Before her maid came to her Amber had reflected also upon the cases of Mr. Guy Overton and Mr. Willie Bateman, and the consciousness of the fact that neither of these young men had tried (after the first attempt) to make love to her was a source of the greatest gratification to her. (To such a point of self-deception may the imagination of a young woman born in an atmosphere of science lead her.)

Guy Overton was a young man who was certainly in no need to try the Stock Exchange as a means of livelihood. He was the only son of Richard Over-ton, the once well-known Australian, who had been accidentally killed when acting as his own Stevedore beside the hold of one of his steamers. Guy had inherited from this excellent father a business which he had speedily sold for a trifle over half a million, and a spirit of thrift which was very unusual, people said, on the part of the idle son of a self-made man—a self-made man is a man who has made himself wealthy at the expense of others.

It was a great disappointment to his many friends to find out, as they did very soon after his father’s death, that young Mr. Overton was in no way disposed to fling his money about in the light-hearted way characteristic of the youth who becomes a prodigal by profession. He could not see, he said, why he should buy spavined horses simply because he was half a millionaire. Of course he knew it was an understood thing that spavined horses were to be got rid of upon light-hearted aspiring sons of fathers with humble beginnings in life; but he rather thought that, for the present at least, he would try to pass his time apart from the cheering companionship of the spavined horse.

And then as regards the purchase of that couple of cases of choice Manila cigars—the hemp yarn which entered largely into their composition undoubtedly did come from Manila—he expressed the opinion to the friend who had thoughtfully suggested the transaction, that, until he felt more firmly on his feet in carrying out the rôle of the complete prodigal he would struggle to repress his natural tendency to smoke the sweepings of the rope walks of the Philippine Islands.

In short young Mr. Overton was fortunate enough to obtain, not by slow degrees, but in a single month after his father’s death, a sound practical reputation for being a skinflint.

It was his study to justify all that was said of him by his disappointed friends in respect of the closeness of his pockets.

He lived in chambers and kept no manservant.

Why should he pay a hundred a year—sixty pounds in wages and, say, forty in board and lodging—for having his trousers properly stretched, he asked of those friends of his who were ready to recommend to him several trustworthy menservants. He rather thought that it would pay him better to buy a new pair of trousers every week. He knew a place where you could buy a capital pair of trousers for thirteen and six. He jobbed a horse.

He couldn’t see why he should have a horse eating its head off in a rack-rented stable necessitating the keeping of a groom at twenty-five shillings a week, when he could hire a horse for all the riding that was necessary for his health for five shillings the two hours.

He knew of a good restaurant (Italian) in a back street where the maximum charge for dinner was half a crown, and it was to this establishment he invited his particular friends when the prodigal’s desire to feast became irresistible, overwhelming his better nature which lent him promptings towards frugality.

He recommended the Chianti of this secluded dining-hall. It was a good sound wine, with a distinct tendency towards body, and not wholly without flavour—a flavour that one got accustomed to after a period of probation. Only it was not well to eat olives with it.

He was on the whole a pleasant, shrewd, unaffected man of twenty-eight, when he was presented to Amber, and, on her acceptance of a pretty little imitation Italian enamel from him, he yielded to her influence.

She remembered with pleasure (she thought) that he had only upon one occasion spoken of love in her presence. Her recollection was not at fault. Only once had he hinted at certain aspirations on his part, and then he and she had become good friends. He had submitted to her influence sufficiently far to promise her that he would cease to live a life of idle frugality. A course of practical literature was what she prescribed for him and he at once joined the Technical School just started by Mr. Owen Glen-dower Richmond.

This was, she reflected, a great triumph for Platonic friendship, and yet Guy Overton was only at the other end of the room when Josephine had written that paper of hers in dispraise of this very sentiment!

Amber was inclined to be impatient in thinking of her friend’s scarcely veiled sneers. And then she began to think if it might not be possible that her friend had in her mind her own case—the case of Josephine West and Ernest Clifton—rather than the cases of Amber Severn and Guy Overton, Amber Severn and Arthur Galmyn, Amber Severn and—yes, it was quite possible that the cynicism—if it was cynicism—in the “time study” was prompted by the real feeling of the writer in regard to her relations with Mr. Ernest Clifton.

The reflection had its consolations; but Amber thought she loved her friend Josephine too dearly to be consoled at her expense. Though she herself was, she fancied, perfectly happy in experimentalising, so to speak, in the science of friendship she was too wise to assume that her friend would be equally well satisfied to attain such results as she, Amber, had achieved.

She was led to ask herself if it was possible that Josephine was actually in love with Mr. Ernest Clifton.

And then she went on to ask herself if it was possible that Mr. Ernest Clifton was in love with Josephine West.

Without coming to a conclusion in her consideration of either question, she knew that if Josephine really loved that particular man, her views on the subject of Platonic friendship might be pretty much as she had defined them—precipitating the acid of cynicism at present held in solution in the series of phrases written down on the paper.

Amber had now and again suspected that between Josephine and Mr. Clifton there existed a stronger feeling than that of mere friendship. But Josephine had said no word to her on this subject, and certainly none of their common friends had said anything that tended to strengthen her suspicions. Still the announcement of the engagement of some of her acquaintance had invariably come upon her with surprise, a fact which proved to her—for she was thoroughly logical and always ready to draw faithful deductions even to her own disadvantage—that she had not observed with any great care the phenomena of love in the embryotic state and its gradual growth towards the idiotic state. Things had been going on under her very eyes without her perceiving them, in regard to other young men and maidens, so that it was quite possible that Josephine had come, without Amber’s knowing anything of the matter, to entertain a feeling of tenderness for Ernest Clifton, and had written in that spirit of cynical raillery on the subject of Platonic friendship. Of course if this were so and if at the same time Ernest Clifton had given her no sign that he was affected towards her in the same way, that circumstance would not of itself be sufficient (Amber knew) to prevent Josephine’s taking a cynical view of the question that had formed the subject of the “time study” at the Technical School.

It was at this point in her consideration of the whole question that her maid opened the door gently and began to make preparations for her toilet. Her father had not yet perfected his machinery to discharge the offices of a maid. Where was the electrical device that would lace up a dress behind?

“I shall keep my eyes upon Joe and Mr. Clifton this evening, and perhaps I shall learn something,” was the thought of Amber, while her hair was being teased into the bewitching simplicity of form which gave her a distinction of her own at a period when some artificiality was making itself apparent in the disposal of the hair. (It took a great deal more time to achieve Amber’s simplicity than it did to work out the elaborate devices of the young women who had studied the fashion plate for the month.)

In less than an hour she was driving with her mother to Ranelagh where they were to dine with one Mr. Shirley, a member of Parliament who was known to have aspirations after a place in the Government and who was fully qualified to aspire, being a bachelor. Amber knew that Josephine would be of the party, and she was nearly sure that Mr. Clifton would also be present. When people talked of Mr. Clifton they invariably alluded to him as a long-headed fellow. Some of the men went so far as to say that he knew what he was about. Others said that he might be looked on as the leading exponent of the jumping cat.

Amber, however, knew nothing of his ability, that of all the acquaintance which Josephine and she had in common, Mr. Clifton was the man of whom Josephine spoke most seldom. It was on this account she had a suspicion that he might be held in some manner responsibly accountable for the tone of Josephine’s “time study.”

The lawn at Ranelagh was crowded on this particular Sunday, for the June gloom that had prevailed during the three preceding days had vanished, and the evening sunshine was making everything lovely. The general opinion that prevailed was that the pretty way in which the guests of the sun had dressed themselves to greet him made it worth his while, so to speak, to shine, on the same principle that a host and hostess cannot but be put into a smiling state of mind when their friends have arrived to do them honour in their very best.

The brilliant green of the lawn reflected the greatest credit, people thought, upon the good taste of Nature in providing a background for all the tints of all the fabrics that glowed upon it. And the consciousness that their efforts to clothe themselves tastefully were reciprocated by the sun and the summer was very gratifying to a considerable portion of the crowd, who perhaps had their own reasons for thinking of themselves as included in the general scheme of Nature. They could not imagine any scheme of Nature independent enough to ignore a display of the shimmer of satin or a flutter of muslin.

And this was why Amber thought she had never seen together so many well-satisfied faces as those among which she moved down the lawn to the soft music of the band. And amongst all the well-satisfied faces not one wore this expression more airily than the face of Guy Overton—yes, when she appeared. The face of Mr. Randolph Shirley, in welcoming his guests, also glowed with satisfaction—self-satisfaction. An aspiring politician used long ago to be satisfied when he got his foot on the first rung of the ladder; but the lift system has long ago superseded the outside ladder. A politician of to-day has no idea of climbing up rung by rung, he expects to enter the lift in the lobby and taking a seat among cushions, to be rumbled up to the top floor by pulling a rope.

The correct working of this system is altogether dependent upon one’s knowledge of the right rope to pull; but Mr. Shirley was beginning to know the ropes; so he was pleased to welcome Miss West, the daughter of an under secretary who was almost certain of a chief secretaryship before the end of the year.

It was while Mr. Shirley was welcoming Miss West and her mother that Guy Overton brought up to Amber a man with a very brown face, saying:

“I want to present to you my friend Pierce Winwood, whom I was speaking of a while ago—the cornstalk, you know.”

“I know. I shall be delighted,” said Amber.

He brought the man forward; he looked about the same age as Guy himself, and Amber expressed to his face something of the delight which she felt to meet him. He was not quite so fluent when he opened his lips: as a matter of fact he seemed to be shy almost to a point of embarrassment, and to find that the act of changing his stick from one hand to the other and then treating it as a pendulum not only failed to relieve his embarrassment, but was actually a source of embarrassment to people on each side of him.

Amber wondered if it might not be possible for her to add this young man to her already long list of those whom she was influencing for their own good, through the medium of a colourless friendship.

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