side, and on the other lay a neat ream of letter paper, crested and monogrammed, and a pronouncing dictionary. The apparatus certainly seemed quite adequate to the demands of the occasion; and as it turned out, it contained a good deal that was absolutely unnecessary, for the young lady slipped into an unobtrusive doze, the moment the lecturer began to address his class.

A young woman who had removed her hat in order to show that she had a brow with generous bumps scattered about it, resembling Kopjes above a kloof, lounged with an ungracefulness that a plebiscite had pronounced to have a distinct literary flavour about it, half across her desk. It was understood that she had once written a column in a lady’s paper on something and so could afford to be careless.

A youth with a cloak and a yellow smile was understood to be a poet. People said that his smile would work off. But he had never tried.

A well-dressed man of middle age looked, Josephine thought, as if he were something in the city; but that was just where she was mistaken. It was only when he was out of the city that he was something; in the city he was nothing. He was on the eve of drafting a prospectus; and so had joined the fiction class to gain the necessary finish.

Two or three younger men and a few young women who seemed to have come straight from the hands of a confectioner’s artist in frosting and almond icing, had taken up positions of prominence. They looked as if they were anxious to be commented on, and they were commented on.

Mr. Owen Glendower Richmond, the founder of the school was not a well-dressed man, only an expensively dressed man. He was young but not so very young as to be able to disregard the tendency to transparency in that portion of his hair which covered (indifferently) the crown of his head. He had the art of making one hair do duty for two over this area.

He had also a very persuasive voice.

Many men have gone with success through life with fewer endowments. But Mr. Richmond had never been quite successful in anything that he had attempted, and at thirty-four he had occasional regrets that earlier in life he had not let his hair grow curiously, or acquired a reputation for a profile—a profile like that of Dante in the picture.

He had published a book or two; but people about him were good-natured and had agreed to ignore the incident and to give him another chance. He proved that their benevolence had not been misplaced by becoming bankrupt over a scheme for regulating the output of fiction. The public had subscribed generously to his bureau, and it might possibly have succeeded but for the discovery of the new element to which the name of neurosis was given.

Taking advantage of his position on the summit of a base of bankruptcy, he had no difficulty in finding a sufficient number of friends to assist him in the realisation of his scheme for establishing on a permanent basis a School of Literature; and among his friends he would have permission to include Sir Creighton Severn and his daughter. He knew that their appetite for experiments was insatiable, and he had at one time taught Archie Severn—Amber’s only brother—all that he knew on the subject of exotic forms of verse—a science in which the young man had been greatly interested at one period of his life. He was not altogether free from a suspicion that his claims upon the family were somewhat attenuated; but when he had an interview with them he felt that such a suspicion was unworthy of him. Sir Creighton told his daughter that she was free to experiment with the experimenter, and Mr. Richmond found that his year’s rent was guaranteed.

Although the school had only been established for six months it was already a paying concern and Mr. Richmond was in such prosperous circumstances that he felt at liberty to dress less expensively, so he bought a frock coat at seven pounds instead of the one at seven guineas—the one which Josephine West had first seen him wear: the one with the silk quilted lining where most men were quite contented to have a material bearing the trade name of satinette.

It was the cheaper garment that he was wearing on the afternoon of this first visit of Josephine’s to the school, and being an observant young woman, she had really no trouble in perceiving that his aspirations for the moment were to assume that pose which offered the greatest chance of permanency to the impression that he carried his frock coat as easily as a Greek god carried his drapery.

She was a very observant young woman and she admired the adroitness of Mr. Owen Glendower Richmond in associating himself, even though he did so only through the agency of a crease that began at the waist and ended short of the knee, with classical tradition.

And then she admired herself for the subtlety of her observation, and thus was in a psychological frame of mind to yield to the persuasive charm of Mr. Richmond’s voice.

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