Guy has been telling me all about his great investment,” cried Amber. “You never mentioned it to us, Mr. Winwood. But perhaps you didn’t hear of it?”

“You were the first one to whom I told it,” said Guy looking at her sentimentally. His tone was syrupy with sentimentality.

Pierce laughed quite boisterously. “What has he been doing?” he said. “I certainly heard nothing of it. It hasn’t yet been put into the hands of that Mr. Bateman, the advertiser whom I have been eluding for the past fortnight. Have you bought the Duke’s racers or what?”

“Not much,” said Guy. “I’ve got something more solid for my money.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” said Pierce. “I saw one of the Duke’s racers and in the matter of solidity—but what have you bought?”

“The Gables—I’ve just bought The Gables. You must come down and see me, Pierce, old chap—you really must.”

He had the air of the old-fashioned proprietor—the owner of broad acres and so forth.

“I can see you quite well enough from where I stand—that is, when you keep still. Don’t wriggle about, sonny, but tell me what are The Gables? Whose gables have you been buying?”

“What are The Gables? What are—oh, he has just come from Australia. He has never heard of the historic mansion—see the agent’s catalogue—The historic mansion known as The Gables. Why, don’t you know enough of the history of your native land to be aware of the fact that it was at The Gables that King Charles the First—or was it Henry the First?—signed something or other.”

“Magna Charta?” suggested Pierce blandly.

“No, not Magna Charta,” said Guy with the natural irritation of a great scholar who, on forgetting for a moment an important name or date, hears the haphazard prompting of a tyro. “Not Magna Charta—that was somewhere else. Never mind, Nell Gwyn once lived at The Gables,” he added proudly. “You’ve heard of Nell Gwyn, I suppose?”

“Not in connection with the history of my native land, Mr. Overton. You will search in vain the history of Australia from the earliest date to find any allusion there to a visit from Nell Gwyn,” said Pierce. “But I’ve had fifteen houses pointed out to me within the four-mile radius, in each of which Nell Gwyn lived. And yet the greatest authority on the subject says she never lived in any but two.”

“Well, The Gables was one of them,” said Guy. “I should know it for the place is mine. I’ve just bought it.”

“The dearest old house by the river that was ever seen,” said Amber. “You must have seen it, Mr. Winwood. On the way to Hurley—you told us you went to Hurley. The river is at the bottom of the lawn.”

“Yes, in summer; but in the winter the lawn is at the bottom of the river—why it was Guy himself who told me that some friend of his had said that,” laughed Pierce. “Anyhow you’ve bought the place. Bravo, Guy! You got it cheap?”

“Not so cheap as I meant to when I set out to do it,” said Guy. “But another chap was in the running for it too—a brewer chap! Disgusting, isn’t it, that all these fine old places are getting into the hands of that sort of man?”

“It is revolting to the old stock like you and me, Guy,” responded Pierce with great solemnity.

“I got the historic mansion, the grounds with the wreck of three boats and two boathouses—the stables and a piggery—a decent sized piggery—accommodate a family of seventeen. I don’t suppose that I’ll ever want more than seventeen pigs at one time. The piggery is the only part of the place that has been occupied for the past two years. I got the furniture at a valuation too.”

“And the pigs?” suggested Pierce.

“Oh, I won’t need the pigs. I’m going to ask a crowd of you chaps down some Saturday,” said Guy, and he could not for the life of him understand why Lady Severn as well as Amber and Winwood burst out laughing. He thought it as well to allow himself to be persuaded that he had said something witty, so he too began to laugh; but he laughed so entirely without conviction that every one else in the room roared.

“Why shouldn’t I have a crowd down to keep me company?” he enquired blandly. “What’s the good of having a country house unless to entertain one’s friends. I’m going down as soon as I can. I’m not such a fool as to keep up two establishments. I have been paying two pounds a week for my rooms in town up to the present. That’s a lot of money, you know.”

“You’ll be able to save something now,” said Pierce.

“Not so much in the beginning. The house is not more than a couple of miles from your place, Lady Severn,” said Guy, and at this further suggestion of cause and effect there was another laugh.

He felt that he had joined a merry party.

“I don’t believe that it can be more than four miles from The Weir,” said Amber, “so that we shall be constantly meeting.”

“Yes—yes—I foresaw that,” acquiesced Guy. “And I hope the first Sunday that you are at The Weir, you will come up to my place and give me a few hints about the furniture and things. Shouldn’t I have a cow? I’ve been thinking a lot about a cow. And yet I don’t know. If I get a cow I must have some one to look after it. And yet if I don’t get a cow I’m sure to be cheated in my milk and butter.”

“Yes, you are plainly on the horns of a dilemma,” said Pierce, going across the room to say good-bye to Lady Severn, and then returning to shake hands with Amber.

“I hope that you and papa had a satisfactory chat together,” she said with a note of enquiry in her voice.

“A most satisfactory chat: I think that I convinced him that I was not an impostor.”

And so he went away, narrowly watched by Guy, especially when he was speaking to Amber. Guy did not at all like that confidential exchange of phrases in an undertone. Pierce was clearly worth having an eye on.

“I knew you’d be interested in hearing of my purchase,” he remarked to Amber, assuming the confidential tone that Pierce had dropped.

“Oh, yes; we are both greatly interested, mother and I,” said Amber. “But what about your work at the school? I hope you don’t intend to give up your work at the school.”

There was something half-hearted in his disclaimer. He cried:

“Oh, no—no—of course not!” but it was plain that his words did not carry conviction with them to Amber, for she shook her head doubtfully.

“I’m afraid that if you give all your time up to considering the question of cows and things of that type you’ll not have much time left to perfect yourself in literature,” she said.

There was a kind of hang-literature expression on his face when she had spoken, and she did not fail to notice it; she had shaken her head once more before he hastened to assure her that he had acquired his new possession mainly to give himself a chance of doing some really consecutive literary work.

“The fact is,” said he, “I find that the distractions of the town are too great a strain on me. I feel that for a man to be at his very best in the literary way he should live a life of complete retirement—far from the madding crowd and that, you know. Now, I’ve been a constant attender at the school for the past three weeks—ask Barnum himself if I haven’t—I mean Richmond—Mr. Richmond. Why, only a few days ago he complimented me very highly on my purpose. He said that if I persevered I might one day be in a position to enter the Aunt Dorothy class. Now, when I’ve settled down properly at The Gables I mean to write an Aunt Dorothy letter every week. That’s why I want to be at my best—quite free from all the attractions of the town—I should like to have your opinion about the cow.”

But he was not fortunate enough to be able to learn all that she thought on this momentous question, for Arthur Galmyn was shown in and had a great deal to say regarding his progress in the city. He had learned what contango really did mean and he hoped that he was making the best use of the information which he had acquired. He was contemplating a poetical guide to the Stock Exchange, introducing the current price of the leading debenture issues; and, if treated lyrically, a Sophoclean Chorus dealing with Colonial securities; or should it be made the envoi of a ballade or a Chaunt Royal? He was anxious to get Amber’s opinion on this point, there was so much to be said for and against each scheme.

Amber said she was distinctly opposed to the mingling of poetry and prices. She hoped that Mr. Galmyn was not showing signs of lapsing once again into the unprofitable paths of poetry. Of course she wished to think the best of every one, but she really felt that he should be warned in time. Would it not be a melancholy thing if he were to fall back into his old habits? she asked him.

And while he was assuring her that she need have no apprehension on this score, as he felt that he was completely cured of his old disorder, through six months contact with the flags of the Stock Exchange, Mr. Willie Bateman and Mr. Owen Glendower Richmond were announced, and each of them had a good deal to say to Amber.

What all these young men had to say to her was in the nature of reporting progress. Mr. Galmyn, whom she had turned from the excitement of poetry to the academic quietude of the Stock Exchange, had to tell her how thoughtfully he had made use of some fictitious information which he had disseminated for the purpose of “bulling” a particular stock; Mr. Bateman had a great deal to say regarding the system which he had perfected for bringing American heiresses under the notice of the old county families; he had also come to her for sympathy in respect of one of his failures. He had been entrusted with the indelicate duty of obtaining a knighthood for a certain gentleman of no conspicuous ability—a gentleman who was quite down to the level of the usual candidates for Knighthood. He had advised this gentleman to offer, through the public prints, to present his valuable collection of Old Masters to the Nation; and he had done so. For some reason or other—possibly because all the pictures were the most genuinely spurious collection ever brought together by one man—there was really no knowing why—the Nation had refused the gift.

This was one of his failures, Mr. Bateman said; and it was but indifferently compensated for by his success in obtaining a popular preacher to deliver a sermon on a novel lately published by a lady whom he had been making widely conspicuous for some months back as being the most retiring woman in England. The preacher had consented, and the novel, which was the most characteristic specimen of Nineteenth Century illiterature, was already in its sixth edition.

“But on the whole, I have no reason to complain of my progress in my art,—the art which is just now obtaining recognition as the most important in all grades of society,” said Mr. Bateman. “The Duchesses—well, just see the attitude of the various members of a Ducal House to-day. Her Grace is reciting for an imaginary charity on the boards of a Music Hall, and hopes by that to reach at a single bound the popularity of a Music Hall artiste; another member is pushing herself well to the front as the head of the committee for supplying the British army with Tam o’ Shanter caps, another of the ladies is writing a book on the late war and the most ambitious of all is, they say, going to see what the Divorce Court can do for her. Oh, no, the Duchesses don’t need my help; I sometimes envy them their resources. But think of the hundreds of the aristocracy—the best families in England, Miss Severn, who are falling behind in the great struggle to advertise themselves not from any longing after obscurity; but simply because they don’t know the A B C of the art. Yes, you’ll hear next week of a well-known and beautiful Countess—in personal advertising ‘Once beautiful always beautiful’ is an axiom, as you’ll notice in every Society Column you glance at—the beautiful Countess, I say, will occupy the pulpit of a high-class Conventicle.”

“Following your advice?” said Amber.

“I arranged every detail,” said Mr. Bateman proudly And then came the turn of Mr. Owen Glendower Richmond, to report the progress of the Technical School of Literature.

His report was not a long one.

“Miss Turquoise B. Hoskis, of Poseidon, in the State of Massachusetts, has joined the Historical Romance class,” said Mr. Richmond.

“What, the daughter of the Pie King?” cried Amber.

“The daughter of Hannibal P. Hoskis, the Pie King,” said Mr. Richmond.

Before the suspiration of surprise which passed round the drawing-room at this piece of news had melted into silence, the servant announced Lord Lullworth.

This was certainly a greater surprise for Amber than the news that the daughter of the great American, the head of the Pumpkin Pie Trust who was making his way rapidly in English society, had become a member of one of Mr. Richmond’s classes. And that was possibly why she was slightly put out by the appearance of the young man who had sat beside her at the Ranelagh dinner. She did not know that he had asked Lady Severn for permission to call upon her, and that Lady Severn had mentioned Friday afternoon to him.

She could not quite understand why she should feel pleased at his coming—pleased as well as flushed. She was acquainted with peers by the dozen and with the sons of peers by the score, and yet somehow now she felt as if she were distinctly flattered.

That was why she asked him how he was and apologised for the absence of her mother.

(Lady Severn had left her daughter in possession of the drawing-room when Mr. Bateman was talking about his Duchesses: she pretended that she had an appointment which it was necessary to keep.)

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