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      "Evidently they took plenty of room when they laid it out," said Frank, "for it isn't crowded like Shanghai and the other places we have seen." LADIES OF THE WESTERN CAPITAL. LADIES OF THE WESTERN CAPITAL.

      "It is."

      Keeling had ten days to wait for the Saturday when he and Norah were to visit the bluebells together. He knew with that certainty of the heart which utterly transcends the soundest conclusions of reason and logic that she loved him; it seemed, too, that it was tacitly agreed between them that some confession, some mutual revelation would then take place. That was to be the hour of their own, away from the office and the typewriting, and all those things which, though they brought them together, essentially sundered them. What should be said then, what solution could possibly come out of it all, he could form no notion. He ceased even to puzzle over it. Perhaps there was no solution: perhaps this relationship was just static.Mr Silverdales not at home, miss, he said. But he will be given your note when he comes in, and send an answer.

      "I could go on with a long account of the tortures in China, but they are not very pleasant reading, and, besides, some of them are too horrible for belief. I will stop with the torture known as 'the hot-water snake,' which consists of a coil of thin tubing of tin or pewter in the form of a serpent. One of these coils is twisted around each arm of the victim, and another around his body, in such a way that the head of the snake is higher than any other part. Then they pour boiling water into the mouth of the snake, and the flesh of the prisoner is burned and scalded in the most terrible manner. This punishment is said to be used rarely, and only[Pg 374] on persons accused of crimes against the government. It is too horrible to be popular, even among the most cold-blooded people in the world.


      "Now it must be three." Miss Rothvelt's writing lay in my bosom beside my despatch. At each half-hour I re-read it. At three-and-a-half I happened to glance at the original superscription. A thought flashed upon me. I stared at her name, and began to mark off its letters one by one and to arrange them in a new order. I took C from Coralie and h from Rothvelt; after them I wrote a from Coralie and r from Rothvelt, l and o from Coralie and two t's and an e from Rothvelt, and behold, Charlotte! while the remaining letters gave me Oliver.


      The conference lasted some time. Keeling was but learning now, through this one channel of books, that attitude of mind which through instinct, whetted and primed by education, came naturally to the younger man, and it was just this that made these talks the very essence of the secret garden. Propert, for all that he was but an employee at a few pounds a week,{43} was gardener there; he knew the names of the flowers, and what was more, he had that comprehension and love of them which belongs to the true gardener and not the specimen grower or florist only. It was that which Keeling sought to acquire, and among the prosperous family friends, who were associated with him in the management of civic affairs, or in business relationships, he found no opportunity of coming in contact with a similar mind. But Propert was freeborn in this republic of art and letters, and Keeling was eager to acquire at any cost the sense of native, unconscious citizenship. He felt he belonged there, but he had to win his way back there.... He must have learned the language in some psychically dim epoch of his existence, for exploration among these alleys in his garden had to him the thrill not of discovery, but the more delicate sense of recollection, of revisiting forgotten scenes which were remembered as soon as they disentangled themselves again from the jungle of materialistic interests that absorbed him all the week. Mr Keeling had very likely hardly heard of the theory of reincarnation, and had some modern Pythagoras spoken to him of beans, he would undoubtedly have considered it great nonsense. But he would have confessed to the illusion (the fancy he would have called it) of having known something of all this before when Propert, with his handsome face{44} aglow and his eyes alight, sat and turned over books with him thus, forgetting, as his own absorption increased, to interject his sentences with the respectful sir of their ordinary week-day intercourse. Keeling ceased to be the proprietor and master of the universal stores, he ceased even to be the proprietor of his own books. They and their pictures and their binding and their aroma of the kingdom of intellect and beauty, were common possessions of all who chose to claim them, and belonged to neither of them individually any more than the French language belongs to the teacher who instructs and the pupil who learns.