He sipped his wine for a moment thoughtfully. Then a grim, hard smile parted his lips.
“No wonder,” he said, “that my friends are still in something of a panic.”
Virginia rose in her place. It seemed as though her appearance was woebegone enough to soften the heart of any man, but Phineas Duge looked into her face unmoved.
“Uncle,” she said, “I am no longer any use to you. I think that I had better go home.”
He took out his pocket-book, looked through its contents, and passed it across the table to her.
“As you will,” he answered. “I have a great weakness which I am always ready to admit. I cannot bear the presence about me of people who have failed. You have become one of them, and I do not wish you to remain here. If,” he added, speaking more slowly, and looking meditatively into the decanter by his side, “if you saw any chance by which, with the help of what you will find in that pocket-book, a little application, a little ingenuity, and a good deal of perseverance, you could undo some part of the mischief which your carelessness has caused, then, of course, I should lose that feeling concerning you, and your place here would be open for your return. It would probably, also, be to the advantage of your people if any such idea as this resulted in successful action on your part. There is enough in that pocket-book,” he added, “to take you where you will, and to enable you to live as you will for the remainder of the year, and during that time your people also are provided for. I leave the matter in your hands.”
He turned and left the room. Virginia stood at the end of the table, clasping the pocket-book in her hands, and watching his retreating figure. He opened and closed the door. She sank back into her place for a moment and covered her face with her hands. For a moment she forgot where she was. The perfume of the roses, with which the table was laden, had somehow reminded her of the little farmhouse with its humble garden, far up amongst the hills.
STELLA PROVES OBSTINATE
Littleson reached the hotel where Stella lived just in time to find the hall full of her trunks, and Stella herself, in dark travelling clothes and heavily veiled, in the act of saying farewell to the manager. He came up to her eagerly.
“I seem to be just in time, Miss Duge,” he said. “You are going away?”
“I am certainly going away,” she answered. “Did you wish to see me?”
Her manner took him a little aback. Nevertheless he reflected that there were a good many people within hearing, and she was right to be cautious.
“Can I have three words with you?” he begged, “alone, anywhere?”
She led him into a sitting-room, which was fortunately empty.
“Well,” she said, continuing to draw on her gloves, “what do you want, Mr. Littleson?”