Mr. Richmond had become more carefully careless in regard to his dress during the past few weeks than he had yet been, Amber thought. She noticed with surprise that them was a breath of Byron—a suspiration of Shelley about his collars, which was not so before. He still wore a frock coat but he did it with the most painstaking negligence, and from some standpoints it did not look a bit like a frock coat. His hair was short, but it was plainly (in some lights) the hair of a thoughtful man. The amount of thinking that goes on beneath even the shortest hair has a perturbing influence upon it: one does not expect the grass which grows on the sides of an active volcano to be as ordinary grass.

He wore his tie in a loose bow.

“I am about to offer for your consideration a time-study,” said Mr. Richmond, when he had tapped the tubular end of his quill pen upon the edge of his desk. “Last week I had a most satisfactory response to the home exercise on the ‘Honest Doubter’ form of fiction, but I must say here lest I should forget it, that I think it was unnecessary to define, as some of the class did, the doubts of the Honest Doubter. It was also a technical error to clear away his doubts. Of course there is a good deal to say in favour of the domestic treatment of the theme, adopted by some of the class. Marrying him to an estimable and brainless woman, and showing his doubts cleared away as he stands alone in the nursery looking at the face of his sleeping child, is an excellent suburban view to take of the Honest Doubter; nine ladies were most successful in their treatment of the subject on these lines; but I regret to say that not one of them thought of the moonlight. A moment’s reflection should be sufficient to convince any one of the impossibility of banishing a strong man’s doubts in the afternoon, or before lunch. He must be brought full into the moonlight. The technical phrase is: ‘There; with the moonlight of heaven streaming through the nursery window upon the little face of his child, the strong man felt his heart soften and become once more as the heart of a little child. All the doubts that had clung to him for years as the mists cling to the moor fled away, as those same mists melt into the moonlight. He felt that a new day was breaking for him, a new light, he looked down at the little sleeping face, and cried—‘you can make him say anything you please: but he must say it when the moon is full. Still, I repeat the papers were most satisfactory as a whole. Now, the Time Study for to-day is on a very different theme; but it is one which I hope will appeal to the imagination of a good many in the class. The headings are these: Given, a young man—well, not perhaps, very young—let us say, a still young man, of good family, but by the force of circumstances for which he is not responsible—undeserved misfortune—compelled to become a tutor in a family of distinction; he falls in love with the beautiful daughter of the house; but he is too proud to confess his love, he is too modest to reveal himself to her. He has his hopes—sometimes they are strong when she smiles upon him, and then he thinks of his own humble position and he is on the verge of despair. Required the conclusion of the story: the happy accident by which he is enabled to reveal himself.”

In a second a dozen at least of the young women in the class were writing away for dear life, only a few thought it necessary to give any preliminary consideration to the problem suggested by Mr. Richmond. The little governess, however, who sat at a distant desk, could not write on account of her tears, and the half pay veteran was laboriously mending his quill pen. Amber, who used a reservoir pen, and had never seen a quill being mended, watched the operation with a curious interest.

She had no intention of making an attempt to work out the theme. The truth was that her heart was beginning to soften towards Josephine, and she came to the conclusion that in adopting so drastic a scheme of retaliation for Josephine’s secrecy respecting her engagement to Mr. Clifton, she was showing herself to be very hard-hearted. She felt that she should have waited at home to kiss Josephine when she should call.

She made up her mind not to remain at the school for the Aunt Dorothy class which followed the Time-Study class, but to hasten to the side of her friend, and if she failed to find her at home, she would drive back to her own home, and catch her there, and then—well, perhaps Lord Lullworth would drop in for tea, when he came back with the matched silks for Lady Severn.

“You are not working out the Time Study, Miss Severn,” said Mr. Richmond taking a seat beside her. This was his system of helpfulness referred to by Miss Quartz Mica Hanker. He was accustomed to take a seat by the side of some member of his class—he seemed discreetly indifferent to sex in this matter—in order to make suggestions as to the working out of the Time Study. He invariably spoke in so low a tone as to run no chance of disturbing the active members of the class.

“I do not feel much inclined to work at anything just now,” said Amber. “But I am glad to see so many other girls do their best. You have given them confidence, Mr. Richmond.”

“Then I give away what I myself stand most in need of just now,” said Mr. Richmond in a still lower tone.

“Confidence?” said Amber. “Oh, I think you have a very firm hand in these matters, Mr. Richmond. You deal with every problem with the hand of a master.”

“Alas!” he murmured. “Alas! I find myself faltering even now—at this moment. Dear Miss Severn, will you not make the attempt to work out the question which I have enunciated for you—believe me, it was for you only I enunciated it?—a Time Study? Ah, it is with me at all times—that problem. Miss Severn—Amber, will you try to suggest a happy conclusion to the parable which I have just uttered, when I tell you that I am in the position of the man, and that I think of you in the position of the girl?”

Amber scarcely gave a start. She only looked curiously at the man as if she was under the impression that he was enunciating another Time Study for her to work out—as if he was making a well-meant but more than usually unintelligible attempt to help her over a literary stile.

“I don’t quite understand, Mr. Richmond,” said she, after a thoughtful pause. “You say that you are—you———”

“I am poor and obscure, and I am unfortunate enough to love—to love the daughter of a distinguished family—you—you, Amber. What is to be the conclusion of the story—my love story?—the conclusion of it rests with you.”

Amber heard the quill pens about going scrawl, and the steel pens going scratch and the pencils going scribble. The voice of Mr. Richmond had not been raised louder than the voice of the pens. She was too much astonished to be able to reply at once. But soon the reply came.

This was it.

She picked up her little morocco writing case and folded it carefully and fastened the elastic band over it, then she picked up her parasol, rose, and went to the door, without a word.

He was before her at the door; he held it open for her. She went out without a word.

He was in no way overcome. He simply walked to another desk at which a girl was scribbling. He said a few words of commendation to her. Then he crossed the room to where Miss Quartz Mica Hanker was sitting industriously idle. He knew she was giving all her thoughts to the solution of the problem which he had offered to her, and this was real industry.

“Dear Miss Quartz,” he said in his low earnest voice—every time he conversed with her in this voice it was not the white rose that was suggested by her cheeks. “Dear Miss Quartz, are you making the attempt to work out the question which I have enunciated for you—believe me, it was for you only I enunciated it—a Time Study? Ah, it is with me for all time—that problem. Miss Quartz, will you try to suggest a happy conclusion to the parable which I have just uttered, when I tell you that I am in the position of the man and that I think of you in the position of the girl?”

Miss Quartz proved herself to be a far more apt student of the obscure than Miss Severn. She looked down at the blank paper in front of her saying:

“I wonder if you mean that—that—you——

“I am poor and obscure,” said he, “and I am unfortunate enough to love—to love the daughter of a distinguished family—to love you—you. What is to be the conclusion of the story—my love story?—the conclusion rests with you.”

Miss Quartz had mastered the literary technicalities of various sorts of proposals and acceptances—it had been Mr. Richmond’s pleasing duty during the month to keep the members of his class abreast of that important incident in the making of fiction known as The Proposal. She carried out the technicalities of the “business” of the part of the addressee to the letter—that is to say, she became suffused with a delicate pink—only she became a very peony, as she looked coyly down to the paper on her desk. She put her ungloved hand an inch or two nearer to his, raising her eyes to his, for a moment.

He glanced round the room, and having reassured himself, he laid his hand gently on hers.

“Dear child,” he said. “I have greatly dared—I have greatly dared. You will never regret it. Your novel will rank with ‘Esmond’ and ‘The Virginians’ and ‘Ben Hur’————”

“And Kate Douglas Wiggin?” she cried. “Oh, Mr. Richmond, if you promise me that I shall be alluded to as the Kate Douglas Wiggin of Nebraska I’ll just go down on my knees and worship you.”

“Ah,” he said with a smile. “She has never written an historical novel. She has made books, but never an Epoch. ‘The White Rose’ will be an Epoch-making book.”

“The girl’s eyes filled with tears. Such a future as he promised her was too dazzling to be viewed except through such a dimness.

“Come to my aunt’s for tea to-night,” she whispered. “The Daniel Webster boarding-house, Guildford Street. My money is in my own hands. Sixty thousand dollars.”

“The legitimate end of the story has come—you have solved the question,” he murmured.

He rose and returned to his desk. Sixty thousand dollars—twelve thousand pounds. He had calculated on five millions. Sixty thousand—well, it was better than nothing.

And that insolent girl, Amber Severn, would know that all girls were not like her—that was something too.

But by the time he had come to consider this very important point, Amber Severn, full of anger against the man who had not hesitated to take advantage of his position as the master of a school in order to make a proposal to one of his pupils—the man who had outraged her sense of the protecting influences of Platonic friendship, was flying along in her motor Victoria in the direction of Palace Gate where was the town residence of the Under Secretary for the Arbitration Department. She was burning with indignation against Mr. Owen Glendower Richmond, for his having the effrontery to add to the efforts which other people had already made to shatter her theory. She had heard of preceptors—they were mostly in the musical line—taking advantage of their opportunities to make love to their pupils and she had always held such persons in contempt. But if they were contemptible, how much more so was not such a man as Mr. Richmond—a man whose business it was to give a helping hand to those who might be anxious to write books illustrating the charm of disinterested friendship between men and women?

She felt very bitterly in regard to Mr. Richmond, quite as bitterly as did Barak the son of Zippor against the professional vituperator who, when he had a chance of showing what stuff he was made of, had rounded upon his patron. Amber had great hopes that one day a novel might be written to make the world aware of the beautiful possibilities of friendship for friendship’s sake only, between the sexes, and she had looked to Mr. Richmond to help on such a project. And yet it was he who had gone further than any one else in impressing on her the weakness of the basis of her faith.

She felt greatly disappointed. She felt that she was being daily disillusioned, and no one likes to be disillusioned: it makes one feel such a fool. So great an effect had the act of Guy Overton and Mr. Richmond upon her that she actually felt glad that she had not bound herself irrevocably to her theory but that latterly she had hedged. She knew that her attitude in regard to Lord Lullworth was suggestive of the hedge. He had boldly refused any compromise with her. He had told her at the outset of their acquaintance that he scoffed at the idea of her ideal—that his object in coming to see her would be strictly anti-platonic and yet her fondness for experiments had been so great that she had not made his scoffing at her ideal of friendship a barrier to their future association. If this was not hedging there never was hedging in any question of philosophy in the world; and so far as she could make out philosophy was simply the science of hedging.

She felt glad that she had encouraged Lord Lullworth, the exponent of a cult that admitted of no compromise. With him she was at least safe. For obvious reasons, he could never cause her to feel such disappointment as she felt at the conduct of Guy Overton and at the conduct of Owen Glendower Richmond. When one is in the presence of a man who promptly avows himself a brigand one is never surprised if one feels a tug at one’s purse. The surprise and the sorrow come only when one is in the company of a professional moralist and detects him trying to wheedle one’s handkerchief out of one’s pocket.

By the time she had reached the Brompton Road Amber Severn was feeling very strongly that the companionship of professed brigands was much to be preferred to the association with philosophers who talked of disinterested friendship while in the act of pocketing your silver spoons. An avowed lover was, she was sure, infinitely safer than a man who carries Plato in his breast pocket and presses his hand upon it while he makes a glib proposal of marriage to every girl he meets.

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