Amber ran upstairs to her room and threw herself not upon the little sofa in her dressing-room but upon the bed in her bedroom. She was guided in the right direction. She knew perfectly well that the cry which was coming was too big for a sofa—it was a bed-sized cry.

She lay in her tears for more than an hour, and no one went near her to disturb her. Emotions were recognised as possible in this household—emotions and moods and sulks—and no member of the household—ancillary or otherwise—was allowed to interfere with another.

Her mother was fortunate in having been at one time of her life of the same age as Amber, and she had a pretty good notion of how it was that her daughter did not come downstairs for tea. Lady Severn had heard her daughter’s comments upon the announcement of Josephine’s engagement, and having herself noticed the expression on the faces of her guests at The Weir on their return together from their stroll, she had no great difficulty in understanding how it was possible that Amber might be having a good cry after visiting her friend Josephine.

It was, however, Sir Creighton who, before dinner, asked Amber if she had learned anything by her visit to Josephine. He appeared quite anxious to know all that there was to be known on the subject of Josephine’s engagement to Mr. Clifton; but for that matter he took quite as much interest as his wife, in the incidents of their social life. Even the humblest essays in elementary biology had a certain attraction about them, he was accustomed to say.

Amber gave him a spasmodic account of her call upon Josephine, and of her subsequent overtaking of Pierce and his confession during their stroll in the Park.

“Just think of it,” she said by way of summing up. “Just think of it: she acknowledged to Mr. Winwood on Monday that she loved him, and yet to-day she allows it to be announced in the papers that she is to be married to the other man! Was there ever anything so terrible since the world began?”

“Never—never,” said he. “Nothing of such terrible significance to Josephine and Winwood has been heard of since the world began. There is a good deal in this business which is not easy to understand without the aid of a trustworthy key to the motives of men and women and political adventurers. If she had promised in secret long ago to marry Clifton, the secret being kept a secret because of the unlikelihood of her father’s giving his consent to the engagement, what, I should like to know, has occurred during the past few days to make Clifton perceive that her father would give his consent? You got a hint from Josephine on this point—or that fool of a mother of hers—did she say nothing that would suggest a compact—a reciprocal treaty, these politicians would call it—between Mr. West and Mr. Clifton?”

Amber laughed scornfully.

“Lady Gwendolen talked about the new opera cloaks,” said she.

“A topic well within her grasp,” said Sir Creighton. “If I wished for any information regarding the possibilities of longevity among certain esoteric developments of the opera cloak I think I would apply to Lady Gwendolen. She is, one might say, the actuary of the opera cloak: she can calculate, upon the theory of averages, the duration of life of such ephemera.”

“Yes; but what is to be done,” said Amber, who perceived the danger of drifting into phrases and fancying that because a good sentence has been made, there is no need for further action.

Sir Creighton walked to a window and stood in front of it with his hands in his pockets.

“We can do a good deal,” he said, after a pause of considerable duration. “I know, at any rate, that I can do a good deal in this matter—yes, in certain circumstances I think that I have a good deal of influence—moral influence of course, not the other sort,—to avoid making use of an uglier word, we shall call it political influence. But we must be certain first how we stand—exactly how we stand. Why should West give his consent just now to his daughter’s engagement to Clifton when both persons mainly concerned in the contract considered six months ago that it would be quite useless to make an appeal to him. Why, according to what you say Winwood told you, Josephine up to last Monday felt certain that it would be ridiculous to expect that he would entertain a thought of Clifton as a son-in-law. Now, what we need to find out is, How did Clifton convince Josephine’s father that he was the right man to marry his daughter?”

Amber could not see for the life of her what bearing this point had upon the question of the destiny of Josephine, but she had a great deal of confidence in her father.

“Mind you, my dear,” resumed Sir Creighton, “I do not say that Josephine has not herself to thank for a good deal of this trouble. Why should she allow herself to be persuaded into an underhand compact with that man? And then, having entered into that compact, why does she allow herself to fall in love with quite another man?”

“How could she prevent it?” cried Amber. “How is a girl to prevent herself from falling in love with one particular man?”

“Possibly a course of higher mathematics might be prescribed,” said Sir Creighton. “My dear Amber, I don’t think that Josephine is the heroine of this romance. However, that is no reason why she should not be happy—it is certainly no reason why Pierce Winwood should be unhappy. He at least is blameless.”

This was the end of their conversation at that time, and Amber felt that it had not been very helpful in the way of furthering the prospects of Pierce Win-wood, and, incidentally, of Josephine West.

She could not even see why her father should laugh the laugh of a man who is gratified on receiving a proof of his own shrewdness, when the following morning he pointed out to her in one of the newspapers, under the heading of Changes in the Cabinet, the announcement that the Minister of the Annexation Department had agreed to go to the Exchequer on the resignation owing to his increasing deafness of the Chancellor, and that Mr. Carew West, the Under Secretary for the Arbitration Office, had accepted the portfolio thereby rendered vacant, with a Seat in the Cabinet.

Every paper in the kingdom contained a leading article or a note under the leading article, referring to this important change and offering congratulations to the new Minister. But the paper which Sir Creighton showed to his daughter went rather more into the details of the Cabinet Changes, and explained that it was thought by many people that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not resign until a seat had been found for Mr. Eardley, who had had a seat in the last Cabinet of the existing Government, but who had failed to be returned for his old constituency at the General Election. The Government had, however, been advised that, owing to the attitude of the electors of the Arbroath Burghs in regard to the war, the return of Mr. Eardley for that fickle constituency could not be relied on, and therefore the Under Secretary at the Arbitration Office had got his seat in the Cabinet rather sooner than might have been expected.

“There is the explanation of it all,” said Sir Creighton. “I wondered how it was that Clifton could get into his hands the wires that affected West, for every one knows that West’s seat is a perfectly safe one, and Clifton is only a wire-puller among the constituencies. But now the whole thing is clear to me. The Chancellor has made a fool of himself and the Government want to unload him. They want their old colleague Eardley back, and they ask Clifton about the Arbroath Burghs. If Clifton says ‘safe,’ the Chancellor will wait until Eardley is returned; if he says ‘unsafe’ the vacant place will be given to West. Clifton then goes to West and says ‘Would you care to get into the Cabinet? I can put you into the Cabinet to-morrow.’ ‘What’s your price?’ cries West, perceiving that the object of his ambition is within reach, and hoping that Clifton will be as reasonable as Mephisto was to Faust, and only say, ‘Your Soul.’ But Clifton knows that the soul of an Under Secretary is quoted low in the Market, but that a daughter is a perfectly negotiable security—oh, the whole thing is clear.”

“Quite clear,” acquiesced Amber, “but where does Mr. Winwood come in?”

Her father roared with laughter.

“You are surely the most practical young woman that lives,” he said. “Here have I been romancing away in the vaguest fashion and so overwhelmed with a sense of my own cleverness that I lose sight of the true objective—the phrase is one of the multitudinous military critics, my dear—but you, you hold me down to the dry details of the matter in hand.”

“You see, my dear father, I have not yet been able to understand how much is gained by your knowing that Mr. West had some reason for giving his consent to Josephine’s engagement with Mr. Clifton,” said Amber.

“It was necessary for me to see if Mr. Clifton held debenture stock in the Soul of Julian Carew West or only ordinary shares,” said Sir Creighton. “And have you found that out?”

“I have found that he holds merely preference shares. And now that the Soul of Mr. West is going into allotment it is just possible that I may be successful in getting in on the ground floor, as your friend Mr. Galmyn would say.”

“I don’t understand even yet.”

“Better not try for a few days yet. Give the man a chance of settling down in his place in the Cabinet and feeling comfortable in regard to his future. A man who has just managed to crawl into a high office should not be bothered by people making enquiries as to the marks of mud on the knees of his trousers. There is no crawling through mud without getting a stain or two. But do not forget that I am the inventor of the only time fuse in existence.”

He left his daughter to ponder over that dark saying. Exploding mines were so well known that even the members of his own family had heard of them. But what did her father who was the least egotistical man on the face of the earth, mean by referring to that special invention of his?

She was annoyed by his attitude of mystery, and when the afternoon came she was still further annoyed, when in the course of giving Arthur Galmyn a cup of nice tea, he begged of her to marry him, confessing that he had gone on the Stock Exchange only out of love for her, and threatening to go back to the poetry once more if she refused him.

Regardless of this pistol held to her head, she told him that he had disappointed her. She had always looked on him as a true friend.

He hurried away at the entrance of Mr. Willie Bateman, and before Mr. Bateman had eaten his second hot cake, he had assured her that if she were good enough to marry him she might depend upon his making her the most celebrated woman in England. He had a plan, he said—an advertising system that could not possibly fail, and if she rejected him he would communicate it to the Duchess of Manxland who was at her wit’s end to find some new scheme of advertising herself—she had exhausted all the old ones.

But even the force of this threat did not prevent Amber from telling him that he had disappointed her. She had always looked on him as a true friend.

When he had gone away in a huff, she ate the remainder of the hot cakes and reflected that she had received four proposals of marriage within the week.

This was excessively flattering and annoying, and the truth began to be impressed upon her that Platonic Friendship was all that Josephine had said it was and that it was in addition a perpetual encouragement to a timorous lover.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook