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surprise. "How extraordinary!" she murmured. And he thought so, too.
It is a real epoch in a man's life when he finds that the cleverest woman whom he has ever met is interested in him and in his life and in his work. A day or so later he felt a sudden impulse to prove to her how brilliant he was, and so he said something in the House. What he said did not develop quite as he had expected. In fact, it turned out to be a mistake, and later it grew into a terrific blunder, which had the honor of much scathing comment. He felt much perturbed, and was inexpressibly soothed on going to see her to find the first smiles that had been turned his way for three days illuminating her lovely face.
"Do you know what you can do?" she asked him, holding his hand in both of hers and looking up into his face with an expression of almost masculine intelligence in her eyes.
He did not ask her to what she referred. He was silent, but in his answering smile she found encouragement to speak.
"There's a speech in Hansard-a speech of a chancellor of the exchequerthat will turn the tables completely." Then she named the day, the year, and that particular chancellor of the exchequer. He was dum founded. He could not speak.
"You see, it is n't where any one would look for such a reference," she went on, "but it is there. I would n't quote it, if I were you; I would simply refer to it. It will be more impressive."
He was no end grateful. He had no doubt as to the other half of his soul now. He took her hand and kissed it, and she smiled again. She did not seem to be a very passionate person, but, then, he was not a passionate person himself. And she knew all about Manchurian railway concessions, what ailed Mauritian credit, and why reciprocity seemed so loath to reciprocate. He was almost positive as to what the outcome was to be. Really, no man could possibly do better. And she was beautiful, and rich, and, then, last, but not least, so clever.
He wondered whether she were Oriental enough to be going to get too stout later in life. She was perfect now. And her hair?
It was a day or two after this that he
had to make a speech at a banquet, and told her so.
"I'll tell you something very original to say," she said. And then she told him.
"How did you ever think of that?" he asked in real wonder.
"I don't know," she laughed; "but do
He said it, and it created a tremendous amount of talk, all of the most soothing and delightful kind.
He made up his mind to offer himself on Sunday. It was eminently the right thing for him, and he was positive that he loved her, too. "I am positive," he repeated thrice over to himself.
That evening he went to an informal little theater-party with some friends whom he had not met in years, and they had with them the sweetest, most unsophisticated, blue-eyed child of seventeen. She was not in society yet; he was the first "man" whom she had ever met. It is dazing to be the first man whom a really sweet girl has ever met. He had a seat next to hers. She was Charybdis.
The others talked of his clever speech, and he shrugged his shoulders and made light of it. Any one could make speeches like that, he said, and felt a slight stab as he said it, remembering that he could not have made it if Mme. Scylla had not outlined it for him. Miss Charybdis had not known that he had made a speech, and felt freshly overwhelmed at such a state of things. It was wonderful to be sitting in the same box with a member of parliament, and to think that he had also made a speech! To what dizzy heights might not so great a being aspire! Her blue eyes were afraid to contemplate the sun too closely for fear of some Phaëtonic catastrophe, but she looked at his hand hanging loosely on the back of her chaperon's chair, and the mere sight of that brought the color to her pretty face. She was able to be romantic and to love. As likely as not, in ten years she would be as interesting as lots of other people.
He went home in an odd state of mind.
The next day was Saturday, and he had intended offering himself to Mme. Scylla, who was out of town, on Sunday. He felt still more odd to think that that time next week all sorts of new emotions would be running riot within him,-at least he
He rode in the Row the next morning, and contemplated the proposal with some trepidation and some satisfaction. He still felt odd. He did not think that the proposal would be any special strain; she must know that he loved her. "I must have shown it," he told himself, and then he repeated firmly, "I must have shown it." Perhaps there would not even be anything said. Perhaps he would simply kiss her. Anyway, it would be quite easy. would start to show her something, would drag a chair close to her side, would take out a pencil to point out the particular passage, she would turn her head to watch what he was elucidating, perhaps she would be seated on the divan-oh, it would be quite easy.
He raised his eyes at that, and there, right in front of him, rode the exceedingly pretty girl with a groom in attendance. She smiled and blushed and bowed, and he-well, he rode home with her.
And now began the sitting between Scylla and Charybdis in good earnest. Not that he knew it then, for he was still too certain that he loved the widow to be able to give the lie to his opinion so quickly. But he felt very odd, vaguely uncomfortable. There was no denying that Mme. Scylla was brilliant, brilliantly beautiful, and beautifully rich; but, dash it all! there is a charm in a young, innocent girl who knows nothing of anything and least of all of men.
But he went to make his proposal just as he had planned, feeling that Monday would find everything settled and two people ecstatically happy. And yet, he told himself over and over most irrelevantly, that he did not need to marry a fortune and that he was jolly well sure that he could get on without the brilliant brains. And yet he was not so sure, after all. And she was stunning. But the young girl was lovely, too. Altogether his thoughts, as he walked through the park, were most uncomfortable. But he always knew that he was going to propose and that they were going to be ecstatically happy. No man doubts that or demands details of his imagination. Why under the sun should he?
He came to the house and went in. She was alone. He went straight to her, took
her in his arms, and kissed her. It is the simplest way, and the most effective. She drew back, laughed, and began to adjust her hair-pins. There was no use denying that she was beautiful. "Such a man!" was all that she said. And after that they were very happy for some time. It was quite wonderful to sit beside her, have his arm around her, and feel her sinuous, jeweled fingers tapping his hand. "You shall be a great man," she said, confidentially. "I'll manage it all for you."
That was a fearful mistake for so clever a woman to make. Despite himself, he felt his eyebrows shoot upward. He could not share that view of his brilliant future in any circumstances.
"You see, I am a very gifted woman," she continued happily; "I have tact and intuition. You'll make no more stupid blunders now."
Well! He drew a long breath and withdrew his arm. "The cigarettes are there, just at your hand," she said, pointing; but although he could, and did, get one without rising, he did not replace his arm. She sprang quickly up and brought him matches. "I will make you prime minister," she said, with her glowing gaze. "I am sure that I can do it, for all that you lack I have in abundance.”
He colored hotly. For a moment he thought that his temper had slipped its ball and chain. He took a match from her and lit a cigarette. "My odalisque," he said then, trying to speak naturally, "don't forget that women are, after all, a very small part of a man's life." And then he looked at the rug, and his look was severe. He was not a bit happy.
"Not when it is a woman like me and a man like you," she said. "You know as well as I do that of us two I am the stronger character."
He bit his lip and moved his fingers curiously. He drew in a tremendous breath.
But then it came over him with a horrid gasp that she was right, that she was certainly right. But she loved him. And all men would envy him. And, after all, she would be a help.
So he smiled in a ghastly sort of way, said, "Conceited baby!" and noted that she liked it, and then he pretended that his declaration had burst from him unawares,
and that a pressing, previous engagement claimed him, and so got away.
Outside, in the street, he was aware of being distinctly sore and outraged. "I will make you prime minister!" What a little fool she was! "You know as well as I do that of us two I am the stronger character." He turned there and bolted down a side street. Why, he would never marry that woman in this world! Who was she, anyhow? Idiot! Conceited little monkey!
A few minutes later, having come near being run over by a motor and also having collided violently with a man larger than himself who was very mad about something, too, it occurred to him that it might be well to calm himself, and, finding that he chanced to be in the neighborhood of his inferior friends, he thought that he would drop in informally; he happened to know that they made a practice of giving the most delightful informal suppers to select little parties of lions every Sunday. So he went in, and he found, to his astonishment, that that speech of his (or hers) had made him a double lion. The host, who had treated him as an equal before (the misguided man treated all his guests as equals, not having the remotest suspicion of his own classing), now treated him with a good-humored mock-worship which was inexpressibly soothing. "You are slated for big things, do you know it?" he said confidentially. "Do you realize that you 're beginning to pull a stroke oar?"
He could not help feeling much better at once, and with the mental uplift came a buck-shot charge of shame, shattering the petty side of his self-esteem and making him realize with a sudden flame of satisfaction that he was engaged to her, after all. They would be married, and no one would ever know how much she helped him, and the help would be there at hand always. And she was beautiful, and she was ri
Just then the door opened, and in came Miss Charybdis, her hair confined in a fur basket upside down, and wearing a coat that made her look like an educated seal. There is no use talking, the girl that
He felt tremendously flattered. get used to all that in the House," he said. "No notes there often, you know."
"No, I suppose not," she said yet more adoringly, and he looked into her soft, immature gaze and knew that she would love him, too, if he asked her. What a situation! He felt fairly beside himself!
Very late that night he reached his bed and strove to think. The problem was now awful, and there was no steering between. He must wreck himself to save himself. It must be Scylla or it must be Charybdis. What should he do? What could he do? He could not marry a woman who set out from the start as brighter than he was himself, and neither could he get on without that woman. But how could he break with her even if he wanted to? And if he did break with her, and she married one of his opponents in the House and told that opponent that— oh, he simply could not contemplate that! And then this adorably, sweet, loving, trusting, blue-eyed girl (God bless her!), a million times too good for him, and who would never give him advice, or give herself any airs, or be any help to anybody! What a mess! Why did such cursed luck come to him? He swore, he fumed, he fussed, he canvased pros and cons. In the end he
It was certainly the only wise course to take.