There was a different note in the chat on the terrace in the twilight from that which had prevailed in the dining-room. In the dining-room people had seemed to be trying to talk down the band, now they were talking with it. The band was making a very sympathetic accompaniment to their chat—nay, it even suggested something of a possible topic, for it was playing the dreamy strains of the “Roses of Love” Valse. People could not talk loud when that delicious thing was wafting its melody round them—ensnaring their hearts with that delicate network of woven sounds—breathing half hushed rapture at intervals and then glowing as the June roses glow in a passion that is half a dream.

“I suppose you have lovelier places than Ranelagh in Australia,” said Amber as she leant back in her chair. Pierce Win wood was leaning forward in his.

“Oh, yes, I dare say there are lovelier places in Australia,” he replied. “You see there’s a pretty fair amount of room in Australia for places lovely and the opposite. But there’s no place out there that’s just the same as this place here on such an evening as this. I used to wonder long ago if I should ever see Ranelagh under such conditions as these—distinguished men—there are some distinguished men here—and beautiful women—music and moonlight and the scent of roses, and above all, the consciousness that this is Home—Home—in Australia we think a good deal about this England of ours. People in England have great pride in thinking of Australia as their own, but their pride is nothing compared to that of the Australians in thinking of England as their Home.”

“Of course we are all one,” said Amber. “But your father could scarcely have told you about Ranelagh: it did not exist in its present form in his day—that is to say—oh, you see that I am assuming that he was in Australia for a good many years.”

“I heard about Ranelagh first from a stock rider on one of my father’s farms. He was one of the best chaps in the world. He showed me a prize or two that he had won here in the old days,—his old days could not have been more than five or six years ago. I had also a groom who used to play polo here.”

“And people talk about the days of romance being past!” said Amber. “I dare say you could furnish our school—I wonder if Guy mentioned it to you——-”

“Oh, yes; he told me all about it.”

“You could furnish the romance class with some capital plots to work out, could you not?”

“I dare say I could if I knew all the circumstances that led up to the fragments that came under my notice. But I could not ask the stock rider or the groom how they came to sell their horses and settle down to live on thirty shillings a week in a colony. I could not even ask either of them what was his real name.”

“I suppose that almost every romance begins by a change of name?”

He was silent for some moments. Then he threw away the end of the cigar which he had been smoking and drank the few drops of liqueur which remained in his glass. He drew his chair an inch or two closer to hers saying in a low tone:

“It was only a short time before I left the colony that I had brought under my notice the elements of a curious romance. Would you care to hear it?”

“I should like very much. If it is unfinished it might make a good exercise for Mr. Richmond to set for one of his classes at the school—‘given the romance up to a certain point, required the legitimate and artistic ending—that would be the problem.”

“A capital notion, I think. I should like very much myself to know what the legitimate ending should be. But I have noticed now and again that Fate is inclined to laugh at any scheme devised by the most astute of men. That is to say when we have in our possession what seems the beginning of a real romance Fate steps in and brings about the most disastrous ending to the story.”

“That is nearly always what happens. It only proves that romance writers know a great deal better than Fate how to weave the threads of a story into a finished fabric.”

“Ah! those ‘accursed shears’!... I wonder if... never mind, I will tell you the romance as far as it came under my notice and you or your literary adviser—or perhaps your father—but I don’t suppose that Sir Creighton would trouble himself over a miniature romance.”

“Oh, wouldn’t he just? He reads nearly every novel that comes out—especially the French ones.”

“Oh, then I need not hesitate to ask you to place before him the fragment which I acquired in the colony less than a year ago.”

“It will be a capital exercise for him—working out the close artistically. The story begins in England, of course?”

“Of course. Let me think how it does begin. Yes, it begins in England—at a seaport town. There is a shipbuilding yard. The head of it is, naturally, a close-fisted, consequently a wealthy man—one of those men who from insignificant beginnings rise by their own force of character to position of wealth and influence. He has a son and the son has a friend. The son has acquired extravagant habits and his father will not sanction them, nor will he pay his debts a second time, he declares—he has already paid them once. When the relations between the father and the son are in this way strained, the son’s friend is suddenly taken sick, and after a week or two the doctors in attendance think it their duty to tell him that he cannot possibly recover—that they cannot promise him even a month’s life. The man—he must have been a young man—resigns himself to his fate and his friend, the son of the shipbuilder comes to bid him farewell. In doing so, he confesses that in what he calls a moment of madness, he was induced to forge the name of the firm on certain documents on which he raised money, but that the discovery of the forgery cannot be avoided further than another fortnight, and that will mean ruin to him. The dying man suggests—he is actually magnanimous enough—idiotic enough—to suggest that he himself should confess that he committed the crime. That will mean that his friend will be exculpated and that he himself will go to the grave with a lie on his lips and with the stigma of a crime on his memory.”

“And the other man—he actually accepted the sacrifice? Impossible!”

“It was not impossible. The impossibility comes in later on. You see, Miss Severn, the scheme appears feasible enough. One man has only a day or two to live, the other has the chance of redeeming the past and of becoming a person of influence and importance in the world. Yes, I think the scheme sounded well, especially as the real criminal solemnly swore to amend his life. Well, the confession is made in due form; and then,—here is where Fate sometimes becomes objectionable—then—the dying man ceases to die. Whether it was that the doctors were duffers, or that a more skilful man turned up I cannot say—but the man recovered and was arrested on his own confession. The other man being a kind-hearted fellow did his best to get his father to be merciful; but he was not kind-hearted enough to take the place in the dock where his friend stood a month later to receive the judge’s sentence for the crime which he had taken on his own shoulders.”

“You mean to say that he was base enough to see his friend sentenced for the forgery which he had committed?”

“That is what happened. And to show how Fate’s jests are never half-hearted, but played out to the very end in the finest spirit of comedy, it also happened that the man who was the real criminal not only saw that his friend fulfilled his part of the compact which they had made by suffering the penalty of his confession, but he himself was determined to act up to his part in the compact, for he so rigidly kept his promise to amend his life, that when his friend was released from gaol where he had been confined for more than a year, he refused to see him; the fellow had actually come to believe that he was innocent and that the other had been properly convicted!”

“That is a touch of nature, I think. And what happened then? Surely Nemesis——”

“Nemesis is one of the most useful properties of the man who weaves romances; but sometimes Nature dispenses with Nemesis. And do you know, Miss Severn, I really think that the introduction of Nemesis would spoil this particular story. At any rate I know nothing about the part that Nemesis played in this romance.”

“What, you mean to say that you know no more of the story than what you have told me?”

“Don’t you think that the story is complete in itself?”

“Not at all; it must have a sequel.”

“Oh, everybody knows—your master of the technique of romance weaving will bear me out, I am sure—that the sequel to a romance is invariably tame and quite unworthy of the first part. That is why I would rather that Mr. Richmond—or your father tried his hand at the sequel than I—yes, I would like very much to know what your father thinks the sequel should be.”

“But surely you know something more of the lives of the two men, Mr. Winwood.”

“Yes. I know that the man who suffered went out to Australia and married there—as a matter of fact I got the story from him—it was among his papers when he died; but I never found out what his real name was, and his papers failed to reveal the name of the other man; they only said that he had prospered in every undertaking to which he set his hand; so that you see he was not so unscrupulous a man as one might be led to suppose; he was most scrupulous in adhering to his part of the contract which was, of course, to lead a new life. And this shows the danger that lies in ex-parte stories: if one only heard that the man had accepted the sacrifice of his friend on his behalf, one would assume that he was certainly without scruples; whereas you see, he was as a matter of fact most careful to carry out the terms of his compact. I never heard his name either.”

There was a pause of considerable duration before Amber said:

“The story is a curious one; but I don’t think I should do well to submit it to Mr. Richmond with a view of making a class exercise out of it.”

“Well, perhaps... But I should like you to ask your father if he, ever heard a similar story before. If he is so earnest a novel reader as you say he is, the chances are that he has come across such a plot as this, and so will be able to let us know what the artistic finish should be. Here is Overton. I dare say when he has attended Mr. Richmond’s classes for a year or two, he will be in a position to say at a moment’s notice what the artistic conclusion to my story should be.”

It was only when Guy Overton dropped obtrusively into the chair nearest to her that Amber became aware of the fact that only three or four members of Mr. Shirley’s party remained on the Terrace. Josephine was still seated in one of the cane chairs and Ernest Clifton had come beside her. Lord Lull-worth and another man were standing together a little way off, still smoking.

“Good gracious! Where are the others?” cried Amber.

“They are taking a final stroll on the lawn,” said Guy. “Somebody suggested that it was a bit chilly, and so to prevent the possibility of catching cold they are walking about on the damp grass. You must have been absorbed not to notice them going. Has Miss Severn caught you for the Technical School, Pierce?”

“Miss Severn is just thinking that I am a possible candidate for the next vacant chair,” said Pierce.

“A vacant chair? You don’t want another chair, do you?” said Guy. “You’re not so important as the chap that was told by Lord Rothschild or somebody to take two chairs if he was so big an Injin as he wanted to make out.”

Pierce laughed. The story was an old one even in the Australian colonies and every one knows that the stories that have become threadbare in England are shipped off to the colonies with the shape of hat that has been called in and the opera mantle of the year before last.

“I was thinking of the chair of Romance at the School of Literature,” said he, “but I should be sorry to interfere with your prospects if you have an eye on it also.”

He rose as Lady Severn came up by the side of Mr. Shirley.

Mr. Shirley expressed the hope that Miss Severn had not been bored. She looked so absorbed in whatever tale of the bush Mr. Winwood had been telling her that he felt sure she was being bored, he said. (The people to whom Mr. Shirley was obliged to be polite were so numerous that he felt quite a relaxation in being impolite—when he could be so with impunity—now and again.)

“I never was bored in my life, Mr. Shirley,” said Amber. “Bores are the only people that are ever bored. When I hear a man complain that he has been bored I know perfectly well that what he means is that he hasn’t had all the chances he looked for of boring other people.”

“I think we must look for our wraps,” said Lady Severn.

“It’s quite time: they’re beginning to light the Chinese lanterns,” said Guy.

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