Phyllis Ayrton had spent a considerable time pondering over that problem of how best to save a man and a woman from destruction—social, perhaps; eternal, for certain. She felt that it had been laid upon her to save them both, and she remembered the case of one Jonah, a prophet, who, in endeavoring to escape from the disagreeable duty with which he had been intrusted, had had an experience that was practically unique, even among prophets. She would not try to evade her responsibility in this matter.

A few days after Herbert Courtland had witnessed by the side of Ella the representation of “Carmen,” he had met Phyllis at an At Home. He had seen her in the distance through a vista of crowded rooms, and had crushed his way to her side. He could scarcely fail to see the little light that came to her face as she put out her hand to him, nor could her companion of the moment—he was one of the coming men in science, consequently like most coming men, he had been forced into a prominent place in the drawing room—fail to perceive that his farewell moment with that pretty Miss Ayrton had come. She practically turned her back upon him when Herbert Courtland came up.

For some moments they chatted together, and then it occurred to him that she might like some iced coffee. His surmise proved correct, and as there was at that moment a stream of people endeavoring to avoid the entertainment of the high-class pianoforte player which was threatened in a neighboring apartment, Phyllis and her companion had no trouble in slipping aside from the panic-stricken people into the tea room.

It was a sultry day, and the French windows of the room were open. It was Phyllis who discovered that there was a narrow veranda, with iron-work covered with creepers, running halfway round the house from window to window; and when he suggested to her that they might drink their coffee on this veranda, she hailed the suggestion as a very happy one. How did it come that none of the rest of the people had thought of that? she wondered.

In another instant they were standing together at the space between the windows outside, the long-leaved creepers mingling with the decorations of her hat, and making a very effective background for his well-shaped head.

For the next half-hour people were intermittently coming to one of the windows, putting their heads out and then turning away, the girls with gentle little pursings of the mouth and other forms that the sneer feminine assumes; the men with winks and an occasional chuckle, suggestive of an exchange of confidence too deep for words.

One woman had poked her head out—it was gray at the roots and golden at the tips—and asked her companion in a voice that had a large circumference where was Mrs. Linton.

Now, Herbert Courtland had not lived so long far from the busy haunts of men (white) as to be utterly ignorant of the fact that no young woman but one who is disposed to be quite friendly with a man, would adopt such a suggestion as he had made to her, and spend half an hour drinking half a cup of iced coffee by his side in that particular place. The particular place might have accommodated six persons; but he knew, and he knew that she knew also, that it was one of the unwritten laws of good society that such particular places are overcrowded if occupied by three persons. It was on this account the old men and maidens and the young men and matrons—that is how they pair themselves nowadays—had avoided the veranda so carefully, refusing to contribute to its congestion as a place of resort.

Herbert Courtland could not but feel that Phyllis intended to be friendly with him—even at the risk of being within audible distance of the strong man who was fighting a duel a outrance with a grand piano; and as he desired to be on friendly terms with a girl in whom he was greatly interested, he was very much pleased to find her showing no disposition to return to the tea room, or any other room, until quite half an hour had gone by very pleasantly. And then she did so with a start: the start of a girl who suddenly remembers a duty—and regrets it.

That had pleased him greatly; he felt it to be rather a triumph for him that by his side she had not only forgotten her duty but was glad she had forgotten it.

“Oh, yes!” she said, in answer to his question, “I have two other places to go to. I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry that you remembered them?” he had suggested.

She shook her head smiling.

“What would happen if—I had continued forgetting them?” she asked.

“That is the most interesting question I have heard in some time. Why not try to continue forgetting them?”

“I’m too great a coward,” she replied, putting out her hand to him, for now her victoria had drawn up and the footman was standing ready to open the door.

“Good-by,” said he.

“Oh, no! only au revoir,” she murmured.

“With all my heart—au revoir at The Mooring,” said he.

That au revoir had reference to the circumstance that they were to be fellow-guests at Mrs. Linton’s house at Hurley-on-Thames, known as The Mooring. Phyllis had told him that she was about to pay that visit, and when he said:

“Why, I am going as well,” she had raised her eyes to his face, an unmistakable look of pleasure on her own, as she cried:

“I am so glad! When do you go?”

“On Thursday.”

“I go on Tuesday—two days sooner.”

The tone in which she spoke made him feel that she had said:

“What on earth shall I do during those dreary two days?” or else he had become singularly conceited.

But even if she had actually said those words they would not have made him feel unduly vain. He reflected upon the fact which he had more than once previously noticed—namely, that the girl, though wise as became a daughter of a Member of Parliament to be (considering that she had to prevent, or do her best to prevent, her father from making a fool of himself), was in many respects as innocent and as natural as a girl should be. She had only spoken naturally when she had said that she was glad he was to be of the riverside party—when she had implied by her tone that she was sorry that two whole days were bound to pass before he should arrive.

What was there in all that she had said, to make such a man as he vain—in all that she had implied? If she had been six years old instead of twenty-three, she would probably have told him that she loved him. The innocence of the child would have made her outspoken; but would his vanity have been fostered by the confession? It was the charming naturalness of the girl that had caused her to speak out what it was but natural she should feel. She and he had liked each other from the first, and it was quite natural that she should be glad to see him at Hurley.

That was what he thought as he strolled to his rooms preparatory to dressing for some function of the night. He flattered himself that he was able to look at any situation straight in the face, so to speak. He flattered himself that he was not a man to be led away by vanity. He was, as a rule, on very good terms with himself, but he was rather inclined to undervalue than overestimate the distinction which he enjoyed among his fellow-men. And the result of his due consideration of his last meeting with Phyllis was to make him feel that he had never met a girl who was quite so nice; but he also felt that, if he were to assume from the gladness which she had manifested not merely at being with him that day, but at the prospect of meeting him up the river, that he had made an impression upon her heart, he would be assuming too much.

But all the same, he could not help wishing that Ella had asked him to go to The Mooring on Tuesday rather than Thursday; and he felt when Tuesday arrived that the hot and dusty town with its ceaseless roll of gloomy festivities contained nothing for him that he would not willingly part withal in exchange for an hour or two beside the still waters of the Thames in the neighborhood of Hurley.

Stephen Linton had bought The Mooring when his wife had taken a fancy to it the previous year, when she had had an attack of that river fever which sooner or later takes hold upon Londoners, making them ready to sell all their possessions and encamp on the banks of the Thames. It had been a great delight to her to furnish that lovely old house according to her taste, making each room a picture of consistency in decoration and furniture, and it had been a great delight to her to watch the garden being laid out after the most perfect eighteenth-century pattern, with its green terraces and clipped hedges. She had gone so far as to live in the house for close upon a whole fortnight the previous autumn. Since that time the caretaker had found it a trifle too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, he had complained to Mrs. Linton. But she knew that there is no pleasing caretakers; she had not been put out of favor with the place; she hoped to spend at least a week under its roof before the end of the season, and perhaps another week before starting for Scotland in the autumn.

She suddenly came to the conclusion one day that her husband was not looking well—a conclusion which was certainly well founded. She declared that a few days up the river was precisely what would restore him to robust health. (But here it is to be feared her judgment was in error.) He had been thinking too much about the new development of the mine and the property surrounding it at Taragonda Creek. What did his receiving a couple of hundred thousand pounds matter if his health were jeopardized, she inquired of him one day, wearing the anxious face of the Good Wife.

He had smiled that curious smile of his,—it was becoming more curious every day,—and had said:

“What, indeed!”

“Up the river we shall go, and I’ll get Phyllis to come with us to amuse you—you know that you like Phyllis,” his wife cried.

“There is no one I like better than Phyllis,” he had said.

And so the matter had been settled.

But during the day or two that followed this settlement, Ella came upon several of her friends who she found were looking a trifle fagged through the pressure of the season, and she promptly invited them to The Mooring, so that she had a party of close upon a dozen persons coming to her house—some for a day, some for as long as three days, commencing with the Tuesday when she and Phyllis went off together. Mr. Linton had promised to join the party toward the end of the week.

And that was how it came about that Herbert Courtland found himself daily admiring the cleverness of Phyllis Ayrton when she had the punt pole in her hands. He also admired the gradual tinting of her fair face, through the becoming exertion of taking the punt up the lovely backwater or on to the placid reaches beyond. Sometimes the punt contained three or four of the party in addition to Herbert, but twice he was alone with her, and shared his admiration of her with no one.

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