Amber had been dwelling so much upon her philosophy and its development that she half hoped that Josephine was not at home: there was just a possibility that if Josephine was not at home, she, Amber, would get back to her own home in time to give Lord Lullworth a cup of tea on his return with the matched silks for her mother. She was therefore slightly disappointed to learn that Miss West was at home and in the drawing-room with her ladyship.

Josephine was paler than Amber had ever seen her, and she was certainly colder than she had ever known her. She scarcely made any response to Amber’s long kiss.

Resignation—that was the word which came to Amber’s mind when she held her friend by both hands and looked at her. She was a statue—a marble statue of Resignation. The worst might come; it would not move her.

“I thought—I expected—” Amber began, with a tone of reproach in her voice. “You are really going to marry him—him—Mr. Clifton?” she cried, after faltering over a word or two.

“Did you not see it in the papers, and has any one the hardihood to put the papers in the wrong?” said Josephine.

“And you are to be congratulated? I am to congratulate you?” said Amber.

“Ah, that is quite another matter, my Amber,” laughed Josephine. Amber did not like her laugh.

“Why should it be another matter?” she asked. “If you love——”

“Heavens! are you—you—you who are the exponent of the ineffable fragrance of friendship—according to Plato—are you going to talk of the lustre of love?” said Josephine. “There’s a cluster of phrases for you, my dear. ‘The fragrance of Friendship—the lustre of Love’—quite like a modern poet’s phrase, is it not? Send it to your friend Mr. Richmond to serve up to his fourth form pupils. ‘Given, the phrase to make the poem’—that’s the exercise—what does he call it—the Time Study? Do let us try it. It should run like this: ‘The Fragrance of Friendship is folly’—that’s a capital line—even though it does contain a memory of ‘Dolores.’ And then you must go on—‘The Lustre of Love is a lure’? Yes, that might do, if you can’t find anything better. And now let us talk about something agreeable for a change. Here is my dear mother dying to tell you what she thinks of your trying to entrap poor Lord Lully in your network of Platonism. She saw you in the garden at Hyde Park Gate on Monday.”

Amber turned away. She had never known anything more pathetic than the way in which Josephine had rushed along when once she began to speak.

There was not a note of Josephine’s voice in all she had said. When Josephine had ever played at being cynical, she had gone softly—there had been something of merriment in her voice; but now there was the gleam of chilled steel in every flash of her phrases. The implacable brilliance of a bayonet charge was in all her words. Amber felt as if a bird which had always sung the song of a thrush had suddenly developed the metallic shriek of the parrot.

Amber was ready to weep at the pathos of it. It was pathetic; but terrible. She saw that Josephine’s nerves were strung up to the highest point of tension, and that was why the effect of shrillness was produced by her speech.

She turned to Lady Gwendolen. Surely Lady Gwendolen would at last become a mother to her own daughter! Surely she would detect the pathos of the change that had come about in her nature. And indeed Lady Gwendolen was very sympathetic.

“It is all very well to make light of the whole business, my dear Amber,” she cried plaintively. “Daughters engage themselves to be married, and sometimes get married too, without a thought for their mothers. Ah, is there no poet—no novelist—who will deal adequately with the mother’s tragedy? It will make me look a hundred, at the very least! A married daughter! ... ‘Good heavens!’ people will say. ‘I had no idea that Lady Gwendolen had a married daughter; why then she must be at least’—and then they will name some horrid age—forty, may be,—I know the way of these women. ‘Forty—she must be a good way over forty,’ they will say. ‘She was no chicken when she married, and her daughter looks every day of twenty-six—why, she must be at least fifty’—they will try to make me out to be fifty—fifty-two the spiteful ones will insist on—I know them. They will take very good care never to look up Debrett to get at the truth. Ah, the Mother’s Tragedy—the Mother’s Tragedy. No one ever thinks of asking about a woman’s age until her daughter gets married. Then, it’s the first thing they do. Ah, the Mother’s Tragedy! How well that broad brim suits her, doesn’t it, Joe? You didn’t think, I suppose, of a bow of cerise chiffon just at the curve? A little daring thing like that, you know, is often quite effective.”

“I hope you will be happy, my dearest Joe,” said Amber.

“I shall be married, at any rate,” said Josephine, “and isn’t that a step in the right direction? Happiness?... Well, could there be anything more ridiculous than an attempt to define happiness? Six months ago I had no hesitation in defining it for my own benefit. I defined it—down to the very man. That was where I was the fool,—for now I have come to think that that which I thought to be happiness is the only unhappiness that exists for me in the world. But I shall face it. I shall face it. When one has been a fool one must pay for it.”

“Dear Joe—oh, Joe—Joe! Do not talk so, for God’s sake,” cried Amber.

“You began it, my dear Amber,” said Joe, pointing a finger at her, and leaning back among the cushions of her sofa. The attitude was that one of the lovely figures in Andrea’s picture of “The Wedding Feast,” and Amber recognised it with horror. “You began it—you, talking about happiness and the rest of it,” she continued. “Well, there, I’ll say no more.... Heavens, I forgot that I did not see you since we returned from The Weir! And that seems a lifetime ago. Ah, it is true, ‘Marriage and death and division, make barren our lives.’ I wonder why I was such a fool as to go to The Weir with you, Amber.”

“What has come over her? She has been quite as rude as that all day,” complained Lady Gwendolen. “I thought that nothing could make her rude, however full of theories she might be. But I’ve noticed, Amber, that rudeness and a reputation usually go together. At any rate, the women who are said to be intellectual seem to me to be nothing but rude. As soon as a woman has insulted you grossly three times you must take it for granted that her intellect is of the highest order. Of course if you think cerise too trying you might have it in a much lighter shade just where the brim begins to curve. You saw my toque with the poppies and the corn? I was not afraid to face the strongest colour. Oh, must you really go?”

“She really must: I cannot see how she could possibly remain another five minutes,” said Josephine. “Amber has some sense of what is sacred and what is profane. I had the same ideas a week ago, but that’s a long time back. Priestesses of Baal must have revolted the sensitiveness of the daughters of Levi. Good-bye, Amber, and take my advice and don’t come back to us. I should be sorry to flaunt my new-found unhappiness in your face.”

The tone of her voice and of her laugh that followed gave Amber the impulse to put her fingers in her ears and rush from the room—from the house. She resisted the suggestion, however, and contented herself with a protest of uplifted hands and mournfully shaking head.

“Poor Joe—poor Joe!” she whispered.

“That is the sincerest congratulation I have yet had,” said Josephine. “It is the congratulation that contains the smallest amount of bitterness. When people say ‘I hope you may be happy, my dear,’ they mean that they wouldn’t give much for my chances. No, Amber, don’t come back to us until I get used to being engaged. So many people have come. Mr. Clifton is wiser: he stays away. Oh, he was always so clever! The idea of a girl like myself trying to be equal to him!—Good-bye, dear.”

Amber did not speak a word. She almost rushed from the room, while Lady Gwendolen was still talking, musingly, of the merits of a bow of pink chiffon—it need not necessarily be a large or an imposing incident in the composition of the hat with the broad brim, a mere suggestion of the tint would be enough, she thought.

Amber felt as if she had just come from the deathbed of her dearest friend. She was horrified at the tone of Josephine’s voice and at the sound of her laugh. She felt that she never wished to see again the creature who had taken the place of her dear friend Josephine West.

The daughter of a mother who was a worldling, and of a father who was a politician, Josephine had ever shown herself to be free from the influence of either. But now—well, even her father was able to assume a certain amount of sincerity in dealing with political questions, especially when a General Election was impending. He had never talked cynically of the things which were held dear by the people with the votes. And as for her mother she was in the habit of speaking with deep feeling on the subject of the right fur for opera cloaks and other matters of interest to the intelligent. But there was Josephine talking and laughing on the first day of her engagement with a cynicism that could not have been bitterer had she been married a whole year.

What did it mean? What had brought about that extraordinary change in the girl’s nature? These were the questions which distracted Amber all the way to her home.

She could not forget that, after Josephine had written that little paper defining Platonic Friendship, she had been led to ask herself why Josephine should have thought well to be so satirical on the subject; and she had come to the conclusion that Josephine’s attitude was due to the fact of her having a tender feeling not of friendship but of love for some man; and Amber’s suspicions fell upon Ernest Clifton. She felt sure that she had noticed a certain light in Josephine’s face upon occasions when Mr. Clifton was near her. And yet now that she promised to become the wife of Mr. Clifton, the light that was in her eyes was an illumination of a very different sort.

And then as the question of exultation suggested itself to her she recollected how she fancied that she had perceived such an expression on the face of her friend on the Monday morning when she had returned to The Weir by the side of Pierce Winwood. The same expression was on the face of Pierce Winwood also, and Amber had felt convinced that he had told her he loved her and that she had not rejected him.

That was why they had talked so enthusiastically on the subject of the reaping machine (blue, picked out with vermillion).

But how was she to reconcile what she had seen and heard in the drawing-room which she had just left with her recollection of the return of Josephine and the other man—not the man whom she had promised to marry—from the survey of the reaping machine?

Pierce Winwood had practically confessed to her that he meant to ask Josephine if she thought she could love him, and the chance had undoubtedly been given to him to put such a question to her. If then—if—if he...

In an instant she fancied that she perceived all that had happened.

She did not as a matter of fact perceive all that had happened, but she certainly did become aware of a good deal—enough for her to go on with; and a moment after perceiving this she saw that Pierce Winwood was walking rapidly alongside the rails of Kensington Gardens.

He saw her and made a little motion with his hand suggesting his desire to speak to her. She stopped the victoria.

“I hope you will be at home this afternoon,” he said. “I am so anxious to speak with you for five minutes.”

“I will walk the rest of the way home: I have not had a walk to-day,” she said, stepping out of the victoria.

“You are very good,” he said, as the machine whirled off. “Do let us turn into the gardens for a minute. I should not like to miss this chance. You saw that announcement in the papers to-day?”

“Ah—ah!” she sighed, as they went through one of the gates and on to an avenue made dim by the boughs of horse-chestnut.

“Think of it! Think of that paragraph if you can when I tell you that she told me only on Monday that she loved me,” he cried.

She stopped short. So she had not been mistaken after all.

“She promised—Josephine promised?”

“She promised. I gave you to understand that I meant to put my fate to the test, and I did so on Monday. Ah, she told me that she loved me—me only—me only—and I know that she spoke the truth. She loved me then—she loves me now—me only—and yet—you saw that announcement.”

Amber could only shake her head dolefully. Matters were getting too complicated for her. The effort to reconcile one incident with another was a pain to her.

“You told me that she was free,” he continued. “That was because you did not know that she had been engaged secretly to that man. He was clever enough—unscrupulous enough—clever people are unscrupulous. It is only the people who are less clever that fail to get rid of their scruples—at any rate he persuaded her to bind herself to him in secret. Later—a fortnight ago—she insisted on his releasing her and he did so—technically; but in parting from her—more cleverness—he gave her to understand that he regarded her as still bound to him—he made it a matter of honour—she was only released on parole—a trick. Was she not entitled to listen to me? No one can deny it. She had her misgivings, but that was afterwards—she had confessed that she loved me—me only. I did not give the matter a thought. She had no doubt that she would be able to meet him. Her protection was to ask him to go to her father for his consent.”

“And he took her at her word. He got her father’s consent. They are both politicians—her father and the other. And every member of the Government knows enough about every other member of the Government to hang him. They must have made a compact together. They say that Mr. Clifton is the cleverest politician in England. We know what that means. My father says, ‘Show me the cleverest politician in England and I’ll show you the greatest rascal in Europe.’”

“There must have been something diabolical at work. This is the letter which she wrote to me. Poor girl! Poor girl!”

“I cannot read it—I know it all—all. I love her—I cannot listen to the despairing cries of one whom I love. Poor Josephine! I was with her just now... oh, terrible—terrible!”

“Ah, you have been with her? you saw her? She would not see me. And what have you found out? Do not tell me that she cares anything for him.”

“I saw her; but what could I find out? She did not confide anything to me—she did not seek to do so. I shall never go again—— She frightened me. There was no word of Josephine in all she said. Have you not been to her?”

“Been to her. How could I get that letter and remain away from her? I went in the forenoon—she would not see me—the man had received his instructions. That is why I was going to you. You must ask her to go to you to-morrow, and I shall meet her at your house. My God, cannot you perceive that I must see?—that she must be saved from her fate?... What am I thinking of—to talk to you in this way—commanding? What can you think of me?”

“Do not accuse me of being unable to see how you love her. But I cannot do what you ask me. How would it be possible? You must write to her—persuade her to see you.”

“And I thought that you were my friend.”

He had stopped on the avenue and was gazing at her reproachfully.

“I am your friend,” she said, “and therefore I cannot do this. If you were to meet her and hear her talk as I heard her to-day you would turn away from her forever. I know that.”

“Turn from her—I—I—turn from her—her?” he cried. “Oh, let me have the chance—you will give me the chance?”

She shook her head.

“Then what am I to do?” he said. “Would you counsel me to remain passive—to allow her to marry that man whom she detests and to send her a wedding present? A diamond star would be a nice present, wouldn’t it? or a wheat sheaf—I saw one the other day—set with pearls and diamonds?”

“Oh, you are talking now just as she talked—so wildly—so wickedly. Cannot you see that just at this moment you are both beyond the control of reason? You say things to me now that you do not mean—she did the same. If you were to meet now you would say things to her—she would say things to you—you would part from her forever.”

“I would be calm. I would remember that everything depended on my being calm.”

“Ah, you think so. But you cannot be calm even to me. And you did not see her as I saw her just now.”

“Would to heaven that I had the chance.”

“Do not say that. You would drown yourself there.”

(They had reached the Round Pond.)

He walked along in silence by her side—in silence and with bowed head.

“I know what will happen,” he said at last: “she will soon become reconciled to her fate. She will soon come to think that he is part of her life and I shall cease to be in any thought of hers. Well, perhaps that is the best thing that could happen. But I thought that she was not like other women. I fancied that when she knew... But you will see her again? You will tell her that I must see her—surely she will let me say good-bye to her.”

“I can say nothing. But you must not see her now. Wait for a day or two. Oh, cannot you trust her to bear you in mind for a day or two? Did she not say that she loved you?”

“And she does—I know that she does. Oh, it is the old story—the old story. Her father has forced her into this.”

Amber could say nothing. She thought that it would be better for her not to go into the question of the antiquity of the story of a girl promising to marry a rich man, and her parents endeavouring to marry her to a poor one—that was the summary of the love story of Josephine West.

He walked in silence—comparative silence—by her side until they reached the road once more. At the entrance to her home, he said humbly:

“My dear Miss Severn, I feel that you have given me good advice. I will obey you—I will make no attempt to see her for some days. I knew that I should be right in coming to you. You will forgive me for the wild way I talked to you.”

“If you had not talked in that way I would never speak to you again,” said Amber, giving him her hand.

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