Altogether, an extraordinary man. I confess that I can make nothing of him. I shall never be surprised to hear anything in connexion with him. I recommend you to avoid him like the plague. He can be no one’s friend. As an acquaintance he is treacherous and insincere; as an enemy, I can well imagine that he would be as merciless as he is unscrupulous.
An immensely long letter!
Goodbye, my son. I hope that your studies in French methods of surgery will have added to your wisdom. Your industry edifies me, and I am sure that you will eventually be a baronet and the President of the Royal College of Surgeons; and you shall relieve royal persons of their, vermiform appendix.
Arthur, having read this letter twice, put it in an envelope and left it without comment for Miss Boyd. Her answer came within a couple of hours: ’I’ve asked him to tea on Wednesday, and I can’t put him off. You must come and help us; but please be as polite to him as if, like most of us, he had only taken mental liberties with the Ten Commandments.’
On the morning of the day upon which they had asked him to tea, Oliver Haddo left at Margaret’s door vast masses of chrysanthemums. There were so many that the austere studio was changed in aspect. It gained an ephemeral brightness that Margaret, notwithstanding pieces of silk hung here and there on the walls, had never been able to give it. When Arthur arrived, he was dismayed that the thought had not occurred to him.
‘I’m so sorry,’ he said. ‘You must think me very inconsiderate.’
Margaret smiled and held his hand.
’I think I like you because you don’t trouble about the common little attentions of lovers.’
‘Margaret’s a wise girl,’ smiled Susie. ’She knows that when a man sends flowers it is a sign that he has admired more women than one.’
‘I don’t suppose that these were sent particularly to me.’
Arthur Burdon sat down and observed with pleasure the cheerful fire. The drawn curtains and the lamps gave the place a nice cosiness, and there was the peculiar air of romance which is always in a studio. There is a sense of freedom about it that disposes the mind to diverting speculations. In such an atmosphere it is possible to be serious without pompousness and flippant without inanity.