JUSTIN McCARTHY, M.P.
Author of 'Dear Lady Disdain' 'Donna Quixote' Etc.
A New Edition
London Chatto & Windus, Piccadilly 1895
Printed by Spottiswoode and Co., New-Street Square London
I. AN EXILE IN LONDON
II. A GENTLEMAN-ADVENTURER
III. AT THE GARDEN GATE
IV. THE LANGLEYS
V. 'MY GREAT DEED WAS TOO GREAT'
VI. 'HERE IS MY THRONE—BID KINGS COME BOW TO IT'
VII. THE PRINCE AND CLAUDIO
VIII. 'I WONDER WHY?'
IX. THE PRIVATE SECRETARY
X. A SOLDIER OF FORTUNE
XIII. DOLORES ON THE LOOK-OUT
XIV. A SICILIAN KNIFE
XV. 'IF I WERE TO ASK YOU?'
XVI. THE CHILDREN OF GRIEVANCE
XVII. MISS PAULO'S OBSERVATION
XVIII. HELENA KNOWS HERSELF, BUT NOT THE OTHER
XIX. TYPICAL AMERICANS—NO DOUBT
XX. THE DEAREST GIRL IN THE WORLD
XXII. THE EXPEDITION
XXIII. THE PANGS OF THE SUPPRESSED MESSAGE
XXIV. THE EXPLOSION
XXV. SOME VICTIMS
XXVI. 'WHEN ROGUES——'
XXVII. 'SINCE IT IS SO!'
AN EXILE IN LONDON
The May sunlight streamed in through the window, making curious patterns of the curtains upon the carpet. Outside, the tide of life was flowing fast; the green leaves of the Park were already offering agreeable shade to early strollers; the noise of cabs and omnibuses had set in steadily for the day. Outside, Knightsbridge was awake and active; inside, sleep reigned with quiet. The room was one of the best bedrooms in Paulo's Hotel; it was really tastefully furnished, soberly decorated, in the style of the fifteenth French Louis. A very good copy of Watteau was over the mantel-piece, the only picture in the room. There had been a fire in the hearth overnight, for a grey ash lay there. Outside on the ample balcony stood a laurel in a big blue pot, an emblematic tribute on Paulo's part to honourable defeat which might yet turn to victory.
There were books about the room: a volume of Napoleon's maxims, a French novel, a little volume of Sophocles in its original Greek. A uniform-case and a sword-case stood in a corner. A map of South America lay partially unrolled upon a chair. The dainty gilt clock over the mantel-piece, a genuine heritage from the age of Louis Quinze, struck eight briskly. The Dictator stirred in his sleep.
Presently there was a tapping at the door to the left of the bed, a door communicating with the Dictator's private sitting-room. Still the Dictator slept, undisturbed by the slight sound. The sound was not repeated, but the door was softly opened, and a young man put his head into the room and looked at the slumbering Dictator. The young man was dark, smooth-shaven, with a look of quiet alertness in his face. He seemed to be about thirty years of age. His dark eyes watched the sleeping figure affectionately for a few seconds. 'It seems a pity to wake him,' he muttered; and he was about to draw his head back and close the door, when the Dictator stirred again, and suddenly waking swung himself round in the bed and faced his visitor. The visitor smiled pleasantly. 'Buenos dias, Escelencia,' he said.
The Dictator propped himself up on his left arm and looked at him.
'Good morning, Hamilton,' he answered. 'What's the good of talking Spanish here? Better fall back upon simple Saxon until we can see the sun rise again in Gloria. And as for the Excellency, don't you think we had better drop that too?'
'Until we see the sun rise in Gloria,' said Hamilton. He had pushed the door open now, and entered the room, leaning carelessly against the door-post. 'Yes; that may not be so far off, please Heaven; and, in the meantime, I think we had better stick to the title and all forms, Excellency.'
The Dictator laughed again. 'Very well, as you please. The world is governed by form and title, and I suppose such dignities lend a decency even to exile in men's eyes. Is it late? I was tired, and slept like a dog.'
'Oh no; it's not late,' Hamilton answered. 'Only just struck eight. You wished to be called, or I shouldn't have disturbed you.'
'Yes, yes; one must get into no bad habits in London. All right; I'll get up now, and be with you in twenty minutes.'
'Very well, Excellency.' Hamilton bowed as he spoke in his most official manner, and withdrew. The Dictator looked after him, laughing softly to himself.
'L'excellence malgre lui,' he thought. 'An excellency in spite of myself. Well, I dare say Hamilton is right; it may serve to fill my sails when I have any sails to fill. In the meantime let us get up and salute London. Thank goodness it isn't raining, at all events.'
He did his dressing unaided. 'The best master is his own man' was an axiom with him. In the most splendid days of Gloria he had always valeted himself; and in Gloria, where assassination was always a possibility, it was certainly safer. His body-servant filled his bath and brought him his brushed clothes; for the rest he waited upon himself.
He did not take long in dressing. All his movements were quick, clean, and decisive; the movements of a man to whom moments are precious, of a man who has learnt by long experience how to do everything as shortly and as well as possible. As soon as he was finished he stood for an instant before the long looking-glass and surveyed himself. A man of rather more than medium height, strongly built, of soldierly carriage, wearing his dark frock-coat like a uniform. His left hand seemed to miss its familiar sword-hilt. The face was bronzed by Southern suns; the brown eyes were large, and bright, and keen; the hair was a fair brown, faintly touched here and there with grey. His full moustache and beard were trimmed to a point, almost in the Elizabethan fashion. Any serious student of humanity would at once have been attracted by the face. Habitually it wore an expression of gentle gravity, and it could smile very sweetly, but it was the face of a strong man, nevertheless, of a stubborn man, of a man ambitious, a man with clear resolve, personal or otherwise, and prompt to back his resolve with all he had in life, and with life itself.
He put into his buttonhole the green-and-yellow button which represented the order of the Sword and Myrtle, the great Order of La Gloria, which in Gloria was invested with all the splendour of the Golden Fleece; the order which could only be worn by those who had actually ruled in the republic. That, according to satirists, did not greatly limit the number of persons who had the right to wear it. Then he formally saluted himself in the looking-glass. 'Excellency,' he said again, and laughed again. Then he opened his double windows and stepped out upon the balcony.
London was looking at its best just then, and his spirits stirred in grateful response to the sunlight. How dismal everything would have seemed, he was thinking, if the streets had been soaking under a leaden sky, if the trees had been dripping dismally, if his glance directed to the street below had rested only upon distended umbrellas glistening like the backs of gigantic crabs! Now everything was bright, and London looked as it can look sometimes, positively beautiful. Paulo's Hotel stands, as everybody knows, in the pleasantest part of Knightsbridge, facing Kensington Gardens. The sky was brilliantly blue, the trees were deliciously green; Knightsbridge below him lay steeped in a pure gold of sunlight. The animation of the scene cheered him sensibly. May is seldom summery in England, but this might have been a royal day of June.
Opposite to him he could see the green-grey roofs of Kensington Palace. At his left he could see a public-house which bore the name and stood upon the site of the hostelry where the Pretender's friends gathered on the morning when they expected to see Queen Anne succeeded by the heir to the House of Stuart. Looking from the one place to the other, he reflected upon the events of that morning when those gentlemen waited in vain for the expected tidings, when Bolingbroke, seated in the council chamber at yonder palace, was so harshly interrupted. It pleased the stranger for a moment to trace a resemblance between the fallen fortunes of the Stuart Prince and his own fallen fortunes, as dethroned Dictator of the South American Republic of Gloria. 'London is my St. Germain's,' he said to himself with a laugh, and he drummed the national hymn of Gloria upon the balcony-rail with his fingers.
His gaze, wandering over the green bravery of the Park, lost itself in the blue sky. He had forgotten London; his thoughts were with another place under a sky of stronger blue, in the White House of a white square in a white town. He seemed to hear the rattle of rifle shots, shrill trumpet calls, angry party cries, the clatter of desperate charges across the open space, the angry despair of repulses, the piteous pageant of civil war. Knightsbridge knew nothing of all that. Danes may have fought there, the chivalry of the White Rose or the Red Rose ridden there, gallant Cavaliers have spurred along it to fight for their king. All that was past; no troops moved there now in hostility to brethren of their blood. But to that one Englishman standing there, moody in spite of the sunlight, the scene which his eyes saw was not the tranquil London street, but the Plaza Nacional of Gloria, red with blood, and 'cut up,' in the painter's sense, with corpses.
'Shall I ever get back? Shall I ever get back?' that was the burden to which his thoughts were dancing. His spirit began to rage within him to think that he was here, in London, helpless, almost alone, when he ought to be out there, sword in hand, dictating terms to rebels repentant or impotent. He gave a groan at the contrast, and then he laughed a little bitterly and called himself a fool. 'Things might be worse,' he said. 'They might have shot me. Better for them if they had, and worse for Gloria. Yes, I am sure of it—worse for Gloria!'
His mind was back in London now, back in the leafy Park, back in Knightsbridge. He looked down into the street, and noted that a man was loitering on the opposite side. The man in the street saw that the Dictator noted him. He looked up at the Dictator, looked up above the Dictator, and, raising his hat, pointed as if towards the sky. The Dictator, following the direction of the gesture, turned slightly and looked upwards, and received a sudden thrill of pleasure, for just above him, high in the air, he could see the flutter of a mass of green and yellow, the colours of the national flag of Gloria. Mr. Paulo, mindful of what was due even to exiled sovereignty, had flown the Gloria flag in honour of the illustrious guest beneath his roof. When that guest looked down again the man in the street had disappeared.
'That is a good omen. I accept it,' said the Dictator. 'I wonder who my friend was?' He turned to go back into his room, and in doing so noticed the laurel.
'Another good omen,' he said. 'My fortunes feel more summerlike already. The old flag still flying over me, an unknown friend to cheer me, and a laurel to prophesy victory—what more could an exile wish? His breakfast, I think,' and on this reflection he went back into his bedroom, and, opening the door through which Hamilton had talked to him, entered the sitting-room.
A GENTLEMAN ADVENTURER
The room which the Dictator entered was an attractive room, bright with flowers, which Miss Paulo had been pleased to arrange herself—bright with the persevering sunshine. It was decorated, like his bedroom, with the restrained richness of the mid-eighteenth century. With discretion, Paulo had slightly adapted the accessories of the room to please by suggestion the susceptibilities of its occupant. A marble bust of Caesar stood upon the dwarf bookcase. A copy of a famous portrait of Napoleon was on one of the walls; on another an engraving of Dr. Francia still more delicately associated great leaders with South America. At a table in one corner of the room—a table honeycombed with drawers and pigeon-holes, and covered with papers, letters, documents of all kinds—Hamilton sat writing rapidly. Another table nearer the window, set apart for the Dictator's own use, had everything ready for business—had, moreover, in a graceful bowl of tinted glass, a large yellow carnation, his favourite flower, the flower which had come to be the badge of those of his inclining. This, again, was a touch of Miss Paulo's sympathetic handiwork.
The Dictator, whose mood had brightened, smiled again at this little proof of personal interest in his welfare. As he entered, Hamilton dropped his pen, sprang to his feet, and advanced respectfully to greet him. The Dictator pointed to the yellow carnation.
'The way of the exiled autocrat is made smooth for him here, at least,' he said.
Hamilton inclined his head gravely. 'Mr. Paulo knows what is due,' he answered, 'to John Ericson, to the victor of San Felipe and the Dictator of Gloria. He knows how to entertain one who is by right, if not in fact, a reigning sovereign.'
'He hangs out our banner on the outer wall,' said Ericson, with an assumed gravity as great as Hamilton's own. Then he burst into a laugh and said, 'My dear Hamilton, it's all very well to talk of the victor of San Felipe and the Dictator of Gloria. But the victor of San Felipe is the victim of the Plaza Nacional, and the Dictator of Gloria is at present but one inconsiderable item added to the exile world of London, one more of the many refugees who hide their heads here, and are unnoted and unknown.'
His voice had fallen a little as his sentences succeeded each other, and the mirth in his voice had a bitter ring in it when he ended. His eye ranged from the bust to the picture, and from the picture to the engraving contemplatively.
Something in the contemplation appeared to cheer him, for his look was brighter, and his voice had the old joyous ring in it when he spoke again. It was after a few minutes' silence deferentially observed by Hamilton, who seemed to follow and to respect the course of his leader's thoughts.
'Well,' he said, 'how is the old world getting on? Does she roll with unabated energy in her familiar orbit, indifferent to the fall of states and the fate of rulers? Stands Gloria where she did?'
Hamilton laughed. 'The world has certainly not grown honest, but there are honest men in her. Here is a telegram from Gloria which came this morning. It was sent, of course, as usual, to our City friends, who sent it on here immediately.' He handed the despatch to his chief, who seized it and read it eagerly. It seemed a commonplace message enough—the communication of one commercial gentleman in Gloria with another commercial gentleman in Farringdon Street. But to the eyes of Hamilton and of Ericson it meant a great deal. It was a secret communication from one of the most influential of the Dictator's adherents in Gloria. It was full of hope, strenuously encouraging. The Dictator's face lightened.
'Anything else?' he asked.
'These letters,' Hamilton answered, taking up a bundle from the desk at which he had been sitting. 'Five are from money-lenders offering to finance your next attempt. There are thirty-three requests for autographs, twenty-two requests for interviews, one very pressing from "The Catapult," another from "The Moon"—Society papers, I believe; ten invitations to dinner, six to luncheon; an offer from a well-known lecturing agency to run you in the United States; an application from a publisher for a series of articles entitled "How I Governed Gloria," on your own terms; a letter from a certain Oisin Stewart Sarrasin, who calls himself Captain, and signs himself a soldier of fortune.'
'What does he want?' asked Ericson. 'His seems to be the most interesting thing in the lot.'
'He offers to lend you his well-worn sword for the re-establishment of your rule. He hints that he has an infallible plan of victory, that in a word he is your very man.'
The Dictator smiled a little grimly. 'I thought I could do my own fighting,' he said. 'But I suppose everybody will be wanting to help me now, every adventurer in Europe who thinks that I can no longer help myself. I don't think we need trouble Captain Stewart. Is that his name?'
'Sarrasin—all right. Is that all?'
'Practically all,' Hamilton answered. 'A few other letters of no importance. Stay; no, I forgot. These cards were left this morning, a little after nine o'clock, by a young lady who rode up attended by her groom.'
'A young lady,' said Ericson, in some surprise, as he extended his hand for the cards.
'Yes, and a very pretty young lady too,' Hamilton answered, 'for I happened to be in the hall at the time, and saw her.'
Ericson took the cards and looked at them. They were two in number; one was a man's card, one a woman's. The man's card bore the legend 'Sir Rupert Langley,' the woman's was merely inscribed 'Helena Langley.' The address was a house at Prince's Gate.
The Dictator looked up surprised. 'Sir Rupert Langley, the Foreign Secretary?'
'I suppose it must be,' Hamilton said, 'there can't be two men of the same name. I have a dim idea of reading something about his daughter in the papers some time ago, just before our revolution, but I can't remember what it was.'
'Very good of them to honour fallen greatness, in any case,' Ericson said. 'I seem to have more friends than I dreamed of. In the meantime let us have breakfast.'
Hamilton rang the bell, and a man brought in the coffee and rolls which constituted the Dictator's simple breakfast. While he was eating it he glanced over the letters that had come. 'Better refuse all these invitations, Hamilton.'
Hamilton expostulated. He was Ericson's intimate and adviser, as well as secretary.
'Do you think that is the best thing to do?' he suggested. 'Isn't it better to show yourself as much as possible, to make as many friends as you can? There's a good deal to be done in that way, and nothing much else to do for the present. Really I think it would be better to accept some of them. Several are from influential political men.'
'Do you think these influential political men would help me?' the Dictator asked, good-humouredly cynical. 'Did they help Kossuth? Did they help Garibaldi? What I want are war-ships, soldiers, a big loan, not the agreeable conversation of amiable politicians.'
'Nevertheless——' Hamilton began to protest.
His chief cut him short. 'Do as you please in the matter, my dear boy,' he said. 'It can't do any harm, anyhow. Accept all you think it best to accept; decline the others. I leave myself confidently in your hands.'
'What are you going to do this morning?' Hamilton inquired. 'There are one or two people we ought to think of seeing at once. We mustn't let the grass grow under our feet for one moment.'
'My dear boy,' said Ericson good-humouredly, 'the grass shall grow under my feet to-day, so far as all that is concerned. I haven't been in London for ten years, and I have something to do before I do anything else. To-morrow you may do as you please with me. But if you insist upon devoting this day to the cause——'
'Of course I do,' said Hamilton.
'Then I graciously permit you to work at it all day, while I go off and amuse myself in a way of my own. You might, if you can spare the time, make a call at the Foreign Office and say I should be glad to wait on Sir Rupert Langley there, any day and hour that suit him—we must smooth down the dignity of these Foreign Secretaries, I suppose?'
'Oh, of course,' Hamilton said, peremptorily. Hamilton took most things gravely; the Dictator usually did not. Hamilton seemed a little put out because his chief should have even indirectly suggested the possibility of his not waiting on Sir Rupert Langley at the Foreign Office.
'All right, boy; it shall be done. And look here, Hamilton, as we are going to do the right thing, why should you not leave cards for me and for yourself at Sir Rupert Langley's house? You might see the daughter.'
'Oh, she never heard of me,' Hamilton said hastily.
'The daughter of a Foreign Secretary?'
'Anyhow, of course I'll call if you wish it, Excellency.'
'Good boy! And do you know I have taken a fancy that I should like to see this soldier of fortune, Captain——'
'Sarrasin—yes. Will you drop him a line and suggest an interview—pretty soon? You know all about my times and engagements.'
'Certainly, your Excellency,' Hamilton replied, with almost military formality and precision; and the Dictator departed.
AT THE GARDEN GATE
Londoners are so habituated to hear London abused as an ugly city that they are disposed too often to accept the accusation humbly. Yet the accusation is singularly unjust. If much of London is extremely unlovely, much might fairly be called beautiful. The new Chelsea that has arisen on the ashes of the old might well arouse the admiration even of the most exasperated foreigner. There are recently created regions in that great tract of the earth's surface known as South Kensington which in their quaintness of architectural form and braveness of red brick can defy the gloom of a civic March or November. Old London is disappearing day by day, but bits of it remain, bits dear to those familiar with them, bits worth the enterprise of the adventurous, which call for frank admiration and frank praise even of people who hated London as fully as Heinrich Heine did. But of all parts of the great capital none perhaps deserve so fully the title to be called beautiful as some portions of Hampstead Heath.
Some such reflections floated lightly through the mind of a man who stood, on this May afternoon, on a high point of Hampstead Hill. He had climbed thither from a certain point just beyond the Regent's Park, to which he had driven from Knightsbridge. From that point out the way was a familiar way to him, and he enjoyed walking along it and noting old spots and the changes that time had wrought. Now, having reached the highest point of the ascent, he paused, standing on the grass of the heath, and turning round, with his back to the country, looked down upon the town.
There is no better place from which to survey London. To impress a stranger with any sense of the charm of London as a whole, let him be taken to that vantage-ground and bidden to gaze. The great city seemed to lie below and around him as in a hollow, tinged and glorified by the luminous haze of the May day. The countless spires which pointed to heaven in all directions gave the vast agglomeration of buildings something of an Italian air; it reminded the beholder agreeably of Florence. To right and to left the gigantic city spread, its grey wreath of eternal smoke resting lightly upon its fretted head, the faint roar of its endless activity coming up distinctly there in the clear windless air. The beholder surveyed it and sighed slightly, as he traced meaningless symbols on the turf with the point of his stick.
'What did Caesar say?' he murmured. 'Better be the first man in a village than the second man in Rome! Well, there never was any chance of my being the second man in Rome; but, at least, I have been the first man in my village, and that is something. I suppose I reckon as about the last man there now. Well, we shall see.'
He shrugged his shoulders, nodded a farewell to the city below him, and, turning round, proceeded to walk leisurely across the Heath. The grass was soft and springy, the earth seemed to answer with agreeable elasticity to his tread, the air was exquisitely clear, keen, and exhilarating. He began to move more briskly, feeling quite boyish again. The years seemed to roll away from him as rifts of sea fog roll away before a wind.
Even Gloria seemed as if it had never been—aye, and things before Gloria was, events when he was still really quite a young man.
He cut at the tufted grasses with his stick, swinging it in dexterous circles as if it had been his sword. He found himself humming a tune almost unconsciously, but when he paused to consider what the tune was he found it was the national march of Gloria. Then he stopped humming, and went on for a while silently and less joyously. But the gladness of the fine morning, of the clear air, of the familiar place, took possession of him again. His face once more unclouded and his spirits mounted.
'The place hasn't changed much,' he said to himself, looking around him while he walked. Then he corrected himself, for it had changed a good deal. There were many more red brick houses dotting the landscape than there had been when he last looked upon it some seven years earlier.
In all directions these red houses were springing up, quaintly gabled, much verandahed, pointed, fantastic, brilliant. They made the whole neighbourhood of the Heath look like the Merrie England of a comic opera. Yet they were pretty in their way; many were designed by able architects, and pleased with a balanced sense of proportion and an impression of beauty and fitness. Many, of course, lacked this, were but cheap and clumsy imitations of a prevailing mode, but, taken all together, the effect was agreeable, the effect of the varied reds, russet, and scarlet and warm crimson against the fresh green of the grass and trees and the pale faint blue of the May sky.
To the observer they seemed to suit very well the place, the climate, the conditions of life. They were infinitely better than suburban and rural cottages people used to build when he was a boy. His mind drifted away to the kind of houses he had been more familiar with of late years, houses half Spanish, half tropical; with their wide courtyards and gaily striped awnings and white walls glaring under a glaring sun.
'Yes, all this is very restful,' he thought—'restful, peaceful, wholesome.' He found himself repeating softly the lines of Browning, beginning, 'Oh to be in England now that April's here,' and the transitions of thought carried him to that other poem beginning, 'It was roses, roses, all the way,' with its satire on fallen ambition. Thinking of it, he first frowned and then laughed.
He walked a little way, cresting the rising ground, till he came to an open space with an unbroken view over the level country to Barnet. Here, the last of the houses that could claim to belong to the great London army stood alone in its own considerable space of ground. It was a very old-fashioned house; it had been half farmhouse, half hall, in the latter days of the last century, and the dull red brick of its walls, and the dull red tiles of its roof showed warm and attractive through the green of the encircling trees. There was a small garden in front, planted with pine trees, through which a winding path led up to the low porch of the dwelling. Behind the house a very large garden extended, a great garden which he knew so well, with its lengths of undulating russet orchard wall, and its divisions into flower garden and fruit garden and vegetable garden, and the field beyond, where successive generations of ponies fed, and where he had loved to play in boyhood.
He rested his hand on the upper rim of the garden gate, and looked with curious affection at the inscription in faded gold letters that ran along it. The inscription read, 'Blarulfsgarth,' and he remembered ever so far back asking what that inscription meant, and being told that it was Icelandic, and that it meant the Garth, or Farm, of the Blue Wolf. And he remembered, too, being told the tale from which the name came, a tale that was related of an ancestor of his, real or imaginary, who had lived and died centuries ago in a grey northern land. It was curious that, as he stood there, so many recollections of his childhood should come back to him. He was a man, and not a very young man, when he last laid his hand upon that gate, and yet it seemed to him now as if he had left it when he was quite a little child, and was returning now for the first time with the feelings of a man to the place where he had passed his infancy.
His hand slipped down to the latch, but he did not yet lift it. He still lingered while he turned for a moment and looked over the wide extent of level smiling country that stretched out and away before him. The last time he had looked on that sweep of earth he was going off to seek adventure in a far land, in a new world. He had thought himself a broken man; he was sick of England; his thoughts in their desperation had turned to the country which was only a name to him, the country where he was born. Now the day came vividly back to him on which he had said good-bye to that place, and looked with a melancholy disdain upon the soft English fields. It was an earlier season of the year, a day towards the end of March, when the skies were still but faintly blue, and there was little green abroad. Ten years ago: how many things had passed in those ten years, what struggles and successes, what struggles again, all ending in that three days' fight and the last stand in the Plaza Nacional of Valdorado! He turned away from the scene and pressed his hand upon the latch.
As he touched the latch someone appeared in the porch. It was an old lady dressed in black. She had soft grey hair, and on that grey hair she wore an old-fashioned cap that was almost coquettish by very reason of its old fashion. She had a very sweet, kind face, all cockled with wrinkles like a sheet of crumpled tissue paper, but very beautiful in its age. It was a face that a modern French painter would have loved to paint—a face that a sculptor of the Renaissance would have delighted to reproduce in faithful, faultless bronze or marble.
At sight of the sweet old lady the Dictator's heart gave a great leap, and he pressed down the latch hurriedly and swung the gate wide open. The sound of the clicking latch and the swinging gate slightly grinding on the path aroused the old lady's attention. She saw the Dictator, and, with a little cry of joy, running with an almost girlish activity to meet the bearded man who was coming rapidly along the pathway, in another moment she had caught him in her arms and was clasping him and kissing him enthusiastically. The Dictator returned her caresses warmly. He was smiling, but there were tears in his eyes. It was so odd being welcomed back like this in the old place after all that had passed.
'I knew you would come to-day, my dear,' the old lady said half sobbing, half laughing. 'You said you would, and I knew you would. You would come to your old aunt first of all.'
'Why, of course, of course I would, my dear,' the Dictator answered, softly touching the grey hair on the forehead below the frilled cap.
'But I didn't expect you so early,' the old lady went on. 'I didn't think you would get up so soon on your first morning. You must be so tired, my dear, so very tired.'
She was holding his left hand in her right now, and they were walking slowly side by side up by the little path through the fir trees to the house.
'Oh, I'm not so very tired as all that comes to,' he said with a laugh. 'A long voyage is a restful thing, and I had time to get over the fatigue of the——' he seemed to pause an instant for a word; then he went on, 'the trouble, while I was on board the "Almirante Cochrane." Do you know they were quite kind to me on board the "Almirante Cochrane"?'
The old lady's delicate face flushed angrily. 'The wretches, the wicked wretches!' she said quite fiercely, and the thin fingers closed tightly upon his and shook, agitating the lace ruffles at her wrists.
The Dictator laughed again. It seemed too strange to have all those wild adventures quietly discussed in a Hampstead garden with a silver-haired elderly lady in a cap.
'Oh, come,' he said, 'they weren't so bad; they weren't half bad, really. Why, you know, they might have shot me out of hand. I think if I had been in their place I should have shot out of hand, do you know, aunt?'
'Oh, surely they would never have dared—you an Englishman?'
'I am a citizen of Gloria, aunt.'
'You who were so good to them.'
'Well, as to my being good to them, there are two to tell that tale. The gentlemen of the Congress don't put a high price upon my goodness, I fancy.' He laughed a little bitterly. 'I certainly meant to do them some good, and I even thought I had succeeded. My dear aunt, people don't always like being done good to. I remember that myself when I was a small boy. I used to fret and fume at the things which were done for my good; that was because I was a child. The crowd is always a child.'
They had come to the porch by this time, and had stopped short at the threshold. The little porch was draped in flowers and foliage, and looked very pretty.
'You were always a good child,' said the old lady affectionately.
Ericson looked down at her rather wistfully.
'Do you think I was?' he asked, and there was a tender irony in his voice which made the playful question almost pathetic. 'If I had been a good child I should have been content and had no roving disposition, and have found my home and my world at Hampstead, instead of straying off into another hemisphere, only to be sent back at last like a bad penny.'
'So you would,' said the old lady, very softly, more as if she were speaking to herself than to him. 'So you would if——'
She did not finish her sentence. But her nephew, who knew and understood, repeated the last word.
'If,' he said, and he, too, sighed.
The old lady caught the sound, and with a pretty little air of determination she called up a smile to her face.
'Shall we go into the house, or shall we sit awhile in the garden? It is almost too fine a day to be indoors.'
'Oh, let us sit out, please,' said Ericson. He had driven the sorrow from his voice, and its tones were almost joyous. 'Is the old garden-seat still there?'
'Why, of course it is. I sit there always in fine weather.'
They wandered round to the back by a path that skirted the house, a path all broidered with rose-bushes. At the back, the garden was very large, beginning with a spacious stretch of lawn that ran right up to the wide French windows. There were several noble old trees which stood sentinel over this part of the garden, and beneath one of these trees, a very ancient elm, was the sturdy garden-seat which the Dictator remembered so well.
'How many pleasant fairy tales you have told me under this tree, aunt,' said the Dictator, as soon as they had sat down. 'I should like to lie on the grass again and listen to your voice, and dream of Njal, and Grettir, and Sigurd, as I used to do.'
'It is your turn to tell me stories now,' said the old lady. 'Not fairy stories, but true ones.'
The Dictator laughed. 'You know all that there is to tell,' he said. 'What my letters didn't say you must have found from the newspapers.'
'But I want to know more than you wrote, more than the newspapers gave—everything.'
'In fact, you want a full, true, and particular account of the late remarkable revolution in Gloria, which ended in the deposition and exile of the alien tyrant. My dear aunt, it would take a couple of weeks at the least computation to do the theme justice.'
'I am sure that I shouldn't tire of listening,' said Miss Ericson, and there were tears in her bright old eyes and a tremor in her brave old voice as she said so.
The Dictator laughed, but he stooped and kissed the old lady again very affectionately.
'Why, you would be as bad as I used to be,' he said. 'I never was tired of your sagas, and when one came to an end I wanted a new one at once, or at least the old one over again.'
He looked away from her and all around the garden as he spoke. The winds and rains and suns of all those years had altered it but little.
'We talk of the shortness of life,' he said; 'but sometimes life seems quite long. Think of the years and years since I was a little fellow, and sat here where I sit now, then, as now, by your side, and cried at the deeds of my forbears and sighed for the gods of the North. Do you remember?'
'Oh, yes; oh, yes. How could I forget? You, my dear, in your bustling life might forget; but I, day after day in this great old garden, may be forgiven for an old woman's fancy that time has stood still, and that you are still the little boy I love so well.'
She held out her hand to him, and he clasped it tenderly, full of an affectionate emotion that did not call for speech.
There were somewhat similar thoughts in both their minds. He was asking himself if, after all, it would not have been just as well to remain in that tranquil nook, so sheltered from the storms of life, so consecrated by tender affection. What had he done that was worth rising up to cross the street for, after all? He had dreamed a dream, and had been harshly awakened. What was the good of it all? A melancholy seemed to settle upon him in that place, so filled with the memories of his childhood. As for his companion, she was asking herself if it would not have been better for him to stay at home and live a quiet English life, and be her help and solace.
Both looked up from their reverie, met each other's melancholy glances, and smiled.
'Why,' said Miss Ericson, 'what nonsense this is! Here are we who have not met for ages, and we can find nothing better to do than to sit and brood! We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.'
'We ought,' said the Dictator, 'and for my poor part I am. So you want to hear my adventures?'
Miss Ericson nodded, but the narrative was interrupted. The wide French windows at the back of the house opened and a man entered the garden. His smooth voice was heard explaining to the maid that he would join Miss Ericson in the garden.
The new-comer made his way along the garden, with extended hand, and blinking amiably. The Dictator, turning at his approach, surveyed him with some surprise. He was a large, loosely made man, with a large white face, and his somewhat ungainly body was clothed in loose light material that was almost white in hue. His large and slightly surprised eyes were of a kindly blue; his hair was a vague yellow; his large mouth was weak; his pointed chin was undecided. He dimly suggested some association to the Dictator; after a few seconds he found that the association was with the Knave of Hearts in an ordinary pack of playing-cards.
'This is a friend of mine, a neighbour who often pays me a visit,' said the old lady hurriedly, as the white figure loomed along towards them. 'He is a most agreeable man, very companionable indeed, and learned, too—extremely learned.'
This was all that she had time to say before the white gentleman came too close to them to permit of further conversation concerning his merits or defects.
The new-comer raised his hat, a huge, white, loose, shapeless felt, in keeping with his ill-defined attire, and made an awkward bow which at once included the old lady and the Dictator, on whom the blue eyes beamed for a moment in good-natured wonder.
'Good morning, Miss Ericson,' said the new-comer. He spoke to Miss Ericson; but it was evident that his thoughts were distracted. His vague blue eyes were fixed in benign bewilderment upon the Dictator's face.
Miss Ericson rose; so did her nephew. Miss Ericson spoke.
'Good morning, Mr. Sarrasin. Let me present you to my nephew, of whom you have heard so much. Nephew, this is Mr. Gilbert Sarrasin.'
The new-comer extended both hands; they were very large hands, and very soft and very white. He enfolded the Dictator's extended right hand in one of his, and beamed upon him in unaffected joy.
'Not your nephew, Miss Ericson—not the hero of the hour? Is it possible; is it possible? My dear sir, my very dear and honoured sir, I cannot tell you how rejoiced I am, how proud I am, to have the privilege of meeting you.'
The Dictator returned his friendly clasp with a warm pressure. He was somewhat amused by this unexpected enthusiasm.
'You are very good indeed, Mr. Sarrasin.' Then, repeating the name to himself, he added, 'Your name seems to be familiar to me.'
The white gentleman shook his head with something like playful repudiation.
'Not my name, I think; no, not my name, I feel sure.' He accentuated the possessive pronoun strongly, and then proceeded to explain the accentuation, smiling more and more amiably as he did so. 'No, not my name; my brother's—my brother's, I fancy.'
'Your brother's?' the Dictator said inquiringly. There was some association in his mind with the name of Sarrasin, but he could not reduce it to precise knowledge.
'Yes, my brother,' said the white gentleman. 'My brother, Oisin Stewart Sarrasin, whose name, I am proud to think, is familiar in many parts of the world.'
The recollection he was seeking came to the Dictator. It was the name that Hamilton had given to him that morning, the name of the man who had written to him, and who had signed himself 'a soldier of fortune.' He smiled back at the white gentleman.
'Yes,' he said truthfully, 'I have heard your brother's name. It is a striking name.'
The white gentleman was delighted. He rubbed his large white hands together, and almost seemed as if he might purr in the excess of his gratification. He glanced enthusiastically at Miss Ericson.
'Ah!' he went on. 'My brother is a remarkable man. I may even say so in your illustrious presence; he is a remarkable man. There are degrees, of course,' and he bowed apologetically to the Dictator; 'but he is remarkable.'
'I have not the least doubt of that,' said the Dictator politely.
The white gentleman seemed much pleased. At a sign from Miss Ericson he sat down upon a garden-chair, still slowly and contentedly rubbing his white hands together. Miss Ericson and her nephew resumed their seats.
'Captain Sarrasin is a great traveller,' Miss Ericson said explanatorily to the Dictator. The Dictator bowed his head. He did not quite know what to say, and so, for the moment, said nothing. The white gentleman took advantage of the pause.
'Yes,' he said, 'yes, my brother is a great traveller. A wonderful man, sir; all parts of the wide world are as familiar as home to him. The deserts of the nomad Arabs, the Prairies of the great West, the Steppes of the frozen North, the Pampas of South America; why, he knows them all better than most people know Piccadilly.'
'South America?' questioned the Dictator; 'your brother is acquainted with South America?'
'Intimately acquainted,' replied Mr. Sarrasin. 'I hope you will meet him. You and he might have much to talk about. He knew Gloria in the old days.'
The Dictator expressed courteously his desire to have the pleasure of meeting Captain Sarrasin. 'And you, are you a traveller as well?' he asked.
Mr. Sarrasin shook his head, and when he spoke there was a certain accent of plaintiveness in his reply.
'No,' he said, 'not at all, not at all. My brother and I resemble each other very slightly. He has the wanderer's spirit; I am a confirmed stay-at-home. While he thinks nothing of starting off at any moment for the other ends of the earth, I have never been outside our island, have never been much away from London.'
'Isn't that curious?' asked Miss Ericson, who evidently took much pleasure in the conversation of the white gentleman. The Dictator assented. It was very curious.
'Yet I am fond of travel, too, in my way,' Mr. Sarrasin went on, delighted to have found an appreciative audience. 'I read about it largely. I read all the old books of travel, and all the new ones, too, for the matter of that. I have quite a little library of voyages, travels, and explorations in my little home. I should like you to see it some time if you should so far honour me.'
The Dictator declared that he should be delighted. Mr. Sarrasin, much encouraged, went on again.
'There is nothing I like better than to sit by my fire of a winter's evening, or in my garden of a summer afternoon, and read of the adventures of great travellers. It makes me feel as if I had travelled myself.'
'And Mr. Sarrasin tells me what he has read, and makes me, too, feel travelled,' said Miss Ericson.
'Perhaps you get all the pleasure in that way with none of the fatigue,' the Dictator suggested.
Mr. Sarrasin nodded. 'Very likely we do. I think it was a Kempis who protested against the vanity of wandering. But I fear it was not a Kempis's reasons that deterred me; but an invincible laziness and unconquerable desire to be doing nothing.'
'Travelling is generally uncomfortable,' the Dictator admitted. He was beginning to feel an interest in his curious, whimsical interlocutor.
'Yes,' Mr. Sarrasin went on dreamily. 'But there are times when I regret the absence of experience. I have tramped in fancy through tropical forests with Stanley or Cameron, dwelt in the desert with Burton, battled in Nicaragua with Walker, but all only as it were in dreams.'
'We are such stuff as dreams are made of,' the Dictator observed sententiously.
'And our little lives are rounded by a sleep,' Miss Ericson said softly, completing the quotation.
'Yes, yes,' said Mr. Sarrasin; 'but mine are dreams within a dream.' He was beginning to grow quite communicative as he sat there with his big stick between his knees, and his amorphous felt hat pushed back from his broad white forehead.
'Sometimes my travels seem very real to me. If I have been reading Ford or Kinglake, or Warburton or Lane, I have but to lay the volume down and close my eyes, and all that I have been reading about seems to take shape and sound, and colour and life. I hear the tinkling of the mule-bells and the guttural cries of the muleteers, and I see the Spanish market-place, with its arcades and its ancient cathedral; or the delicate pillars of the Parthenon, yellow in the clear Athenian air; or Stamboul, where the East and West join hands; or Egypt and the desert, and the Nile and the pyramids; or the Holy Land and the walls of Jerusalem—ah! it is all very wonderful, and then I open my eyes and blink at my dying fire, and look at my slippered feet, and remember that I am a stout old gentleman who has never left his native land, and I yawn and take my candle and go to my bed.'
There was something so curiously pathetic and yet comic about the white gentleman's case, about his odd blend of bookish knowledge and personal inexperience, that the Dictator could scarcely forbear smiling. But he did forbear, and he spoke with all gravity.
'I am not sure that you haven't the better part after all,' he said. 'I find that the chief pleasure of travel lies in recollection. You seem to get the recollection without the trouble.'
'Perhaps so,' said Mr. Sarrasin; 'perhaps so. But I think I would rather have had the trouble as well. Believe me, my dear sir, believe a dreamer, that action is better than dreams. Ah! how much better it is for you, sir, to sit here, a disappointed man for the moment it may be, but a man with a glowing past behind him, than, like me, to have nothing to look back upon! My adventures are but compounded out of the essences of many books. I have never really lived a day; you have lived every day of your life. Believe me, you are much to be envied.'
There was genuine conviction in the white gentleman's voice as he spoke these words, and the note of genuine conviction troubled the Dictator in his uncertainty whether to laugh or cry. He chose a medium course and smiled slightly.
'I should think, Mr. Sarrasin, that you are the only one in London to-day who looks upon me as a man much to be envied. London, if it thinks of me at all, thinks of me only as a disastrous failure, as an unsuccessful exile—a man of no account, in a word.'
Mr. Sarrasin shook his head vehemently. 'It is not so,' he protested, 'not so at all. Nobody really thinks like that, but if everybody else did, my brother Oisin Stewart Sarrasin certainly does not think like that, and his opinion is better worth having than that of most other men. You have no warmer admirer in the world than my brother, Mr. Ericson.'
The Dictator expressed much satisfaction at having earned the good opinion of Mr. Sarrasin's brother.
'You would like him, I am sure,' said Mr. Sarrasin. 'You would find him a kindred spirit.'
The Dictator graciously expressed his confidence that he should find a kindred spirit in Mr. Sarrasin's brother. Then Mr. Sarrasin, apparently much delighted with his interview, rose to his feet and declared that it was time for him to depart. He shook hands very warmly with Miss Ericson, but he held the Dictator's hands with a grasp that was devoted in its enthusiasm. Then, expressing repeatedly the hope that he might soon meet the Dictator again, and once more assuring him of the kinship between the Dictator and Captain Oisin Stewart Sarrasin, the white gentleman took himself off, a pale bulky figure looming heavily across the grassy lawn and through the French window into the darkness of the sitting-room.
When he was quite out of sight the Dictator, who had followed his retreating figure with his eyes, turned to Miss Ericson with a look of inquiry. Miss Ericson smiled.
'Who is Mr. Sarrasin?' the Dictator asked. 'He has come up since my time.'
'Oh, yes; he first came to live here about six years ago. He is one of the best souls in the world; simple, good-hearted, an eternal child.'
'What is he?' The Dictator asked.
'Well, he is nothing in particular now. He was in the City, his father was the head of a very wealthy firm of tea merchants, Sarrasin, Jermyn, & Co. When the father died a few years ago he left all his property to Mr. Gilbert, and then Mr. Gilbert went out of business and came here.'
'He does not look as if he would make a very good business man,' said the Dictator.
'No; but he was very patient and devoted to it for his father's sake. Now, since he has been free to do as he likes, he has devoted himself to folk-lore.'
'Yes, to the study of fairy tales, of comparative mythology. I am quite learned in it now since I have had Mr. Sarrasin for a neighbour, and know more about "Puss in Boots" and "Jack and the Beanstalk" than I ever did when I was a girl.'
'Really,' said the Dictator, with a kind of sigh. 'Does he devote himself to fairy tales?' It crossed his mind that a few moments before he had been thinking of himself as a small child in that garden, with a taste for fairy tales, and regretting that he had not stayed in that garden. Now, with the dust of battle and the ashes of defeat upon him, he came back to find a man much older than himself, who seemed still to remain a child, and to be entranced with fairy tales. 'I wish I were like that,' the Dictator said to himself, and then the veil seemed to lift, and he saw again the Plaza Nacional of Gloria, and the Government Palace, where he had laboured at laws for a free people. 'No,' he thought, 'no; action, action.'
'What are you thinking of?' asked Miss Ericson softly. 'You seem to be quite lost in thought.'
'I was thinking of Mr. Sarrasin,' answered the Dictator. 'Forgive me for letting my thoughts drift. And the brother, what sort of man is this wonderful brother?'
'I have only seen the brother a very few times,' said Miss Ericson dubiously. 'I can hardly form an opinion. I do not think he is as nice as his brother, or, indeed, as nice as his brother believes him to be.'
'What is his record?'
'He didn't get on with his father. He was sent against his will to China to work in the firm's offices in Shanghai. But he hated the business, and broke away and entered the Chinese army, I believe, and his father was furious and cut him off. Since then he has been all over the world, and served all sorts of causes. I believe he is a kind of soldier of fortune.'
The Dictator smiled, remembering Captain Sarrasin's own words.
'And has he made his fortune?'
'Oh, no; I believe not. But Gilbert behaved so well. When he came into the property he wanted to share it all with his disinherited brother, for whom he has the greatest affection.'
'A good fellow, your Gilbert Sarrasin.'
'The best. But the brother wouldn't take it, and it was with difficulty that Gilbert induced him to accept so much as would allow him a small certainty of income.'
'So. A good fellow, too, your Oisin Stewart Sarrasin, it would seem; at least in that particular.'
'Yes; of course. The brothers don't meet very often, for Captain Sarrasin——'
'Where does he take his title from?'
'He was captain in some Turkish irregular cavalry.'
'Turkish irregular cavalry? That must be a delightful corps,' the Dictator said with a smile.
'At least he was captain in several services,' Miss Ericson went on; 'but I believe that is the one he prefers and still holds. As I was going to say, Captain Sarrasin is almost always abroad.'
'Well, I feel curious to meet him. They are a strange pair of brothers.'
'They are, but we ought to talk of nothing but you to-day. Ah, my dear, it is so good to have you with me again.'
'Dear old aunt!'
'Let me see much of you now that you have come back. Would it be any use asking you to stop here?'
'Later, every use. Just at this moment I mustn't. Till I see how things are going to turn out I must live down there in London. But my heart is here with you in this green old garden, and where my heart is I hope to bring my battered old body very often. I will stop to luncheon with you if you will let me.'
'Let you? My dear, I wish you were always stopping here.' And the grey old lady put her arms round the neck of the Dictator and kissed him again.
That same day there was a luncheon party at the new town house of the Langleys, Prince's Gate. The Langleys were two in number all told, father and daughter.
Sir Rupert Langley was a remarkable man, but his daughter, Helena Langley, was a much more remarkable woman. The few handfuls of people who considered themselves to constitute the world in London had at one time talked much about Sir Rupert, but now they talked a great deal more about his daughter. Sir Rupert was once grimly amused, at a great party in a great house, to hear himself pointed out by a knowing youth as Helena Langley's father.
There was a time when people thought, and Sir Rupert thought with them, that Rupert Langley was to do great deeds in the world. He had entered political life at an early age, as all the Langleys had done since the days of Anne, and he made more than a figure there. He had travelled in Central Asia in days when travel there or anywhere else was not so easy as it is now, and he had published a book of his travels before he was three-and-twenty, a book which was highly praised, and eagerly read. He was saluted as a sort of coming authority upon Eastern affairs in a day when the importance of Eastern affairs was beginning to dawn dimly upon the insular mind, and he made several stirring speeches in the House of Commons' which confirmed his reputation as a coming man. He was very dogmatic, very determined in his opinions, very confident of his own superior knowledge, and possessed of a degree of knowledge which justified his confidence and annoyed his antagonists. He formed a little party of his own, a party of strenuous young Tories who recognised the fact that the world was out of joint, but who rejoiced in the conviction that they were born for the express purpose of setting it right. In Sir Rupert they found a leader after their own heart, and they rallied around him and jibed at their elders on the Treasury Bench in a way that was quite distressing to the sensitive organs of the party.
Sir Rupert and his adherents preached the new Toryism of that day—the new Toryism which was to work wonders, which was to obliterate Radicalism by doing in a practical Tory way, and conformably to the best traditions of the kingdom, all that Radicalism dreamed of. Toryism, he used to say in those hot-blooded, hot-headed days of his youth, Toryism is the triumph of Truth, and the phrase became a catchword and a watchword, and frivolous people called his little party the T. T.s—the Triumphers of Truth. People versed in the political history of that day and hour will remember how the newspapers were full of the T. T.s, and what an amazing rejuvenescence of political force was supposed to be behind them.
Then came a general election which carried the Tory Party into power, and which proved the strength of Langley and his party. He was offered a place in the new Government, and accepted it—the Under-Secretaryship for India. Through one brilliant year he remained the most conspicuous member of the Administration, irritating his colleagues by daring speeches, by innovating schemes; alarming timid party-men by a Toryism which in certain aspects was scarcely to be distinguished from the reddest Radicalism. One brilliant year there was in which he blazed the comet of a season. Then, thwarted in some enterprise, faced by a refusal for some daring reform of Indian administration, he acted, as he had acted always, impetuously.
One morning the 'Times' contained a long, fierce, witty, bitter letter from Rupert Langley assailing the Government, its adherents, and, above all, its leaders in the Lords. That same afternoon members coming to the Chamber found Langley sitting, no longer on the Treasury Bench, but in the corner seat of the second row below the gangway. It was soon known all over the House, all over town, all over England, that Rupert Langley had resigned his office. The news created no little amazement, some consternation in certain quarters of the Tory camp, some amusement among the Opposition sections. One or two of the extreme Radical papers made overtures to Langley to cross the floor of the House, and enter into alliance with men whose principles so largely resembled his own. These overtures even took the form of a definite appeal on the part of Mr. Wynter, M. P., then a rising Radical, who actually spent half an hour with Sir Rupert on the terrace, putting his case and the case of youthful Radicalism.
Sir Rupert only smiled at the suggestion, and put it gracefully aside. 'I am a Tory of the Tories,' he said; 'only my own people don't understand me yet. But they have got to find me out.' That was undoubtedly Sir Rupert's conviction, that he was strong enough to force the Government, to coerce his party, to compel recognition of his opinions and acceptance of his views. 'They cannot do without me,' he said to himself in his secret heart. He was met by disappointment. The party chiefs made no overtures to him to reconsider his decision, to withdraw his resignation. Another man was immediately put in his place, a man of mediocre ability, of commonplace mind, a man of routine, methodical, absolutely lacking in brilliancy or originality, a man who would do exactly what the Government wanted in the Government way. There was a more bitter blow still for Sir Rupert. There were in the Government certain members of his own little Adullamite party of the Opposition days, T. T.s who had been given office at his insistence, men whom he had discovered, brought forward, educated for political success.
It is certain that Sir Rupert confidently expected that these men, his comrades and followers, would endorse his resignation with their own, and that the Government would thus, by his action, find itself suddenly crippled, deprived of its young blood, its ablest Ministers. The confident expectation was not realised. The T. T.s remained where they were. The Government took advantage of the slight readjustment of places caused by Sir Rupert's resignation to give two of the most prominent T. T.s more important offices, and to those offices the T. T.s stuck like limpets.
Sir Rupert was not a man to give way readily, or readily to acknowledge that he was defeated. He bided his time, in his place below the gangway, till there came an Indian debate. Then, in a House which had been roused to intense excitement by vague rumours of his intention, he moved a resolution which was practically a vote of censure upon the Government for its Indian policy. Always a fluent, ready, ornate speaker, Sir Rupert was never better than on that desperate night. His attack upon the Government was merciless; every word seemed to sting like a poisoned arrow; his exposure of the imbecilities and ineptitudes of the existing system of administration was complete and cruel; his scornful attack upon 'the Limpets' sent the Opposition into paroxysms of delighted laughter, and roused a storm of angry protest from the crowded benches behind the Ministry. That night was the memorable event of the session. For long enough after those who witnessed it carried in their memories the picture of that pale, handsome young man, standing up in that corner seat below the gangway and assailing the Ministry of which he had been the most remarkable Minister with so much cold passion, so much fierce disdain. 'By Jove! he's smashed them!' cried Wynter, M.P., excitedly, when Rupert Langley sat down after his speech of an hour and a quarter, which had been listened to by a crowded House amidst a storm of cheering and disapproval. Wynter was sitting on a lower gangway seat, for every space of sitting room in the chamber was occupied that night, and he had made this remark to one of the Opposition leaders on the front bench, craning over to call it into his ear. The leader of the Opposition heard Wynter's remark, looked round at the excited Radical, and, smiling, shook his head. The excitement faded from Wynter's face. His chief was never wrong.
The usual exodus after a long speech did not take place when Rupert sat down. It was expected that the leader of the House would reply to Sir Rupert, but the expectation was not realised. To the surprise of almost everyone present the Government put up as their spokesman one of the men who had been most allied with Sir Rupert in the old T.T. party, Sidney Blenheim. Something like a frown passed over Sir Rupert's face as Blenheim rose; then he sat immovable, expressionless, while Blenheim made his speech. It was a very clever speech, delicately ironical, sharply cutting, tinged all through with an intolerable condescension, with a gallingly gracious recognition of Langley's merits, an irritating regret for his errors. There was a certain languidness in Blenheim's deportment, a certain air of sweetness in his face, which made his satire the more severe, his attack the more telling. People were as much surprised as if what looked like a dandy's cane had proved to be a sword of tempered steel. Whatever else that night did, it made Blenheim's reputation.
Langley did not carry a hundred men with him into the lobby against the Government. The Opposition, as a body, supported the Administration; a certain proportion of Radicals, a much smaller number of men from his own side, followed him to his fall. He returned to his seat after the numbers had been read out, and sat there as composedly as if nothing had happened, or as if the ringing cheers which greeted the Government triumph were so many tributes to his own success. But those who knew, or thought they knew, Rupert Langley well said that the hour in which he sat there must have been an hour of terrible suffering. After that great debate, the business of the rest of the evening fell rather flat, and was conducted in a House which rapidly thinned down to little short of emptiness. When it was at its emptiest, Rupert Langley rose, lifted his hat to the Speaker, and left the Chamber.
It would not be strictly accurate to say that he never returned to it that session; but practically the statement would be correct. He came back occasionally during the short remainder of the session, and sat in his new place below the gangway. Once or twice he put a question upon the paper; once or twice he contributed a short speech to some debate. He still spoke to his friends, with cold confidence, of his inevitable return to influence, to power, to triumph; he did not say how this would be brought about—he left it to be assumed.
Then paragraphs began to appear in the papers announcing Sir Rupert Langley's intention of spending the recess in a prolonged tour in India. Before the recess came Sir Rupert had started upon this tour, which was extended far beyond a mere investigation of the Indian Empire. When the House met again, in the February of the following year, Sir Rupert was not among the returned members. Such few of his friends as were in communication with him knew, and told their knowledge to others, that Sir Rupert was engaged in a voyage round the world. Not a voyage round the world in the hurried sense in which people occasionally made then, and frequently make now—a voyage round the world, scampering, like the hero of Jules Verne, across land and sea, fast as steam-engine can drag and steamship carry them. Sir Rupert intended to go round the world in the most leisurely fashion, stopping everywhere, seeing everything, setting no limit to the time he might spend in any place that pleased him, fixing beforehand no limit to chain him to any place that did not please him. He proposed, his friends said, to go carefully over his old ground in Central Asia, to make himself a complete master of the problems of Australasian colonisation, and especially to make a very profound and exhaustive study of the strange civilisations of China and Japan. He intended further to give a very considerable time to a leisurely investigation of the South American Republics. 'Why,' said Wynter, M.P., when one of Sir Rupert's friends told him of these plans, 'why, such a scheme will take several years.' 'Very likely,' the friend answered; and Wynter said, 'Oh, by Jove!' and whistled.
The scheme did take several years. At various intervals Sir Rupert wrote to his constituents long letters spangled with stirring allusions to the Empire, to England's meteor flag, to the inevitable triumph of the New Toryism, to the necessity a sincere British statesman was under of becoming a complete master of all the possible problems of a daily-increasing authority. He made some sharp thrusts at the weakness of the Government, but accused the Opposition of a lack of patriotism in trading upon that weakness; he almost chaffed the leader in the Lower House and the leader in the Lords; he made no allusion to Sidney Blenheim, then rapidly advancing along the road of success. He concluded each letter by offering to resign his seat if his constituents wished it.
His constituents did not wish it—at least, not at first. The Conservative committee returned him a florid address assuring him of their confidence in his statesmanship, but expressing the hope that he might be able speedily to return to represent them at Westminster, and the further hope that he might be able to see his way to reconcile his difficulties with the existing Government. To this address Sir Rupert sent a reply duly acknowledging its expression of confidence, but taking no notice of its suggestions. Time went on, and Sir Rupert did not return. He was heard of now and again; now in the court of some rajah in the North-West Provinces; now in the khanate of some Central Asian despot; now in South America, from which continent he sent a long letter to the 'Times,' giving an interesting account of the latest revolution in the Gloria Republic, of which he had happened to be an eye-witness; now in Java; now in Pekin; now at the Cape. He did not seem to pursue his idea of going round the world on any settled consecutive plan.
Of his large means there could be no doubt. He was probably one of the richest, as he was certainly one of the oldest, baronets in England, and he could afford to travel as if he were an accredited representative of the Queen—almost as if he were an American Midas of the fourth or fifth class. But as to his large leisure people began to say things. It began to be hinted in leading articles that it was scarcely fair that Sir Rupert's constituents should be disfranchised because it pleased a disappointed politician to drift idly about the world. These hints had their effect upon the disfranchised constituents, who began to grumble. The Conservative Committee was goaded almost to the point of addressing a remonstrance to Sir Rupert, then in the interior of Japan, urging him to return or resign, when the need for any such action was taken out of their hands by a somewhat unexpected General Election. Sir Rupert telegraphed back to announce his intention of remaining abroad for the present, and of not, therefore, proposing to seek just then the suffrages of the electors. Sidney Blenheim succeeded in getting a close personal friend of his own, who was also his private secretary, accepted by the Conservative Committee, and he was returned at the head of the poll by a slightly decreased majority.
Sir Rupert remained away from England for several years longer. After he had gone round the world in the most thorough sense, he revisited many places where he had been before, and stayed there for longer periods. It began to seem as if he did not really intend to return to England at all. His communications with his friends grew fewer and shorter, but wandering Parliamentarians in the recess occasionally came across him in the course of an extended holiday, and always found him affable, interested to animation in home politics, and always suggesting by his manner, though never in his speech, that he would some day return to his old place and his old fame. Of Sidney Blenheim he spoke with an equable, impartial composure.
At last one day he did come home. He had been in the United States during the closing years of the American Civil War, and in Washington, when peace was concluded, he had met at the English Ministry a young girl of great beauty, of a family that was old for America, that was wealthy, though not wealthy for America. He fell in love with her, wooed her, and was accepted. They were married in Washington, and soon after the marriage they returned to England. They settled down for a while at the old home of the Langleys, the home whose site had been the home of the race ever since the Conquest. Part of an old Norman tower still held itself erect amidst the Tudor, Elizabethan, and Victorian additions to the ancient place. It was called Queen's Langley now, had been so called ever since the days when, in the beginning of the Civil War, Henrietta Maria had been besieged there, during her visit to the then baronet, by a small party of Roundheads, and had successfully kept them off. Queen's Langley had been held during the Commonwealth by a member of the family, who had declared for the Parliament, but had gone back to the head of the house when he returned with his king at the Restoration.
At Queen's Langley Sir Rupert and his wife abode for a while, and at Queen's Langley a child was born to them, a girl child, who was christened after her mother, Helena. Then the taste for wandering, which had become almost a passion with Sir Rupert, took possession of Sir Rupert again. If he had expected to re-enter London in any kind of triumph he was disappointed. He had allowed himself to fall out of the race, and he found himself almost forgotten. Society, of course, received him almost rapturously, and his beautiful wife was the queen of a resplendent season. But politics seemed to have passed him by. The New Toryism of those youthful years was not very new Toryism now. Sidney Blenheim was a settled reactionary and a recognised celebrity. There was a New Toryism, with its new cave of strenuous, impetuous young men, and they, if they thought of Sir Rupert Langley at all, thought of him as old-fashioned, the hero or victim of a piece of ancient history.
Nevertheless, Sir Rupert had his thoughts of entering political life again, but in the meantime he was very happy. He had a steam yacht of his own, and when his little girl was three years old he and his wife went for a long cruise in the Mediterranean. And then his happiness was taken away from him. His wife suddenly sickened, died, unconscious, in his arms, and was buried at sea. Sir Rupert seemed like a broken man. From Alexandria he wrote to his sister, who was married to the Duke of Magdiel's third son, Lord Edmond Herrington, asking her to look after his child for him—the child was then with her aunt at Herrington Hall, in Argyllshire—in his absence. He sold his yacht, paid off his crew, and disappeared for two years.
During those two years he was believed to have wandered all over Egypt, and to have passed much of his time the hermit-like tenant of a tomb on the lovely, lonely island of Phylae, at the first cataract of the Nile. At the end of the two years he wrote to his sister that he was returning to Europe, to England, to his own home, and his own people. His little girl was then five years old.
He reappeared in England changed and aged, but a strong man still, with a more settled air of strength of purpose than he had worn in his wild youth. He found his little girl a pretty child, brilliantly healthy, brilliantly strong. The wind of the mountain, of the heather, of the woods, had quickened her with an enduring vitality very different from that of the delicate fair mother for whom his heart still grieved. Of course the little Helena did not remember her father, and was at first rather alarmed when Lady Edmond Herrington told her that a new papa was coming home for her from across the seas. But the feeling of fear passed away after the first meeting between father and child. The fascination which in his younger days Rupert Langley had exercised upon so many men and women, which had made him so much of a leader in his youth, affected the child powerfully. In a week she was as devoted to him as if she had never been parted from him.
Helena's education was what some people would call a strange education. She was never sent to school; she was taught, and taught much, at home, first by a succession of clever governesses, then by carefully chosen masters of many languages and many arts. In almost all things her father was her chief instructor. He was a man of varied accomplishments; he was a good linguist, and his years of wandering had made his attainments in language really colloquial; he had a rich and various store of information, gathered even more from personal experience than from books. His great purpose in life appeared to be to make his daughter as accomplished as himself. People had said at first when he returned that he would marry again, but the assumption proved to be wrong. Sir Rupert had made up his mind that he would never marry again, and he kept to his determination. There was an intense sentimentality in his strong nature; the sentimentality which led him to take his early defeat and the defection of Sidney Blenheim so much to heart had made him vow, on the day when the body of his fair young wife was lowered into the sea, changeless fidelity to her memory. Undoubtedly it was somewhat of a grief to him that there was no son to carry on his name; but he bore that grief in silence. He resolved, however, that his daughter should be in every way worthy of the old line which culminated in her; she should be a woman worthy to surrender the ancient name to some exceptional mortal; she should be worthy to be the wife of some great statesman.
In those years in which Helena Langley was growing up from childhood to womanhood, Sir Rupert returned to public life. The constituency in which Queen's Langley was situated was a Tory constituency which had been represented for nearly half a century by the same old Tory squire. The Tory squire had a grandson who was as uncompromisingly Radical as the squire was Tory; naturally he could not succeed, and would not contest the seat. Sir Rupert came forward, was eagerly accepted, and successfully returned. His reappearance in the House of Commons after so considerable an interval made some small excitement in Westminster, roused some comment in the press. It was fifteen years since he had left St. Stephen's; he thought curiously of the past as he took his place, not in that corner seat below the gangway, but on the second bench behind the Treasury Bench. His Toryism was now of a settled type; the Government, which had been a little apprehensive of his possible antagonism, found him a loyal and valuable supporter. He did not remain long behind the Treasury Bench. An important vacancy occurred in the Ministry; the post of Foreign Secretary was offered to and accepted by Sir Rupert. Years ago such a place would have seemed the highest goal of his ambition. Now he—accepted it. Once again he found himself a prominent man in the House of Commons, although under very different conditions from those of his old days.
In the meantime Helena grew in years and health, in beauty, in knowledge. Sir Rupert, as an infinite believer in the virtues of travel, took her with him every recess for extended expeditions to Europe, and, as she grew older, to other continents than Europe. By the time that she was twenty she knew much of the world from personal experience; she knew more of politics and political life than many politicians. After she was seventeen years old she began to make frequent appearances in the Ladies' Gallery, and to take long walks on the Terrace with her father. Sir Rupert delighted in her companionship, she in his; they were always happiest in each other's society. Sir Rupert had every reason to be proud of the graceful girl who united the beauty of her mother with the strength, the physical and mental strength, of her father.
It need surprise no one, it did not appear to surprise Sir Rupert, if such an education made Helena Langley what ill-natured people called a somewhat eccentric young woman. Brought up on a manly system of education, having a man for her closest companion, learning much of the world at an early age, naturally tended to develop and sustain the strongly marked individuality of her character. Now, at three-and-twenty, she was one of the most remarkable girls in England, one of the best-known girls in London. Her independence, both of thought and of action, her extended knowledge, her frankness of speech, her slightly satirical wit, her frequent and vehement enthusiasms for the most varied pursuits and pleasures, were much commented on, much admired by some, much disapproved of by others. She had many friends among women and more friends among men, and these were real friendships, not flirtations, nor love affairs of any kind. Whatever things Helena Langley did there was one thing she never did—she never flirted. Many men had been in love with her and had told their love, and had been laughed at or pitied according to the degree of their deserts, but no one of them could honestly say that Helena had in any way encouraged his love-making, or tempted him with false hopes, unless indeed the masculine frankness of her friendship was an encouragement and a treacherous temptation. One and all, she unhesitatingly refused her adorers. 'My father is the most interesting man I know,' she once said to a discomfited and slightly despairing lover. 'Till I find some other man as interesting as he is, I shall never think of marriage. And really I am sure you will not take it in bad part if I say that I do not find you as interesting a man as my father.' The discomfited adorer did not take it amiss; he smiled ruefully, and took his departure; but, to his credit be it spoken, he remained Helena's friend.
'MY GREAT DEED WAS TOO GREAT'
The luncheon hour was an important epoch of the day in the Langley house in Prince's Gate. The Langley luncheons were an institution in London life ever since Sir Rupert bought the big Queen Anne house and made his daughter its mistress. As he said himself good-humouredly, he was a mere Roi Faineant in the place; his daughter was the Mayor of the Palace, the real ruling power.
Helena Langley ruled the great house with the most gracious autocracy. She had everything her own way and did everything in her own way. She was a little social Queen, with a Secretary of State for her Prime Minister, and she enjoyed her sovereignty exceedingly. One of the great events of her reign was the institution of what came to be known as the Langley luncheons.
These luncheons differed from ordinary luncheons in this, that those who were bidden to them were in the first instance almost always interesting people—people who had done something more than merely exist, people who had some other claim upon human recognition than the claim of ancient name or of immense wealth. In the second place, the people who were bidden to a Langley luncheon were of the most varied kind, people of the most different camps in social, in political life. At the Langley table statesmen who hated each other across the floor of the House sat side by side in perfect amity. The heir to the oldest dukedom in England met there the latest champion of the latest phase of democratic socialism; the great tragedian from the Acropolis met the low comedian from the Levity on terms of as much equality as if they had met at the Macklin or the Call-Boy clubs; the President of the Royal Academy was amused by, and afforded much amusement to, the newest child of genius fresh from Paris, with the slang of the Chat Noir upon his lips and the scorn of les vieux in his heart. Whig and Tory, Catholic and Protestant, millionaire and bohemian, peer with a peerage old at Runnymede and the latest working-man M.P., all came together under the regal republicanism of Langley House. Someone said that a party at Langley House always suggested to him the Day of Judgment.
On the afternoon of the morning on which Sir Rupert's card was left at Paulo's Hotel, various guests assembled for luncheon in Miss Langley's Japanese drawing-room. The guests were not numerous—the luncheons at Langley House were never large parties. Eight, including the host and hostess, was the number rarely exceeded; eight, including the host and hostess, made up the number in this instance. Mr. and Mrs. Selwyn, the distinguished and thoroughly respectable actor and actress, just returned from their tour in the United States; the Duke and Duchess of Deptford—the Duchess was a young and pretty American woman; Mr. Soame Rivers, Sir Rupert's private secretary; and Mr. Hiram Borringer, who had just returned from one expedition to the South Pole, and who was said to be organising another.
When the ringing of a chime of bells from a Buddhist's temple announced luncheon, and everyone had settled down in the great oak room, where certain of the ancestral Langleys, gentlemen and ladies of the last century, whom Reynolds and Gainsborough and Romney and Raeburn had painted, had been brought up from Queen's Langley at Helena's special wish, the company seemed to be under special survey. There was one vice-admiral of the Red who was leaning on a Doric pillar, with a spy-glass in his hand, apparently wholly indifferent to a terrific naval battle that was raging in the background; all his shadowy attention seemed to be devoted to the mortals who moved and laughed below him. There was something in the vice-admiral which resembled Sir Rupert, but none of the lovely ladies on the wall were as beautiful as Helena.
Mrs. Selwyn spoke with that clear, bell-like voice which always enraptured an audience. Every assemblage of human beings was to her an audience, and she addressed them accordingly. Now, she practically took the stage, leaning forward between the Duke of Deptford and Hiram Borringer, and addressing Helena Langley.
'My dear Miss Langley,' she said, 'do you know that something has surprised me to-day?'
'What is it?' Helena asked, turning away from Mr. Selwyn, to whom she had been talking.
'Why, I felt sure,' Mrs. Selwyn went on, 'to meet someone here to-day. I am quite disappointed—quite.'
Everyone looked at Mrs. Selwyn with interest. She had the stage all to herself, and was enjoying the fact exceedingly. Helena gazed at her with a note of interrogation in each of her bright eyes, and another in each corner of her sensitive mouth.
'I made perfectly sure that I should meet him here to-day. I said to Harry first thing this morning, when I saw the name in the paper, "Harry," I said, "we shall be sure to meet him at Sir Rupert's this afternoon." Now did I not, Harry?'
Mr. Selwyn, thus appealed to, admitted that his wife had certainly made the remark she now quoted.
Mrs. Selwyn beamed gratitude and affection for his endorsement. Then she turned to Miss Langley again.
'Why isn't he here, my dear Miss Langley, why?' Then she added, 'You know you always have everybody before anybody else, don't you?'
Helena shook her head.
'I suppose it's very stupid of me,' she said, 'but, really, I'm afraid I don't know who your "he" is. Is your "he" a hero?'
Mrs. Selwyn laughed playfully. 'Oh, now your very words show that you do know whom I mean.'
'Indeed I don't.'
'Why, that wonderful man whom you admire so much, the illustrious exile, the hero of the hour, the new Napoleon.'
'I know whom you mean,' said Soame Rivers. 'You mean the Dictator of Gloria?'
'Of course. Whom else?' said Mrs. Selwyn, clapping her hands enthusiastically. The Duke gave a sigh of relief, and Hiram Borringer, who had been rather silent, seemed to shake himself into activity at the mention of Gloria. Mr. Selwyn said nothing, but watched his wife with the wondering admiration which some twenty years of married life had done nothing to diminish.
The least trace of increased colour came into Helena's cheeks, but she returned Mrs. Selwyn's smiling glances composedly.
'The Dictator,' she said. 'Why did you expect to see him here to-day?'
'Why, because I saw his name in the "Morning Post" this very morning. It said he had arrived in London last night from Paris. I felt morally certain that I should meet him here to-day.'
'I am sorry you should be disappointed,' Helena said, laughing, 'but perhaps we shall be able to make amends for the disappointment another day. Papa called upon him this morning.'
Sir Rupert, sitting opposite his daughter, smiled at this. 'Did I really?' he asked. 'I was not aware of it.'
'Oh, yes, you did, papa; or, at least, I did for you.'
Sir Rupert's face wore a comic expression of despair. 'Helena, Helena, why?'
'Because he is one of the most interesting men existing.'
'And because he is down on his luck, too,' said the Duchess. 'I guess that always appeals to you.' The beautiful American girl had not shaken off all the expressions of her fatherland.
'But, I say,' said Selwyn, who seemed to think that the subject called for statesmanlike comment, 'how will it do for a pillar of the Government to be extending the hand of fellowship——'
'To a defeated man,' interrupted Helena. 'Oh, that won't matter one bit. The affairs of Gloria are hardly likely to be a grave international question for us, and in the meantime it is only showing a courtesy to a man who is at once an Englishman and a stranger.'
A slightly ironical 'Hear, Hear,' came from Soame Rivers, who did not love enthusiasm.
Sir Rupert followed suit good-humouredly.
'Where is he stopping?' asked Sir Rupert.
'At Paulo's Hotel, papa.'
'Paulo's Hotel,' said Mrs. Selwyn; 'that seems to be quite the place for exiled potentates to put up at. The ex-King of Capri stopped there during his recent visit, and the chiefs from Mashonaland.'
'And Don Herrera de la Mancha, who claims the throne of Spain,' said the Duke.
'And the Rajah of Khandur,' added Mrs. Selwyn, 'and the Herzog of Hesse-Steinberg, and ever so many more illustrious personages. Why do they all go to Paulo's?'
'I can tell you,' said Soame Rivers. 'Because Paulo's is one of the best hotels in London, and Paulo is a wonderful man. He knows how to make coffee in a way that wins a foreigner's heart, and he understands the cooking of all sorts of eccentric foreign dishes; and, though he is as rich as a Chicago pig-dealer, he looks after everything himself, and isn't in the least ashamed of having been a servant himself. I think he was a Portuguese originally.'
'And our Dictator went there?' Mrs. Selwyn questioned.
Soame Rivers answered her, 'Oh, it is the right thing to do; it poses a distinguished exile immediately. Quite the right thing. He was well advised.'