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“The absurd,” said Lady Mary, with a faint smile, “is supposed.”
" Then, whatever happened after,” he went on, “I might any day, and most likely very often should, believe that things might have been different and better if I hadn't taken your advice.”
“Oh, Anthony!” she exclaimed. “I'm not advising you. You asked me to say what I think.”
“Yes,” he replied, “I know. And there's only one way to prove which is right.”
He kissed her tenderly, and his foot was upon the fourth stair to the door before he thought of the last word he had to say. He turned and said it without descending.
“Don't cry, dear.”
She was not weeping, but he thought he knew what would fall when he was gone.
“Don't cry. You know you are more to me than all the pretty girls in the universe.”
“That's it, Tony,” she cried. “That's just it. I shouldn't be, if she were the girl.”
TADY MARY FROZIER had said that Randolph Bethune
L had taken a fancy to Anthony Le Dane. And Anthony used to say that the stairs to his liftless flat were the sieve of friendship. Yet he was not always pleased when they were mounted in quest of him.
One morning, nearly a fortnight after the day when Bethune had refused to accompany him to Cheyne Walk, Anthony sat in his workshop. Since nine o'clock he had been at work on a mass of papers, which Forsberg had brought him to“ knock the bottom out of, if he could.”
Following the clue they had picked up in Leeds, they had found the man they looked for; but whether the man were the genius they hoped—whether, in short, he had, as he declared, the thing that they needed, the two friends were now to prove.
So Forsberg was watching practical experiments in Hackney, with his rising hope hidden by grave face and taciturn lips; while Anthony, high above Shaftesbury Avenue, was engaged as a matter of duty on the task which to many is a labour of love.
At noon, after tracing three different clues of possible error each to its vanishing point, he had lighted at last, he thought, upon something more serious; when his servant knocked hesitatingly at the workshop door.
“I told you I'd see no one,” he growled. “Send him away, Shinniver!”.
“ Yes, sir,” said the man. “I wouldn't have gone against your orders for anyone else. But it's the gentleman the papers call the Great Chinaman, sir. He seemed tired with climbing the stairs, and I asked him to sit down. And then I thought-"
“Ask Mr Bethune to come in here,” said Anthony; and wondered, as Shinniver closed the door, why he had said yes when he had meant to say no. For in this short acquaintance the personality of the elder
man had appealed to the younger far more strongly than the youngster was aware.
Bethune, limping into the workshop, may have detected on Anthony's countenance some trace of his annoyance; for, in spite of the smile and the outstretched hand which welcomed him, his first words were:
“Why did you let me come in, when you're so busy? "
“That's a question I have just failed in answering to myself,” he said. “I meant to say no. It must be your fault, sir, somehow, that I didn't.”
He made his visitor sit in the best chair, and asked if his leg were troubling him.
Bethune glanced up curiously in the boy's face. He looked, Anthony thought, as if he sought something and found it.
“It generally does trouble me in the morning. And, oh! my dear boy—your stairs!” exclaimed Bethune.
“It's awfully good of you to mount them to see me," said Anthony.
“You didn't think so just now," replied the newcomer,
smiling, then Ant
And then Anthony told him the nature of the work which had absorbed his morning. Now this was not the first time that he had spoken to Bethune of his affairs.
“Why is it,” he cried suddenly, breaking his narrative, " that I grow so criminally talkative in your company, Mr Bethune?"
"My dear boy,” replied the visitor, in tones much gentler than his careless words, “ you mustn't ask me difficult questions. A great many men have talked to me, and in only a very few of the interesting cases have I been able to discover why they talked.”
"Do you mean—why they chose you to talk to, sir?" asked Anthony, with a smile.
“The correction may stand,” replied Bethune. “Most of us must talk. It's the choice of me as accomplice that has
haveed to mee difficule entler
puzzlephen I must wondering the one, I though
“Then I must put my question another way," said Anthony. “I am wondering why I told so much of my affairs to anyone. As you are the one, I thought perhaps you could explain me to myself, sir.”
Bethune was amused, and indefinably touched.
“To clear the ground," he said, “we must first know whether you had to talk to somebody.”
“Certainly not,” Anthony answered, “-not outside those who—who are inside."
“Then we must conclude that you felt inclined to chatter," said Bethune, “and I happened to be there.”
“No," persisted Anthony. “But it's a fact that when you happen to be there, sir, I always feel inclined to chatter."
He sat upon a corner of a carpenter's bench and began filling his pipe.
"Now answer me a question,” said Bethune. “Why do you say 'sir' to me?”
“I was brought up rather quaintly,” he said, “ in the days of my petticoats. It was a woman taught me several things that seem strange now-a-days. And her teaching sticks, somehow. As you are neither the Prince of Wales nor quite a stranger, and I am not an American, I ought not, I suppose, to say 'sir ’ to you."
“Then why do you?” asked Bethune.
“Because the woman who made some of my petticoats and often tied 'em on, taught me to do it to a man that-who-oh, damn it all, sir!-one respected-admired-looked up to."
“Then,” said Bethune, with inquiry, “I am respectable and admirable?”.
Anthony was lighting his pipe.
“ It's the logical inference,” he admitted between the puffs. He disliked most expression of sentiment, but found it easy at this point to turn talk of himself aside with a reference to Lady Mary. He had found few to whom it gave him pleasure to speak of her. “She used to put reverence and truth next only to courage, sir. Gad, I remember funking once-and suddenly I saw a picture of her-inside my head, you know, and"
Bethune was watching the boy's face through the smoke wreaths. The eyes were half closed, and he smiled at his memories.
“ And—?” said Bethune.
“There was a row—an awful row afterwards," said Anthony, laughing. “And at eight years old I got a reputation quite undeserved for brutal and unnecessary ferocity."
“ Your mother," said Bethune,“ preached to purpose.” “My mother died before I was two. It was her sister who
brought me up-Lady Mary Frozier, whom you wouldn't come with me to see the other day, you know."
Then Bethune led the talk back towards its starting-place.
“It's not that I think this man hasn't got hold of a good thing," said Anthony, in reply to his question. “It's only that I have two doubts; one, whether it is as good as Forsberg thinks—as big an advance, I mean, as they believe; and the other-whether it's the last word in the matter for the next twenty years or so. It's that last word that I want.”
“You want the impossible, my dear boy," said Bethune. “ The older the world grows, the shorter the life of last words."
“That's why I said only twenty years,” retorted Anthony. "Steam has lasted more than a century, and it's still doing most of the work."
“Electricity's no chicken,” said Bethune.
“Bottled and portable electricity's hardly an egg-and I've got its nest ready, if we can find the hen. I want money, Mr Bethune, and therefore I want to be sure of twenty years and the last word.”
“There aren't any,” said Bethune, “_only long pauses in the conversation.”
“I want the longest pause,” said Anthony.
Until he spoke, they did not know that Forsberg was in the room.
“ Positively," he said, “ I have the hen. Comparatively, I have the last word. And amongst us we've got to find the superlative money, Le Dane."
“I'll go,” said Bethune, half rising.
But Forsberg laid a hand on his shoulder, and, with a gentleness which excused the familiarity, pressed him back into his seat.
“ If you're not in a hurry, Mr Bethune,” he said, "we'd like to have you stay. With all the world but you, Le Dane is the most reticent of mortals. But, if there's anything to give away, he's probably made you a present of it already; and I want to get your advice and your support in revenge."
“Support?” said Anthony.
“ Support against you,” explained Forsberg. “To look at him, Mr Bethune, you'd think him a young man of enterprise. But you may take it from me that an old lady walking on the ice without her arctics isn't in it with Tre Rama for caution."
OF THEM EN. YURU