He may come at any time,” cried Clare, after breakfast the next morning. “But I shall be prepared for him. Why will men be so foolish? Why should he follow me to England in the month of November? Has he no regard for his voice? Where would he be if he failed to do the C natural some day? And yet he is foolish enough to run the risk of ruining his career simply for the sake of impressing me with his devotion!”

There seemed to Agnes to be a note ot hardness in the girl's way of speaking about her unhappy lover. Her intolerance of his devotion seemed a trifle unkind.

“Don't you think that he should have your sympathy, my dear?” she asked. “Do you fancy that he is to be blamed on account of the shortcomings in Signor Marini's system? Surely he is more to be pitied than blamed for falling in love with some one who refuses to respond to him?”

Clare made a little impatient movement, but in another second she became penitent, and hung her head.

“I suppose I should be sorry for Ciro,” she said, mournfully. “Yes, I think I do feel a little pity for him, in spite of his sentimental foolishness. Undoubtedly the maestro was to blame. I know that it was he who encouraged the susceptible Ciro in spite of all that I could say. But why should the foolish boy single me out for his adoration when he knew very well that there were four soprani and three contralti in the class who were ready to catch the handkerchief whenever it might please him to throw it? They all worshipped him. I could see it plainly when he got upon his upper register, with now and again a hideous falsetto D; and yet nothing would content him—he must lay his heart at my feet. Those were his words; don't fancy that they are mine.”

“Even so, you should not be too hard on him,” said Agnes. “Ah, my dear Clare, constancy and devotion in a man are not to be lightly considered. They may be part of a woman's nature—it seems to be taken for granted that they are part of a woman's nature; but they certainly are no part of a man's. That is why I am disposed to say a good word for our friend with that sweet tenor voice.”

“What am I to do?” cried Clare. “I must either tell him the truth—that I am quite indifferent to him; or make him believe what is untrue—that I am not without a secret tendresse for him. Now, surely I should be doing a great injustice to him—yes, and to the score of young women who worship him—if I were to encourage him to fancy that some day I might listen to his prayer.”

“There is no question, my Clare, as to what course you should pursue,” said Agnes. “All that I would urge upon you is not to hurt him more than is absolutely necessary.”

“You are thinking of the lethal chamber again,” said Clare. “Never mind; what you say is quite true, and I shall endeavor to treat him so gently that he will leave me feeling that he has been complimented rather than humiliated. After all, he means to pay to me the greatest compliment in his power, poor fellow.”

“And you will show him that you appreciate it?”

“I will do my best.”

Before they had had their little chat the bell sounded.

“I knew that he would become prosaic enough to pull the bell like an ordinary mortal,” said Clare. “Of course you will remain by my side, Agnes. Even a sentimental Italian cannot expect to enter a lady's house surreptitiously.”

It was not, however, Signor Rodani who was shown into the room, but Mr. Westwood. He was wearing a great fur coat, and was actually on his way to the railway station. He was to read his paper to the Society at night, and had merely looked in at The Knoll to say good-bye to his friends.

This was the explanation he offered to account for his visit at so irregular an hour. He had under his arm a small case containing all the trophies which he had succeeded in bringing from the land of his captivity—the small bow, the poisoned arrows, and the seeds of the linen plant. The bow and arrows were in a glazed case, which was locked. The more precious seeds were carefully wrapped in wadding. Neither Agnes nor Clare had seen these trophies before, though Claude Westwood had frequently alluded to them after that first day on which he had spoken about his travels through the wonderful forest.

“I shall make a very poor display on the platform, I fear,” said he. “I remember the first African lecture at which I was present. The explorer appeared on the platform surrounded by his elephant rifles, his lions' skins, his elephants' tusks, his rhinoceros' skulls, his countless antlers. He made an imposing show—very different from what I shall make with my half-dozen arrows and my few seeds. I'm afraid that the people will take me for a fraud. The idea of a man going to Central Africa, and returning after a nine years' residence, with nothing better than these, will seem a little foolish in many people's eyes.”

Clare was indignant at the suggestion that any one would venture to underrate the achievements of an explorer who had come through the most terrible parts of Africa with no arms that would give him an advantage over the natives. And as for the trophies, what were all the discoveries of all the explorers in comparison with the seeds of the linen plant, she asked.

“I knew that I could trust to you to say something encouraging to me,” cried Claude. “That is why I could not go up to London without first coming to bid you good-bye, and to get you to wish me good luck.”

“Good luck—good luck—good luck!” said Clare, as he wrapped up his case of arrows. “Of course, we wish you all the good luck in the world; the fact being that our fortunes are bound up with yours. Was it not Agnes and I who insisted on your promising to write that book?”

“I am quite content that you should look on our fortunes as bound up together,” said he, slowly and with curious emphasis. “Our fortunes are bound up together”—he had taken her hand, and continued holding it while he was speaking. “Our fortunes—what is my fortune must be yours.”

“That is quite true, for am not I your illustrator?” cried Clare. “The book will be a success, and no matter how bad the pictures may be, they will be part of a successful book.”

He looked at her for a few moments and then said good-bye to her and Agnes. Agnes had not opened her lips throughout the interview. She could not help thinking, as she watched him go down the drive, of the marvellous change that had come over him since the day of his return to Brackenshire—the day when he had paid her that visit during which he had been able to talk of nothing except the man who had murdered his brother. A few weeks had been sufficient to awaken the ambition which she had thought was dead. It seemed to her that he had just left the room, saying the very words that he had spoken years before:

“I will make a name worthy of your acceptance.”

She stood at the window of the room so lost in her own reflections that she did not hear the ringing of the bell or the announcement of the new visitor. She only became aware of the fact that Clare was talking to some one in the room. She supposed that Claude had returned for some purpose, and was quite surprised to see the half-bent figure of an under-sized man, who wore an exceedingly neat moustache, and a tie with long flying ends.

He remained for a long time in the attitude of some one giving an exaggerated parody of an overpolite foreigner.

“This is Signor Rodani,” said Clare: and the young man straightened himself for a second, and bowed once again, even lower than before. And now he had both his hands pressed together over the region of his heart. Agnes felt as if she were once again in the act of taking a lesson from her dancing master, it seemed a poor thing after such a flourish to inquire if Signor Rodani found the day cold.

She spoke in French, that being the language in which Clare had presented him. The young man bowed once again—this was the third time to Agnes's certain knowledge, though she fancied he must have indulged in more than a nod before she had become aware of his presence—and begged leave to assure Madame—he called her Madame—that the weather was very charming. She then ventured to remark that now and again in England the latter days of November were fine, and then inquired if he meant to winter in England; at which he gave a slight start, and Agnes felt sure his lips shaped themselves to pronounce the word “Diable!” He did not utter the word, however; he only gave a smile and a shrug, and said that a winter in England was not in his mind at that moment; still—it depended.

She interpreted his smile and his shrug into a sort of acknowledgment that if it were made worth his while he might even be induced to consider the possibility of his wintering in England.

She then saw him looking imploringly but politely at Clare, and it occurred to her that the sooner he was left alone for the girl to explain to him whatever matters might stand in need of an explanation, the more satisfactory it would be to every one. So without telling him how greatly she had enjoyed his singing of the tenor part in the “Nightingale” duet the previous evening, she made a very feeble excuse for leaving the room. She had an idea that Signor Rodani would not be severely exacting in regard to the validity of her excuses: he would be generous enough to accept as ample any pretext she might offer for leaving him alone with Clare.

When he straightened himself after bowing her to the door, he allowed Agnes to perceive that Clare was certainly a full head taller than he was.

For the next quarter of an hour any one passing the drawing-room door might have heard the sound of a duet (parlando) being delivered in the musical Italian tongue within that room. As a matter of fact some impassioned phrases made themselves heard all over the house. Then there was heard a quick opening of the door; a few words of bitter but highly musical upbraiding, sounded in a man's, though not a very manly, voice, and before the butler had time to get to the hall-door the hall-door was opened, and Agnes saw the figure of Signor Rodani on the drive. He was hurrying away with a considerable degree of impetuosity, and he held a brilliant coloured handkerchief to his eyes.

“He is gone,” said Clare, when Agnes returned to the room in the course of the next half-hour.

“I saw him on the drive,” said Agnes. She noticed that Clare kept her head carefully averted for some time; but when she happened to glance round, Agnes saw that she had been weeping. The handkerchief of Signor Rodani was not the only one that had been requisitioned for the purpose of removing the traces of tears. She was pleased to observe that little tint of red beneath the girl's lashes: it told her that she was not so hard-hearted as she had tried to make Agnes believe.

“He is gone, so that nothing further need be said about him, except that, if he gets within observing distance of the Maestro Marini within the next week or so—I suppose it will take a few weeks to bring him to himself again—he may make the good maestro aware of some of the shortcomings in the working of his system,” said Agnes.

“I wonder it never occurred to us to go up to London to hear the paper read at the Geographical Society to-night,” said Clare; and Agnes was startled at the suddenness with which she flung aside Signor Rodani as a topic and began to talk of Mr. Westwood.

“We could scarcely go without an invitation, and Mr. Westwood certainly never offered to procure tickets for us,” said Agnes.

When they had nearly finished their dinner that night, the French clock on the bracket chimed the half hour. Clare dropped the spoon with which she was eating her jelly.

“Half-past eight; he will be beginning to read his paper now,” she said. “How I wish I were at the Albert Hall! I can hear the people cheering him—I suppose they will cheer him, Agnes?”

“If you can hear them cheering, my dear, you may take it for granted they are cheering him,” said Agnes, smiling across the table at her.

Clare laughed.

“Oh yes, they will cheer,” she said.

“I daresay they are about it now,” said Agnes. “I don't quite know how long the people as a rule keep up their enthusiasm to the cheering point in regard to a man who has achieved something. I believe they have been known to cheer a great soldier for an entire month after his return from adding a country about the size of France to the Empire. They may cheer Mr. Westwood, although he has been at home for more than a month. I don't think, however, that he would have been wise to keep in seclusion for many more days. An Arctic traveller who is likely to turn up shortly will soon shoulder him aside.”

“Oh, Arctic exploration is a very poor thing compared with African,” said Clare. “What good was ever got by going to the North Pole, I should like to know?”

“The person who went very close to it made as much money during the year after his return as should keep him very comfortably for the rest of his days, I hear,” said Agnes. “The North Pole did him some good, if his excursion was a complete failure from a scientific standpoint. However, the people cheered him for coming back safe and sound, and I think that for the same reason you may assume that they are cheering Mr. Westwood at the present moment.”

And so they were. The London newspaper which was received the next morning made at least that fact plain. Clare was waiting at the hall door to receive it from the hand of the messenger from the book-stall, and she was tearing off the cover as Agnes came down the stairs to breakfast, and before the coffee had been poured out Clare had found the series of headings that marked the report of Mr. Westwood's lecture, delivered in the Royal Albert Hall, at the invitation of the Royal Geographical Society.

“Here it is,” she cried. “Mr. Westwood at the Albert Hall—Thrilling Narrative—the Hebrew Ritual in Central Africa—The Linen Plant. But they only give three columns to the lecture while they have devoted seven to—to—you will not believe it—but there is the heading: 'The Chancellor of the Exchequer on Bimetallism'—just think of it—Bimetallism! As if any one in the world cares a scrap about Bimetallism! Seven columns! What a foolish paper! But the cheers were all right. 'The intrepid explorer on coming forward was greeted by enthusiastic cheers from the large and distinguished audience who had assembled to do him honour. Several minutes elapsed before Mr. Westwood was permitted to proceed with his paper.' Oh, we were not mistaken; the cheers were all right.”

“Your coffee will be cold,” remarked Agnes.

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