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"Well, it was on a coal-mine in Pennsylvania. I'm afraid my report is going to be a disappointment to the firm. The mine's good, a sound, rich vein, and the labor conditions aren't bad; but there's one fatal defect--a car shortage on the only railroad that reaches it. They can't make a penny on their old mine until that's met, and that can't be straightened out for a year, anyhow; and so I shall report against it." "Car shortage," said Miss Severance. "I never should have thought of that. I think you must be wonderful." He laughed. "I wish the firm thought so," he said. "In a way they do; they pay attention to what I say, but they give me an awfully small salary. In fact," he added briskly, "I have almost no money at all." There was a pause, and he went on, "I suppose you know that when I was sitting beside you just now I wanted most terribly to kiss you." "Oh, no!" "Oh, no? Oh, yes. I wanted to, but I didn't. Don't worry. I won't for a long time, perhaps never." "Never?" said Miss Severance, and she smiled. "I said _perhaps_ never. You can't tell. Life turns up some awfully queer tricks now and then. Last night, for example. I walked into that ballroom thinking of nothing, and there you were--all the rest of the room like a sort of shrine for you. I said to a man I was with, 'I want to meet the girl who looks like cream in a gold saucer,' and he introduced us. What could be stranger than that? Not, as a matter of fact, that I ever thought love at first sight impossible, as so many people do." "But if you don't know the very first thing about a person--" Miss Severance began, but he interrupted: "You have to begin some time. Every pair of lovers have to have a first meeting, and those who fall in love at once are just that much further ahead." He smiled. "I don't even know your first name." It seemed miraculous good fortune to have a first name. "Mathilde." "Mathilde," he repeated in a lower tone, and his eyes shone extraordinarily. Both of them took some time to recover from the intensity of this moment. She wanted to ask him his, but foreseeing that she would immediately be required to use it, and feeling unequal to such an adventure, she decided it would be wiser to wait. It was he who presently went on: "Isn't it strange to know so little about each other? I rather like it. It's so mad--like opening a chest of buried treasure. You don't know what's going to be in it, but you know it's certain to be rare and desirable. What do you do, Mathilde? Live here with your father and mother?" She sat looking at him. The truth was that she found everything he said so unexpected and thrilling that now and then she lost all sense of being expected to answer. "Oh, yes," she said, suddenly remembering. "I live here with my mother and stepfather. My mother has married again. She is Mrs. Vincent Farron." "Didn't I tell you life played strange tricks?" he exclaimed. He sprang up, and took a position on the hearth-rug. "I know all about him. I once reported on the Electric Equipment Company. That's the same Farron, isn't it? I believe that that company is the most efficient for its size in this country, in the world, perhaps. And Farron is your stepfather! He must be a wonder." "Yes, I think he is." "You don't like him?" "I like him very much. I don't _love_ him." "The poor devil!" "I don't believe he wants people to love him. It would bore him. No, that's not quite just. He's kind, wonderfully kind, but he has no little pleasantnesses. He says things in a very quiet way that make you feel he's laughing at you, though he never does laugh. He said to me this morning at breakfast, 'Well, Mathilde, was it a marvelous party?' That made me feel as if I used the word 'marvelous' all the time, not a bit as if he really wanted to know whether I had enjoyed myself last night." "And did you?" She gave him a rapid smile and went on: "Now, my grandfather, my mother's father--his name is Lanley--(Mr. Lanley evidently was not in active business, for it was plain that Wayne, searching his memory, found nothing)--my grandfather often scolds me terribly for my English,--says I talk like a barmaid, although I tell him he ought not to know how barmaids talk,--but he never makes me feel small. Sometimes Mr. Farron repeats, weeks afterward, something I've said, word for word, the way I said it. It makes it sound so foolish. I'd rather he said straight out that he thought I was a goose." "Perhaps you wouldn't if he did." "I like people to be human. Mr. Farron's not human." "Doesn't your mother think so?" "Mama thinks he's perfect." "How long have they been married?" "Ages! Five years!" "And they're just as much in love?" Miss Severance looked at him. "In love?" she said. "At their age?" He laughed at her, and she added: "I don't mean they are not fond of each other, but Mr. Farron must be forty-five. What I mean by love--" she hesitated. "Don't stop." But she did stop, for her quick ears told her that some one was coming, and, Pringle opening the door, Mrs. Farron came in. She was a very beautiful person. In her hat and veil, lit by the friendly light of her own drawing-room, she seemed so young as to be actually girlish, except that she was too stately and finished for such a word. Mathilde did not inherit her blondness from her mother. Mrs. Farron's hair was a dark brown, with a shade of red in it where it curved behind her ears. She had the white skin that often goes with such hair, and a high, delicate color in her cheeks. Her eyebrows were fine and excessively dark--penciled, many people thought.