“Then I think,” she said quietly, “that we had better go down!”
THE END OF A DREAM
Dinner that evening was a curious meal, partly constrained, partly enlivened by strange little bursts of attempted geniality on the part of the professor. Mr. Bomford told long and pointless stories with much effort and the air of a man who would have made himself agreeable if he could. Edith leaned back in her chair, eating very little, her eyes large, her cheeks pale. She made her escape as soon as possible and Burton watched her with longing eyes as he passed out into the cool darkness. He half rose, indeed, to follow her, but his host and Mr. Bomford both moved their chairs so that they sat on either side of him. The professor filled the glasses with his own hand. It was his special claret, a wonderful wine, the cobwebbed bottle of which, reposing in a wicker cradle, he handled with jealous care.
“Mr. Burton,” he began, settling down in his chair, “we have been unjust to you, Mr. Bomford and I. We apologize. We ask your forgiveness.”
“Unjust?” Burton murmured.
“Unjust,” the professor repeated. “I allude to this with a certain amount of shame. We made you an offer of a thousand pounds for a portion of that—er—peculiar product to which you owe this wonderful change in your disposition. We were in the wrong. We had thoughts in our mind which we should have shared with you. It was not fair, Mr. Burton, to attempt to carry out such a scheme as Mr. Bomford here had conceived, without including you in it.” The professor nodded to himself, amiably satisfied with his words. Burton remained mystified. Mr. Bomford took up the ball.
“We yielded, Mr. Burton,” he said, “to the natural impulse of all business men. We tried to make the best bargain we could for ourselves. A little reflection and—er—your refusal of our offer, has brought us into what I trust you will find a more reasonable frame of mind. We wish now to treat you with the utmost confidence. We wish to lay our whole scheme before you.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Burton declared, a little wearily. “You want one of my beans, for which you offered a certain sum of money. I am sorry. I would give you one if I could, but I cannot spare it. They are all that stand between me and a relapse into a state of being which I shudder to contemplate. Need we discuss it any further? I think, if you do not mind—”
He half rose to his feet, his eyes were searching the shadows of the garden. The professor pulled him down.
“Be reasonable, Mr. Burton—be reasonable,” he begged. “Listen to what Mr. Bomford has to say.”
Mr. Bomford cleared his throat, scratched his chin for a moment thoughtfully, and half emptied his glass of claret.
“Our scheme, my young friend,” He said condescendingly, “is worthy even of your consideration. You are, I understand, gifted with some powers of observation which you have turned to lucrative account. It has naturally occurred to you, then, in your studies of life, that the greatest accumulations of wealth which have taken place during the present generation have come entirely through discoveries, which either nominally or actually have affected the personal well-being of the individual. Do I make myself clear?