“I love his letters,” gushed Amber, bafflingly. “He writes such cute things.”
“He doesn’t dress very well,” said Lady Chelmer, feebly fighting.
“Oh, of course, he doesn’t bother as much as Tolly, who looks as if he had been poured into his clothes—”
“Yes, the mould of fashion,” quoted Lady Chelmer, vaguely.
An eruption of Walter Bassett in the Press did not tend to allay her Ladyship’s alarm, especially as Amber began to dally with the morning paper and the evening.
Opening a new People’s Library at Highmead—in the absence abroad of the successful candidate—he had contrived to set the newspapers sneering. He had told the People that although they might temporarily accept such gifts as “Capital’s conscience-money,” yet it was as much the duty of the parish to supply light as to supply street-lamps; which was considered both ungracious and unsound. The donor he described as “a millionaire of means,” which was considered wilfully paradoxical by those who did not know how great capitals are locked up in industries. But what worked up the Press most was his denunciation of modern journalism, in malodorous comparison with the literature this Library would bring the People. “The journalist,” he said tersely, “is Satan’s secretary.” No shorter cut to notoriety could have been devised, for it was the “Silly Season,” and Satan found plenty of mischief for his idle hands to do.
“Oh, you poor man!” Amber wrote Walter. “Why don’t you say you were thinking of America—yellow journalism, and all that? The yellow is, of course, Satan’s sulphur. You would hardly believe what his secretaries have written even of poor little me! And you should see the pictures of ‘The Milwaukee Millionairess’ in the Sunday numbers!”
Walter Bassett did not reply regularly and punctually to Amber’s letters, and it was a novel sensation to the jaded beauty who had often thrown aside masculine missives after a glance at the envelope, to find herself eagerly shuffling her morning correspondence in the hope of turning up a trump-card. A card, indeed, it often proved, though never a postcard, and Amber meekly repaid it fourfold. She found it delicious to pour herself out to him; it had the pleasure of abandonment without its humiliation. Verbally, this was the least flirtatious correspondence she had ever maintained with the opposite sex.
So when at last, towards the end of the holiday season, the pair met in the flesh at a country house (Lady Chelmer still protests it was a coincidence), Walter Bassett had no apprehension of danger, and his expression of pleasure at the coincidence was unfeigned, for he felt his correspondence would be lightened. In nothing did he feel the want of pence more keenly than in his inability to keep a secretary for his public work. “Money is time,” he used to complain; “the millionaire is your only Methuselah.”
The house had an old-world garden, and it was here they had their first duologue. Amber had quickly discovered that Walter was interested in the apiaries that lay at the foot of its slope, and so he found her standing in poetic grace among the tall sweet-peas, with their whites and pinks and faint purples, a basket of roses in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other.