Amber Severn read the announcement in one of the papers the next morning that a marriage was arranged and would shortly take place between Mr. Ernest Clifton, fifth son of the late Constantine Clifton of The Elms, Lynnthorpe, Esq., and Josephine, only daughter of the Right Honourable J. Carew West, Under Secretary of State for the Department of Arbitration.

She gave an exclamation of surprise, and this was followed by one that suggested irritation. She was more than irritated, she felt that she had lost a friend—her dearest friend. She had always known that Josephine was somewhat reticent about her own affairs for an ideal friend; but the notion of her being in love with Mr. Clifton and carefully refraining from giving a hint to any one of the state of her heart was past all bearing.

And yet she remembered now having had once or twice during the previous six months, a suspicion that if Josephine inclined to look on any man of their acquaintance with especial favour that man was Mr. Clifton. She might have guessed but what about Pierce Winwood? What about her father’s subtle suggestions as to the possibility of Josephine’s looking with eyes of favour on Pierce Winwood? What about that Monday morning when they had come into the house together talking with guilty fluency about a reaping machine that was painted blue and delicately picked out with vermillion?

“I will never—never trust to the evidence of my own eyes again,” she cried, remembering the look of exultation on Mr. Winwood’s face upon that morning. She also made up her mind that she would never again in matters of this sort trust to the evidence of her father’s experience, even though conveyed to her in the choicest and most enigmatical language ever employed by him. Her father had shown a desire to encourage the bringing about of a match between Josephine and Pierce; and indeed he had proved his possession of some of the qualities of the fully equipped match-maker, which she took to be a cheery readiness to assume the rôle of a sort of boarding-house Providence, and a complete faith in the influence of propinquity upon opposing natures.

She would never again trust to her father’s judgment. He knew too much about electricity.

She had an opportunity of telling him so, but she refrained from doing so: if he lacked judgment there was no reason for her to attempt to consolidate his views on heredity by so indiscreet an act. She pointed out the paragraph to him when he came down to breakfast but made no comment upon it. No one since the world began ever regarded an absence of comment as an indiscretion.

“But it takes my breath away,” said Sir Creighton. “Heavens! just think of it—Clifton—Ernest Clifton, the wire-puller. What can she possibly see... oh, after all... a curious coincidence, isn’t it, that this talk should be just now about her father getting a seat in the Cabinet? But I can’t for the life of me see where Clifton comes in. He has no power of that sort, whatever may be ascribed to him as an organiser in the country. He could be of no use to West, for his seat is a perfectly safe one. And we thought...”

You did, at any rate,” said Amber.

“I did—I admit it. I thought—I hoped. It would have come out so well. I might have been able to give him a helping hand.”

“To give Mr. Winwood a helping hand?”

“I thought it just possible if the worst came to the worst. But I suppose the business is settled in the other quarter. We can do nothing now.”

“Of course one can do nothing when the announcement has appeared in the papers.” Amber was disposed to take the same view of Providence and the papers as was taken by the Under Secretary for the Arbitration Department. They both appeared to regard the newspaper announcement as a sort of civil ceremony, quite as binding as the one which follows the singing of “The Voice that breathed o’er Eden.”

“I confess that I am surprised,” continued Amber. “But I suppose one’s friends never do marry the people one allots to them. Still, there was no reason for Josephine to be so secret.”

“Was there not?” said her father. “Take my word for it, if a woman is ever secret it is only under the severest pressure.”

Amber smiled. Applying her father’s aphorism to herself, she refrained from expressing what she thought on the subject of her father’s knowledge of woman’s nature.

But beyond doubt Sir Creighton took deeply to heart the frustration of his incipient efforts as a matchmaker. His daughter was surprised at his head-shakings and his thoughtful pauses—at his general abstraction. She knew enough of him to be well aware that it was not his own work which disturbed him: he was accustomed to made merry over the little aberrations of adapted electricity, just as some fathers (with trusted memories) make merry over the vagaries of their sons, and as some women (with a sense of humour) can smile at the fringes of their under-housemaids. It was perfectly clear that Sir Creighton was profoundly discouraged at the failure of his attempt to make Josephine and Pierce fall in love, each with each. He felt as if Fate had openly sneered at him and he was looking about for a way of retaliating. So much at least his daughter gathered from his manner, and his frank admissions. The frank admissions of a man count for something in any honest endeavour that one may make to determine what is on his mind.

“Do you know what a straight flush is, my dear?” he enquired as he rose from the table. “I thought that I had the joker,” he added thoughtfully—regretfully.

(He was the best poker player in the Royal Society.)

Amber had herself been thinking out a scheme of retaliation, and it was directed against her friend who had been reticent to a point of unfriendliness. A friend should be permitted to share her friend’s infirmities but Josephine had left her to read the announcement of her engagement in the papers. After some thought she came to the conclusion that she would be out when Josephine should call. She took it for granted that Josephine intended to call, and so made arrangements for going to the Technical School of Literature immediately after lunch. She would have gone before lunch—for she had not been latterly so regular an attendant as Mr. Richmond could have wished—but that for the fact that her mother had asked Lord Lullworth to drop in and have lunch with them, and Amber’s scheme of retaliation did not go so far as to compass the personal slighting of even the least of her mother’s guests.

And Lord Lullworth came.

He was really very amusing, and sometimes very nice; but he was both during lunch; it was when that refection was over, and Lady Severn had gone into an inner room to write out a commission—it had something to do with the matching of sewing-silks—for her daughter to execute in Regent Street that Lord Lullworth ceased to be amusing because he began to be funny. He told Amber that he didn’t mind being one of the literary arbitrators on the Aunt Dorothy competition, should such be set on foot at the Technical School. Would dear Aunt Dorothy tell him what was the colour of Adam’s grey mare? Would she hazard a reply to the query, under the heading of “Our Feathered Pets” as to whether the white goose or the grey goose was the gander? Also could she supply some information respecting the man who had the twenty-six sheep—twenty sick sheep, mind—and when one of them died how many were left?

“I will not have my hobby made fun of,” said Amber. “It would do you all the good in the world to come to the school.”

“I believe it would,” he said, after a pause, “and I do believe that I’ll come; but it won’t be for the sake of the show, but just because you are there. Now, a fortnight ago I would have laughed at the idea of going to such a show, so I think that you’ll agree with me in what I said about love growing. I really feel that mine is becoming quite grown up. He has got too big for his sailor suit, and I’ll have to get him measured for an Eton jacket. I wonder if you have been thinking over the possibilities that I placed before you that day.”

“Of course I thought over them. Why shouldn’t I?” said Amber.

“And do they appear so ridiculous now as they did then?”

“Not nearly so ridiculous,” she replied. “One gets used to things. Really there’s nothing I like better than to hear that you will be some place where I am going. I have—yes, I have got really to like you.”

“You never thought of wishing to have me for a brother, did you?” he asked apprehensively.

“Oh, never—never—I give you my word—never!” she cried, and he breathed freely once more.

“Thank goodness! Then I’ve still got a chance. If you had ever felt that you would like me for a brother I would put on my hat and skip. Do you know that you are encouraging me?”

“Of course I know it. I meant to encourage you, just to see what will come of it.”

“You’ll see. I should like to encourage you. It will take a deal of encouragement to bring you on so that we may start scratch; because, you know, I—I really do believe that I’m on the verge of being in love with you.”

“I would not go on any further, until I catch you up.”

“If I thought you would one day.”

“I really think that I shall—one day. There is nothing like getting used to an idea. I thought that I should never get reconciled to the notion of a lover—a lover seems so banal—and yet already I—yes, I like it. You see, I’m wondering what will come of it. I was born in a laboratory atmosphere. My father made his first great discovery in electricity the day I was born—that’s why he called me Amber—Amber is the English for the Greek word electron, and that’s the origin of the word electricity, you know.” He looked at her admiringly. “You don’t need much to go to any school,” said he. “Just fancy your knowing all that! By the way, don’t you forget that it’s in the bargain that I’m to let you know if I find myself properly in love with you—seriously, I mean.”

“It will be so interesting,” said she. “I’m dying to see what will be the result of our experiment. I wonder does it matter about my not thinking you good-looking.”

He caught her hand. She flushed.

“Do you not think me good-looking?” he asked. “Well, really, to be candid with you—and of course it’s in the ‘rules’ that we are both to be candid, I think you anything but—but—good gracious! what has come over me? Only yesterday I was thinking about you and I thought of you as being quite plain; but now—now that I come to look at you, I declare that you seem good-looking—positively good-looking! You have good eyes. I don’t suppose you ever told a lie in your life.”

“That’s going from a question of eyes to ethics, isn’t it; but whether or not I ever had imagination enough to tell a whopper, I am telling the truth now when I say that I have come to the conclusion that you are the nicest girl I ever met as well as being the most beautiful—that’s why I tried to. You see I always thought you the most beautiful—that’s why I tried to avoid meeting you for a long time—I was afraid that I would be disillusioned, as they call it.”

“And you were not?”

“On the contrary I think that—that we’re on the eve of a very interesting experiment—that’s how the newspapers would define the situation of the moment.”

“After all nothing may come of it.” There was a suspicion of a sigh in her delivery of the phrase.

“Are you taking what you would call an optimistic view of the matter?” he asked.

She actually flushed again—very slightly—as she said:

“The scientific atmosphere in which I was born forbids optimism or pessimism. I wish to remain neutral.”

“I shall make no attempt to bias your judgment one way or another,” said he.

Lady Severn returned to the room and gave her daughter her instructions regarding the silks.

“I wish you would let me do it for you, Lady Severn,” said Lord Lullworth seriously. “I have to go to Bond Street anyway, and my horse wants exercise.” Amber turned round and stared at him; her mother laughed. Then Amber put the patterns of silk into one of his hands, and crying, “Let him do it: he really wants to do it,” she ran out of the room.

“I want to have a chat with you, my dear Lady Severn,” said he. “It was you who were good enough to ask me to lunch, and yet I’ve hardly exchanged a word with you.”

“Nothing would delight me more,” said Lady Severn. “I will intrust you with my commission, but it will do any time in the course of the afternoon. We can have our chat first.”

And they had their chat.

It was while it was in progress Amber was sitting at her desk in the Technical Schoolroom listening to Mr. Owen Glendower’s enunciation of the problem in plots which was to serve as an exercise for his pupils. Amber, in her haste to retaliate upon Josephine’s secrecy by being absent when she should call, arrived at the class-room several minutes too soon. She had, however, upon a former occasion, made the acquaintance of the earnest American girl whose name was Miss Quartz Mica Hanker—she was said to be worth some ten million (dollars)—and now she had a pleasant little talk with her.

At first Amber hesitated approaching her, for today, Miss Hanker was dressed in deep mourning. She, however, smiled invitingly towards Amber, and Amber crossed the class-room to her.

“I fear that you have suffered a bereavement,” said Amber in the hushed voice that suggests sympathy.

“Oh, no; at least not recently; but you must surely remember that this is the anniversary of the death of King James the Third,” said Miss Hanker.

“Oh, King James the Third?” said Amber. “But there never was a James the Third of England.”

“That is the fiction of the Hanoverians,” said Miss Hanker scornfully. “But we know better. I am the Vice-President of the White Rose Society of Nokomis County, Nebraska, and we are loyal to the true dynasty. We decline to acknowledge any allegiance to the distant branch at present in occupation of the Throne. The rightful Queen to-day is the Princess Clementina Sobieska.”

“I thought that the Pretender—” began Amber.

“The Pretender!” cried Miss Hanker still more scornfully. “He pretended nothing. I am going to separate pretence and the Pretender once and for all when I write my novel—‘The White Rose.’ I came to this side to learn how to do it. I find Owen Glen-dower Richmond very helpful. He has royal blood in his veins—plenty of it. He may be on the throne of Wales yet. Miss Amber, I don’t desiderate a Civil war, but when my novel comes out if the British don’t turn round and put the Princess Clementina Sobieska on their Throne, they are not the people I have been told they are. I don’t advocate extreme measures, but loyalty is loyalty, and the American people are true Royalists. They can never forget that it was one of the Hanoverians who brought about their separation from Britain. That old wound is rankling yet in the breast of every true American.”

And then Mr. Owen Glendower Richmond entered the class-room, and Amber nodded au revoir to the American girl, and went to her own desk.

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