“There is a great deal connected with it, or rather my side of it,” he declared, “which I shall never tell you.”
“You trust me?” she asked a little timidly, “You don’t think that I should betray you to my husband?”
He laughed the idea to scorn.
“It isn’t that,” he assured her. “The machinery I have knocked into shape is crude in its way, but the lives and liberty of those underneath depend upon its workings.”
“It sounds mysterious,” she confessed.
“If you say that it is to be an alliance, Josephine,” he decided, “it shall be. I need your help enormously, but you must make up your mind, before you say the last word, to run a certain measure of risk.”
“What risk is there for me to run?” she asked, with a smile of confidence. “What measure of unhappiness could be crowded into my life which is not already there? I insist upon it—John—that you accept me as an ally without any more hesitation.”
He bent and kissed her hands.
“This, then, is final,” he said. “Within the next twenty-four hours you will be ready if necessary?”
“I am ready now—any time—always,” she promised him.
“My dears,” Lady Amesbury said, as she stood surrounded by her guests on the hearth rug of her drawing-room, “you know what my Sunday night dinner parties are—all sorts and plenty of them, and never a dull man or a plain woman if I can help it. To-night I’ve got a new man. He’s not much to look at, but they tell me he’s a multimillionaire and making all the poor people of the country miserable. He’s doing something about making bread dearer. I never did understand these things.”
“Heavens, you don’t mean Peter Phipps!” Sarah exclaimed.
“His very name,” her aunt declared. “How did you guess it, my dear? Here he is. Be quiet, all of you, and watch Grover announce him. He’s such a snob—Grover. He hates a Mister, anyhow, and ‘Peter Phipps’ will dislocate his tongue.”
Lady Amesbury was disappointed. Grover had marched with the times, and the presence of a millionaire made itself felt. His announcement was sonorous and respectful. Mr. Peter Phipps made his bow to his hostess under completely auspicious circumstances.
“So kind of you not to forget, Mr. Phipps,” she murmured. “My Sunday parties are always viva voce invitations, and what between not remembering whom I’ve asked, and not knowing whether those I’ve asked will remember, I generally find it horribly difficult to arrange the places. We are all right tonight, though. Only two missing. Who are they, Sarah?”
“Josephine and Mr. Wingate,” Sarah replied, with a covert glance at Phipps.
“Of course! And thank goodness, here they are! Together, too! If there’s anything I love, it’s to start one of my dinners with a scandal. Josephine, did you bring Mr. Wingate or did he bring you?”