While Mr. Ernest Clifton was thinking over the question, the answer to which he believed to be vital to his interests, Amber Severn was hanging on the arm of her father as they strolled together about their rose-garden under the cool stars of the summer night. She was keeping the promise she had made to Pierce Winwood and was telling him the story—it struck her as being curious—which Pierce Winwood had told to her.

It seemed too that she had not overestimated the element of the curious which it contained, for before she had gone very far with it her father who had been, when she begun the narrative, stooping down every now and again to smell the roses as he moved from bed to bed, was standing still, quite as engrossed in hearing the story from her as she had been in hearing it from the Australian.

When she came to the end, he put his hands in his pockets, and drew a long breath, gazing, not at her face, but in an abstracted way, over her head into the distance of the shrubbery. There was a silence of considerable duration before he said,—and once again he seemed to draw a long breath:

“What did you say is the name of the man—the Australian—I was paying so little attention to you, I regret to say, when you began your story, I have actually forgotten it?”

“Pierce Winwood,” replied Amber. “I mentioned the name to you a few days ago when I told you that I had met him. You said you did not recollect hearing it before, but I now see that you recall it.”

“You are wrong, my dear; I do not recall anyone of that name,” said her father. And then he turned away from her, looking up to the topmost windows of the house, which were glowing one by one, as the servants switched on the lights in turn, preparing the rooms for the night.

Amber was a little struck at his way of taking the story. It appeared to her that he must have heard it all before, for he had not given any exclamation of surprise while she dwelt on some of the details that seemed to her rather marvellous. His attitude on hearing it to its close, was, she thought, that of a person whose distant memories have been awakened.

“What did he say was the name of the man—the man to whom the thing happened?” he asked, after another and a longer pause.

“He was unable to give me any name—either the name of the man who was falsely imprisoned or the one who allowed himself to be saved by the falsehood,” replied Amber.

“Ah... I wonder if he is anxious to find out either of those names.”

“He said nothing about that. He only told me the story because we had been talking about the romance of the colonies,” said Amber.


“But now that I come to think of the way he dwelt on some of the details in the story he must take a more than ordinary amount of interest in the people of that little drama—the story would make a very good play, I think.”

“That is just what I have been thinking—a very good play. You really fancy that he took a personal interest in some of the details?”

“Well, it did not seem so to me at the moment, I must confess; but as I said just now, the more I think of it the more I feel... but perhaps I exaggerate... I can only tell you what is my impression now.”

“That is almost certain to be accurate, my dear. I am sure that you have been led to believe that I heard the story before. Of course I heard it before. What surprised me was becoming aware of the fact that I was not alone in my acquaintance with the details of the story—the man who was innocent suffering for the one who was guilty.”

“The strangest part seems to me to be that of the guilty man being content to see the innocent suffer. Is it possible that such a man could exist?”

“There are few men in existence possessing sufficient strength of mind to stand silently by while some one else—their closest friend—is suffering in their place.”

“Strength of mind? Strength of—well, they may have strength of mind,—but what about their hearts? Oh, such men could have no hearts.”

“When men set out in life with a determination that their ambition shall be realised they find that their best ally is that process of nature known as atrophy, my dear: they get rid of their hearts to make way for their ambition. At the same time you should remember that atrophy is as much a process of nature as those other processes which we associate with the action of the heart.”

“Oh, yes; I acknowledge that; and our abhorrence of the man with the atrophied heart is quite as natural as the process known as atrophy.”

Sir Creighton laughed.

“And you will be able to tell Mr. Winwood the names of the people—the two men: the man with the heart and the man with the ambition?” continued Amber.

“I could tell him both names; but I am not certain that I should tell him so much as one of them,” said her father. “At any rate, you are going to ask him to dinner. By the way, who did you say sat with him at the little feast to-night—you said he told you the story after dinner?”

“Josephine sat beside him. I think mother mentioned it when we returned,” said Amber.

“Of course she did,” said her father. “I had forgotten for the moment. And I suppose one may take it for granted that Josephine and he got on all right?”

“I’m sure they did. I hadn’t a chance of asking her. Oh, of course, they got on all right; Joe isn’t the girl to let a stranger feel ‘heavy and ill at ease,’ as the song says.”

“That occurred to me. And the man—would he tell her the story too? Oh, I don’t suppose that he would have the chance at the dinner table. He isn’t in the position of the Ancient Mariner.”

“I don’t suppose he would have told me if we hadn’t begun to talk about Australian romances. He had a groom who used to play polo at Ranelagh—and a stock rider too. Funny, isn’t it?”

“Very funny. You came to the conclusion that he was a good sort of chap?”

“You mean Mr. Winwood? Oh, yes, he is very nice.”

“I think you might ask Josephine to come on whatever night you invite him. Make it a small party, Amber.”

“I’ll make it as small as you please, if you want to talk to him afterwards. Why should not I ask him to drop in to lunch? that will be more informal, and besides, we really haven’t a spare evening for three weeks to come.”

“A capital idea! Yes, ask him to lunch. Only he may not have a spare morning for as many weeks. Don’t forget Josephine: meantime we’ll go to our beds and have a sleep or two. Who sat beside you at dinner?”

“Lord Lullworth. A nice—no, he might be nice only that he’s pig-headed. He ridiculed the school.”

They had walked towards the house, and now they were standing together at the foot of the flight of steps leading to the door by which they meant to enter.

“He ridiculed the school, did he? Well, your friend Willie Bateman will tell us that he could not do more for the school than that. By the way, did this Mr. Winwood bind you down to secrecy in regard to his story?”

“On the contrary he asked me to tell it to you; but now that I come to think of it he said he would rather that I didn’t tell it to Mr. Richmond: you see I suggested before he told it to me that it would serve—possibly—as an exercise for one of the classes.”

“I think he was right. I would advise you to refrain from telling it to Mr. Richmond or in fact to any one. I would even go the length of refraining from telling it to Josephine.”

“What! oh, he did not tell me to keep it such a secret as all that. Why shouldn’t I tell it to Joe?”

“Why should you tell it to her. It may concern this Mr. Winwood more closely than you think. You remember what the knowing man says in one of Angler’s comedies?—‘When any one tells me a story of what happened to a friend of his, I know pretty well who that friend is.’”

“You mean to say that it is—that it was——”

“I mean to say nothing more, and I would advise you to follow my example. Good-night, my dear. Don’t give too much of your thought to the question of who Mr. Winwood’s friend is—or was. He told you he was dead, didn’t he?”

“Yes, he said that he was dead and that he didn’t even know what his name was.”

“Ah, well, I have the better of him there. Goodnight.”

He kissed her, and she suffered herself to be kissed by him, but was too far lost in thought to be able to return his valediction.

She went to her dressing-room; but she heard her father go down the corridor to his study before she had reached the first lobby. She could not, however, hear the way he paced the floor of his study for some minutes before throwing himself upon his sofa, or she might have come to the conclusion that the story which she had repeated to him concerned him much more closely than it did.

But he was a scientific man and his methods of thought were scientific.

“A coincidence—a coincidence!” he muttered. “Yes, one of those coincidences that are carefully arranged for. He never would have told her the story but for the fact of his hearing that I knew all about it. It would have been a coincidence if he had told her the story without knowing who she was.”

He resumed his pacing of the room for some minutes longer, but then, with an impatient word, he extinguished the lights.

“Psha!” he said. “What does it amount to after all? Not much, only I never thought it possible that all that old business would ever be revived. I fancied that it was dead and buried long ago. It’s a pity—a great pity. Yes, that’s what I think now. But...”

He remained for a minute or two in the dark, but whatever his thoughts were he did not utter them. He went silently upstairs to his room.

When Amber saw Josephine a couple of days later and asked her to drop in to lunch on the following Friday, Josephine said she would be delighted; but when Amber mentioned immediately afterwards, that Pierce Winwood would probably be the only stranger of the party she was rather surprised to notice a little flush upon Josephine’s face followed by a little drawing down of the corners of her mouth, and the airiest shadow of a frown—perhaps a pout.

“Did you say Friday?” Josephine asked in a tone that suggested a vocal sequence to the tiny frown that might have been a pout.

“Yes, I said Friday and you said you would come. Don’t try to make out now that you misunderstood me,” cried Amber.

“I’m not going to try. Only——”

“Only what? Why should you dislike meeting Mr. Winwood? Did you expect me to ask Guy Overton or Mr. Richmond—or was it Arthur you had set your heart on? Didn’t you find Mr. Win-wood entertaining?”

“Entertaining? Entertaining?” Josephine looked at her strangely for a few moments and then gave a laugh. “Entertaining?” she said again. “I really never gave a thought to the question as to whether he was entertaining or the reverse. The men who entertain one are not always the people one wants to meet again. I think that there’s hardly any one so dull as the man who tries to be entertaining.”

“Then what have you against Mr. Winwood?” asked Amber.

“Did I say that I had somewhat against him?” cried Josephine quickly and with quite unnecessary vehemence. “Now, don’t say that I suggested to you that I disliked this Mr. Winwood. I was only—only surprised. Why should you ask me to meet him again? There was no need for me ever to meet him again. People come together at dinner or at a dance and separate and—and—that’s all right. Why shouldn’t this Mr. Winwood be allowed to drift away after this comfortable and accommodating manner?”

Amber stared at her. Her face was almost flushed with the vehemence of her words, and there was a strange sparkle in her eyes. Amber stared at this inexplicable display of feeling. She wondered what on earth had come over her friend Josephine, and had opened her mouth to say so, when Josephine prevented her speaking.

“Now, don’t say—what you’re going to say,” she cried, lifting up both her hands in an exaggerated attitude of protest which, however, but imperfectly concealed the increased flush upon her face. “Don’t say that I’m an idiot, my beloved girl, because I happen to have—to have taken an unaccountable dislike to your Mr. Winwood. I haven’t—I give you my word I haven’t in reality—as a matter of fact I think that I could almost like him, if I did not—that is to say, if I did not—do the other thing. There you are now.”

“What’s the other thing?” asked Amber.

“Good gracious! what’s the opposite to liking a man?”

“Loving a man,” cried Amber.

Josephine’s flush vanished. It was her turn to stare. She stared as a cold search-light stares.

Then she said coldly:

“I dislike your Mr. Winwood—I—I—I wonder if I don’t actually hate him. Yes, I feel that I must actually hate him or I shouldn’t be looking forward to meeting him so eagerly as I do. That’s the truth for you, my dear Amber—the truth—whatever that may mean.”

“I wish you were not coming on Friday,” said Amber, after a long, thoughtful and embarrassing pause.

“So do I. But I swear to you that nothing shall prevent my lunching with you on Friday,” cried Josephine.

And then after a moment of gravity which Amber thought might be simulated in a kind of spirit of parody of her own gravity, Josephine burst out laughing and then hurried away.

Amber felt completely puzzled by her attitude. She did not know what to make of her flushing—of her frowning—of her pouting—least of all of her outburst of laughter.

She thought over what Josephine had said; but, of course, that was no assistance to her.

If one cannot arrive at any satisfactory interpretation of a girl’s flushing and frowning and laughing one is not helped forward to any appreciable extent by recalling her words.

Amber wished with all her heart that her father had not suggested to her the asking of Josephine to this confidential little lunch which he had projected.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook