“We have heard often how you were admired in Rome. I wonder—don’t be offended!”—said Nora, bluntly—“have you ever been in love?”
“Never!” The reply was passionately prompt.
Nora looked thoughtful.
“Perhaps you don’t know whether you were or not. Girls get so dreadfully mixed up. But I am sure people—men—have been in love with you.”
“Well, of course!” said Connie, with the same emphatic gaiety.
Nora opened her eyes.
“‘Of course?’ But I know heaps of girls with whom nobody has ever been in love!”
As soon as she was alone, Connie locked her door, and walked restlessly up and down her room, till by sheer movement she had tamed a certain wild spirit within her let loose by Nora’s question. And as she walked, the grey Oxford walls, the Oxford lilacs and laburnums, vanished from perception. She was in another scene. Hot sun—gleaming orange-gardens and blue sea—bare-footed, black-eyed children—and a man beside her, on whom she has been showering epithets that would have shamed—surely!—any other human being in the world. Tears of excitement are in her eyes; in his a laughing triumph mixed with astonishment.
“But, now—” she thinks, drawing herself up, erect and tense, her hands behind her head; “now, I am ready for him. Let him try such ways again—if he dare!”
The party given at St. Hubert’s on this evening in the Eights week was given in honour of a famous guest—the Lord Chancellor of the day, one of the strongest members of a strong Government, of whom St. Hubert’s, which had nurtured him through his four academic years, was quite inordinately proud. It was very seldom that their great nursling was able or willing to revisit the old nest. But the head of the college, who had been in the same class-list and rowed in the same boat with the politician, was now Vice-Chancellor of the University; and the greater luminary had come to shine upon the lesser, by way of heightening the dignity of both. For the man who has outsoared his fellows likes to remind himself by contrast of his callow days, before the hungry and fighting impulses had driven him down—a young eaglet—upon the sheepfolds of law and politics; while to the majority of mankind, even to-day, hero-worship, when it is not too exacting, is agreeable.
So all Oxford had been bidden. The great hall of St. Hubert’s, with its stately portraits and its emblazoned roof, had been adorned with flowers and royally lit up. From the hills round Oxford the “line of festal light” made by its Tudor windows, in which gleamed the escutcheons of three centuries, could have been plainly seen. The High Street was full of carriages, and on the immaculate grass of the great quadrangle, groups of the guests, the men in academic costume, the women in the airiest and gayest of summer dresses, stood to watch the arrivals. The evening was clear