Mrs. Linton was greatly amused—she certainly was surprised. The surprises were natural, but the amusement was not quite logical. It was, however, quite natural that her guests—two of them excepted—should be amused when they observed her surprise.

Could anything be funnier, one of these guests asked another in a whisper, than Mrs. Linton’s chagrin on finding that her own particular Sir Lancelot had discovered an Elaine for himself?

Of course the guest who was so questioned agreed that nothing could possibly be funnier; and they both laughed in unison. If people cannot derive innocent fun from watching the disappointment of their hostess, in what direction may the elements of mirth be found?

It was agreed that Mrs. Linton had invited Herbert Courtland up the river for her own special entertainment—that she had expected him to punt her up the river highways and the backwater by-ways, while Phyllis Ayrton and the rest of her guests looked after themselves, or looked after Mrs. Linton’s husband; but it appeared that Herbert Courtland had not been consulted on this subject, the result being that Mrs. Linton’s arrangements had been thrown into confusion.

The consensus of opinion among the guests was to the effect that Mrs. Linton’s arrangements had been thrown very much awry indeed. But then the guests were amused, and as it is getting more and more difficult every year to amuse one’s guests, especially those forming a house-party at a season when nothing lends itself to laughter, Mrs. Linton would have had every reason to congratulate herself upon the success of her party, had she been made aware of the innocent mirth which prevailed for some days among her guests.

She would possibly have been greatly diverted also at the overshrewdness of her guests, who were, of course, quite ignorant of the conversation regarding Phyllis Ayrton which had immediately preceded her invitation to Herbert to spend a few days on the river.

But though Ella had undoubtedly given Herbert to understand that she was anxious to have him at The Mooring while Phyllis was there, in order that he might have an opportunity of seeing more of her, and to obtain his agreement that her theory that the man who truly loves a woman should be ready to marry that woman’s dearest friend, still it must be confessed that she was surprised to observe the course adopted by both Phyllis and Herbert. She had expected that all her tact and diplomacy would be required in order to bring the young people—with all the arrogance of the wife of twenty-six years of age she alluded to a girl of twenty-three and a man of thirty-two as the young people—together.

She had had visions of sitting in the stern of an out-rigger built for two, remonstrating with Herbert—he would of course be at the oars—for choosing to paddle her up the river while he allowed some of the other men to carry off Phyllis in, say, the Canadian canoe. A picture had come before her of the aggrieved expression upon the face of Herbert when she would insist on his going out by the side of Phyllis to feed the peacocks on the terraces in the twilight; and she had more than once seemed to hear his sigh of resignation as she, with a firmness which she would take pains to develop, pleaded a headache so that he and Phyllis might play a game of billiards together.

She soon found out that her imagination had not been prophetic. Immediately after drinking tea—it was a few minutes past six—on the evening of the arrival of Herbert, she went out of doors to find him and give him a lecture on the need there was for him to refrain from waiting about the garden far from the other guests until she, Ella, could go on the river with him for a quiet drift before dinner; the other guests would certainly think him worse than rude, she was ready to explain. The explanation was not needed; she learned that Mr. Courtland had just taken Miss Ayrton out in one of the punts.

Of course she was pleased—after an hour by the side of her husband to perceive that Herbert had lost no time in making an effort to prove to her how amply he recognized her object in asking him to The Mooring. But at the same time, if pleased, she was also surprised. At any rate, she would take good care that he did not lapse in his attentions to Phyllis; as she knew lovers are but too apt to lapse, especially when they begin well. She would, for instance, send him from her side in the garden after dinner, to walk with Phyllis up to the woods where a nightingale was said to be in the habit of singing when the lovely summer twilight had waned into the lovely summer night. With the nightingale’s song in their ears, two ordinary young persons with no preconceived theories on the subject of love, have been known, she was well aware, to become lovers of the most aggressive type. Yes, she had great hopes of the nightingale.

So, apparently, had Herbert Courtland.

After dinner there was smoking in the garden, some feeding of the peacocks on the terraces, while the blackbirds uttered protests against such an absorption by foreign immigrants of the bread that was baked for native consumption. Then there was some talk of the nightingale. One man suggested that it was a nightingale attached to a music box which the enterprise of a local inn had hired for the summer months, sending a man to wind it up every night for the attraction of visitors. Then it was that Mr. Courtland said he knew a spot where a nightingale had been in the habit of singing long ago, when his explorations of the Thames River had preceded those of the Fly River. He found three persons who expressed their willingness to accept his guidance on the spot, if it were not too far away. One of these was Phyllis, the other two were notorious lovers. Off they started without hats or caps.

This Ella heard when she returned to the garden, whence she had been called away for ten minutes to interview a man who had an electric launch for sale.

The news, communicated to her by her husband in answer to her inquiry, had surprised her. That was why she had given a little laugh with a tone of derision in it when she had said:

“A nightingale! How lovely! I hope they may find it. It shouldn’t prove so arduous as the quest of the meteor-bird. I do hope that those children will not catch cold. It is a trifle imprudent.”


“Going off that way with nothing on their heads.”

“Or in them. Happy children!” cried a moralizing novelist, who was smoking an extremely good cigar—it had not come from his own tobacconist.

“We can’t all be novel-writers,” said one of the women.

“Thank the Lord!” said one of the men, with genuine piety.

In three-quarters of an hour the members of the quest party returned. They had been fully rewarded for their trouble; they had been listening to the nightingale for nearly twenty minutes, they said; it had been very lovely, they agreed, without a single dissentient voice. It probably was; at any rate they were very silent for the rest of the night.

“You have begun well,” said Ella to Herbert, when they found themselves together in the drawing room, later on, shortly before midnight. Someone was playing on the piano, so that the general conversation and yawning were not interfered with. “You have begun well. You will soon get to know her if your others days here are like to-day. That nightingale! Oh, yes, you will soon get to know her.”

He shook his head.

“I doubt it,” said he, in a low tone. His eyes were turned in the direction of Phyllis. She was on a seat at an open window, the twilight of moonlight and lamplight glimmering about her hair. “I doubt it. It takes a man such as I am a long time to know such a girl as Phyllis Ayrton.”

That was a saying which had a certain amount of irritation for Ella. He had never said anything in the past about her, Ella, being beyond the knowledge of ordinary men.

“That’s a very good beginning,” said she, with a little laugh that meant much. “But don’t despair. After all, girls are pretty much alike. I was a girl once—it seems a long time ago. I thought then that I knew a great deal about men. Alas! all that I have learned since is simply that they know a great deal about me. Am I different from other women, I wonder? Am I more shallow—more transparent? Was I ever an enigma to you, Bertie?”

“You were always a woman,” he said. “That is why——”

“That is why——”

“That is why I am here to-night. If you were not a true woman I should be far away.”

“You are far away—from me, Bertie.”

“No, no! I am only beginning to appreciate you—to understand you.”

“I am to be understood through the medium of Phyllis Ayrton? Isn’t that like looking at happiness through another’s eyes?”

He did not appear to catch her meaning at once. He looked at her and then his eyes went across the room to Phyllis. At the same instant the performance on the piano ceased. Everyone said “Thanks, awfully good,” and there were some audible yawns.

There was a brandy and soda yearning in the men’s eyes.

“We’ll get off to bed; someone may begin to play something else,” whispered the hostess to one of her lady guests.

The men looked as if they had heard the suggestion and heartily approved of it.

The next evening Ella was fortunate enough to get beside Herbert once again—she had scarcely had an opportunity of exchanging a word with him all day. He had been with Phyllis alone in the Canadian canoe. It only held two comfortably, otherwise——But no one had volunteered to put its capacity to the test. Ella had gone in one of the punts with four or five of her guests; but the punt never overtook the canoe. It was those of the guests who had been in the punt that afterward said it was very funny to observe the chagrin of Queen Guinevere when she found that her Sir Lancelot had discovered an Elaine.

“You have had a delightful day, I’m sure,” said Ella. She had found him at the bottom of the garden just before dinner. It was not for her he was loitering there.

“Delightful? Perhaps. I shall know more about it ten years hence,” he replied.

“You are almost gruff as well as unintelligible,” said she.

“I beg your pardon,” he cried. “Pray forgive me, Ella.”

“I’ll forgive your gruffness if you make yourself intelligible,” said she. “You frighten me. Ten years hence? What has happened to-day?”

“Oh, nothing whatever has happened! and as for ten years hence—well, in ten years hence I shall be looking back to this day either as one of the happiest of my life, or as Francesca looked back upon her tempo felice.”

“Oh, now that you get into a foreign language you are quite intelligible. You have not spoken?”

“Spoken? I? To her—to her? I have not spoken. I don’t believe that I shall ever have the courage to speak to her in the sense you mean.”

Ella smiled as she settled a rose on the bodice of her evening dress—its red petals were reposing in that little interspace that dimpled the soft shell-pink of her bosom. The man before her had once kissed her.

She smiled, as she knew that he was watching her. She wondered if he had forgotten that kiss.

“Why should you lose courage at this juncture?” she asked. “She hasn’t, up to the present, shown any very marked antipathy to you, so far as I can see. She is certainly not wanting in courage, if you are.”

“Ella,” he cried, but in a low voice, “Ella, when I look at her, when I think of her, I feel inclined to throw my bag into a trap and get back to town—get back to New Guinea with as little delay as possible.”

“You would run away?” said she, still smiling. She had begun to work with the rose in her bosom once more. “You would run away? Well, you ran away once before, you know.”

She could not altogether keep the sneer out of her voice; she could not quite deprive her words of their sting. They sounded to her own ears like the hiss of a lash in the air. She was amazed at the amount of bitterness in her voice—amazed and ashamed.

He stood before her, silently looking at her. There was no reproach in his eyes.

“Oh, Bertie, Bertie, forgive me!” she said, laying her hand on his arm. “Forgive me; I don’t know what I am saying.”

There was some piteousness in her voice and eyes. She was appealing to him for pity, but he did not know it. Every man thinks that the world was made for himself alone, and he goes tramping about it, quite careless as to where he plants his heavy feet. When occasionally he gets a thorn in one of his feet, he feels quite aggrieved. He never stops to think of all the things his foot crushes quite casually.

Herbert Courtland had no capacity for knowing how the woman before him was suffering. He should have known, from the words he had just heard her speak. He should have known that they had been wrung from her. He did not know, however; he was not thinking of her.

“Bertie,” she said again, “Bertie, you are not angry? I did not know what I was saying.”

“You are a woman,” he said gently, and it was just by reason of this gentleness that there seemed to be a reproach in his voice. He reproached her for being a woman.

“I am a woman—just as other women, just as other women.” Her voice sounded like a moan. “I thought myself different, stronger—perhaps worse than other women. I was wrong. Oh, Bertie! cannot you see that she loves you as I loved you long ago—oh, so long ago? And someone has said that there is no past tense in love! No, no! she does not love you as I loved you—guiltily; no, her love is the love that purifies, that exalts. She loves you, and she waits for you to tell her that you love her. You love her, Bertie?”

There was a long pause before he said:

“Do I?”

“Do you not?”

“God knows.”

And it was at this point that Phyllis came up. Was there no expression of suspicion on her face as she looked at them standing together?

If there was, they failed to notice it.

“I came out to get a rose,” she said. “How quickly you dressed, Ella! Ah, you have got your rose—a beauty! Your gardener is generous; he actually allows you to pluck your own roses.”

“Mr. Courtland will choose one for you,” said Ella. “You may trust Mr. Courtland.”

“To choose me a rose? Well, on that recommendation, Mr. Courtland, I think I may safely place myself in your hands. I will accept a rose of your choosing.”

And she did.

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