For several seconds the tableau remained unchanged: the two women standing side by side, the two men motionless at the half-open door.

Ella was staring at the man who had entered with Mr. Ayrton. There was some apprehension in her eyes.

The man had his eyes fixed upon her. But his face was wholly devoid of expression.

Phyllis was the first to break the silence that made a frame, so to speak, for the picture.

“How do you do, Mr. Linton?” she said, taking a step toward the door.

“I am very well, thank you, Miss Ayrton,” the man replied, shaking hands with her. “Rather a singular hour for a visit, is it not?”

“Oh, no! only Ella didn’t tell me that you——”

She turned to Ella, and noticed that the expression of apprehension on her face had increased. She was still gazing at her husband as one shut up in a room with a snake might gaze at it, waiting for it to strike.

“Ella didn’t tell you that I was coming?” said he. “She had the best of reasons for her reticence.”


The sound came from Ella. There was a little scornful smile on her face.

“The best of reasons?” said Phyllis interrogatively.

“The very best; she had no idea that I was coming. I wonder if she is glad to see me. She has not spoken a word to me yet.”

“You have startled her by your sudden appearance,” said Phyllis. “She is not certain whether you are flesh and blood or a ghost.”

Then Ella gave a laugh.

“Oh, yes!” she said. “He is my husband. Go on with what you have to say, Stephen. I will not run away.”

“Run away? What nonsense is this, my dear? Run away? Who said anything about your running away?”

Her husband had advanced to her as he spoke. He put a hand caressingly on one of her bare arms and the other at the back of her head. She suffered him to press her head forward until he put his lips upon her forehead.

When he had released her, and had taken a step back from her,—he seemed abut to address Phyllis,—a little cry forced itself from her. She called his name twice,—the second time louder,—and threw herself into his arms, burying her face on his shoulder, as she had buried it on Phyllis’ shoulder.

In a few moments, however, she looked up. Her husband was patting her on the arm. She had acquired two new gems since she had bent her head. They were shining in her eyes.

“Don’t go away, Phyllis dear,” she said. Phyllis and her father were standing at the portiere between the drawing rooms. Mr. Ayrton had a hand at the embroidered edge in the act of raising it. “Don’t go away. I am all right now. I was quite dazed at Stephen’s sudden appearance. I thought that perhaps he had—had——Ah, I scarcely know what I thought. How did you come here—why did you come here?”

She had turned to her husband. In spite of her manifestation of affection,—the result of a certain relief which she experienced at that moment,—there was a note of something akin to indignation in her voice.

“It is very simple, my dear,” replied her husband. His curiously sallow face had resumed its usual expressionless appearance. “Nothing could be more simple. I got a telegram at Paris regarding the mine, and I had to start at a moment’s notice. I wrote out a telegram to send to you, and that idiotic courier put it into the pocket of my overcoat instead of sending it. I found it in my pocket when we had come as far as Canterbury. I am not one of those foolish husbands who keep these pleasant surprises for their wives—it is usually the husband who receives the surprise in such cases.”

“And the coachman told you that he had driven me here?” said Ella.

“Quite so,” replied the husband. “But, you see, I had some little hesitation in coming here at half-past ten o’clock to make inquiries about my wife—you might have gone to some place else, you know, in which case I should have looked a trifle foolish; so I though that, on the whole, my best plan would be to drop in upon Mr. Ayrton at the House of Commons and drive here with him when he was coming home for the night. I took it for granted that even so earnest a legislator as Mr. Ayrton allows himself his nights—after twelve, of course—at home. I’m very sorry I startled you, Ella. It shall not occur again.”

“What time did you reach home?” inquired Ella casually—so casually that her husband, who had a very discriminating ear, gave a little glance in her direction. She was disengaging a corner of her lace trimming that had become entangled with a large sapphire in a pendant.

“I reached home at nine,” he replied.

“At nine?” She spoke the words after him in a little gasp. Then she said, walking across the room to a sofa, “I could not have left many minutes before you arrived. I intended going to the opera.”

“That toilet should not have been wasted,” said he. “It is exquisite—ravissante!”

“It was an inspiration, your putting it on,” said Phyllis. “I wonder if she really had no subtle suggestion from her own heart that you were on your way to her, Mr. Linton,” she added, turning to the husband.

“I dare say it was some inward prompting of that mysterious nature, Miss Ayrton,” he replied. “A woman’s heart is barometric in its nature, it is not? Its sensitiveness is so great that it moves responsive to a suggestion of what is to come. Is a woman’s heart prophetic, I wonder?”

“It would be a rank heresy to doubt it, after the example we have had to-night,” said Mr. Ayrton. “Yes, a woman’s heart is a barometer suggesting what is coming to her, and her toilet is a thermometer indicating the degree of expectancy.”

“A charming phrase,” said Mr. Linton; “a charming principle, only one that demands some years of close study to be rendered practical. For instance, look at my wife’s toilet: it is bridal, and yet we have been married three years.”

“Quite so; and that toilet means that you are the luckiest fellow in the world,” said Mr. Ayrton.

“I admit the interpretation,” said her husband. “I told the hansom to wait for me. He is at the door now. You have had no opera to-night, my dear?”

“You would not expect me to go alone? Phyllis was dining at the Earlscourts’,” said the wife.

“You are the soul of discretion, my beloved,” said the husband. “Is your stock of phrases equal to a suggestion as to what instrument is the soul of a woman, Ayrton?” he added. “Her heart is a barometer, her toilet a thermometer, and her soul——”

“The soul of a woman is not an instrument, but a flower—a lily,” said Mr. Ayrton.

“And my wife wears her soul upon her sleeve,” said Mr. Linton, touching the design on the lace that fell from her shoulders.

“But not for daws to peck at—that is the heart,” laughed Mr. Ayrton. “Talking of woman’s soul, how is Lady Earlscourt?” he added, to his daughter.

“I was so sorry that I was at that stupid dinner,” said Phyllis. “I might have enjoyed the music of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ But I had engaged myself to Lady Earlscourt a fortnight ago.”

“You did not see Lord Earlscourt, at any rate,” said her father.

“No; he left us in the evening for Southampton,” said Phyllis.

“And, curiously enough, I dined with him at the club,” said her father. “Yes, he came in with Herbert Courtland at half-past seven; he had met Courtland and persuaded him to join him in his cruise to Norway. They dined at my table, and by the time we had finished Courtland’s man had arrived with his bag. He had sent the man a message from the club to pack. They left by the eight-forty train, and I expect they are well under way by this time.”

“That’s quite too bad of Courtland,” said Mr. Linton. “I wanted to have a talk with him—a rather serious talk.”

Ella had listened to Mr. Ayrton’s account of that little dinner party at the club with white cheeks—a moment before they had been red—and with her lips tightly closed. Her hands were clenched until the tips of the nails were biting into each of her palms, before he had come to the end of his story—a story of one incident. But when her husband had spoken her hands relaxed. The blaze that had come to her eyes for a second went out without a flicker.

“A serious talk?” she murmured.

“A serious talk—about the mine,” replied her husband.

“About the mine,” she repeated, and a moment after burst into a laugh that was almost startling in its insincerity. “It is so amusing, this chapter of cross-purposes,” she cried. “What a sight it has been! a night of thrilling surprises to all of us! I miss Phyllis by half an hour and my husband misses me by less than half an hour. He comes at express speed from Paris to have a talk, a serious talk, with Mr. Courtland about the mine, and while he is driving from Victoria, Mr. Courtland is driving to the same station with Lord Earlscourt!”

“What a series of fatalities!” said Mr. Ayrton. “But what seemed to me most amusing was the persuasiveness of Earlscourt. He has only to speak half a dozen words to Courtland, and off he goes to Norway at a moment’s notice with probably the most uncongenial boat’s load that Courtland ever sailed with, and he must have done a good deal in that way in New Guinea waters. Now, why should Courtland take such a turn?”

“Ah, why, indeed!” cried Mrs. Linton. “Yes, that is, as you say, the most amusing part of the whole evening of cross-purposes. Why should he run away just at this time—to-night—to-night?”

“What is there particular about to-night that Courtland’s running away should seem doubly erratic?” asked Mr. Linton, after a little pause. He had his eyes fixed coldly upon his wife’s face.

She turned to him and laughed quite merrily.

“What is there particular about to-night?” she repeated. “Why, have you not arrived from Paris to-night to have that serious talk with him about the mine? Doesn’t it seem to you doubly provoking that he didn’t stay until to-morrow or that you didn’t arrive yesterday? Why, why, why did he run away to-night before nine?”

“Why before nine?” said her husband.

“Heavens! Was not that the hour when you arrived home? You said so just now,” she cried. Then she picked up her wrap. Phyllis had thrown it over a chair when it had lain in a heap on the floor as Cleopatra’s wrap may have lain when she was carried into the presence of her lover. “My dear Stephen, don’t you think that as it is past nine, and Mr. Courtland is probably some miles out at sea with his head reposing on something hard,—there is nothing soft about a yacht,—we should make a move in the direction of home? It seems pretty clear that you will have no serious talk with him to-night. Alas! my Phyllis, our dream of happiness is over. We are to be separated by the cruelty of man, as usual. Good-night, my dear! Good-night, Mr. Ayrton! Pray forgive us for keeping you out of bed so long; and receive my thanks for restoring my long-lost husband to my arms. Didn’t you say that the hansom was waiting, Stephen?”

“I expect the man has been asleep for the last half-hour,” said her husband.

“I hope nothing has gone astray with the gold mine,” said she. “Hasn’t someone made a calculation regarding the accumulation of a shilling hansom fare at compound interest when the driver is kept waiting? It is like the sum about the nails in the horse’s shoe. We shall be ruined if we remain here much longer.”

“Ah, my dear,” said Mr. Ayrton, when he had kissed her hand, and straightened the sable collar of her wrap; “ah, my dear, a husband is a husband.”

“Even when he stays away from his wife for three months at a time?” said Ella.

“Not in spite of that, but on account of it,” said Mr. Ayrton. “Have you been married all these years without finding that out?”

“Good-night!” said she.

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