Lord Lullworth, while he was drinking his tea and admiring to the full the exquisite electrical apparatus by which it was prepared, was giving some attention to the other young men—Mr. Richmond might possibly still be thought of by some people as a young man—who occupied chairs or stools around Miss Severn’s seat. Guy Overton he knew pretty well, and he had never pretended that he thought highly of his talents—by talents Lord Lullworth meant his seat on a pony something between twelve and thirteen hands high—or of his disposition. (He had heard of his habitually dining at a greasy Italian restaurant and drinking Chianti in half flasks.)

He knew nothing about the other men, but he knew instinctively that he would never think much of them.

And then they began to talk, and she actually listened to them and pretended that she was interested in what they were talking about—he was anxious to think the best of her, so he took it for granted that her attention to what they were saying was only simulated. He was not fond of hearing himself talk, so he did not feel all left out in the cold while the others were—well, the exact word that was in his mind as he listened to them was the word “jabbering.” They were jabbering, the whole racket of them, weren’t they?

“We really can’t spare you another week, Miss Severn,” one of the racket was saying—the eldest of them, he was as high-toned as to his dress as a shopwalker in a first-class establishment; a figurant whom he greatly resembled in Lord Lullworth’s judgment. “Oh, no; we cannot spare you so soon. I am holding a special class on The Novel With A Purpose. I think you may find it interesting, though doubtless you are acquainted with some points in the technique of this class of fiction. The title, for instance; the title must be sharp, quick, straightforward, like the bark of a dog, you know: ‘The Atheist,’ ‘The Nigger,’ ‘The Haggis,’ ‘The Bog-trotter,’ ‘The Humbug’—all these are taking titles; they have bark in them. And then in regard to the Purpose—in The Novel With A Purpose, no one should have the least idea of what the Purpose is, but one must never be allowed to forget for a moment that the Purpose is there. It is, however, always as well for a writer of such a novel to engage the services of an interviewer on the eve of the publication of the novel to tell the public how great are his aims, and then he must not forget to talk of the sea—that sea, so full of wonder and mystery beside which The Novel With A Purpose must be written and a hint must be dropped that all the wonder and mystery of the sea, and the sound of the weeping of the women and the wailing of the children, and the strong true beating hearts of great men anxious to strangle women and to repent grandly in the last chapter, will be found in the book, together with a fine old story—as old as the Bible—if you forget to drag the Bible into the interview no one will know that you have written The Novel With A Purpose—one story will do duty for half a dozen novels: two women in love with one man—something Biblical like that. But doubtless you have studied the technique of this class of fiction, Miss Severn.”

“I have never studied it so closely,” replied Amber. “I have always read books for pleasure, not for analysis.”

And Lord Lullworth kept staring away at Mr. Richmond, and then at Amber. What the mischief were they talking about anyway?

And then Willie Bateman chipped in.

“I have always regarded the Interview as obsolete,” said he. “It does not pay the photographer’s expenses. Even the bulldog as an advertising medium for an author has had his day—like every other dog. A publisher told me with tears in his eyes that he saw the time when the portrait of an author’s bull pup in a lady’s weekly journal would have exhausted a large edition of his novel—even a volume of pathetic poems has been known to run into a second edition of twenty-five copies after the appearance in an evening paper of the poet’s black-muzzled, pig-tailed pug. I’m going to give the Cat a trial some of these days. I believe that the Manx Cat has a brilliant future in store for it, and the Persian—perhaps a common or garden-wall cat will do as well as any other—I wouldn’t be bound with the stringency of the laws of the Medes and Persians as to the breed—I’d just give the Cat a chance. Properly run I believe that it will give an author of distinction as good a show as his boasted bull terrier.”

And Lord Lullworth stared away at the speaker. Great Queen of Sheba! What was he talking about anyway?

And then Amber, who had been listening very politely to both of the men who had been trying to impart their ideas to her, turned to Lord Lull-worth and asked him if he had heard that Mr. Over-ton had purchased The Gables, and when he replied with a grin that he hoped Overton hadn’t paid too much money for it, Overton hastened to place his mind at ease on this point. The purchase of the place had involved an immediate outlay of a considerable sum of money, he admitted, but by giving up his chambers in town and the exercise of a few radical economies he hoped to see his way through the transaction. Would Lord Lullworth come down some week’s end and have a look round?

Lord Lullworth smilingly asked for some superficial information regarding the Cellar.

And then Mr. Owen Glendower Richmond and Arthur Galmyn went off together, and when Guy Overton found that he had to hurry off—the cuisine at the Casa Maccaroni was at its best between the hours of six and seven—Willie Bateman, who wanted to have a quiet word with him went away by his side. (He wondered if Guy would think it worth his while to pay a hundred pounds to have a stereo-block made of the river view of The Gables for an evening paper, to be inserted with a historical sketch of the house and some account of the family of the new purchaser.)

Lord Lullworth laughed pleasantly—confidentially, when he and Amber were left alone together.

“They are all so clever,” said Amber apologetically. She had really quite a faculty interpreting people’s thoughts.

“Yes,” said he, “they are, as you say, a rummy lot.”

Then she too laughed.

“That’s your way of putting it,” she said.

“I suppose so. What fun chaps can find in jabbering away like that beats me. They’re a bit pinkeyed, aren’t they now?”

Amber evaded a question which might possibly be enigmatical, she thought.

“But they are really very clever,” said she. “Arthur Galmyn was a poet, but I saw that he had not patience enough to wait for fame to come to him.”

“Why couldn’t he buy a practice in a populous suburban district?” asked Lord Lullworth. “If a chap can’t succeed as a specialist in town he should set up as a general practitioner in the suburbs or in the provinces.”

“I suppose a poet is a sort of literary specialist,” said Amber. “Never mind,—he is all right now: he is making money on the Stock Exchange.”

“You made him go on the Stock Exchange?”

“Oh, yes; we talked it over together. And I got Guy Overton to join the Technical School of Literature, and I believe he is improved by doing so already.”

“And you got the other chap to set up the school, I suppose?”

“It was an old idea of mine. When people have a Conservatoire of Music, and the Academy School of Painting, why should the art of Literary Composition be allowed to struggle on as best it can without instruction or advice?”

“That’s just what I should like to know. And the other bounder—I mean the chap who talked that about bulldogs and the cats and things—a bit of a rotter he was, wasn’t he? Did you advise him in any direction? I didn’t quite make out what his line was.”

“Yes, it was I who suggested to him the splendid possibilities there were in the way of advertising things. I showed him in what a haphazard way people advertised just now, and persuaded him that there was money in any systematic scheme of advertising, and he has gone far ahead of anything I ever imagined to be possible.”

“I should think he has. And what are they up to, the lot of them, can you guess, Miss Severn?”

“Up to?—what are they up to? Why, haven’t I just explained that each of them is making a profession——”

“Oh, yes; but do you fancy that they’re doing it for love of the profession or for—for—any other reason?”

“I don’t quite see what you mean, Lord Lullworth.”

“It’s a bit rough to be frank with a girl; and it’s rarely that a chap has to say just what he means, but there are times...”

He spoke apologetically and paused, allowing his smile to rest upon her for a moment. It was the smile of a man who hopes he hasn’t gone too far, and trusts to get out of an untenable position by the aid of a temporising smile.

She returned his smile quite pleasantly. She knew that the sentences over the utterance of which men hesitate are invariably the most interesting that they have to speak.

“What is it?” she asked. “Everybody speaks frankly to me: they don’t treat me as they do other girls, you know.”

“It’s a dangerous experiment talking frankly to a girl,” said he. “But if it comes to that, it’s not so dangerous an experiment as a girl talking frankly to a man—leading him to do things that he hasn’t a mind to do—may be that he hates doing.”

“I was born in an atmosphere of experiments,” said she. “I delight in having dealings with new forces, and making out their respective coefficients of energy.”

“Oh; then you don’t happen to think that these chaps who were here just now are in love with you? That’s frank enough, isn’t it?”

Her face had become roseate, but she was not angry. Whatever she may have been she was sufficiently like other girls to be able to refrain from getting angry at the suggestion that four young men were in love with her at the same time.

“It’s nonsense enough,” she said. “You have quite misunderstood the situation, Lord Lullworth. I like Guy Overton and all the others greatly, and I hope they like me. But they are no more in love with me than I am in love with them.”

“Do you fancy that a chap allows himself to be led about by a girl all for the fun of the thing?” he asked.

“Why should a man think it ridiculous for a woman to be his friend and to give him the advice of a friend—the advice that he would welcome if it were to come from a brother?” she enquired.

“I don’t know why, but I know that he does,” said Lord Lullworth. “Anyhow, you don’t think of any of the chaps who were here as a lover?”

“I do not,” she cried emphatically—almost eagerly.

“That’s all right,” he said quietly—almost sympathetically.

“It is all right,” she said. “I believe in the value of friendship according to Plato.”

“Have you ever thought of calculating its coefficient of energy, or its breaking strain?” said he.

“I do not like people who make fun—who try to make fun of what I believe, Lord Lullworth,” said she.

“Do you dislike alarum clocks?” he asked blandly.

“Alarum clocks?” She was puzzled.

“Yes; I’m an alarum clock—one of the cheap make, I admit, but a going concern and quite effective. I want to rattle in your ears until your eyes are opened.”

“You certainly do the rattling very well. But I’m not asleep. I know what you mean to say about my friends.”

“I don’t mean to say anything about them. I don’t want to try to make them out to be quite such soft roes as you would have me think they are. I don’t want to talk of them; I want to talk of you.”

“Of me? Well?”

“Yes, and of me.”

“Excellent topics both.”

“Yes; but the two of us only make up one topic, and this is it. Now listen. Your mother asked me to call and have tea some afternoon. If she hadn’t asked me I would have asked her permission to do so. I came pretty soon after her invitation, didn’t I?”

“I’m so sorry that she has a Committee meeting this afternoon.”

“It doesn’t make any difference to me—that is, in what I have to say to you. And what I have to say to you is this; I came early to see you and I’m coming often—very often—you have no notion how often—I don’t believe I quite know it myself. Now no matter how often I come I want you to understand distinctly from the first that I disclaim all intention of using Plato as an umbrella to sit under with you. I am coming in a strictly anti-Platonic spirit.”

He had grown a bit red and she had flushed all over.

“Go on—go on; tell me all you have to say; it’s quite—quite—funny—yes, funny,” she said, and there was something of bewilderment in her voice. “I never—never—heard anything so—so queer—so straightforward. Go on.”

“I have really said all that I came to say—maybe a trifle more,” he said. “I’m not going to make an ass of myself leading you to fancy that I’m coming here as a casual acquaintance having no designs in my heart against you—I mean, for you. I don’t want you to fancy that I’m coming here to talk to you about books, or pictures, for the sake of exchanging opinions in a strictly platonic way. No, I want you to know from the outset that I’m coming as a possible lover.”

“I understand—oh, quite clearly—you have made the position quite clear to me; only let me tell you at once, Lord Lullworth that—that——”

“Now there you go treating me as disdainfully as if I had actually declared myself to be your lover. I’m nothing of the sort, let me tell you. I’m only the rough material out of which a lover may be formed. I’m a possible lover, so I should be treated very gently—just the way that you would treat a baby feeling that it may one day grow up to be a man. At the same time nothing may really come of the business. Cupid, the god of love is always shown as a child, because the people who started the idea had before them the statistics of infant mortality; so many little Loves die when they are young and never grow up at all.”

“They do—they do. Isn’t it a blessing? You have only seen me twice and yet you——”

“My dear Miss Severn, I’ve seen you very often. I have been looking at you for the past eighteen months, and I thought you the nicest girl I had ever seen. I found out who you were, and it was I who got old Shirley to get up his dinner to give me a chance of meeting you; and I found you nicer even than I allowed myself to hope you would be. So I’m coming to see you very often on the chance that something may come of it. If after a while—a year or so—you find me a bit of a bore, you just tell me to clear off, and I’ll clear without a back word. Now you know just what my idea is. I’m not a lover yet but I may grow up to be a lover. You may tell Lady Severn all this—and your father too, if you think it worth while—if you think anything will come of the business.”

“I won’t trouble either of them. It’s not worth while.”

“I dare say you are right—only... Well, you are forewarned anyway. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye,” said she. “This is the second time I have seen you in my life. I don’t care how soon you come again, but if you never do come again I promise you that my pillow will not be wet with bitter tears of disappointment.”

“Same here,” he cried briskly, when he was at the door. He laughed and went out and closed the door. In a moment, however, he opened the door, and took a step towards her.

“No; I find that I was wrong—I should not have said ‘same here.’ As a matter of fact, I find that I’m more of a lover than I thought. Since I have been with you here I am twice the lover that I was when I entered this room. No, I should be greatly disappointed if you were to tell me that I must not return.”

“Then I won’t; only... oh, take my advice and hurry away before I have time to say what I have on my mind to say.”

“I know it already; and I also know that you’ll never tell it to me. Good-bye again.”

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