“Mr. Strong in here!”
“Mr. Strong! Why, he sent me no word. I didn’t expect him!”
“I can’t help that. He’s here, settin’ in the liberry.”
“Dear me!” said Bambi. “Say I’ll be down at once. Wait! Help me to get into my gray gown before you go.”
“You look all right de way you is.”
“No, no. This man lives in New York, Ardelia. He’s used to real clothes.”
“I wish he’d stay in New York.”
“What’s the matter with Mr. Strong? I thought you liked him!”
“He’s gettin’ too frequentious round here, to suit me.”
“You silly thing, we have business to talk over. Hurry on, now, and say I’ll be down in a minute.”
Ardelia lumbered out, disapproval in every inch of her back.
Richard Strong turned away from the log fire at the sound of Bambi’s footsteps running down the stairs. The soft gray gown clung to her, and floated behind her, its ashen monotone making her face more vivid than ever. Her cheeks were pink, and her eyes looked gray-green in the shadowy room, with the deep, shining fire of opals. Both hands went out to his impulsive greeting.
“Welcome!” she said, smiling.
“Aren’t you surprised?”
“I’m pleased. Why should I be surprised?”
“It is so unheard of, for me to be running out of town on unexpected visits to a lady, that it seems as if everybody must be as surprised as I am.”
“The lady was thinking of you when your name was announced, which may account for her nonsurprise.”
“Really?” he said so warmly that she blushed a bit.
“Yes, I finished the book to-day. I was thinking it all over—this last year. My new sense of getting somewhere, and of you—the big part you play in it all. Have I ever told you how utterly grateful I am?”
He looked down at her, sunk among the cushions of the big couch, before replying.
“I think you need not say it,” he replied. “I have been so richly rewarded in knowing you.”
“You’ve been my secret garden this last year.”
“Oh, that is nice of you,” she interrupted, sensing an undercurrent of feeling. “If I am your secret garden, you’re my secret well, because nobody knows about us.”
“You haven’t told them yet?”
“No. When the book comes out I shall give them each a copy, and run and hide while they read it.”
“Little girl,” he smiled at her, “what do you think brought me down here to-day?”
“Can’t. Never guessed anything in my life.”
He took a letter from his pocket and handed it to her.
“I am to read this?”
He nodded. She opened it and read:
"Mr. Richard Strong, New York City.
“My DEAR MR. STRONG: I have read, with very great interest, a serial story, published in your magazine, entitled ‘Francesca.’ I feel that there is the making of a delightful comedy in the plot of this novel, and I write to ask you whether it would be possible for me to secure the dramatic rights from the author. As the story is anonymous, I appeal to you to put me in touch with the writer in question. I shall appreciate an immediate reply.