She threw herself upon the sofa in her boudoir and tried to face the situation which presented itself to her. She tried to think what she could do to escape from the toils which had been woven round her—woven with the appropriate phrases that went to the declaring of a father’s blessing, and the frivolous inconsequence of a mother’s acquiescence.

She felt for a moment as if she were a prisoner in a strong room, with bars across the windows and bolts upon the door. She looked, as an imprisoned girl might, first to the door then to the windows, as if she had a hope that, by some accidental neglect of precaution on the part of her gaoler a chance might be left for her of escape one way or another.

She threw back her head and stared at the ceiling. She felt that she had no chance. The door had its bolts drawn and no one of the bars across the window was defective. She was a prisoner without means of escape.

She felt hopeless facing such cleverness as that which Ernest Clifton had shown her he had at his command. A fortnight ago he had given her to understand that he considered it beyond the bounds of possibility that he should obtain the consent of her father to their engagement—he had certainly had no hope of winning her father’s consent for if he had had such a hope he would only have required to tell her so when she had met him at that garden party and had asked him to free her from her promise made to him in the autumn. Yes, all he need have said was this:

“I am going to run the chance of getting your father’s consent, and if I am not successful we can then talk as you are talking, of throwing over our compact.”

That was all he need have said, if he had had any expectation of winning over her father; but he had said nothing of the sort; and yet he had, by his own cleverness—by some mystery of adroitness of which she was ignorant—by some strange trick—she was sure it was a trick, though she knew nothing about it—gained the acquiescence of her father in their compact, and his cheerful forgiveness for the deception of the past.

What could she do in the face of such cleverness as this? How could she hope to combat it? Would it not be ridiculous for such a girl as she to strive against such a man as he? Would it not be better for her to submit to the inevitable with good grace?

But had she not already submitted to it? She had been dumb in the presence of her father, so overwhelmed as she was with surprise at the first words of the announcement of his forgiveness; and she had thus given him to understand that she was extremely grateful—grateful to a point of complete extinction of the power of expressing her gratitude—to him for his more than fatherly appreciation of her dearest hopes. And as for her mother—she had allowed her mother to go so far as to suggest that she was pretending to be tired in order to be at home if her lover—her lover—were to call.

Well, she had made a fool of herself—so much was certain. That secret engagement was an act of folly that had to be paid for. It seemed as if no power was strong enough to show her how she could evade the supreme penalty which that act carried with it. Yes, she had undoubtedly made a fool of herself.

And then the thought came to her that she had not only made a fool of herself, she had also made a fool of Pierce Winwood. This reflection was too much for her. She turned her face to a pillow and wept silently into its depths.

This was the second time she had been moved to tears since the morning, and it was the memory of the incident of her first tears that caused her to weep the more piteously now. By a strange inconsistency it was this same memory that caused her to leap to her feet after an interval of silent sobbing, and to toss away her second handkerchief just as she had done her first and then to strike the palms of her hands together crying aloud:

“I will face them all—I will face them all. I am not afraid of any of them. I know my own mind now—now. I don’t care whether I have behaved honourably or basely or idiotically, I love one man and that man I mean to marry. That’s enough for me.”

It was in this spirit that she sat down in front of her escritoire and flung the ink upon a sheet of paper to the effect that if Dear Mr. Clifton would have the kindness to pay her a visit on the following afternoon she would be glad. She thumped the scrawl when face downward on the blotter, as good-natured people thump the back of a child that has swallowed a fishbone. It was a great satisfaction to her to pound away at it; and when she picked it up she saw that the blotting paper, which had been spotless before was now black. The face of the letter was also smudged, the absorbent not having been rapid enough in its action. But she knew that not only would the lines be deciphered by the man to whom they were addressed, he would also be made to understand something of the mood she was in when she had made that cavalry charge upon the paper using her broadest quill as a lance.

She gave a sigh of relief when she saw the envelope with the letter inside, lying on the table beside her; and then she wrote the date on another sheet of paper. The second letter, however, seemed to require more careful composition than the first. She sat looking wistfully at the blank paper for more than half an hour, without making sufficient progress to write the name of the one whom the post office authorities call the addressee. She leant back in her chair and bit at the feather end of the pen for a long time. At last she tore up the sheet of paper and dropped the fragments with great tenderness into the Dresden vase that stood on a carved bracket on the wall.

“I will not spoil his day,” she said pathetically. “I may have a good deal more to tell him by this time to-morrow. But I am not afraid to face anything that may come to pass. I know my own mind now—now.”

Her maid came to enquire if she was at home, and if she would have tea in her boudoir or in one of the drawing-rooms. She replied that she was not at home and that she would like her tea brought to her at once.

This was done and she found herself greatly refreshed, and able to enjoy an hour’s sleep before dinner, and to hear during that meal, her mother’s account of the two entertainments at which she had assisted, with a detailed description of some of the most innocuous of the dresses worn by the heroines of the lady correspondents’ columns. A word or two Lady Gwendolen threw in about the less interesting subject of the men who had walked through the garden of the Hyde Park Gate house, with the usual mournfulness of the men among five o’clock ices and angel-cakes, failed to move Josephine.

“You should have been there, Joe,” said the mother when the servants had left the dining-room, and the scent of fresh peeled peaches was in the air. “I told you that it was quite unlikely that your Ernest would call to-day, so you had your waiting at home for nothing. Amber was there wearing that ancient thing with the little sprigs of violets—she must have had that since May—but I think the hat was new—do you know it?—a fearfully broad thing of white straw with a droop on both sides and two ostrich feathers lying flat, one falling over the brim and coiling underneath, and who is the latest victim to her theories of training, do you think? Why, Lord Lully himself. She had ices with him, and held on to him with grim determination for half an hour, though he told me last week that he would be there and I saw that he was struggling hard to get away from her, poor boy! But if she fancies that Lord Lully is such a fool as the rest of them, she is going a little too far. I happen to know that he has his eyes open just as wide as his father could wish. Amber will make nothing of him, take my word for it. Theories! Experiments! Fiddlestrings and fiddlesticks! And his mother was quite civil to her too—almost gracious, only that we know that she never is so except for three weeks during a General Election, and she takes it out of her home circle when it’s all over and she need be civil no longer. I hope your father will get into the Cabinet and so relieve me from the General Election smile. I smiled him through three General Elections, but I decline to face a fourth. Why should an Under Secretary’s wife be supposed to make a Cheshire Cat of herself when the wife of a Cabinet Minister need only be civil?”

This and several other social problems were formulated by Lady Gwendolen for the consideration of her daughter while they ate their peaches, and then they had an interval to themselves before dressing for a very Small Dance at a very great house, following an Official Reception.

An Official Reception means a scuffle in a hall, a scramble on a staircase and a scamper past a whiff of scent. That’s an Official Reception.

Josephine danced eleven dances at the Small Dance and would have gone on to the fifteenth only that she had the responsibility of chaperoning her mother. She knew that her mother could not stand late hours, so she took her home (reluctantly) at two.

At four o’clock the following afternoon Ernest Clifton made his call, and Josephine received him alone.

“At last—at last!” he cried in a very creditable imitation of the lover’s exaltation, when they were alone. He had approached her with outstretched hands. His voice was tremulous.

She did not allow him to put even one arm around her. He was showing an aspiration in regard to the employment of both.

“I wrote to you to come here to-day in order to tell you that—that—” she paused. She did not know what she had to tell him. Was it that she considered that he had tricked her into an acceptance of the terms on which he had granted her petition for liberty? Was it that she had merely changed her mind in regard to him? “I wish to tell you that—that you must have misunderstood—I cannot tell how—the effect of the letter which I wrote to you—of the explanation I made to you the last time we met.”

“Good heavens! what can you possibly mean, my Josephine?” said he in a maelstrom of astonishment; but she thought she could detect an artificial gesture for all the swirl: the whirlpool was a machine made one. “Good heavens! where was the possibility of a mistake?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I meant to be clear enough. I told you that I wanted to be freed from the consequences of our engagement; you freed me, and yet a few days later, you go to my father and tell him that all we want is his sanction for our engagement—our engagement that was annulled some time before.”

“What,” he cried, “can you forget that the only reason you put forward for wishing to be free—nominally free—was that you felt uneasy at the secrecy of our engagement? You said you felt as if you were guilty of double-dealing because your father had not given his consent—you said all this, my dearest, the last time we met, and your saying so—your feeling so—filled me with remorse—the deepest remorse—the intensest self-reproach. I had caused you to suffer, and what more natural than that I make the attempt at the earliest possible moment to atone for what I had done—to remove the one cause of your suffering? I made up my mind that I would risk all to save you from further self-reproach. I took my life in my hand, so to speak—I risked all on a simple cast for your sake—I went to your father... well, by giving his consent he withdrew the cause—the very reasonable cause, I admit of your—your uneasiness. Surely you remember?”

“I remember everything,” she said. “I asked you to free me—to release me from the promise I had made to you and you released me.”

“You place too great emphasis on my simple act,” said he. “What man worthy of the name of man would have been less generous than I was? Could I forget that you had suffered on my account? Oh, my Josephine, I could not but release you from your promise—your promise of secrecy. But I trusted you—I knew I could trust you.”

She perceived in a moment the position in which he meant to place her.

“But it was not from my promise of secrecy that I begged you to free me,” she said; “it was from my engagement—I wished to be free altogether, and you agreed. I was free when we parted. I did not consider myself bound to you in any way.”

“What? ah, my dear Josephine, you are something of a sophist. Just think for a moment and you will see how impossible it was for me to accept what you said in the sense in which you now say you meant it. You told me that the one reason—the sole reason you had for writing to me as you wrote, and for appealing to me as you did, was the fact that the secrecy—the secret—the secret that you shared with me was preying on your mind. Well, that sole reason is now removed, therefore—oh, the thing is simplicity itself.”

“That is perfectly plausible,” said she, after a long interval. She saw without difficulty that he had logic and reason on his side. That made her feel a greater antipathy to him than she had yet felt: a woman hates the man who has proved himself to be in the right. “Yes, it is perfectly plausible, but—but—you did not tell me that you intended coming to my father.”

“And you did not know enough of my character to know that the first step I should take after hearing from your lips that the fact of our engagement being kept from him was causing you pain, would be to go to your father?”

There was more than a suggestion of reproach in his voice: there was pain.

“I did not know enough of your character,” she said. “And so I considered myself free—altogether free. No engagement existed between us when we parted last.”

“Although my last words to you were that I knew I could trust you? Did not those words suggest to you that you had not made your meaning plain to me—that I at least had no feeling that our engagement was at an end?”

“I felt that—that you were setting me free with one phrase and trying to bind me faster than before with another phrase,” she replied.

“But you made no protest. You tacitly admitted that I was entitled to accept your meaning as I did.”

“You did not give me a chance. You turned away to speak to some one who came up at that moment.”

“What would you have said to me if you had had the chance?” he asked her slowly.

She hesitated.

“Oh, do not trouble yourself thinking for an answer,” he cried. “What is the good of discussing in this way the—diplomatists call it the status quo ante? Such a discussion is quite profitless. Even if we were not engaged then we are now. The obstacle has been removed.”

She felt overcome by the plausibility of it all, just as she had felt overcome in the presence of her father by a sense of the inevitable. It was not surprising that he accepted the long pause on her part as indicating complete surrender to his reasoning. He went towards her with a smile and outstretched hands.

“Do not come to me: I love another man and I mean to marry him—I shall never marry you,” she said quietly.

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