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"You're too clever to let it out,” he assured her; and added with a chuckle: “If it goes through, order what you like. Rent a house on Bellevue Avenue anything in reason.
a “What is it?" she asked, with a sudden premonition that the thing had a vital significance for her.
“It's the greatest scheme extant,” he answered with elation. “I won't go into details—you wouldn't understand 'em. Mr. Wing and some others have tried the thing before, nearer home, and it worked like a charm. Street railways. We buy up the little lines for nothing, and get an interest in the big ones, and sell the little lines for fifty times what they cost us, and guarantee big dividends for the big lines.'
"It sounds to me," said Honora, slowly, "as though some one would get cheated.”
“Some one get cheated!” he exclaimed, laughing. “Every one gets cheated, as you call it, if they haven't enough sense to know what their property's worth, and how to use it to the best advantage. It's a case," he announced, “of the survival of the fittest. Which reminds me that if I'm going to be fit tomorrow I'd better go to bed. Mr. Wing's to take me to New York on his yacht, and you've got to have your wits about
talk to the old man.
Clio, or Thalia? ACCORDING to the ordinary and inaccurate method of measuring time, a fortnight may have gone by since the event last narrated, and Honora had tasted at last the joys of authorship. Her name was not to appear, to be sure, on the cover of the Life and Letters of General Angus Chiltern; nor indeed, so far, had she written so much as a chapter or a page of a work intended to inspire young and old with the virtues of citizenship. At present the biography was in the crucial constructive stage. Should the letters be put in one volume, and the life in another? or should the letters be inserted in the text of the life? or could not there be a third and judicious mixture of both of these methods? Honora's counsel on this and other problems was, it seems, invaluable. Her own table was fairly littered with biographies more or less famous which had been fetched from the library, and the method of each considered.
Even as Mr. Garrick would never have been taken for an actor in his coach and four, so our heroine did not in the least resemble George Eliot, for instance, as she sat before her mirror at high noon with Monsieur Cadron and her maid Mathilde in worshipful attendance. Some of the ladies, indeed, who have left us those chatty memoirs of the days before the guillotine, she might have been likened to. Monsieur Cadron was an artist, and his branch of art was hair. dressing. It was by his own wish he was here to-day, since he had conceived a new coiffure especially adapted, he declared, to the type of Madame Spence. Behold him declaring ecstatically that seldom in his experience had he had such hairs to work with.
“Avec une telle chevelure, l'on peut tout faire, madame. Être simple, c'est le comble de l'art. Ça vous donne,” he added, with clasped hands and a step backward, “ca vous donne tout à fait l'air d'une dame de Nattier.”
Madame took the hand-glass, and did not deny that she was éblouissante. If madame, suggested Monsieur Cadron, had but a little dress à la Marie Antoinette? Madame had, cried madame's maid, running to fetch one with little pink flowers and green leaves on an ecru ground. Could any coiffure or any gown be more appropriate for an entertainment at which Clio was to preside?
It is obviously impossible that a masterpiece should be executed under the rules laid down by convention. It would never be finished. Mr. Chiltern was coming to lunch, and it was not the first time. On her appearance in the doorway he halted abruptly in his pacing of the drawing-room, and stared at her.
“I'm sorry I kept you waiting," she said.
“It was worth it,” he said. And they entered the dining room. A subdued, golden-green light came in through the tall glass doors that opened out on the little garden which had been Mrs. Forsythe's pride. The scent of roses was in the air, and a mass of them filled a silver bowl in the middle of the table. On the dark walls were Mrs. Forsythe's precious prints, and above the mantel a portrait of a thin, aristocratic gentleman who resembled the poet Tennyson. In the noonday shadows of a recess was a dark mahogany sideboard loaded with softly gleaming silver-Honora's. Chiltern sat down facing her. He looked at Honora over the roses, and she looked at him. A sense of unreality that was, paradoxically, stronger than reality itself came over her, a sense of fitness, of harmony. And for the moment an imagination, ever straining at its leash, was allowed to soar. It was Chiltern who broke the silence.
“What a wonderful bowl!” he said.
"It has been in my father's family a great many years. He was very fond of it, ,” she answered, and with a sudden, impulsive movement she reached over and set the bowl aside.
“That's better,” he declared, “much as I admire the bowl, and the roses."
She coloured faintly, and smiled. The feast of reason that we are impatiently awaiting is deferred. It were best to attempt to record the intangible things; the golden-green light, the perfumes, and the faint musical laughter which we can hear if we listen. Thalia's laughter, surely, not Clio's Thalia, enamoured with such a theme, has taken the stage herself— and as Vesta, goddess of hearths. It was Vesta whom they felt to be presiding. They lingered, therefore, over the coffee, and Chiltern lighted a cigar. He did not smoke cigarettes.
"I've lived long enough,” he said, "to know that I have never lived at all. There is only one thing in life worth having."
“What is it?” asked Honora.
“This,” he answered, with a gesture; “when it is permanent.”
“And how is one to know whether it would be permanent?”
“Through experience and failure,” he answered quickly, "we learn to distinguish the reality when it comes. It is unmistakable."
“Suppose it comes too late?” she said, forgetting the ancient verse inscribed in her youthful diary: “Those who walk on ice will slide against their wills.”
“To admit that is to be a coward,” he declared.
"Such a philosophy may be fitting for a man,” she replied, , “but for a woman
“We are no longer in the dark ages,” he interrupted. “Every one, man or woman, has the right to happiness. There is no reason why we should suffer all our lives for a mistake.”
"A mistake!” she echoed.
“Certainly,” he said. “It is all a matter of luck, or fate, or whatever
choose to call it. Do you suppose, if I could have found fifteen years ago the woman to have made me happy, I should have spent so much time in seeking distraction?"
“Perhaps you could not have been capable of appreciating
her-fifteen years ago,” suggested Honora. And, lest he might misconstrue her remark, she avoided his eyes.
“Perhaps,” he admitted. “But suppose I have found her now, when I know the value of things.”
“Suppose you should find her now—within a reasonable time. What would you do?”
“Marry her,” he exclaimed promptly. “Marry her and take her to Grenoble, and live the life my father lived before me.'
She did not reply, but rose, and he followed her to the shaded corner of the porch where they usually sat. The bundle of yellow-stained envelopes he had brought were lying on the table, and Honora picked them up mechanically.
“I have been thinking,” she said as she removed the elastics, “that it is a mistake to begin a biography by the enumeration of one's ancestors. Readers become frightfully bored before they get through the first chapter."
“I'm beginning to believe,” he laughed, that you will have to write this one alone. All the ideas I have got so far have been yours. Why shouldn't you write it, and I arrange the material, and talk about it! That appears to be all I'm good for."
If she allowed her mind to dwell on the vista he thus presented, she did not betray herself.
"Another thing," she said, "it should be written like fiction.”
"Fact should be written like fiction, and fiction like fact. It's difficult to express what I mean. But this life of your father deserves to be widely known, and it should be entertainingly done, like Lockhart, or Parton's works?
An envelope fell to the floor, spilling its contents. Among them were several photographs.
“Oh,” she exclaimed, “how beautiful! What place is this?”
“I hadn't gone over these letters," he answered. “I only got them yesterday from Cecil Grainger. These are some pictures of Grenoble which must have been taken shortly before my father died.”