The colours were dancing before John Lethbridge's eyes in dots and splashes. The place was so hot that beads of perspiration were standing out on his forehead, and his dark hair was wet and dank. He lifted his head from the tray in front of him and stretched himself wearily. This thing was a long time in doing, and patience was not one of his virtues. He glanced at the thermometer, which registered almost a hundred degrees. It was nearly as hot outside, for a thunderstorm was ...
The colours were dancing before John Lethbridge's eyes in dots and splashes. The place was so hot that beads of perspiration were standing out on his forehead, and his dark hair was wet and dank. He lifted his head from the tray in front of him and stretched himself wearily. This thing was a long time in doing, and patience was not one of his virtues. He glanced at the thermometer, which registered almost a hundred degrees. It was nearly as hot outside, for a thunderstorm was coming up from the south, and the night was dark and tepid.
Lethbridge lifted the lights of the little greenhouse higher, but he was conscious of no change in the temperature. Even the fresh mesh of muslin thrown over the ventilators seemed to keep out what air was there.
Flowers on every shelf, a perfect blaze of bloom, revelled and rejoiced in the hot, humid atmosphere, and flourished clean and vigorous as blossoms generally do under glass. It was not these which attracted Lethbridge's attention. His whole mind was concentrated upon the shallow seed tray beneath him. Just above this was an oblong funnel, behind which was great blaze of electric light so strong and powerful that it seemed to turn the shining emerald fronds to a purple black. The tray was divided into compartments with plants of various sizes, from the tiniest speck of a seedling to a mass of foliage nearly ready to burst into bloom. They all belonged to the Dianthus family, and some day would furnish a magnificent display of carnations. It was over one of the larger plants that Lethbridge bent now with almost fatherly care. He touched one of the swelling buds tenderly with a camel's-hair pencil.
"I wonder," he murmured, "how it will turn out. Fancy spending three of the best year's of one's life in a gamble like this! For it is a gamble, though one is speculating in flowers instead of horses and in blooms instead of stocks and shares. Have I failed again, or am I on the verge of producing a bloom worth thousands of pounds? Another week will tell. At any rate, I can't do more to-night. Ye gods! to think what hopes and fears, what joys and sorrows are awaiting the opening of that little flower!"
Lethbridge smiled cynically as he stood upright and put his hand mechanically in his pocket for his cigarette case. Then he smiled more bitterly as he thought of his resolution not to smoke again till the new Dianthus had shown the first sign of dawning glory. Not that there was any virtue in this resolution; it was simply necessity. For when a man has to keep himself and pay his rent and is in sight of his last five-pound note it behoves him to be careful.
That was exactly how John Lethbridge was situated. There had been a time during his University career when he had looked forward to the possession of a comfortable income and a lovely home of his own.
He was not indifferent to sport, or politics, or even love itself. He was merely a healthy specimen of the average Englishman, prepared to carry out the traditions of his race and live cleanly and happily. To a great extent he was an artist who lacked constructive abilities. Beauty in all forms was essential to him, and because he could see no other means of satisfying this longing, he had turned his attention to flowers. They touched and elevated him as nothing else could do. He found a kindred spirit in the only relative with whom he had lived and whose property he had expected to inherit in the ordinary course of things. Old Jasper Payn had been an enthusiast, too. He had taught Lethbridge the names and habits of his beloved flowers. From his earliest childhood, long before Lethbridge could read, he could lisp the botanical titles of all the blooms which are known to the expert gardener. In the long range of glass-houses at Beckingham Hall the young man and his teacher had spent many an hour together; more than one lovely hybrid had been stamped with the mark of Jasper Payn's genius. It was not for Lethbridge to know or even enquire in those day what Jasper Payn was doing with the fortune which would some day be his. It never occurred to him that the old man was a reckless gambler, that he was spending thousands of pounds on the wildest experiments, and that, when the catastrophe came, instead of being a rich man he would be on the verge of bankruptcy. He never realised for a moment that Jasper Payn depended upon the invention of a perfect novelty in flowers for his daily bread.