A letter received from Pierce Winwood two days later made her inclined to ask, as he did several times, in the course of three hurricane pages, if inaction as a policy might not be pursued too long? Her father had responded enigmatically to her hints that she thought if a Cabinet Minister could not settle down in his seat in the course of two days he must be singularly ill-adapted for a career of repose.

He had laughed heartily when she asked him again if Mr. West was not ready for the time-fuse? or was it the time-fuse that was not ready for Mr. West, but the questions were not further responded to; and now here was Mr. Winwood saying that he would call this very day.

His announcement sounded like the tradesman’s threat which she had once seen at the foot of a college bill of her brother’s to the effect that the writer would call on such a day at such an hour and hoped that Mr. Severn would find it convenient to have his money ready for him.

She found, on counting her loose change—all that she had got from her father in response to her hints—that she had not enough to pay Pierce Winwood—she would not even be able to give him something on account. She had neither seen Josephine nor heard anything about her; and she knew better than to fancy that the ardent lover would go away satisfied with the parable of the time-fuse.

She had all the courage of her sex; but she could not face him. She actually felt herself becoming nervous at the thought of his entering the room and repeating in her ears the words which he had shouted into his letter. His noisy letter had greatly disturbed her; so after an interval—an uneasy interval, she rushed at paper and pens and scrawled off a page in precisely the same style as that which he had made his own, begging him for heaven’s sake to be patient, if it was possible, for a few days still, and entreating him to be a man. (She knew that this was nonsense: to be a man was to be wildly unreasonable and absurdly impatient in simple matters such as waiting until a young woman came to know her own mind.)

She was in the act of putting her avalanche letter in reply to his hurricane pages, into its envelope when the door of the small drawing-room where she was sitting at a writing-table was flung open and Josephine swooped down on her, kissing her noisily and crying in her ear the one word “saved—saved—saved!” after the style of the young woman in the last popular melodrama—only much less graceful in pose.

“What—what—what?” cried Amber spasmodically within the encircling arms of her friend.

Then they both rose, as it might be said, to the surface of their overwhelming emotions, and stood facing each other breathless and disordered.

Josephine went off in a peal of laughter, Amber, ever sympathetic though burning with curiosity, followed her, and then they flung themselves on the sofa—one at each end, and laughed again.

“I am saved—saved—and I come to you to tell you so,” cried Josephine, catching one of Amber’s hands and swinging her arm over the cushions that billowed between them.

“Saved—saved—is he dead—or—or—has he been found out?” whispered Amber. “Clever men invaribly are found out.”

“Found out?—oh, I found him out long ago—the day he tricked me into believing that I was still bound to him, though he had just pretended to set me free. But to-day—before lunch time—by the way, I have had no lunch yet!”

Both girls laughed as aimlessly as negresses at this point, it seemed so ridiculous not to have had lunch.

“Before lunch—he came to you?” suggested Amber.

“Not he—not Launcelot but another—the other was a young woman—oh, quite good-looking, and wearing a very pretty Parma-violet velvet hat with ospreys, and a cashmere dress, with an Eton jacket trimmed with diagonal stripes of velvet to match the hat—oh, quite a nice girl. I had never seen her before—she had sent in her name—Miss Barbara Burden—such a sweet name, isn’t it?”

“Quite charming! Who was she? I never heard the name.”

“I had never heard the name. I fancied that she had come about a bazaar for the widows and orphans, so many strangers come about that, you know—but she hadn’t. I saw her. It was most amusing; but she was quite nice. She had the newspaper in her hand with that announcement—that horrid announcement——-”

“I know—I know.”

“‘Do you love that man, Miss West?’ she began, pointing to the paragraph.”

“Good gracious! That was a beginning—and a total stranger!”

“So I thought. Of course I became cold and dignified. ‘Have you not seen that I am going to marry Mr. Clifton?’ I asked in as chilling a voice as I could put on at a moment’s notice. ‘What I mean is this,’ said the young woman; ‘if you tell me that you are about to marry him because you love him, I will go away now and you will never hear anything of me again. But if you cannot say truly that you do love him I will tell you that the day you marry him I shall bring an action against him that will go far to ruin his career and to make you unhappy for the rest of your life unless you are very different from what I have heard you are, Miss West.’”


“I looked at her and saw that she was quite nice. ‘I cannot tell you that I love him,’ said I, ‘but I can tell you that I detest him, and that I love somebody else. Is that good enough for you to go on with?’ ‘Thank God!’ she cried quite fervently, and then she told me her story. Oh, there was nothing wicked in it. She is the daughter of a doctor in a town where he lived before he came to London. Her father was a man of influence in the town and Mr. Clifton became engaged to the girl—but in secret—no one was to know anything about it until he should find himself in a position to get her father’s consent.”

“A country doctor: Mr. Clifton must have been in a small way even then.”

“So he was—he hoped to better himself by marrying her, however. She showed me several letters that he had written to her—clever letters, but still such letters as would be received with laughter, in brackets, if read in a court of law. Well, he left that town and went to a larger, and having worked himself into a better position, he found that to marry the girl would be to marry beneath him—that was the girl’s phrase—‘to marry beneath him’—so he engaged himself—also in secret—to a girl above him in social position; but in the meantime he had worked himself up and up until he came to London and was a sufficiently important person to get me to engage myself to him—in secret too—and—that’s the whole story the young lady had to tell only—yes, I forgot: before he met her he had actually engaged himself to a girl in Lynnthorpe—a grocer’s daughter in the town—Miss Burden found that out also. Was there ever anything so amusing heard since the world began—such a comedy of courtships! He had been gradually working himself up through the whole gamut of the social scale until he reached the dizzy height represented by me—me! But there is a sublimer height even than me, and now he shall have his chance of reaching it.”

“And we have always thought him so clever!”

“So he is. But the cleverest men that have ever lived have had their weaknesses. His little weakness seems to have been the secret engagement. It appears that he has never been able to resist it. He has gone from one girl to another like a butterfly. He will marry the daughter of a Duke now.”

“You believed the girl—Miss Burden?” said Amber in a tone that suggested suspicion.

Josephine laughed and patted her hand.

“He came into the room while we were together,” she said.


“He had not been to see me since Tuesday, and to-day is Saturday; he thought it better on the whole to let me get accustomed to the situation which was the natural sequel to the announcement in the papers. But he came to-day. He met the other girl—one of the other girls—face to face. You never saw anything so funny. For a moment I thought that he would make the attempt to strangle her as the villain on the stage does. But he did nothing of the sort. ‘I have just been telling Miss West that the day you marry her, I shall bring up an action against you and give the leader writers of the Opposition a chance of showing off their cleverness in dealing with the case of Burden v. Clifton,’ said she quite nicely. And he was dumb—absolutely dumb! ‘But Miss West has too high a regard for Mr. Clifton to precipitate such an event,’ said I, and then my father came into the room.”

“More comedy!”

“I felt equal to playing my rôle. He looked from me to Mr. Clifton, and from Mr. Clifton to Miss Burden. ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I forgot that you don’t know Miss Burden, papa. This is my father, Miss Burden. Miss Burden is the young lady whom Mr. Clifton promised to marry four years ago. It is a nice question, and one which no doubt will have to be decided in a Court of law, but it really seems to me that he is still engaged to marry Miss Burden. But of course there were other girls and other secret engagements.’”

“You said that? How neat! And your father?”

“He said ‘Don’t be a fool, Josephine. What nonsense is this, Clifton?’ ‘I think I should like five minutes alone with Miss Burden; I think I could bring her to see that nothing would be gained by——’ ‘I do not want such an interview with you,’ said Miss Burden. ‘I am here and if Mr. West wishes to ask me any question—Mr. West or Miss West—I shall answer it in your presence, Ernest.’ I pitied my father—I really did. ‘Clifton,’ said he, ‘do you mean to tell me that you were not a free man when you made your proposal to my daughter?’ ‘A free man? that girl is a fool—an utter fool!’ said Mr. Clifton. ‘Good heavens! Because a man happens—psha! it was four years ago. There is nothing criminal in the business!’ ‘Oh, no,’ said I, ‘nothing criminal—only ridiculous; but for my part I have no intention of allowing my name to be associated with the brackets in the newspaper reports enclosing the words “Great laughter in the court,” and I cannot believe that my father anticipates such a destiny for me.’ Then my father did a foolish thing. He said, ‘Madam, what damages do you hope for in this matter? Do you fancy that any jury would award you more than a thousand pounds? That would be ridiculous. But at the same time—I have my cheque-book here—supposing we say fifteen hundred pounds?’”

“He fancied that she would take it? Was he deceived by the ospreys in her Parma-violet hat, do you think?”

“He couldn’t have been, they were quite simple. But anyhow the girl walked straight to the door and was out before any one could say a word.”

“How good!”

“I ran after her and caught her up on the landing. I kissed her, and—well, I didn’t think it worth while returning to the drawing-room. But when I was putting on my hat to come to you, my father met me and said, ‘Don’t you fancy that because this business has gone astray for a while there is the smallest chance of your getting my consent in regard to—to that fellow from Australia. Perhaps it is as well for us to be clear of Clifton—such men have no sense of honour; but don’t you think for a moment that this Winwood man—Clifton told me all about him—will get my consent.’ So you see, my dear, although I have escaped from Ernest Clifton... oh, how horribly I talked when you came to see me... But you knew that I cared for Pierce—you knew that I had given him my promise—you knew that he——”

And at this point Mr. Pierce Winwood was announced and Amber Severn rushed past him as he entered the room.

“My dear West,” said Sir Creighton Severn when after church the next day, he found himself seated opposite to the new Minister of the Annexation Department in Mr. West’s library. “My dear West, so old a friend as I am should be the first to offer you congratulations. You see that your ambition was not the foolish impulse that so many people in the old days said that it was. You had the stuff in you.”

“I knew that you would be the first, my dear Severn,” said the new Minister. “We have both done very well for ourselves since those old days—those cruel old days, Severn. Ah, we had both ambitions of the right sort. We knew how to make the most of our opportunities, you and I. Yes, we have done pretty well for ourselves.”

“And we have done pretty well for others too—if people only knew it,” said Sir Creighton.

“Yes, yes, the world is the happier for our having lived in it—you in particular, Severn—you in particular. Your inventions—where are they going to end? that’s what some one was saying to me the other day—a man at the Admiralty—we had been hearing the result of the trial of that boat of yours. Ah, you are fortunate, Severn. Your work is recognised freely; whereas the labours of one who aspires to be thought a statesman—ah, how few appreciate the life of perpetual self-sacrifice which we are compelled to lead. People talk of the sweets of office—sweets?—Do you know, Severn, I feel greatly inclined sometimes to relinquish forever all this worry of political life—all this noise—the clamour—the—the strepitum—that is the word—the strepitum—and settle down to enjoy the life which is nearest to my heart—the home life—the home—the hearth.”

“Not yet—not yet, my friend,” said Sir Creighton, shaking his head sadly. “You are not your own master now. Your duty may be an onerous one, but there are too few statesmen in England for you to think of retiring yet awhile.”

“Well, perhaps one should not look at such a matter from the standpoint of one’s private feelings. You do not see so much of me nowadays as you once did, Severn; if you did you would know that the home—the hearth—ah—ah!”

“We do not see so much of each other; but our children—our girls, you know that they are inseparable—West,—you are the father of a girl whom I have come to understand, and to understand such a nature as hers is to love her. I love her as I do my own child; and I am here to talk to you about her.”

“Ah, Severn, she is a good girl—a noble girl, but—well, frankly, I am rather glad that this affair with Clifton has come to an end. It will be years before Clifton is anything but the merest wire-puller—a paltry provincial sort of jobbing jerrymander—that was—he will be—not without his uses, of course—those organisms have their uses to us; but I think that my daughter has every right to look for some one—some one, in short, more in her own rank in life. You heard, of course, that Clifton had been a fool—that it would be impossible for us to entertain any longer the idea of——”

“I saw Josephine yesterday. I am quite of your way of thinking in this matter. Clifton behaved badly from the first—inducing her to do an underhand thing—I know that her better nature recoiled from it. I cannot understand how you ever came to give your consent, West.”

“Well, you see, my dear Severn, I believed that she loved him, and a girl’s heart—ah, Severn, Severn, when the prospect of one’s daughter’s happiness——”

“That is what I want to talk to you about, West—her future happiness—and yours.”

“If you are going to talk to me about that man from Australia—or is it New Zealand?—whom she fancies she loves, you may spare yourself the trouble, my dear friend—I decline to discuss a man so obviously—flagrantly ineligible.”

“I have found out a good deal about him during the past month, and I have heard nothing except what is good.”

“Good—good—what signifies goodness—I mean, of course, that my daughter is now in a very different position from that she occupied six months ago. The best families in the land might receive her with open arms. But a Colonial—well, of course, they did very well in the war, the Colonials, and the mother country is proud of them—yes, quite proud of them. But for my daughter to marry a man who does not know his own father——”

“I know all about his father, though he does not.”

“I don’t want to know, anything, West. His father may have been the Archbishop of Canterbury for all I care; but the chances are that he was a convict—or a descendant of convicts.”

“You have not guessed very wide of the mark; his father was a convict.”

“What; and you are here to suggest that—that—good lord, Severn, are you mad—oh, you must be mad?”

“I do not consider that he is anything the worse for being the son of a convict, West. There is always the possibility of a convict being innocent.”

“Oh, they all affirm their innocence, of course. Now, that is all I want to hear about either father or son. You will stay to lunch, I hope—oh, yes, you must stay to lunch. The Marquis may drop in afterwards; his son is certainly coming. You know Lord Lullworth—a promising young fellow, Severn—quite promising. Come upstairs; Lady Gwendolen will be pleased.”

“One moment, my dear West. I happen to know that the convict father of Pierce Winwood, as he calls himself, was innocent of the crime for which he suffered.”

“Then comfort the son with that information. He will be glad to believe it, I am confident.”

“Shall I add to that information the name of the criminal on whose behalf he suffered?”

“You may add the names of all the heroes of the Newgate Calendar, if you please, my dear friend.”

“I will not offer him so interesting a catalogue. But come with me—I have taken the liberty of bringing him here with me: he is upstairs—I will give him the name of the real criminal in your presence and in the presence of the Marquis and the Marquis’s son and also present him with the proofs, which I have in my pocket, that I have not made a mistake.”

Sir Creighton took a step towards the door.

Mr. West did not move. His jaw had fallen. He had grasped the back of a chair.

The gong sounded for luncheon filling up the long pause with its hum.

“For God’s sake—for God’s sake,” whispered the Cabinet Minister.

“I tell you the truth, West,” said Sir Creighton. “The son of Richard Gaintree, the man who was in your father’s works with myself and with you—the man who in that strange way when we thought he was at the point of death confessed to the crime which you committed and so saved you—the man whom you saw go cheerfully to prison, without speaking a word to save him—that man is the father of Pierce Winwood as certain as we stand here.”

Mr. West gazed at Sir Creighton Severn for some minutes, and then with an articulation that was half a cry and half a groan, dropped into the chair in front of him, and bowed his head down to his hands on the table.

For a long time his visitor did not speak—did not stir. At last he went to him and laid his hand on his shoulder.

“‘God moves in a mysterious way,’—you remember that hymn at the Chapel in the old days, Julian?” he said in a low voice. “Though we have drifted away from the chapel, we can still recognise the truth of that line. I know that for years you have thought and thought if it might be possible for you to redeem that one foolish act of your life—to redeem your act of cowardice in sending that man to suffer in your place. Well, now, by the mysterious working of Providence, the chance is offered to you.”

“And I will accept it—I will accept it as I did the offer of Richard Gaintree,” cried West, clutching at his friend’s arm. “Thank God I can do it—I can do it. But he need not know—the son need not know—you say he does not know?”

“He knows the story—the bare story, but his father hid the names from him. He need never know more than he does now.”

“Send them to me—send them to me, quick, Severn, quick—I may die before I have accomplished the act of restitution.”

Sir Creighton put out his hand, the other man put his own right hand into it for a moment.

Sir Creighton went upstairs to the drawing-room where Josephine and Pierce were sitting with Lord Lullworth and Amber. Lady Gwendolen was still in her dressing-room.

Josephine started up at his entrance. She looked eagerly—enquiringly at him.

“He is in his study. He wants to see you both. Dear child, you have my congratulations—and you too, Winwood.”

Josephine was in Sir Creighton’s arms before he had finished speaking.

“We are starving. What has happened?” cried Amber with some awe in her voice, when Josephine and Pierce had disappeared.

“The time-fuse has burnt itself down—that’s all,” said her father. “Listen: you can almost hear Mr. West telling his daughter that his fondest wish has always been for her happiness, and that he is ready to sacrifice all his aspirations and ambitions in order that she may marry the man whom she loves. That is what he is saying just now.”

And, sure enough, that was exactly what Mr. West was saying at that moment.

“But the time-fuse?” said Amber.

“Time-fuse—the time-fuse,” said Lord Lullworth. “Ah, that reminds me—well, I may as well get it over at once, Sir Creighton. The fact is that I—I have—well, I gave myself a time-fuse of six months to fall in love with your daughter, but the explosion has come a good deal sooner than I expected. She says that she thinks that she may come to think about me as I do of her, in about four months.”

“Oh, less than four months, now,” cried Amber. “It was four months half an hour ago. Half an hour of the time-fuse has burnt away. And it’s not the real Severn time-fuse, I know, for I’ve no confidence that the climax may not be reached at any time.”

“You are a pair of young fools,” said Sir Creighton. “And yet—well, I don’t know. You may be the two wisest people in the world.”

“Great Queen of Sheba! we can’t be so bad as all that,” said Lord Lull worth.


Share on Twitter Share on Facebook