Phyllis, of course, knew when to go to Ella with the certainty of finding her at home. At the luncheon hour Mrs. Linton was always visible to the three friends whom she had within the confines of Mayfair. She considered herself blessed among women in the numerical strength of her friendships; and so perhaps she was; she had three.

She was in one of her drawing rooms—the one that was decorated with water colors set in fluted panels of yellow silk—not the one with the pink blinds so beloved by those of her visitors who had reached an age to regard a pink light as a woman’s best friend. She was wearing a new gown which Phyllis, in spite of her enthusiasm on behalf of a brave man maligned, found admirable both as regards fabric, fit, and fashion.

Then followed a word or two of commendation of the artists who had been concerned in its production. They had not been absurd about the sleeves, and they had not vetoed the sweep of lace—it was about half a yard wide—which the person who occupied so insignificant a position as is usually allocated to the mere wearer of the gown had suggested for the bodice. The gown was an unequivocal success, and had Ella seen the disgraceful article which had appeared in the Spiritual Aneroid on the subject of Mr. Courtland’s explorations?

Ella smiled a slow smile, as the question joined the congratulation without the lapse of a breath.

“The Spiritual Aneroid? Who is the Spiritual Aneroid? What is the Spiritual Aneroid?” she asked. “Oh, a newspaper. What could a newspaper with such a funny name have to say about Mr. Courtland?”

“I have brought it with me,” said Phyllis. “It is quite disgraceful. I’m sure you’ll agree with me.”

“I’m certain of it.”

Ella accepted the proffered paper and glanced down the article pointed out to her by Phyllis. Phyllis’ eyes were gleaming as she placed her finger on the words, “Dynamite versus Evangelization,” but Ella’s eyes did not gleam while she was reading all the words printed beneath the heading. She folded the paper and glanced carelessly at the name at the top of the outside page and said, “Well?”

“Was there ever anything so disgraceful?” cried the girl. “Was there every anything so false?”

“Is it false?” asked Ella.

“How can you doubt it? Do you fancy that Mr. Courtland would be a slave-dealer?”

“I wonder how he’d look in the broad flat hat which appears in all the pictures of the slave-dealers? Rather well, I fancy,” said Mrs. Linton.

“Oh, how can you talk of his looking well or ill when you read such an attack upon him?” said Phyllis, jumping up with a charmingly rosy face. “Surely it is something to you when so distinguished a man—your friend as well—is attacked!”

“If we were traveling with him across the desert in a caravan, should we mind much if the whole caravan were attacked by Bedouins or missionaries or people of that stamp, my dear? Of course we shouldn’t. We should feel that he would be equal to the defense of all of us, and himself as well.”

“Oh, of course; but this is quite another thing, isn’t it?”

“Where is the difference? If anybody minds the nonsense printed in that thing, Herbert Courtland will certainly be able to defend himself when called on to do so.”

Phyllis seated herself once again.

“But a question is to be asked in Parliament about him?” she suggested.

“And can you, the daughter of a member of that Parliament, honestly tell me that you fancy that any human being minds how many questions are asked about him in the Questionable House?”

“But the least breath of suspicion—dynamite—slave-dealing—massacres—Armenia. Oh, the article is certain to be copied into dozens of other papers—the public do so like to get hold of some scandal against a man who has done something great.”

“They do indeed. Would you suggest organizing a committee of ladies for the protection of Mr. Courtland?”

“Don’t talk nonsense, Ella. I though that you were his friend, and that you would be as indignant as I was at that disgraceful attack upon his reputation.”

“I don’t think that it will place his reputation in jeopardy, unless with the readers of that paper, and they are not worth taking into account, are they?”

“Papa says the thing has a large circulation among a certain class. I want him to ridicule the question which is threatened in that article; he knows how to do that kind of thing very well.”

“Is it come to that, my Phyllis? Were you really so greatly interested in the one conversation you had with him as to constitute yourself his champion?”

Above all things Phyllis was truthful. She had never had an experience of love—that passion which can change the most truthful of womankind into the least scrupulous. There was no pause between Ella’s question and Phyllis’ answer.

“Certainly the one conversation that I had with him interested me—I told you so returning in the carriage. Has he never succeeded in interesting you, Ella? He told me that you were his friend—I believe he said his dearest friend.”

“And I believe that he told you the truth,” said Ella. “But, being his best friend and a woman, I refrain from constituting myself his champion. You see we live in Philistia, my Phyllis, and the champions that Philistia sends forth usually come to grief; there was the case of one Goliath of Gath, for example. I have no desire to have stones slung at me by the chosen people.”

“I’m not quite sure that I understand you,” said Phyllis, with a very pretty pucker on her forehead. “You don’t mean to say that a woman should not do her best for a man whom she knows to be maligned? You don’t suggest that she should stand silently to one side while people are saying what’s false about him?”

“I say that it’s unwise in Philistia; though I admit that it is of the greatest advantage to the man, for people at once cease maligning him and take to maligning her.”

“If she is any sort of a woman she will not mind that, however unjust it may be. In this case, however, I don’t think there is much risk: even the most unscrupulous person could hardly say that—that——”

“That we were becoming Herbert Courtland’s champions, because we were in love with him?”

“Well, I don’t know. Wasn’t that what you meant to suggest people would say of a woman who became a man’s champion?”

“Something in that way. How straightforwardly you speak out what’s on your mind!”

“Oh, I’m a girl of to-day. I have got over all those absurd affectations of childishness which used to be thought feminine long ago. The gambols of the kitten were once thought the most attractive thing on earth, and they are very interesting: but for the full-grown cat to pretend that it is perfectly happy with a ball of worsted, when all the time it has its heart set on a real mouse, is nonsense.”

“That is an allegory, a subtle parable, Phyllis. But I fancy I can interpret it. You are quite right. Men know that we, the full-grown cats, take no interest in the ravelings of wool as mediums of diversion—that we have our hearts set on mice. Oh, yes! it is much better to be straightforward in our speech—it is even sometimes better to be quite straight in our ways as well. It usually prevents misunderstanding. There is scarcely a subject that women may not talk about to men in the most direct way, nowadays. But about the question of championship——”

Here the door of the room was thrown open and Mr. Herbert Courtland was announced.

“I quite forgot to mention that Mr. Courtland was lunching with us to-day, Phyllis,” said Ella, while shaking hands with her visitor. “Now you will have a chance of getting the slave-dealer’s account of the whole business. Are you a slave-dealer, Bertie? If so, why don’t you wear the usual broad-leaved hat of your order?”

“It is I who am the enslaved one,” said Mr. Courtland, laying his hand to the left of the buttons of his white waistcoat and bowing the bow of the early years of the century, with a glance at each lady.

“What a pretty reminiscence of the age of artificiality!” said Ella; “and what an apt commentary upon the subject we were talking about, Phyllis! We were discussing the merits of directness in speech and straightness in every way. We were ridiculing the timid maid—all sandals and simper—of forty years ago. Why should men and women have ever taken the trouble to be affected? Let us go in to lunch and eat with the appetites of men and women of the nineties, not with the nibblings of society of the fifties. Come along, Phyllis. Mr. Courtland will tell us all about his dreadful goings on, his slave-dealings, his dynamitings. Have you seen that article in the—what’s the name of the paper, Phyllis?”

“The Spiritual Aneroid,” said Phyllis.

“I haven’t been so fortunate,” said he.

“Then we shall take the paper into the dining room with us, and place it before you. If you were guilty of the doings that the article details, you would do well to—to—well, to adopt the picturesque costume incidental to ruffianism—the linen jacket of the slave-trader, the mangy fur collar of the dynamity man of war. Have you ever trafficked in human beings, Mr. Courtland?”

“Well, yes,” said he. “I have done a little in that way, I admit.”

“And dynamite—have you ever massacred people with dynamite?” Ella continued.

“Well, when my dynamite exploded, the people who were in the immediate neighborhood were never just the same afterward,” said he.

“Finally, did you allow yourself to be worshiped as God?” she asked.

“Yes, I got them to do that,” he replied. “I have experienced all human sensations, including those of a god in working order.”

“Then I hope you will make a good lunch. We begin with white-bait.”

“I am quite satisfied to begin with white-bait,” said he.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook