Is there a greater mistake in the world than that of looking upon love as an ordinary possession, instead of as a rare jewel?
They were both very young, so that they suffered the agonies of doubt and uncertainty, whilst the worldly-wise old dame smiled up her sleeve.
From the hour of the early cup of tea until breakfast-time on the morning of the ball, which was also the girl’s birthday morning, tarbusched, impudent young monkeys of messenger boys, bearing gifts and flowers, arrived in a stream at the hotel.
Flowers in pots and vases and bunches lay everywhere in the suite; shawls of many colours, silken veils, slippers, albums of views of Egypt, rare antiques (made mostly in Birmingham), one mummied cat (genuine), scarabs (suspicious), and one live gazelle littered the place.
Ben Kelham had bought her a finger-napkin ring of dull gold; through it he had forced some flowers, and sent it along.
She held it tight in her hand for a moment, then deliberately and ostentatiously laid it amongst the clutter on the table, whilst her grace peeped from behind the newspaper which she was reading in bed.
Arrived at the table in the breakfast-room, the girl suddenly flushed pink and then went quite white.
Right in the centre, flanked on one side by the glass dish of glowing fruit and the other by a cut-glass jar of Keiller’s marmalade, stood a cage tied at the top with silver ribbon and containing two cooing doves.
The doves were just ordinary ones, but their prison was no ordinary cage. Fair-sized and square, it was made of fine white bars of ivory. The underside was also ivory, square and unblemished, and would have made an ideal hairpin-tray; it stood upon ebony feet inlaid with infinitesimal precious stones.
“It has but just arrived, Miss Hethencourt,” said the maitre d’hotel, who had been fluttering around upon the tiptoe of a most unusual curiosity. “There is no name, no message.”
“Please send it to my room,” she replied indifferently, whilst, for some unaccountable reason, her heart throbbed as she responded to the birthday greetings which came from every corner of the room.
“A mother is a mother still,
The holiest thing alive.”
“May the blessing of Allah who is God be upon thee, O woman!”
The sonorous words, of the benediction rang through the room as Hugh Carden Ali stood with the silken curtain drawn back in one hand and the right raised in blessing upon his mother, who stood with arms outstretched in the centre of the room.
Then he knelt to receive the benison of the woman he loved, smiled when he felt the small hands upon his head and, leaping to his feet, swung her up into his arms, covering her face with kisses.
“You beautiful darling!” he said, as he crushed her up, to the derangement of her perfumed silks and satins and many jewels. “It’s just heavenly coming back to you, you dear, understanding mother.”