When she was quite sure that he had gone—quite gone, beyond the likelihood of another return to say something that he had omitted to say or to take back something that he had already said, she threw herself back on a sofa and yawned ostentatiously—almost insultingly at her own reflection in a mirror that hung in the centre of one of the silk panels—and then it seemed that it was for the first time in her life that she perceived how curious was the design of the mirror. The silvered glass was a Florentine one and at one curved edge it was cut with a charming intaglio of a boy chasing a butterfly. On the opposite curve there was a girl with a bird on her finger. Butterflies and birds were cut all over the glass except in the centre. The frame of the mirror was of beaten silver, and the design was that of a number of cupids bending, as it were, over the brink of the glass to see the face that it reflected. And some were fixing their arrows in their little silver bows to shoot at the glass and its reflection.

She lay back and laughed quite merrily at the thought that often as she had looked at that charming work of art, she had never before noticed the significance of the design. It interested her so greatly just now that she actually rose from her sofa and stood before it, examining its infinity of detail for several minutes. Then she threw herself once again back among her cushions and laughed.

She had never before had such a funny interview with any one in all her life, she thought, and the funny part of it all was to be found in the seriousness of the man. If he had meant to be jocular he would have been a dead failure. But he had been desperately serious from the moment he had entered the room, and had gone on talking gravely as if he had been talking sense and not nonsense.

That was the funny part of the business.

The aid of Mr. Richmond had never been needed to make her aware of the fact that the novel writers who produce the greatest amount of nonsense are those who write seriously—who take themselves seriously and talk about having a message to deliver. Such, she was well aware, are the novel writers who perish after a year or two, for the only imperishable quality in a novel is wit. Wit is the boric acid that makes a novel “keep,” she knew. But here was a live man coming to her with a message to deliver to her ears, and although he took himself quite seriously she had not found him dull—certainly not dull as the novels with the “message” are dull. What he had to say to her had surprised her at the outset of his interview with her and had kept her excited until he had gone away—nay, longer, for what he had said to her on his return after an absence of perhaps ten seconds, was, she thought, the most exciting part of her afternoon.

But after all he had talked such nonsense as a child who knew nothing of the world would talk. All the time that he was talking to her she felt that she was listening to the prattle of a boy child asking her if she would play at being sweethearts, and laying down certain rules of the game—decreeing that if he were to get tired of having her for a sweetheart, she must not get cross with him for leaving her, and at the same time, with a high sense of fairness, affirming that if she tired of him and told him to go back to the nursery he would not beat her with his fists.

Yes, he had talked just as any little boy in a sailor suit, and with a little bucket in one hand and a little spade in the other might talk while the day was young, and his gravity had made the scene very funny to her.

But then the fact of her thinking of the resemblance between him and the little boy, caused her to recall what he had said about treating him as gently as a baby should be treated. Yes, he was not to be looked on as a lover, but only as the rough material that might eventually shape itself into a lover. This was one of the rules of the game at which he wanted her to play, and it was quite worthy of him.

At first she had felt angry with him—slightly angry; but then she felt that she would be a fool if she were to be seriously angry with a little boy for asking her to play at being grown up and selling tea and sugar with him in a shop made of oyster-shells. She had then only become amused at the way he talked—she was amused at it still, as she lay back among her cushions.

She was glad on the whole that she had not snubbed him—that she had even taken him seriously; and she thought that it was this reflection upon the extent of her consideration for his feelings—that amour propre which children hold so dear—that made her feel so pleased as she did.

Although she knew that the young man had talked nonsense—making an absurd proposal to her, and making it too on a purely unintellectual basis; as if she, a girl born in an atmosphere of intellectuality and breathing of this atmosphere into her life, could listen for a moment to a proposal made to the emotional and not to the intellectual side of her nature!—although he had talked this nonsense, still she could not deny that she felt pleased at the thought of it all. The air somehow seemed fresher about her, and she breathed more freely. Had none of those writers with a message suggested that an atmosphere saturated with intellectuality is like Rimmel’s shop on a spring day: one longs to get out once more into the pure scentless air of Nature’s own breathing?

She felt all the first sweet satisfaction which comes from a good romp on the sands with a child who, though it has not conversed on intellectual topics, has brought one into the open air—into the air that blows across the sands from the sea.

And she was glad that she had not snubbed him when he sneered at that triumph of the intellect known as Platonic friendship. She was happy to think that she was an exponent of that actuality of intellectuality, and that in his hands it had become a great force tending towards the civilisation of man.

To be sure civilisation has always been opposed to Nature in its operations, and the best civilisation is that which forms the most satisfactory compromise with Nature. She knew all this, and a good deal more in the same line of elementary biology, and it was just because she had proofs of the success of her plans of Platonic friendship she was disposed to regard it as one of the greatest of civilising forces.

All the same she felt glad that she had refrained from severity towards him when he had sneered at this force. She knew that if she had done so, she would now feel ill at ease. If a baby boy jeers at the precession of the Equinoxes—a phrase which it cannot even pronounce—an adult would surely feel ill at ease at rebuking it for its ignorance. But Amber Severn felt that she had no reason for self-reproach in the matter of her interview with young Lord Lull-worth.

But then she was led to do a foolish thing, for she began comparing Lord Lullworth with the other young men who had been visiting her in the fulness of their disinterested friendship for her. He was the best looking of them all, she knew. He stood up straighter and he looked at her straighter in the face than the best of them had done. If it came to a fight....

And hereupon this young woman who had been born in, and who had lived in, an atmosphere of intellectuality was led to think of the chances that the young man who had just gone from her would have in a rough and tumble tussle with the three others. She felt herself, curiously enough, taking his part in this hustle and tussle—she actually became his backer, and was ready to convince any one who might differ from her that he could lick three of them—that horrid word of the butcher’s boy was actually in her mind as she thought over the possible contest, though why she should think over anything of the sort she would have had difficulty in explaining to the satisfaction even of herself. But somehow thinking of the men altogether—they were five of them all told—made a comparison between them inevitable, and as Lord Lullworth had frankly admitted that he was not intellectual she had, out of a sense of fair play to him, drawn the comparison from an unintellectual standpoint.

This explanation—it is not wholly plausible—never occurred to her and she was therefore left in a condition bordering on wonderment when she pulled herself up, so to speak, in her attempt to witness the exciting finish of the contest which had suggested itself to her when she involuntarily compared the young man who had lately stood before her, with the other four.

She was startled, and gave a little laugh of derision at the foolish exuberance of her own fancy; and then she became angry, and because she felt that she had made a fool of herself, she called Lord Lullworth a fool—not in a whisper, but quite out loud.

“He is a fool—a fool—and I never want to see him again!” she said.

And then the servant opened the door and announced Mr. Pierce Winwood, and withdrew and closed the door.

She sat upright on the sofa, staring at him, her left hand pressing the centre of a cushion of Aubusson tapestry, and her right one a big pillow of amber brocade.

She stared at him.

He gave a rather sheepish laugh, and twirled his cane till the handle caught his gloves which he held in his hand, and sent them flying. He gave another laugh picking them up.

She was bewildered. Matters were becoming too much for her. Had he actually been lunching in the house that day or had she dreamt it? It seemed to her that only an hour had passed since she had said good-bye to him, and yet here he was entering as a casual visitor might enter.

She rose and mechanically held out her hand to him.

“How do you do?” she said. “How do you do? A warm afternoon, is it not? You look warm.”

And so he did. He looked extremely warm.

“I am afraid that I have surprised you,” said he. “I’m so sorry. But when a chap is bound on making an ass of himself there’s really no holding him back.”

She felt her face becoming as warm as his appeared to be; for the terrible thought flashed upon her:

“This man too has come to me to offer himself as the rough material from which a lover may one day be made.”

It seemed to her that there was any amount of rough material of lovers available within easy reach this particular afternoon.

“After leaving here an hour ago,” he said, “I had a rather important call to make, so I didn’t make it but went for a long walk instead—I think I must have walked four or five miles and I don’t think I kept my pace down as I should have, considering the day it is.”

“Well?” she said when he paused. “Well, Mr. Winwood?”

“Well, you see I was bent on thinking out something, and I thought it out, and I have come back to you, you see, because you are, I think, disposed to be friendly to me and I know that you are her closest friend—that is why I ventured to come back to you.”

“Yes—yes,” she said slowly and with a liberal space between each utterance of the word. “Yes; but—what is the matter? What have I to say to—to—whatever it is?”

“I must really try to tell you,” said he. “Yes, the fact is, I hope you will not think me impudent, but it is a serious matter to me. I have—that is, I wish to—Miss Severn, I am, as you know, a stranger here. I do not know many people, and I have no means of finding out—except through you—what I should very much like to know. You see I don’t want to make too great a fool of myself altogether; that is why I hope you will not think me impudent when I ask you if you can tell me if—if—Miss West is engaged to marry some one. You can well believe, I am sure, that when I saw her for the first time—when I saw her here to-day, it seemed to me quite impossible that such a girl—so beautiful—so gracious—so womanly, should remain free. It seemed quite impossible that no one should wish—but of course though every one who sees her must feel how—how she stands alone—she would not lightly think of giving her promise—in short—I—— Yes, I believe that I have said all that I wished to say. I have said it badly, I know; but perhaps I have made myself moderately clear to you—clear enough for you to give me an answer.”

He had seated himself close to her and had bent forward, turning his hat over and over between his hands and showing himself to be far from self-possessed while stammering out his statement.

But Amber, although she had never before been made the confidante of a man, and although she had just passed through a curious experience of her own, felt, so soon as it dawned on her that the man beside her was in love with Josephine, both interested and became more than sympathetic.

The pleasure she experienced so soon as she became aware of the fact that it was not to herself he was about to offer himself as the rough material of a lover, after the fashion of the day, caused her to feel almost enthusiastic as she said:

“You have expressed yourself admirably, Mr. Win-wood; and I can tell you at once that Josephine West is not engaged to marry any one—that is—well, I think I am justified in speaking so decidedly, for if she had promised to marry any one I am certain that she would tell me of it before any one else in the world.”

He rose and held out his hand to her, saying:

“Thank you, Miss Severn—thank you. I knew that I should be safe in coming to you in this matter, you have shown yourself to be so kind—so gracious. You can understand how my position in this country is not quite the same as that of the men who have lived here all their lives—who are in your set and who hear of every incident as it occurs. I thought it quite possible that she might... well, I hope you don’t think me impudent.”

“I do not indeed,” she said, “I feel that you have done me great honour, and I think that you are—you are—manly. I think, you know, that there is a good deal of manliness about men—more than I thought, and I tell you that I always did think well of men. I believe that there is a great future awaiting them.”

“I hope that your optimism will be rewarded,” said he. “Of one thing I am sure, and that is that a great future awaits one man: the man who is lucky enough to be loved by you. Good-bye. You have placed me in such a position as makes it inevitable for me to take the rosiest view of all the world.”

“Even of the man whom I shall love? Well, you are an optimist. Good-bye.”

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