“Oh, to drive off with him into the peace and solitude of Love—away from the grinding paths of ambition,” thought Amber, when the horses pranced up.
“Women, not measures,” said the reigning wit anent the administration which Amber’s Salon held together, and in which her husband occupied a position quite disproportionate to his nominal office, and still more so to the almost unparalleled brevity of his career as a private member.
Few, indeed, were the recalcitrants who could resist Amber’s smiles, or her still more seductive sulkiness. Walter Bassett’s many enemies declared that the young Cabinet Minister owed his career entirely to his wife. His admirers indignantly pointed out that he had represented Highmead for two sessions before he met Miss Roan. The germ of truth in this was that he had stipulated to himself that he would not accept the contract unless Amber, too, must admit “Value received,” and in contributing a career already self-launched, and a good old Huntingdon name, his pride was satisfied. This, however, had wasted a year or so, while the Government was getting itself turned out, and it never entered his brain that his crushing victory at the General Election could owe anything to a corner in votes—at five dollars a head—secretly made by a fair American financier.
It was in the thick of the season, and Amber had just said good-bye to the Bishop, the last of her dinner-guests. “I always say grace when the church goes,” she laughed, as she turned to her budget of unread correspondence and shuffled the letters, as in the old days, when she hoped to draw a letter of Walter’s. But her method had become more scientific. Recognising the writers by their crests or mottoes, she would arrange the letters in order of precedence, alleging it was to keep her hand in, otherwise she would always be making the most horrible mistakes in “your Mediaeval British etiquette.”
“Who goes first to-night?” said her husband, watching her movements from a voluptuous arm-chair.
“Only Lady Chelmer,” Amber yawned, as she broke the seal.
“Didn’t I see the scrawl of the Honourable Tolly?”
“Yes, poor dear. I do so want to know if he is happy in British Honduras. But he must take his turn.”
“If he had taken his turn,” Walter laughed, “he never would have got the appointment there.”
“No, poor dear; it was very good of you.”
“Of me?” Walter’s tone was even more amused. His eyes roved round the vast drawing-room, as if with the thought that he had as little to do with its dignified grandeur. Then his gaze rested once more on his wife; she seemed a delicious harmony of silks and flowers and creamy flesh-tones.
“Mrs. Bassett,” he said softly, lingering on the proprietorial term.
“Yes, Walter,” she said, not looking up from her letter.