“I’m glad you defend, don’t prosecute people, Mr. Steele,” said the girl irrelevantly.
“A pleasanter task, perhaps!”
“Speaking of sending prisoners out of the country,” broke in Sir Charles, “I am not in favor of the penal system myself.”
“Rather a simple way of getting rid of undesirables—transportation—it has always seemed to me,” dissented Lord Ronsdale.
“Don’t they sometimes escape and come back to England?” asked the girl.
“Not apt to, when death for returning stares them in the face,” remarked the nobleman.
“Death!” The girl shivered slightly.
John Steele smiled. “The penalty should certainly prove efficacious,” he observed lightly.
“Is not such a penalty—for returning, I mean—very severe, Mr. Steele?” asked Jocelyn Wray.
“That,” he laughed, “depends somewhat on the point of view, the criminal’s, or society’s!” His gaze returned to her; the bright bit of color in her hair again seemed to catch and hold his glance. “But,” with a sudden change of tone, “will you explain something to me, Miss Wray? Those flowers you wear—surely they are primroses, and yet—”
“Crimson,” said the girl. “You find that strange. It is very simple. If you will come with me a moment.” She rose, quickly crossed the room to a door at the back, and Steele, following, found himself in a large conservatory that looked out upon an agreeable, if rather restricted, prospect of green garden. Several of the windows of the glass addition were open and the warm sunshine and air entered. A butterfly was fluttering within; in a corner, a bee busied himself buzzing loudly between flowers and sips of saccharine sweetness. Jocelyn Wray stepped in its direction, stooped. The sunlight touched the white neck, where spirals of gold nestled, and fell over her gown in soft, shifting waves.
“You see?” She threw over her shoulder a glance at him; he looked down at primroses, pale yellow; a few near-by were half-red, or spotted with crimson; others, still, were the color of those that nodded in her hair. “You can imagine how it has come about?”
He regarded a great bunch of clustering red roses—the winged marauder hovering noisily over. “I think I can guess. The bees have carried the hue of the roses to them.”
“Hue!” cried the girl, with light scorn. “What a prosaic way to express it! Say the soul, the heart’s blood. Some of the primroses have yielded only a little; others have been transformed.”
“You think, then, some flowers may be much influenced by others?”
“They can’t help it,” she answered confidently.
“Just as some people,” he said in a low tone, “can’t help taking into their lives some beautiful hue born of mere casual contact with some one, some time.”
“What a poetical sentiment!” she laughed. “Really, it deserves a reward.” As he spoke, she plucked a few flowers and held them out in her palm to him; he regarded her merry eyes, the bright tints.