HALF A HERO
A NOVEL BY ANTHONY HOPE
AUTHOR OF 'MR. WITT'S WIDOW,' 'COMEDIES OF COURTSHIP,' ETC.
WARD, LOCK & CO., LIMITED LONDON, MELBOURNE AND TORONTO 1911
I. THE IMPOSSIBLE—INEVITABLE 1 II. A POPULAR DEMONSTRATION 11 III. HOSPITALITY EX OFFICIO 19 IV. WEEDING OUT THE WEAK-KNEED 30 V. A TALK AT A DANCE 41 VI. A CANDIDATE FOR OFFICE 50 VII. A COMMON SPECTACLE 59 VIII. FOR THE HIGHEST BIDDER 69 IX. TWO HASTY UTTERANCES 80 X. THE SMOKE OF HIDDEN FIRES 90 XI. A CONSCIENTIOUS MAN'S CONSCIENCE 100 XII. AN ABSURD AMBITION 110 XIII. OUT OF HARM'S WAY 121 XIV. A FATAL SECESSION 133 XV. AN ATTEMPT AT TERRORISM 144 XVI. A LEAKY VESSEL 153 XVII. THE TRUTH ABOUT THE MAN 162 XVIII. BY AN OVERSIGHT OF SOCIETY'S 173 XIX. LAST CHANCES 183 XX. THE LAW VERSUS RULE 3 196 XXI. ALL THERE WAS TO TELL 205 XXII. THE STORY OF A PHOTOGRAPH 215 XXIII. AN ORATOR'S RIVAL 227 XXIV. THREE AGAINST THE WORLD 236 XXV. THE TRUTH TOO LATE 244 XXVI. THE UNCLEAN THING 255 XXVII. THE DECISION OF THE ORACLE 268 XXVIII. STEALING A MARCH 280 XXIX. A BEATEN MAN'S THOUGHTS 291 XXX. THE END OF A TUMULT 300
HALF A HERO.
In the garden the question was settled without serious difference of opinion. If Sir Robert Perry really could not go on—and Lady Eynesford was by no means prepared to concede even that—then Mr. Puttock, bourgeois as he was, or Mr. Coxon, conceited and priggish though he might be, must come in. At any rate, the one indisputable fact was the impossibility of Mr. Medland: this was, to Lady Eynesford's mind, axiomatic, and, in the safe privacy of her family circle (for Miss Scaife counted as one of the family, and Captain Heseltine and Mr. Flemyng did not count at all), she went so far as to declare that, let the Governor do as he would (in the inconceivable case of his being so foolish as to do anything of the kind), she at least would not receive Mr. Medland. Having launched this hypothetical thunderbolt, she asked Alicia Derosne to give her another cup of tea. Alicia poured out the tea, handed it to her sister-in-law, and asked,
"But, Mary, what is there so dreadful about Mr. Medland?"
"Everything," said Lady Eynesford.
"Still," suggested Miss Scaife, "if the creatures are bent on having him——"
"My dear Eleanor, what is a Governor for?" demanded Lady Eynesford.
"To do as he's told and subscribe to the Cup," interposed Dick Derosne. And he added, "They are having a palaver. Old Perry's been in an hour and a half."
Captain Heseltine and Mr. Flemyng looked at their watches and nodded gravely.
"Poor Willie!" murmured Lady Eynesford. "He'll miss his ride."
Poor Willie—that is to say, His Excellency William Delaporte, Baron Eynesford, Governor of New Lindsey—deserved all the sympathy his wife's exclamation implied, and even more. For, after a vast amount of fencing and an elaborate disquisition on the state of parties in the colony, Sir Robert Perry decisively refused the dissolution the Governor offered, and ended by saying, with eyebrows raised and the slightest shrug of his shoulders,
"In fact, sir, it's my duty to advise you to send for Mr. Medland."
The Governor pushed his chair back from the table.
"You won't try again?" he asked.
"Impossible, until he has failed."
"You think Puttock out of the question?"
"Quite. He has not following enough: people wouldn't stand Medland being passed over. Really, I don't think you'll find Medland hard to get on with. He's a very able man. For myself, I like him."
The Governor sat silent for a few minutes. Sir Robert, conceiving that his interview was at an end, rose to take leave. Lord Eynesford expressed much regret at being obliged to lose his services: Sir Robert replied suitably, and was at the door before the Governor reverted to Mr. Medland.
"There are queer stories about him, aren't there?" he asked. "I mean about his private life."
"Well, there is some vague gossip of the kind."
"There now! That's very awkward. He must come here, you know, and what shall I say to my wife?"
"She's been dead three or four years now," said Sir Robert, not referring to the Governor's wife. "And it's only rumour after all. Nothing has ever come to light on the subject."
"But there's a girl."
"There's nothing against the girl—except of course——"
"Oh, just so," said the Governor; "but that makes it awkward. Besides, somebody told me he used to get drunk."
"I think you may disregard that," said Sir Robert. "It only means that he likes his glass of wine as most of us do."
Sir Robert retired, and presently Dick Derosne, who acted as his brother's private secretary, came in. The Governor was in an easy-chair, smoking a cigar.
"So you've settled it," said Dick.
"Yes. Perry won't hear of going on."
"Well, he hardly could after being beaten by seventeen on his biggest bill. What's going to happen?"
Now the Governor thought fit to assume that the course he had, after so much hesitation, determined upon was, to every sensible man, the only possible course. Perhaps he fancied that he would thus be in a stronger position for justifying it to a sensible woman.
"Of course," he said, in a tone expressive of some surprise at a question so unnecessary, "I am sending for Medland."
Dick Derosne whistled. The Governor relapsed into sincerity.
"No help for it," he pleaded. "You must back me up, old man, with Mary. Women can't understand constitutional obligations."
"She said she wouldn't have him to the house," remarked Dick.
"Oh, Eleanor Scaife must persuade her. I wish you'd go and tell them, Dick. I'm expecting Medland in half-an-hour. I wish I was out of it. I distrust these fellows, both them and their policy."
"And yet you'll have to be civil to them."
"Civil! I must be just as cordial as I was with Perry. That's why it's so important that Mary should be——"
"Reasonable?" suggested Dick.
"Well, yes," said Lord Eynesford.
"How does Perry take it?"
"Oh, I don't think he minds much. He thinks Medland's gang will soon fall to pieces and he'll come back. Besides, the K.C.M.G. softens the blow."
"Ah! It's the cheap defence of nations now—vice chivalry, out of fashion," laughed Dick.
Hitherto Lord Eynesford and his wife had enjoyed their reign. Everything had gone well. The Governor agreed heartily with the measures introduced by Sir Robert Perry's ministry, and his relations with the members of the government, and especially with its chief, had been based on reciprocal liking and respect: they were most of them gentlemen and all of them respectable men, and, what was hardly less important, their wives and families had afforded no excuse for the exercise of Lady Eynesford's somewhat fastidious nicety as to manners, or her distinctly rigid scrutiny into morals. Under such conditions, the duty and the inclinations of Government House went hand-in-hand. Suddenly, in the midst of an apparently peaceful session, came what the Governor considered an unhallowed combination between a discontented section of Perry's party, and the Opposition under Medland's leadership. The result was the defeat of the Government, the resignation of Sir Robert, and the inevitability of Mr. Medland.
Entering the Legislative Assembly as the representative of an outlying constituency, Medland had speedily made himself the spokesman of the growing Labour Party, and now, after fifteen years of public life, and a secret and subterranean struggle with the old middle-class element, was established as the leader of a united party, so powerful in numbers that the accession of some dozen deserters had placed it in a majority. Mr. Coxon had led the revolt against Sir Robert Perry, and the Governor disliked Coxon even more thoroughly than he distrusted Medland. Miss Scaife said that Medland was the more dangerous, inasmuch as he was sincere and impetuous, while Coxon was neither; but then, the Governor would reply, Coxon was a snob, and Medland, if not exactly a gentleman according to the ideas of Eton and Christchurch—and Lord Eynesford adhered to these ideas—scorned a bad imitation where he could not attain the reality, and by his simplicity and freedom from pretension extorted the admission of good breeding. But why compare the men? He would have to accept both, for Medland must offer Coxon a place, and beyond doubt the offer would be accepted. The Governor was alarmed for the fate of New Lindsey under such ruling, and awaited with apprehension his next interview with his wife.
Dick Derosne had fulfilled his mission, and his tidings had spread dismay on the lawn. Lady Eynesford reiterated her edict of exclusion against the new Premier; Eleanor Scaife smiled and told her she would be forced to receive him. Alicia in vain sought particulars of Mr. Medland's misdeeds, and the aides-de-camp speculated curiously on the composition of the Cabinet, Captain Heseltine betting Mr. Flemyng five to two that it would include Mr. Giles, the leading tailor of Kirton, to whose services the captain had once been driven to resort with immense trepidation and disastrous results. As a fact, the captain lost his bet; the Cabinet did not include Mr. Giles, because that gentleman, albeit an able speaker, and a man of much greater intellect than most of his customers, was suspected of paying low wages to his employes, though, according to the captain, it was impossible that he should pay them as little as their skill deserved.
"I don't think I ever saw Mr. Medland," said Alicia, who had come out from England only a few months before.
"I have seen him," said Eleanor Scaife. "In fact, I had a little talk with him at the Jubilee Banquet."
"Was he sober?" Lady Eynesford, in her bitterness of spirit, allowed herself to ask.
"Mary! Of course he was. He was also rather interesting. He was then in mourning for Mrs. Medland, and he told me he only came because his absence would have been put down to disloyalty."
The mention of Mrs. Medland increased the downward curve of Lady Eynesford's mouth, and she was about to speak, when Dick Derosne exclaimed,
"Well, you can see him now, Al. He's walking up the drive."
The party and their tea-table were screened by trees, and they were able, themselves unseen, to watch Mr. Medland, as, in obedience to the Governor's summons, he walked slowly up to Government House. A girl of about seventeen or eighteen accompanied him to the gate, and left him there with a merry wave of her hand, and he strode on alone, his hands in his trousers pockets and a soft felt hat on the back of his head.
James—or, as his followers called him, "Jimmy"—Medland was forty-one years of age, once an engineer, now a politician, by profession, a tall, loose-limbed, slouching man, with stiff black hair and a shaven face. His features were large and had been clear-cut, but by now they had grown coarser, and his deep-set eyes, under heavy lids and bushy eyebrows, alone survived unimpaired by time and life. Deep lines ran either side from nose to mouth, and the like across his forehead. He had cut himself while shaving that morning, and a large patch of black plaster showed in the centre of his long, prominent chin: as he walked, he now and then lifted a hand to pluck nervously at it; save in this unconscious gesture, he betrayed no sign of excitement or preoccupation, for, as he walked, he looked about him and once, for a minute, he whistled.
"Awful!" said Lady Eynesford in a whisper.
"He wants a new coat," said Captain Heseltine.
"He looks rather interesting, I think," said Alicia.
At this moment a rare and beautiful butterfly fluttered close over Mr. Medland's head. He paused and watched it for a moment. Then he looked carefully round him: no one was in sight: the butterfly settled for a moment on a flowerbed. Mr. Medland looked round again. Then he cautiously lifted his soft hat from his head, wistfully eyed the butterfly, looked round again, suddenly pounced down on his knees, and pressed the hat to the ground. He was very close to the hidden tea-party now, so close that Alicia's suppressed scream of laughter almost betrayed its presence. Mr. Medland put his head down and, raising one corner of the hat, peered under it. Alicia laughed outright, for the butterfly was fluttering in the air above him. Medland did not hear her; he looked up, saw the butterfly, rose to his feet, put on his hat, and exclaimed, in a voice audible by all the listeners——
"Missed it, by heaven!"
"You see the sort of man he is," observed Lady Eynesford.
"An entomologist, I suppose," suggested Miss Scaife.
"He chases butterflies in the Governor's garden, and swears when he doesn't catch them!"
"He fears not God, neither regards the Governor," remarked Dick, with a solemn shake of his head.
"Don't be flippant, Dick," said Lady Eynesford sharply.
"He might at least brush the knees of his trousers," moaned Captain Heseltine.
Meanwhile Mr. Medland walked up to the door and rang the bell. He was received by Jackson, the butler; and Jackson was flanked by two footmen. Jackson politely concealed his surprise at not seeing a carriage and pair, and stated that his Excellency would receive Mr. Medland at once.
"I hope I haven't kept him waiting," answered Medland. "The pony's lame, and I had to walk."
The footmen, who were young, raw, and English, almost smiled. A Premier dependent on one pony! Jackson redoubled his obsequious attention.
The Governor used to say that he wished his wife had imbibed the constitutional spirit as readily as Jackson.
A POPULAR DEMONSTRATION.
Miss Eleanor Scaife was gouvernante des enfants de New Lindsey; but she found the duty of looking after two small children, shared as it was with a couple of nurses, not enough to occupy her energies. So she organised the hospitality of Government House, and interested herself in the political problems of a young community. In the course of the latter pursuit, a study of Mr. Medland appeared appropriate and needful, and Miss Scaife was minded to engage in it, in spite of the hostility of Lady Eynesford. She had studied Sir Robert Perry for three years, but Sir Robert was disappointing. That he was a charming old gentleman she freely admitted, but he was not in any special way characteristic of a young community. He was just like half-a-hundred members of Parliament whom she had known while she lived with the Eynesfords at home: in fact he was irredeemably European. Accordingly she was glad to see him, but she mentally transferred him to the recreative department, and talked to him about scenery, pictures, and light literature. Lady Eynesford admired Sir Robert because there was no smack of the young community about him; Miss Scaife conceded that point of view, but maintained that there was another: and from that other she ranked Mr. Medland above a thousand Sir Roberts. All this she explained to Alicia Derosne, after Lady Eynesford had retired in dudgeon, and while the Governor was closeted with the new Premier.
"But," objected Alicia, "Captain Heseltine says——"
"Unless," interrupted Eleanor, "it's something about a coat, I don't care what Captain Heseltine says. He's an authority on that subject, but on no other under the sun."
Alicia abandoned Captain Heseltine's authority and fell back on her sister-in-law's; Eleanor, in spite of the unusual relations of intimate friendship, dating from old school-days, between her employer and herself, could not treat Lady Eynesford's opinion with open disrespect. She drew certain distinctions, which resulted in demonstrating that a close acquaintance between Mr. Medland and Alicia was inadvisable, but that as regards herself the case was different.
"In short," said Alicia, summarising the distinctions, "you are thirty and I am twenty-two. But I don't want to know the man, only I liked him for hunting that butterfly. I wonder what Miss Medland is like. Captain Heseltine says she's very pretty."
"I don't know."
"Is she out? Oh, but does one come out in New Lindsey?"
"It will be much more convenient if she isn't out," said Miss Scaife, rising and beginning to walk towards the house.
Alicia accompanied her. Before they had gone far, Mr. Medland and Dick Derosne appeared in the drive. The interview was ended, and Dick was escorting Mr. Medland.
"I'm afraid we can't avoid them," said Miss Scaife.
"I'm afraid not," said Alicia. "I wonder what they're talking about."
Mr. Medland's voice, though not loud in ordinary speech, was distinct and penetrating. In a moment Alicia's wonder was satisfied.
"Only be sure you get the right gin," he said.
"Good gracious!" said Alicia. "Is that characteristic of a young community, Eleanor?"
Miss Scaife made no reply. The two parties met, and Mr. Medland was presented. At this instant, Alicia, glancing at the house, thought she saw a disapproving face at Lady Eynesford's window; but it seemed hardly likely that the Governor's wife would be watching the Premier out of the window. Alicia wondered whether they had met in the house; Miss Scaife felt no doubt that they had not. She knew that Lady Eynesford's surrender would be a matter of time.
"Well," she said, "are we to congratulate you, Mr. Medland?"
"I believe my tongue is supposed to be sealed for the time," he answered, smiling.
"Mine isn't," laughed Dick, "and I think you may offer him your felicitations."
"You think it, yourself, a subject for congratulation?" asked Eleanor, getting to work at once.
"Oh, Eleanor!" protested Alicia. "Poor Mr. Medland!"
Medland glanced from one to the other, smiling again.
"Whatever may be the sacrifice of personal inclination involved," he began solemnly, "when the Governor calls on me I have no——"
"You're making fun of us," said Alicia, seeing the twinkle in his eye.
"I am quoting Mr.—Sir Robert Perry's speech when he last came in."
"Sir Robert is a great friend of mine," declared Alicia.
"Seriously," said Medland, turning to Eleanor, "I am very pleased."
"Why?" she asked. "The responsibility must be frightful."
Alicia and Dick laughed irreverently.
"Eleanor's always talking about responsibility," said the former. "I hate the idea of it, don't you, Mr. Medland?"
"Call it power and try then," he answered.
"Power? Oh, but I have none!"
"No?" he asked, with a look that made Alicia think he might have been "nice" when he was a young man.
"Oh, of course, if it's mere ambition—" began Eleanor impatiently.
"Not altogether," he interposed.
"Then what else?"
"Listen!" he said, holding up his hand.
They were now within twenty or thirty yards of the road, and, listening, they heard the murmur of many voices. Government House stood on the shore of the bay, about half a mile outside the town, and a broad road ran by the gates which, on reaching Kirton, was merged in one of the main thoroughfares, Victoria Street.
Another turn brought the party in the garden in sight of the road. It was thronged with people for a considerable distance, people in a thick mass, surging up against the gate and hardly held back by a cordon of police.
"Whatever can be the matter?" exclaimed Eleanor.
"I am the matter," said Medland. "They have heard about it."
When the crowd saw him, cheer after cheer rang out, caps and handkerchiefs were waved, and even flags made a sudden appearance. Moving a pace in advance of his companions, he lifted his hat, and the enthusiastic cries burst forth with renewed vigour. He signed to them to be still, but they did not heed him. Alicia caught hold of Eleanor's hand, her breath coming and going in sudden gasps. Eleanor looked at Medland. He was moistening his lips, and she saw a little quiver run through his limbs.
"By Jove!" said Dick Derosne.
Medland turned to Eleanor, and pointed to the crowd.
"Yes, I see," she said.
He held out his hand to bid them farewell, and walked on towards the gate. They stood and watched his progress. Suddenly a different cry rose.
"Let her pass! Let her pass! Let her through to him!"
The crowd slowly parted, and down the middle of the road, amid the raising of hats and pretty rough compliments, a young girl came walking swiftly and proudly, with a smile on her lips.
"It's his daughter," whispered Alicia. "Oh!"
Medland opened the gate and went out. The girl, her fair hair blowing out behind her and her cheeks glowing red, ran to meet him, and, as he stooped and kissed her, the crowd, having, as a crowd, but one way to tell its feelings, roared and cheered again. Medland, with one hand on his daughter's shoulder and the other holding his hat, walked down the lane between human walls, and was lost to sight as the walls found motion and closed in behind him.
After some moments' silence Dick Derosne recovered himself, and remarked with a cynical air,
"Neat bit of acting—kissing the girl and all that."
But Alicia would not have it. With a tremulous laugh, she said,
"I should like to have kissed him too. Oh, Eleanor, I didn't know it was like that!"
Perhaps Eleanor did not either, but she would not admit it. What was it but a lot of ignorant people cheering they knew not what? If anything, it was degrading. Yet, in spite of these most reasonable reflections, she knew that her cheeks had flushed and her heart beat at the sight and the sound.
They were still standing and watching the crowd as it retreated towards Kirton, when the Governor, who had come out to get some fresh air after his arduous labour, joined them.
"Extraordinary the popularity of the man in Kirton," he observed, in answer to Alicia's eager description of Mr. Medland's triumph.
"What has he done for them?" asked Eleanor.
"Done? Oh, I don't know. He's done something, I suppose; but it's what he's going to do that they're so keen about."
"Is he a Socialist?" inquired Alicia.
"I can't tell you," replied Lord Eynesford. "I don't know what he is—and I'm not sure I know what a Socialist is. Ask Eleanor."
"A Socialist," began Eleanor, in an authoritative tone, "is——"
But this much-desired definition was unhappily lost, for a footman came up and told Lord Eynesford that his wife would like to see him if he were disengaged.
The Governor smiled grimly, winked imperceptibly, and departed.
"It's been quite an entertaining day," said Miss Scaife. "But I'm very sorry for Sir Robert."
"What was Mr. Medland talking to you about, Dick?" asked Alicia.
"Oh, a new sort of drink. You take a long glass, and some pounded ice and some gin—only you must be careful to get——"
"I don't want to hear about it."
"Well, you asked, you know," retorted Dick, with the air of a man who suffers under the perpetual illogicality of woman.
HOSPITALITY EX OFFICIO.
"I confess to being very much alarmed," said Mr. Kilshaw, "and I think Capital generally shares the feeling."
"If I thought he could last, I should share it myself," said Sir Robert Perry.
"He may easily last long enough to half ruin my business. Large concerns are delicate concerns."
"Come, Kilshaw, Puttock's a capitalist; he'll see Capital isn't wronged."
"Puttock is all very well in his way; but what do you say to Jewell and Norburn?"
"Jewell's an old-style Radical: he won't do you much harm. You hit the nail on the head when you mention Norburn. Norburn would be very pleased to run your factory as a State work-shop for two pound a week."
"And pickings," added Mr. Kilshaw, with scornful emphasis.
A third gentleman, who was sitting near in the large bow-window of the Central Club, an elderly man, with short-clipped white hair and a pleasant face, joined in the talk.
"Norburn? Why, is that the fellow I tried? Is he in Medland's government?"
"That's the man, Sir John," answered Kilshaw; and Sir Robert added,
"You gave him three months for inciting to riot in the strike at the Collieries two years ago. He's made Minister of Public Works; I hear the Governor held out for a long while, but Medland insisted."
"And my works are to be Public Works, I suppose," grumbled Kilshaw, finding some comfort in this epigrammatic statement of the unwelcome prospect before him.
"Red-hot, isn't he?" asked Sir John Oakapple, who, as Chief Justice of the colony, had sent the new Minister to gaol.
"Will he and Puttock pull together?" continued the Chief Justice.
"The hopeful part of the situation is," said Sir Robert, "that Puttock is almost bound to fall out with somebody, either with Norburn, for the reason you name, or with Coxon, because Coxon will try to rule the roast, or with Medland himself."
"Why should he quarrel with Medland?"
"Why does the heir quarrel with the king? Besides, there's the Prohibition Question. I doubt if Medland will satisfy Puttock and his people over that."
"Oh, I expect he will," said the Chief Justice. "I asked him once—this is in confidence, you know—if he didn't think it a monstrous proposal, and he only shrugged those slouched shoulders of his, and said, 'We've got Sunday Closing, and we go in the back way: if we have Prohibition the drink'll go in the back way—same principle, my dear Chief Justice'": and that High Officer finished his anecdote with a laugh.
"The odd thing about Medland is," remarked Sir Robert, "that he's utterly indifferent about everything except what he's utterly mad about. He has no moderate sympathies or antipathies."
"Therefore he's a most dangerous man," said Kilshaw.
"Oh, I think he sympathises, in moderation, with morality," laughed Sir John.
"Ay," rejoined Perry quickly, "and that's all. What if Puttock raised the Righteous on him?"
"Oh, then I should stand by Medland," said the Chief Justice decisively. "And young Coxon's to be Attorney-General. He's safe enough."
"A man who thinks only about himself is generally safe," remarked Sir Robert dryly; and he added, with a smile, "That's why lawyers are such a valuable class."
The Chief Justice laughed, and took his revenge by asking,
"How many windows did they break, Perry?"
"Only three," rejoined the Ex-Premier. "Considering the popular enthusiasm I got off cheap."
"You can't stir a people's heart for nothing. All the same, the reception they gave him was a fine sight."
"Extraordinary, wasn't it?"
"I call it most ominous," said Mr. Kilshaw, and he rose and went out gloomily.
"I haven't had my invitation to meet them at Government House yet," said the Chief Justice.
He referred to the banquet which the Governor was accustomed to give to a new Ministry, when the leading officials of the colony were always included in the party.
Sir Robert looked round for possible eavesdroppers.
"There's a hitch," he said in a low voice. "Lady Eynesford makes difficulties about having Medland."
"Oh, that's nonsense!"
"Utter nonsense; but it seems she does. However, I suppose you'll get your card in a day or two."
"And renew my acquaintance with Mr. Norburn under happier circumstances."
"Norburn will feel as one used to when one breakfasted with the school-master—as a peacemaking after another sort of interview."
Sir Robert Perry proved right in supposing that Lady Eynesford's resistance could not last for ever. It was long enough and fierce enough to make the Governor very unhappy and the rest of the family very uncomfortable, but it was foredoomed to failure. Even the Bishop of Kirton, whom she consulted, told her that high place had its peculiar duties, and that however deplorable the elevation of such a man might be, if the Queen's representative invited him to join his counsels, the Queen's representative's wife must invite him to join her dinner-party: and the Bishop proved the sincerity of his constitutional doctrine by accepting an invitation to meet the new Ministry. Lady Eynesford, abandoned by Church and State alike, surrendered, thanking heaven that Daisy Medland's youth postponed another distasteful necessity.
"You'll have to face it in a few months' time," said Eleanor Scaife, who was not always as comforting a companion as a lady in her position is supposed to be.
"Oh, they'll be out in a month," answered Lady Eynesford confidently. "The Bishop says they can't last. Do you know, Eleanor, Mr. Coxon is the only Churchman among them?"
"Shocking!" said Eleanor, with no more suspicion of irony than her reputation as an esprit fort demanded. It really startled her a little: the social significance seemed considerable.
Mr. Medland's invitation to dinner caused him perhaps more perturbation than had his invitation to power. A natural sensitiveness of mind supplied in him the place of an experience of refined society or an impulse of inherited pride. He cared nothing that his advent to office alarmed and displeased many; but it gave him pain to be compelled to dine at the table of a lady who, by notorious report, did not desire his company.
"I don't want to go, and she doesn't want to have me," he protested to his daughter; "yet she must have me and I must go. The great god Sham again, Daisy."
"You'll meet him everywhere now," said Daisy, with a melancholy shake of her young head.
"And rout him somewhere?"
"Oh yes, everywhere—except at Government House."
"I hate going."
"I believe mother would have liked it. Don't you think so, dear?"
"Perhaps. Should you?"
"I should be terribly afraid of Lady Eynesford."
"Just my feeling," said Medland, stroking his chin.
When he entered the drawing-room at Government House, and was presented to his hostess by the Governor, on whose brow rested a little pucker of anxiety, Lady Eynesford was talking to the Bishop and to Mr. Puttock. Puttock had accepted the office of Minister of Trade and Customs, but not without grumbling, for he had aspired to control the finances of the colony as Treasurer, and considered that Medland underrated his influence as a political leader. He was a short man, rather stout, with large whiskers; he wore a blue ribbon in the button-hole of his dress-coat. Lady Eynesford considered him remarkably like a grocer, and the very quintessence of nonconformity; but he at least was indisputably respectable, a devoted husband, and the father of a large family, behind whose ranks he was in the habit of walking to chapel twice every Sunday. Sometimes he preached when he got there. Just to his right, talking briskly to Alicia Derosne, stood Mr. Coxon, the Attorney-General, very smart in English-made clothes, and discussing the doings of people at home whom he had known or seen in the days when he was at Cambridge, and had the run of a rich uncle's house in Park Lane. In the distance the Roman Catholic Archbishop was talking to Eleanor Scaife, and suffering Sir John Oakapple's jests with a polite faint smile. This mixture of the sects ranked high among the trials of Lady Eynesford's position, and contained precious opportunities for Miss Scaife's inquiring mind.
It seems true beyond question that moral estimation counts for more in the likings of women than in those of men. Medland, in spite of the utter insignificance, as he conceived, of the lady's judgment considered as an intellectual process, was too much of a politician, and perhaps a little too much of a man also, not to wish to conciliate the Governor's wife; but his courteous deference, his clever talk, and his search for points of sympathy broke ineffectually on the barriers of Lady Eynesford's official politeness and personal reserve. She was cruel in her clear indication of the footing upon which they met, and the Governor's uneasy glance of appeal would produce nothing better than a cold interest in the scenery of the Premier's constituency. Medland was glad when Lady Eynesford turned to the Chief Justice and released him; his relief was so great that it was hardly marred by finding Mrs. Puttock on his other side. Yet Mrs. Puttock and he were not congenial spirits.
"We are sending a deputation to you," said Mrs. Puttock, directly Medland's change of position gave her an opportunity.
He emptied his glass of champagne, and asked,
"Which of your many 'We's,' Mrs. Puttock?"
"Why, the W.T.A.A."
"I won't affect ignorance—Women's—Total—Abstinence—Association."
"The enthusiasm this afternoon was enormous. Of course Mr. Puttock could not be there; but I told them I felt sure that with the new Ministry an era of real hope had dawned," and Mrs. Puttock looked inquiringly at the Premier, who was in his turn looking at the foaming wine that fell into his glass from Jackson's practised hand.
"A new era?" he answered. "Oh, well, you didn't get much out of Perry. What do you want of me?"
"We want to strengthen your hands in dealing drastically with the problem. Of course, it will be one of your first measures."
"We have at least six first measures already on the list," remarked the Premier, smiling.
"I saw your daughter to-day," Mrs. Puttock continued. "I went to ask her to join us."
"Isn't she rather young to join things?" pleaded Mr. Medland. "Poor child! She would hardly understand what she's giving—I mean, what she's going in for. What did she say?"
"Well, really, Mr. Medland, I think you might speak a word to her. She told me she loved champagne and tipsy-cake. The tipsy-cake doesn't matter, because it can be made without alcohol.—I beg your pardon?"
"I didn't speak," said the Premier.
"But champagne! At her age!"
"She's only tasted it half-a-dozen times."
"Well, I hope every one will have to give it up soon. My husband says that the Cabinet——"
"Here's treason! Has he been telling you our secrets?"
"Secrets! Why, two-thirds of the party are pledged——"
But here Lady Eynesford again claimed the Premier's attention, and he was really glad of it.
Dick Derosne walked home with Mr. Medland. He had intended to go only to the gate, but Medland pressed him to go further, and, engrossed in conversation, they reached Medland's house without separating.
"Come in and see Daisy," said Medland. "She's been alone all the evening, poor girl, and will be glad of better company than mine."
"Oh, come, I expect she likes your society better than any one else's."
"Well, that won't last long, will it?"
They went in and found Daisy supping on the wing of a chicken, and some wine-and-water. Medland led the way, and, as soon as his daughter saw him, she exclaimed,
"Was it very awful, father?"
"Well, was it, Mr. Derosne?" he asked of Dick. "Daisy, this is the Governor's brother, Mr. Derosne."
"It was awful!" said Dick, executing his bow. "Those great feeds always are."
"Why, Daisy," exclaimed Mr. Medland, "you're drinking wine. How about Mrs. Puttock?"
"Oh, she told you? She said it was very wicked."
"Oh, I said it wasn't, because you did it."
"Luckily, a conclusion may be right, though the reason for it is utterly wrong," said the Premier.
"I," said Dick, "always admit things are wicked, you know, and say I do 'em all the same. It saves a lot of argument."
The door opened and Mr. Norburn walked in.
"Is it too late for me to come?" he asked.
"Of course not," said Daisy, greeting him with evident pleasure, and ensconcing him in an armchair. "We expect you to come at all the odd times. That's the part of an intimate friend, isn't it, Mr. Derosne?"
Medland was speaking to Norburn, and Dick took the opportunity of remarking,
"Mayn't I come at an odd time now and then?"
"Oh do. We shall be so pleased."
"Mr. Norburn doesn't come at all of them, does he?"
"At most. Do you mind that?"
"Of course I do. Who wouldn't?"
"No, if you did I shouldn't."
Dick was, it must be admitted, getting along very well, considering that he had only been presented to the young lady ten minutes before. That was Dick's way; and when the young lady is attractive, it is a way that has many recommendations, only sometimes it leads to a pitfall—a cold answer, or a snub.
"But why," asked Daisy, in apparent surprise, "should you mind about what I thought? I'm afraid I should never think about whether you liked it or not, you know."
"Good-night," said Dick. And when he got outside and was lighting his cigar, he exclaimed, "Confound the girl!" And after a pause he added, "Hang the fellow!" and shook his head and went home.
WEEDING OUT THE WEAK-KNEED.
In a short time it happened that Lady Eynesford conceived a high opinion of Mr. Coxon. He was, she declared, the one bright spot in the new Ministry; he possessed ability, principle, sound Churchmanship, and gentlemanly demeanour. A young man thus equipped could hardly fail of success, and Lady Eynesford, in spite of the Governor's decidedly lukewarm approbation, was pleased to take the Attorney-General under her special protection. More than once in the next week or two did Mr. Coxon, tall-hatted, frock-coated, and new-gloved, in obedience to cordial invitations, take tea in the verandah of Government House. He was naturally gratified by these attentions, and, being not devoid of ambition, soon began to look upon his position as the starting-point for a greater prize. Lady Eynesford was, here again, with him—up to a point. She thought (and thoughts are apt to put themselves with a bluntness which would be inexcusable in speech) that it was high time that Eleanor Scaife was married, and, from an abstract point of view, this could hardly be denied. Lady Eynesford took the next step. Eleanor and Coxon would suit one another to perfection. Hence the invitations to tea, and Lady Eynesford's considerate withdrawals into the house, or out of sight in the garden. Of course it was impossible to gauge Eleanor's views at this early stage, but Lady Eynesford was assured of Mr. Coxon's gratitude—his bearing left no doubt of it—and she congratulated herself warmly on the promising and benevolent scheme which she had set afoot.
Now the danger of encouraging ambitious young men—and this remark is general in its scope, and not confined at all to one subject-matter—is that their vaulting imaginations constantly overleap the benevolence of their patrons. Mr. Coxon would not have been very grateful for permission to make love to Miss Scaife; he was extremely grateful for the opportunity of recommending himself to Alicia Derosne. The Governor's sister—none less—became by degrees his aim and object, and when Lady Eynesford left him with Miss Scaife, hoping that Alicia would have the sense not to get in the way, Mr. Coxon's soaring mind regarded himself as left with Alicia, and he hoped that the necessary exercise of discretion would be forthcoming from Miss Scaife. Presently this little comedy revealed itself to Eleanor, and, after an amused glance at the retreating figure of her misguided friend, she would bury herself in Tomes on the British Colonies, and abandon Alicia to the visitor's wiles. A little indignant at the idea of being "married off" in this fashion, she did not feel it incumbent on her to open Lady Eynesford's eyes. As for Alicia—Alicia laughed, and thought that young men were much the same all the world over.
"Tomes," said Eleanor on one occasion, looking up from the first volume of that author—and perhaps she chose her passage with malice—"clearly intimates his opinion that the Empire can't hold together unless the social bonds between England and the colonies are strengthened."
"Does he, dear?" said Alicia, playing with the pug. "Do look at his tongue, Mr. Coxon. Isn't it charming?"
"Yes. Listen to this: 'It is on every ground to be regretted that the divorce between society at home and in the colonies is so complete. The ties of common interest and personal friendship which, impalpable though they be, bind nations together more closely than constitutions and laws, are to a great extent wanting. Even the interchange of visits is rare; closer connection by intermarriage, in a broad view, non-existent.'"
"There's a great deal of sense in that," said Coxon.
"Well, Mr. Coxon," laughed Alicia, "you should have thought of it when you were in England."
Eleanor's eyes had dropped again to Tomes, and Mr. Coxon answered, in a tone not calculated to disturb the reader,
"I hope it's not altogether too late."
"The choice is so small out here, isn't it? Now, according to Tomes, Mr. Medland ought to marry a duchess—well, a dowager-duchess—but there isn't one."
"I should hardly have thought the Premier quite the man for a duchess," said Coxon, rather superciliously.
"Well, I like him much better than most dukes I've seen. Why do you shake your head?"
"I've the greatest respect for Mr. Medland as my leader, but—come, Miss Derosne, he's hardly—now is he?"
"I like him very much indeed," declared Alicia. "I think he's the most interesting man I've ever met."
"But thinking a man interesting and thinking him a man one would like to marry are quite different, surely?" suggested fastidious Mr. Coxon.
"Thinking him interesting and thinking him a man one would be likely to marry are quite different," corrected Eleanor, emerging from Tomes.
"By the way, who was Mrs. Medland?" asked Alicia.
Coxon hesitated for a moment: Eleanor raised her eyes.
"I believe her name was Benyon," he answered. "I—I know nothing about her."
"Didn't you know her?"
"No, I was in England, and she died a year after I came back—before I went into politics at all."
"I wonder if she was nice."
"My dear Alicia, what can it matter?" asked Eleanor.
"If you come to that, Eleanor, most of the things we talk about don't matter," protested Alicia. "We are not Attorney-Generals, like Mr. Coxon, whose words are worth—how much?"
"Now, Miss Derosne, you're chaffing me."
"Come and feed the swans," said Alicia, rising.
"What will Mary think?" said Eleanor, settling herself down again to Tomes. "And why is Alicia so curious about the Medlands?"
It was perhaps natural that Eleanor should be puzzled to answer the question she put to herself, but in reality the interest Alicia felt admitted of easy explanation. She had first encountered Medland under conditions which invested him with all the attraction that a visibly dominant character exercises over a young mind, and the impression then created had been of late much deepened by what she heard from her brother. Dick felt that the Governor would be a cold, and Lady Eynesford a thoroughly unfavourable, auditor of his views on the Medlands, but, in spite of Daisy's cruel indifference, he had taken advantage of her permission to pay her more than one visit, and he poured out his soul to his sister. His outpourings consisted of enthusiastic praises of both father and daughter.
"By Jove!" he said, "it's simply—you know, Al—simply fetching to see them together. He's a splendid chap—not an ounce of side or nonsense about him. And she's awfully pretty. Don't you think she's awfully pretty, Al?"
"I only saw her for a moment, dear."
"It's too bad of Mary to go on as she does. She simply ignores Miss Medland."
"Miss Medland's still very young, Dick. Is he—how does he treat her?"
"I don't know. It's almost funny—they're always jumping up to get one another things, don't you know!" answered Dick, whose feelings outran his powers of elegant description.
"Do you go there much, Dick?"
"Now, Al, don't try to do Mary to me."
"I think Mary will 'do' as much 'Mary' to you as you want, if you don't take care, you foolish boy. But, Dick, tell me. How do Willie and Mr. Medland get on?"
"Oh, pretty well, but— You won't tell?"
Alicia promised secrecy, and Dick, conscious of criminality, lowered his voice and continued,
"I believe there's a row on in the Cabinet already. Willie said Puttock and Jewell were at loggerheads with Norburn, and Medland was inclined to back Norburn."
"And Mr. Coxon?"
"He's supposed to be lying low. And then I was down at the club and met old Oakapple there, and he told me that Kilshaw had boasted of having done a deal with Puttock."
"What did he mean?"
"Why, that he and his gang—the rich capitalists, you know—were to back up old Puttock's temperance measures, provided Puttock (and Jewell, if Puttock could nobble him) prevented Medland from bringing in—what the deuce was it?—some Socialistic labour legislation or other—I forget what. Anyhow the Chief Justice thought Perry would be back soon."
"What? That Mr. Medland would be turned out? What a shame! He hasn't had a fair chance, has he?"
The gossip which Dick had picked up was not very wide of the mark. It was perhaps too early to talk of absolute dissensions, but it was tolerably well known that a struggle was likely to occur in the Cabinet, nominally on the question of the relative priority to be given to different measures, more truly perhaps on the issue whether the advanced labour party, represented by Norburn, or the Radicals of the older type, headed by Puttock and Jewell, were to control the policy of the Premier and the Government. The latter section was inextricably connected, and, in its personnel, almost identical with the party who set the Prohibition question above and before all other matters. The concrete form taken by this conflict of abstract principles seemed likely to be—should the Government begin with a Temperance measure, or should it, in the first place, proceed to give to Labour that drastic Factory and Workshop Act which Norburn had advocated and Medland accepted, and which would, Mr. Kilshaw declared, reduce every manufacturer to the position of a slave of Government and a pauper to boot, would drive capital from the colony, and shut up every mill in New Lindsey? Now Mr. Kilshaw would, if he were reduced to choose, rather close the public-houses than the mills. So he told Sir Robert Perry, who was very quiet, but very watchful just now; and the story was that Sir Robert said, "Puttock has got shares in the Southern Sea Mill—and Puttock's a Prohibition man," and refused to say any more; but that was enough—so the talk ran—to send Mr. Kilshaw straight to Puttock's hall-door.
These public matters gave Mr. Coxon much food for thought. His own attitude was, at present, considered to be one of neutrality towards the rival factions in the Government. He was in the habit of defining his aim in political life as being a steady and gradual removal of obstacles to the progress of the colony; to attain complete truth, it was only necessary to alter the definition by substituting "Mr. Coxon" for "the colony"; and the question which now occupied him was how he might best secure the best possible position for himself, without, as he hastened to protest, abandoning his principles. He disliked Puttock, and he was envious of Norburn, who threatened to supplant him as the "rising man" of his party. Should he help Puttock to remove Norburn, or lend Norburn a hand in ousting Puttock?
Down to the very week before the Legislative Assembly met, Mr. Medland kept his own counsel, disclosing his mind not even to his colleagues. Then he called a Cabinet, and listened to the conflicting views set forth by Puttock and Norburn.
"And what do you say, Mr. Coxon?" he asked, when Puttock's vehement harangue came to an end.
"I shall follow your judgment implicitly," replied Mr. Coxon, with touching fidelity.
"I feel bound to state," said Mr. Puttock, "and I believe I speak for my friend Jewell also" (Mr. Jewell nodded), "that with us priority for Temperance legislation and a cautious policy in imposing hampering restrictions on commercial undertakings are of vital moment. We cannot agree to give way on either point."
"And you, Norburn?" asked Medland, turning to his devoted follower, and smiling a kindly smile.
Norburn was about to speak, when Puttock broke in,
"It is best that the Premier should understand our position; what we have stated is absolutely essential to our continuance in the Government."
Mr. Medland thought that the function of a follower was to follow, and of a leader to lead. He always found it difficult to put up with opposition, and patience was not among whatever qualities of statesmanship he possessed.
Drumming gently on the table, he said,
"Oh, no Temperance this session. We'll give 'em a Labour session." He paused, and added, "And give it 'em hot and strong."
So that evening Puttock and Jewell resigned, and the Cabinet, meeting the House shorn and maimed, was established in power by the magnificent majority of ten.
"If so soon as this I'm done for, I wonder what I was begun for!"
quoted Sir John Oakapple. "If they never agreed at all, what did they take office together for?"
"The screw," suggested Captain Heseltine.
"Then why haven't they stuck to it?"
Silence met this question, and the Chief Justice turned a look of bland inquiry on Mr. Kilshaw.
Mr. Kilshaw coughed and turned the pages of the Kirton World.
The Chief Justice winked at Dick Derosne, and said that it was refreshing to see there were still men who would sacrifice office to conviction.
"Oh, uncommon, Sir John," said Dick Derosne, and these cynics, having done entire injustice to two deeply sincere men, went off and joined in a game of pool. The Chief Justice took the pool.
A TALK AT A DANCE.
Immediately after the Assembly had so narrowly confirmed Mr. Medland's position, it adjourned for a fortnight in order to allow time for the reorganisation of the Government, and the preparation of its legislative projects. The Governor seized the opportunity and started on a shooting expedition, accompanied by his wife. His absence somewhat diminished the eclat of Sir John Oakapple's dance, but nevertheless it was agreed to be a very brilliant affair. Everybody came, for Sir John's position invited hospitality to all parties alike, and the host, as became a well-to-do bachelor, provided a sumptuous entertainment. Even Mr. Medland was there, for it was his daughter's first public appearance, and he and Sir Robert Perry had interchanged some friendly remarks on the existing crisis.
"I suppose I mustn't ask who you're going to give us instead of your deserters," said Sir Robert jokingly.
"Oh," answered Medland, "I'm going to fill up with Labour men. I haven't quite fixed on the men yet."
"Then you'll be all one colour—all red? But I must congratulate you on your daughter's debut. She and Miss Derosne are the belles of the evening."
Then Sir Robert, in his pretty way, must needs be led up to Daisy Medland and dance a quadrille with her, apologising politely to Dick Derosne, who had arranged to sit out the said quadrille with the same lady, and became a violent anti-Perryite on the spot.
Alicia passed on Mr. Coxon's arm, and stopped for a moment to condole.
"I didn't know Premiers danced," she said, and perhaps her glance conveyed a shy invitation to Medland.
"If I ask you now, I shall have another secession," he replied, smiling at Coxon. "Besides, I can't dance."
"You must sit out with me then," she said, growing bolder. "You don't mind, do you, Mr. Coxon?"
Coxon and Dick were left to console one another, and Alicia sat down with Medland. At first he was silent, watching his daughter. When the quadrille ended, he rose and said,
"Come into the garden."
"But my partner for the next won't be able to find me."
"Well, supposing he can't?" said the Premier.
"It makes one very conceited to be a Premier," thought Alicia, but she went into the garden.
Then began what she declared to herself was the most interesting conversation to which she had ever listened. From silence, the Premier passed to a remark here and there, thence to a conversation, thence, as the evening went on and they strolled further and further away from the house, into a monologue on his life and aims and hopes. Young man after young man sought her in vain, or, finding the pair, feared to intrude and retired in discontent, while Medland strove to draw the picture of that far-off society whose bringing-near was his goal in public life. She wondered if he talked to other women like that: and she found herself hoping that he did not. His gaunt form seemed to fill and his sunk eyes to spring out to meet the light, as he painted for her the time when his dreams should have clothed themselves with the reality which his persuasive imagination almost gave them now.
Then he suddenly turned on himself.
"And I might have done something," he said; "but I've wasted most of my life."
"Wasted it?" she echoed in a wondering question.
"I don't know why I talk about it to-night, still less why I talk about it to you. I talked about it last to—to my wife."
"Ah! But your daughter?"
"Daisy!" he laughed tenderly. "Poor little Daisy! I don't bother her with it all." Then he added, "Really I've no business to bother you either, Miss Derosne. I break out sometimes. I'm afraid I'm not 'a silent, strong man.' Does it bore you?"
"You know—you know—" Alicia stammered.
"And now," he said, rising in his excitement, "even now, what have I? The place—the form—the name of power; and these creatures hold me back and hang on my flank and—I can do nothing." He sank back on the bench where she sat.
Alicia put her hand out and drew it back. Then she stretched it out again, and laid it on his arm.
"I am so sorry," she said, and her voice faltered. "Oh, if I could—but how absurd!"
Medland turned suddenly and looked her in the face.
"You will help some one," he answered, "some better man. And I—I beg your pardon. Come."
Alicia asked herself afterwards if she ought to be ashamed of what she did then. She caught the Premier by the arm, and said,
"But I want to stay with you." And then she sat trembling to hear his answer.
For a moment he did not answer. He passed his hand over his brow; then he smiled sadly.
"Nearly twenty years ago a woman said that to me," he said. "But she—well, it wasn't to talk politics."
"Oh, to call it talking politics!" she answered, with a little gasping laugh.
With another swift turn of his head, he bent his eyes on hers. She turned her head away, and neither spoke. Alicia played nervously with one glove which she had stripped off, while Medland gravely watched her face, beautiful in its pure outline and quivering with unwonted emotions. With a start he roused himself.
"Come," he said imperiously, offering his arm. She took it, and, without more words, they turned towards the house.
They had not gone far, when Eleanor Scaife met them. She was walking quickly, looking round as she went, as though in search. When she saw them she started, and cried,
"Oh, I want you, Alicia."
Medland immediately drew aside, and with a bow took his way. Alicia, calming herself with an effort, asked what was the matter.
"Why, it's that wretched brother of yours. I really do not know what Mary will say. I shall be afraid——"
"But what has Dick done?"
"Done? Why he's danced six dances out of eight with that Medland child. The whole room's talking about them."
"Eight dances? There can't have been eight dances?"
"Don't be silly," said Eleanor sharply. "I suppose you danced? No! I remember I didn't see you. Where have you been?"
"I—I've been sitting out."
"Not—not—Alicia, with one man? Worse and——"
"Mr. Coxon, then, I hope? At least he's safe."
"I don't know why you should ask——"
"Alicia! Was it—?" exclaimed Eleanor, with a gesture towards where she had found her friend.
"Mr. Medland? Yes," answered Alicia. And, in her effort to exclude timidity, she infused into her voice a note of defiance.
Eleanor sat down on the nearest seat. Surprise dominated her faculties. Dick's behaviour was reprehensible, but, given such creatures as young men, natural. But Alicia? The thing was too surprising to cause uneasiness.
"Well, you are a queer child! Here's all the room looking for you to dance with you, and you go and sit in the garden with a politician of five-and-forty! What in the world were you doing?"
"Talking politics," said Alicia, now quite calmly.
"And you've been here since——?"
"The first quadrille."
"Six mortal dances!" said Eleanor, in an envious tone. Alicia had had a grand opportunity. "Did you remember to ask him about that description of the Cabinet meetings in Tomes? You remember we agreed to?"
"I'm afraid I forgot, dear."
"Oh, how stupid of you! If I'd been—but good gracious! I forgot Dick. Do come, Alicia, and get him away from her. We seem to have nothing but Medlands to-night!"
The first person they met inside the ball-room was Mr. Coxon. He was enveloped in gloom. Alicia's conscience smote her.
"Oh!" she cried, "I forgot Mr. Coxon! I must go and scold him for not coming for me. Nonsense, Eleanor! I can't help about Dick," and, shaking off Miss Scaife's detaining hand, she went to play the usual imposture.
Eleanor looked round in bewilderment. Seeing Lady Perry, she was struck with an idea, crossed the room, and joined the ex-Premier's smiling, pleasant wife. Lady Perry had noticed enough to be au fait with the situation at a word. She rose and went to where Medland was now leaning listlessly against the wall. She spoke a word to him; he started, smiled, and shrugged his shoulders.
"I know you'll forgive me. One can't be too careful," she urged. "No one can be father and mother both."
Mr. Medland beckoned to his daughter; she came to him, Dick standing a few feet off.
"Whenever, Daisy," said Medland, "a thing is pleasant, one must not, in this world, have much of it. Is that the gospel, Lady Perry?"
"You'll make young Mr. Derosne too conceited, my dear," whispered Lady Perry, very kindly; but she favoured Dick, who knew well that he was a sinner, with a severe glance.
Thus Eleanor Scaife, having rid her party of the Medlands—for the moment, as she impatiently added—was at liberty to listen to the conversation of Mrs. Puttock. Mrs. Puttock was always most civil to any of the Government House party, and she entertained Eleanor, who resolutely refused all invitations to dance, with plenty of gossip. Amidst their talk and the occasional interruptions of men who joined and left them, the evening wore away, and Eleanor had just signed to Alicia to make ready to go, when Mrs. Puttock touched on the Premier, who was visible across the room, chatting merrily with his host, and laughing heartily at the Chief Justice's stories.
"The Premier seems in good spirits," said Mrs. Puttock, a little acidly.
"Oh, I expect he's only bearing up in public," laughed Eleanor. "But there certainly is a great change in him since I first recollect him."
"Indeed, Miss Scaife."
"Yes," said Eleanor, rising, for she saw Alicia approaching under Captain Heseltine's escort. "It was about the Jubilee time. He seemed then quite overcome with grief at the loss of his wife. Ah, here's Alicia!"
"Wife!" exclaimed Mrs. Puttock, bestowing on Eleanor a look of deep significance. "It's my belief he never had a wife."
"What do you mean?" she began, but she checked herself when she found that Alicia was close beside her. She hastily bade Mrs. Puttock good-night.
"I mean what I say," observed that lady, with an emphatic nod. Eleanor escaped in bewilderment.
"Who never had a wife?" asked Alicia, with a laugh, as they were putting on their cloaks.
After a moment's pause, Eleanor answered,
"Sir John Oakapple," and she excused this deviation from truth by the sage reflection that girls like Alicia must not be told everything.
"We all know that," commented Alicia, contemptuously. "I hoped it was something interesting."
Eleanor enjoyed a smile in the sheltering gloom of the carriage. She felt very discreet.
A CANDIDATE FOR OFFICE.
The Premier sent his daughter home alone in a fly and walked with Coxon, whose road lay the same way. As they went, they talked of plans and prospects, and Medland unconsciously exasperated his companion by praising Norburn's character and capacity.
"Depend upon it, he's the coming man of New Lindsey," he said. "He thinks the world will get better sooner than it will, you may say. Well, perhaps I share that illusion. Anyhow he has enthusiasm and grit, and I love his utter disinterestedness."
Coxon acquiesced coldly in his rival's praises.
"That," continued Medland, "is where we have the pull. Who is there to follow Perry? Now Norburn is ready to step into my shoes the moment I'm gone, or—or come to grief."
They had reached Digby Square, a large open place, laid out with walks and trees, and named after Sir Jabez Digby, K.B., first Governor of New Lindsey. The Premier paused to light a cigar. Coxon watched him with a morose frown; he was angry and envious at Medland's disregard of the pretensions which he thought his own achievements justified. Though he was conscious that it would be wisest to say nothing, he could not help observing,
"Well, I hope it will be a long time before I am asked to change service under you for service under Norburn."
Medland's quick ear caught the note of anger.
"Well," he said, "it's ill prophesying. Time brings its own leaders. I know Norburn and you will work loyally together anyhow, whatever positions you hold to one another."
This polite concession did not appease Coxon.
"There is much that I distrust in his methods and aims," he remarked.
"I mustn't listen to this, my dear fellow."
"Of course I say it in strict——"
"Yes, but still—I should say the same to Norburn."
They walked on a few steps, and the Premier had just taken his cigar from his mouth in order to resume the conversation, when a man stepped up to him, appearing, as it seemed, from among the trees, and said,
"May I have a word with you, Mr. Medland?"
The speaker was dressed smartly, but not well, in a new suit of light clothes. He was tall and strongly built; a full grey beard made it a matter of difficulty to distinguish his features clearly in the dim light.
"I beg pardon, I don't think I've the pleasure of knowing you, but I shall be very happy. What is it, sir?"
"A word in private," said the stranger, "if this gentleman will excuse me."
In response to a glance from his chief, Coxon said good-night and strolled on, hearing Medland say,
"I seem to know your voice, but I can't lay my hand on your name."
The stranger drew nearer to him.
"I pass by the name of Benham now," he said; "I haven't forgotten you. I've too good cause to remember you."
Medland looked at him closely.
"It's only the beard that puzzles you," said the stranger, with a grim smile.
"Benyon!" exclaimed the Premier. "I thought you had left the country. What do you want with me, sir?"
"I have not left the country, and I want a good deal with you, Mr. Premier Medland."
"I lost touch of you four years ago."
"Yes; it ceased to matter what became of me about then, didn't it?"
"Have you been in the same place?"
"No; I broke. I have been up country."
"What brings you here? If you wanted money you could have written."
"I've never asked you for money. I wouldn't come to you if I wasn't hard put to it."
"What do you want then?"
"Is that all you have to say to me? Have you no regret to express to me?"
"Not an atom," said the Premier, puffing at his cigar. "If I'd felt any regret I should have expressed it long ago."
"Time doesn't seem to bring repentance to you."
"Don't talk nonsense. What do you want with me?"
"Well, yes, business is business. Look here! I am a respected man where I live. My name is known at Shepherdstown. Benham is, I say, a respected name."
"Now, here in Kirton I'm not known. I was never here in my life before. No one would recognise me as the man whose——"
"As Benyon? I suppose not. Well?"
"Taking all that into account, I see no reason why I shouldn't get the vacant Inspectorship of Railways. It's a nice place, and it's in your gift."
Mr. Medland raised his eyebrows and smiled.
"It involves travelling most of the time," pursued Benham, "and I needn't live in Kirton, if you preferred that arrangement."
"You are very considerate."
"You see you owe me something."
"Which I might pay out of the public purse? Is that your suggestion?"
"Oh, come, we're men of business. You're not on a platform."
"No," said Mr. Medland meditatively. "I am not on a platform. Consequently I feel at liberty to tell you—" he paused and smiled again.
"To go to the devil!" said the Premier.
"Take care! I know a good deal about you. There are many men would be glad to know, definitely, what I know."
"Then ask them for an Inspectorship."
Benham drew a step nearer.
"Ay, and I can hit you nearer home."
"You might have, once. What can you do now? She's safe from you," answered Medland, with a frown.
"Yes, she's safe, but there's the daughter."
"Yes, Daisy." And he added, in slow, emphatic tones—"Yes, my daughter Daisy."
Medland was about to answer violently, but he curbed his temper and said quietly,
"Your daughter? Come, don't talk nonsense."
"A daughter born to my wife in wedlock is my daughter. If I claim her, what answer is there?"
"I can prove that she's not your daughter."
"Perhaps; and what an edifying sight! The Premier proving——" Mr. Benham broke off with a laugh that sounded loud and harsh in the silent night air.
Medland ground his heel into the gravel.
"How it will please your Methodist friends, and the swells at Government House! You can tell 'em all about that trip to Meadow Beach under the name of—what was it?—Christie, wasn't it? And about your night-flitting, and——"
"Hold your tongue."
"Oh, there's no one to hear now. You won't like proving all that, will you? No, no, the girl will come to her loving father! Take a minute to think it over, Medland—take just a minute. An Inspectorship's no great matter to a politician, you know. You're not so mighty pure as all that! Take a minute. I can wait," and he flung himself on to a bench and lit a cheroot.
Then, in Digby Square, at two o'clock in the morning, the devil tempted "Jimmy" Medland. The man had indeed hit him close—very close. He had hit him in the love he bore his daughter, and in the love he bore her mother and her mother's fame. He had hit him in his love of place and power, and his nobler joy in using them for what seemed to him good purposes. Love and tenderness—pride and ambition—the man shot his arrow at all. And as Medland stood motionless in thought, across these abiding reflections came now and again a new one—the image of a face that had been that night upturned to his almost in worship, and would, if this thing were done, be turned away in sorrow, shame, and scorn.
What, after all, was an Inspectorship? It was only doing what the world said all politicians did. What, compared with losing love and power and fair fame, was it to—job an Inspectorship? Besides, from one point of view, the man had a kind of claim upon him: he had done him wrong.
"I dare say," interrupted Benham, "that you're thinking there's nothing to prevent me 'asking for more' next month. Well, of course there isn't. But I shan't. I only want a decent position and a decent income, and then I'll let you alone. Come, Medland, rancour apart, you know I'm not a common blackmailer."
This remark tickled Medland, and he smiled. Still, it was true in its way. He had known the man very well, and, harsh though he was to all about him, the man had been fairly honest and had borne a decent name. Probably what he was doing now did not seem to him much worse than any other backstairs method of getting on in the world. Medland thought that in all likelihood, if he gained his request, he would keep his word. That thought made the temptation stronger, but it forced itself on him when he remembered the number of years during which he had been even more vulnerable in one respect than he was now, and yet the man had left him alone. He could say neither yes nor no.
"You must give me a few days for consideration," he said.
Benham shrugged his shoulders in amazement.
"Have you promised the berth?" he asked.
"No, I haven't promised it."
"Got another candidate?"
"Only the man who ought to have it," answered the Premier, and Benham's air so infected him that he felt the answer to be a very weak one.
"You see," objected Benham, "from what I can learn you're only in office from day to day, so to speak, and where shall I be if you get turned out?"
"We're safe anyhow till the Assembly meets, ten days hence."
"All right. I'll give you till then. And really, Jimmy Medland, little reason as I have to love you, I should advise you not to be a fool. Here's my address. You can write."
"I shan't write. I may send or come."
"He's got some wits about him, after all! Good-night. Mind giving me a fair start? You used to be a hot-tempered fellow and—however, I suppose Premiers can't afford the luxury of assaults."
"I'm sorry to say they can't," said Mr. Medland. "I'll wait five minutes where I am."
"All right. Good-night," and Mr. Benham disappeared among the trees.
At the end of five minutes the Premier resumed his interrupted walk and soon reached his home. His study showed signs of his daughter's presence. Her fan was on the table, her gloves beside it; on the mantelpiece lay a red rose, its stalk bound round with wire. Medland recognised it as like the bud Dick Derosne had worn in his button-hole.
"The young rascal!" he said, as he mixed himself some brandy-and-water, and sat down to his desk. The table was covered with drafts of his new bill, and he pulled the papers into shape, arranged his blotting-pad, and dipped his pen in the ink. Then he lit his pipe and rested his head on the back of his chair, staring up at the ceiling. And there he stayed till the servant, coming in at six o'clock, found him hastily snatching up the pen and seeming to make a memorandum. Being Premier, she said, was killing him, and, "for my part," she added, "I don't care how soon we're out."
A COMMON SPECTACLE.
After some anxious consideration, Eleanor Scaife decided to keep silence for the present about Mrs. Puttock's strange remark. That lady had deluged her with such a flood of gossip, that Eleanor felt that a thing was not likely to be true merely because Mrs. Puttock asserted it, while, if the suggested scandal had a basis in fact, it was probable that some of the men of the Governor's household, or indeed the Governor himself, would be well informed on the matter. If so, Lord Eynesford would use his discretion in telling his wife. Eleanor was afraid that, if she interfered, she might run the risk of appearing officious, and of receiving the polite snub which Lady Eynesford was somewhat of an adept in administering. After all, the woman, whoever she was, was dead and gone, and Eleanor, in the absence of fuller knowledge, declined to be shocked. A woman, she reflected, who studies the problems of society, must be prepared for everything. Still, she felt that intimacy with the Medlands was not to be encouraged, and began to range herself by Lady Eynesford's side so far as the Premier was concerned.
"We had a delightful trip," said Lady Eynesford, on the afternoon of the day following the dance. "I hope everything has been going on well here, Eleanor. What was it like at Sir John's?"
"They missed you and the Governor very much."
"Oh, I don't matter, and I hope Dick represented Willie, and danced with everybody's wife in turn. That's poor Willie's duty."
This programme was so very different from that which Dick had planned and carried out on his own account, that Eleanor shrank from the deceit involved in acquiescence.
"I'm afraid not," she said. "You see, Dick's young and hasn't got a wife of his own."
"Tant mieux, he'd feel the contrast less," replied Lady Eynesford, with airy assurance. "Who did he dance with?"
Eleanor racked her memory and produced the names of four ladies with each of whom Dick had danced one hasty waltz.
"That's only four dances," objected Lady Eynesford.
"Oh, I didn't notice. I was talking to Sir John and to Mrs. Puttock."
"Well then, he danced once or twice with little Daisy Medland. It was her first ball, you know."
"He needn't have done it twice; I suppose he was bound to once. Dear me! We shall have to consider what we're to do about her now."
"She's a pretty girl, Mary."
"Did Dick think so?" asked Lady Eynesford quickly.
Eleanor distinguished between Mrs. Puttock's remark and Dick's conduct. "Well, it looked like it," she answered.
"What do you mean?"
"To tell the truth, Mary, he danced with her half the evening, and, I think, would have gone on all night if Lady Perry hadn't stopped it."
"The wretched boy!"
At this moment the wretched boy happened to enter Lady Eynesford's boudoir. Dick was dressed for riding, was humming a tune, and appeared generally well pleased with himself and the world.
"You wretched boy!" said his sister-in-law.
Dick gave her one glance. Then, assuming an air of trepidation, he murmured reproachfully,
"Nous sommes trahis."
"What have you to say for yourself? No, I'm not joking. I particularly wanted to avoid being mixed up with these Medlands one bit more than we could help, and, directly my back is turned, you go and——"
"Have you seen Alicia yet?" asked Dick.
"Seen Alicia? No, not to talk to."
"Well then, keep some of it. Don't spend it all on me. You'll want it, Mary."
"Dick, you're very impertinent. What do you mean?"
Dick was about to answer, when he saw Eleanor frowning at him. He raised his brows. Eleanor rapidly returned the signal.
"She flirted disgracefully with Sir John," he said.
"How dare you make fun of me like that? It was most foolish and—and wrong of you. I shall speak to Willie about it."
"I thought it was the constitutional thing to do," pleaded Dick, but Lady Eynesford was already on her way to the door, and vanished through it with a scornful toss of her head.
"You gave me away," said Dick to Eleanor. "Never trust a woman! And, Eleanor, what were you nodding like an old mandarin for?"
"I thought it just as well we shouldn't vex Mary just now by telling her how—how friendly Alicia was with Mr. Medland."
"Oh, I see. I wish you'd thought it just as well not to vex Mary by telling her how—how friendly I was with Miss Medland."
"It's quite different," said Miss Scaife coldly. "In Alicia, it was merely strange. Mr. Medland might be her father. Now, Miss Medland——"
"I never let on about you and Coxon," said Dick, who wished to change the subject, and made his escape under shelter of Miss Scaife's indignant repudiation.
Still humming his tune, he mounted his horse and rode to the Public Park. At a particular turn of the avenue he pulled up and waited under a tree. Presently a pony-carriage appeared in the distance.
"Good!" said Dick, throwing away his cigarette and feeling if his neck-cloth were in its place. The pony-cart drew near. Dick saw with pleasure the figure of the driver, but he also perceived, to his great disgust, that a man was sitting by her side.
"That's the way they"—he meant women—"let you in!" he remarked. "Anybody would have supposed she meant she drove alone. Who the deuce has she got there?"
Miss Medland had Norburn with her, and Norburn was just explaining to her—for he did not imitate her father's forbearance—the methods by which he proposed to banish the evil monster, competition, from the world. There is, however, one sort of competition, at least, which Norburn's methods will hardly banish, and it was into the clutches of this particular form of the evil monster that Mr. Norburn was, little as he thought it, about to be pushed. A long period of intimacy and favour excluded from his mind the suspicion that he might have to fight for his position with Daisy Medland; and, if he could have brought himself to entertain the thought of a successful rival—of some one who, coming suddenly between, should break the strong bonds of affection well tried by time—he certainly would not have expected to find such a competitor in Dick Derosne. In fact, neither of the young men was capable of appreciating the attractions of the other: Dick considering Norburn very doubtfully a gentleman, and very certainly what in his University days he dubbed a "smug"; Norburn regarding him with the rather impatient contempt that such a man is apt to bestow on those for whom dressing themselves and amusing themselves are the chief labours of a day. Moreover, Norburn did not frequent dances, and young men who do not frequent dances often go wrong by forgetting how much may happen between the afternoon of a Tuesday and the morning of a Wednesday.
No doubt those of us who are men, having been more or less pretty fellows in our time, have had our triumphs, concerning which we are, as a rule, becomingly mute, but occasionally, in the confidences of the smoking-room, undesirably loquacious. For this fault there is no excuse, unless such a one as justifies the practice of inflicting reprisals in international quarrels; it being quite certain that our failures are no secret—indeed there must be covertly (but extensively) circulating somewhere a Gazette wherein such occurrences are registered—there is a kind of "wild justice" even in smoking-room disclosures. But whatever our bad or good fortune may have been, it is not to be supposed for a moment that any of us enjoy such an enchanting revelation as comes to a young girl who, by nature's kind freak, has been made beautiful. Daisy Medland was radiant as she turned from Norburn's pale thoughtful face and careless garb to Dick Derosne, the outward perfection of a well-born, well-made, well-dressed Englishman, bowing, smiling, and debonair. Daisy liked Norburn very much—how much she never quite knew—but there was no doubt that two young men were a pleasant change from one, and the contrast between them increased the charm—a novel charm to her—of the situation, for she was well aware that, different as they were from one another, strong as the contrast was, they were both at this moment thinking precisely the same thought, namely, "Who's this fellow, and what does he want?"—a coincidence which again shows that Norburn's theories had much to do before they conquered the world.
It is not a very uncommon sight to see a clever man sit mum, abashed by the chatter of a cheery shallow-pate, who is happily unconscious of the oppressive triviality of his own conversation. Norburn's eager flow of words froze at the contact of Dick's small-talk, and he was a discontented auditor of ball-room and club gossip. It amazed him that a man should know, or care, or talk about more than half the things on which Dick descanted so merrily; it astounded him that they should win interest as keen and looks as bright as had ever rewarded the deepest truth or the highest aspiration. All of which, however, was not really at all odd, if only Mr. Norburn would have considered the matter a little more closely. But then an old favourite threatened by a new rival is not in a mood for cool analysis.
"And they say," pursued Dick, "that Puttock's coming back to your father because Sir Robert trod on Mrs. P.'s new black silk and tore it half off her—tore it awfully, you know."
Daisy laughed gaily.
"You weren't there, were you, Mr. Norburn? Well, it was worth all the money only to see old Mrs. Grim eat ices—you remember, Miss Medland? She bolted three while Sir John was proposing the Queen's health, and two more in the first verse of 'God save—'" and so Dick ran on.
Mr. Norburn consulted his watch.
"I'm afraid I must go," he said. "I'm due at the office."
"Oh," exclaimed Daisy penitently, "I forgot. But can't I drive you back?"
"I couldn't trouble you to do that. You're not going back so soon?"
"But of course I can, Mr. Norburn; it's so far to walk."
"I don't mind the walk."
"Are you really quite sure? It is a beautiful morning to be out, isn't it?"
Norburn took his leave, thinking, no doubt, of his official duties and nothing else, and Daisy touched her pony.
"I must go on," she said.
"So must I," said Dick, "mustn't keep my horse standing any longer."
"Why not? He can't catch cold to-day."
"Oh, he'd take root and never go away—just as I do, when I stand near you, you know."
It is not proposed to set out the rest of their conversation. Daisy forgot Norburn's gloomy face, Dick forgot every face but Daisy's, and the usual things were said and done. An appeal to the memory of any reader will probably give a result accurate enough. Imagine yourself on a pretty morning, in a pretty place, by a pretty girl, and let her be kind and you not a numskull, and there's half-a-dozen pages saved.
It was, however, a little unfortunate that, at the last moment, when the third good-bye was being said, Lady Eynesford should come whirling by in her barouche.
"The deuce!" said Dick under his breath.
Lady Eynesford's features did not relax. She bowed to her brother-in-law gravely and stiffly; her gaze appeared to travel far over the top of the low pony-carriage which contained Daisy Medland. Dick flushed with vexation. True, the Governor's wife did not yet know the Premier's daughter, but she need not have insisted on the fact so ostentatiously. Dick turned to his companion. She was laughing.
"Why are you laughing?" he asked, rather offended. A man seldom likes to be thought to value the opinion of the women of his family, valuable as it always is.
"You know very well," she answered. "Oh, I dare say I've got into trouble too."
"I don't care," said Dick valiantly.
"Neither do I—at least, not much."
"I don't see how you can have got into trouble."
"Ah, perhaps you don't see everything, Mr. Derosne."
"I say, you don't mean that Mr.——?"
"Good-bye," said Daisy, whipping up her pony.
Dick was left wondering what she had meant, and whether anything so preposterous and revolting as the idea of Norburn having any business to control her doings or her likings could possibly have any truth in it. And, as a natural result of this disturbing notion, he determined to see her again as soon as he could.
FOR THE HIGHEST BIDDER.
Shepherdstown, the spot where Mr. Benham said that his was a respected name—and he said quite truly, for he had managed to pay his debts as they fell due, and nothing was known against his character—lay in Puttock's constituency, and Benham thought it well to call upon his representative. The only secret part of his enterprise had been transacted with the Premier in Digby Square: for the rest, a plausible overtness of action was plainly desirable. He obtained an interview with Puttock, and laid before him his hopes and his qualifications. Mr. Puttock was graciousness itself; he remembered, with gratitude and surprising alacrity, his visitor's local services to the party; had he been still in office, it would have been his delight no less than his duty to press Benham's incontestable claims; he would have felt that he was merely paying a small part of the debt he owed Shepherdstown and one of its leading men, and would, at the same time, have enjoyed the conviction that he was enlisting in the public service a man of tried integrity and ability.
"Unhappily, however," said Mr. Puttock, spreading out his plump hands in pathetic fashion, "as you might conjecture, Mr.—" he glanced at the visitor's card—"Benham, my influence at the present juncture is less than nil. I am powerless. I can only look on at what I conceive to be a course of conduct fraught with peril to the true interests of New Lindsey, and entirely inconsistent with the best traditions of our party."
"Your views are heartily shared at home," responded Benham. "Speaking in confidence, I can assure you of that, sir. Our confidence in the Ministry ended when you retired."
"As long as my constituents approve of my action, I am content. But I am grieved not to be able to help you."
"But, in spite of present differences, surely your good word would carry weight. My name is, I believe, already before the Premier, and if it was backed by your support——"
"Let me recommend you," said Puttock sourly, "to try to obtain Mr. Norburn's good word. That is, between ourselves, all-powerful."
"Norburn! Much Norburn would do for me."
"Why, does he know you?" asked Puttock. "Have you any quarrel with him?"
"There's no love lost between us. He organised my shearers when they struck two years ago."
"What are you?"
"Sheep, sir. The fellow came down and fought me, and—well, sir, he said things about me that you'd hardly credit."
"Oh, I hope," said Puttock earnestly, "that that would not influence his judgment. But, to be frank—well, it's common knowledge that Mr. Norburn and I found we could not work together."
"But surely, sir, the Premier will take his own line?"
"I don't know. As likely as not, Norburn will have some Labour man to press."
"Ah, if we could see you at the head of the Government!"
"I don't deny that I am deeply disappointed with the Premier's course of action—so deeply that I can give him no support."
Mr. Benham remained silent for a minute, meditating. He perceived that, in case Medland proved unreasonable, a second string lay ready to his hand. He wondered how much Puttock already knew—and what he would pay for more knowledge. The worst of it was that Puttock had the reputation of being an uncommonly good hand at a bargain.
"Yet Mr. Medland's a very clever man," he observed.
"Oh, clever, yes; but I fear unstable, Mr. Benham."
"I suppose so. After all a man's private life is some guide, isn't it?"
"Some guide!" exclaimed Puttock. "Surely you understate the case. If a man's private life is discreditable——"
"But would you go so far as that about the Premier?" inquired Benham, with a pained air.
"There's no smoke without fire, I'm afraid. It's a painful subject, and of course only a matter of rumour, but——"
"You see, I've been living in the country, and I'm not up in all that's said here."
"I wouldn't mention it to everybody, but to you I may venture. According to the report among those in a position to know, there was the gravest doubt as to the regularity of—his domestic relations."
"Nothing, as I say, is known or could, probably, be proved. It would damage him most seriously, of course, if that sort of thing were proved."
"I should think so indeed. He could hardly remain where he is."
"I don't know. Well, perhaps not. A little while ago I should have deeply regretted anything calculated to lessen his influence, but now—well, well, we shall see."
"Your secession has so weakened him that he couldn't stand up against it," said Benham, with conviction. "And then—why, we might have a real leader."
Mr. Benham's admiring gaze left no doubt as to the heaven-sent leader who was in his mind, and he had the satisfaction of detecting a gleam of eagerness in Mr. Puttock's eye.
"He may be of use to me, if Medland kicks," reflected Benham as he walked away. But he hoped that the Premier would not prove recalcitrant. He had counted on the sufficiency of threats, and it would be an annoyance if he were forced to resort to action; for he could not deny that his respected name would suffer some stain in the process of inflicting punishment, if the victim chose to declare the terms on which the chastisement might have been averted.
Now this aspect of the case had presented itself to Medland also, reinforcing the considerations which weighed against giving Benham the appointment he sought. The Premier hated yielding, and he hated jobs: Benham asked him to acknowledge himself beaten, and, as ransom, to perpetrate a peculiarly dirty job. At most times of his life he would not even have looked at such a proposal, but his new-won position, with its possibilities and its risks, made him timid: he was fearful as a child of anything that would jeopardise what he had so hardly and narrowly achieved; and this unwonted mood increased his dread of Benham's disclosures to an almost superstitious terror. Under the influence of this feeling, he was so far false to his standard of conduct as tentatively to mention Benham's name to Norburn as that of a possible candidate for the vacant post. He expected to hear in reply nothing more than a surprised inquiry as to the man's claims, but Norburn, despite his faithfulness to every wish of his leader's, besought him earnestly to make no such choice.