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A Prince of Sinners
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A PRINCE OF SINNERS

by

E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM



Contents

PART I.

I. Mr. Kingston Brooks, Political Agent II. The Bullsom Family at Home III. Kingston Brooks has a Visitor IV. A Question for the Country V. The Marquis of Arranmore VI. The Man who went to Hell VII. A Thousand Pounds VIII. Kingston Brooks makes Inquiries IX. Henslow speaks out X. A Tempting Offer XI. Who the Devil is Brooks? XII. Mr. Bullsom gives a Dinner-party XIII. Charity the "Crime" XIV. An Awkward Question XV. A Supper-party at the "Queen's" XVI. Uncle and Niece XVII. Fifteen Years in Hell XVIII. Mary Scott pays an Unexpected Call XIX. The Marquis Mephistopheles XX. The Confidence of Lord Arranmore

PART II.

I. Lord Arranmore's Amusements II. The Heckling of Henslow III. Mary Scott's Two Visitors IV. A Marquis on Matrimony V. Brooks enlists a Recruit VI. Kingston Brooks, Philanthropist VII. Brooks and his Missions VIII. Mr. Bullsom is Staggered IX. Ghosts X. A New Don Quixote

PART III.

I. An Aristocratic Recruit II. Mr. Lavilette interferes III. The Singular Behaviour of Mary Scott IV. Lord Arranmore in a New Role V. Lady Sybil lends a Hand VI. The Reservation of Mary Scott VII. Father and Son VIII. The Advice of Mr. Bullsom IX. A Question and an Answer X. Lady Sybil says "Yes" XI. Brooks hears the News XII. The Prince of Sinners speaks out



A Prince of Sinners

PART I

CHAPTER I

MR. KINGSTON BROOKS, POLITICAL AGENT

Already the sweepers were busy in the deserted hall, and the lights burned low. Of the great audience who had filled the place only half-an-hour ago not one remained. The echoes of their tumultuous cheering seemed still to linger amongst the rafters, the dust which their feet had raised hung about in a little cloud. But the long rows of benches were empty, the sweepers moved ghostlike amongst the shadows, and an old woman was throwing tealeaves here and there about the platform. In the committee-room behind a little group of men were busy with their leave-takings. The candidate, a tall, somewhat burly man, with hard, shrewd face and loosely knit figure, was shaking hands with every one. His tone and manner savoured still of the rostrum.

"Good-night, sir! Good-night, Mr. Bullsom! A most excellent introduction, yours, sir! You made my task positively easy. Good-night, Mr. Brooks. A capital meeting, and everything very well arranged. Personally I feel very much obliged to you, sir. If you carry everything through as smoothly as this affair to-night, I can see that we shall lose nothing by poor Morrison's breakdown. Good-night, gentlemen, to all of you. We will meet at the club at eleven o'clock to-morrow morning. Eleven o'clock precisely, if you please."

The candidate went out to his carriage, and the others followed in twos and threes. A young man, pale, with nervous mouth, strongly-marked features and clear dark eyes, looked up from a sheaf of letters which he was busy sorting.

"Don't wait for me, Mr. Bullsom," he said. "Reynolds will let me out, and I had better run through these letters before I leave."

Mr. Bullsom was emphatic to the verge of gruffness.

"You'll do nothing of the sort," he declared. "I tell you what it is, Brooks. We're not going to let you knock yourself up. You're tackling this job in rare style. I can tell you that Henslow is delighted."

"I'm much obliged to you for saying so, Mr. Bullsom," the young man answered. "Of course the work is strange to me, but it is very interesting, and I don't mean to make a mess of it."

"There is only one chance of your doing that," Mr. Bullsom rejoined, "and that is if you overwork yourself. You need a bit of looking after. You've got a rare head on your shoulders, and I'm proud to think that I was the one to bring your name before the committee. But I'm jolly well certain of one thing. You've done all the work a man ought to do in one day. Now listen to me. Here's my carriage waiting, and you're going straight home with me to have a bite and a glass of wine. We can't afford to lose our second agent, and I can see what's the matter with you. You're as pale as a ghost, and no wonder. You've been at it all day and never a break."

The young man called Brooks had not the energy to frame a refusal, which he knew would be resented. He took down his overcoat, and stuffed the letters into his pocket.

"You're very good," he said. "I'll come up for an hour with pleasure."

They passed out together into the street, and Mr. Bullsom opened the door of his carriage.

"In with you, young man," he exclaimed. "Home, George!"

Kingston Brooks leaned back amongst the cushions with a little sigh of relief.

"This is very restful," he remarked. "We have certainly had a very busy day. The inside of electioneering may be disenchanting, but it's jolly hard work."

Mr. Bullsom sat with clasped hands in front of him resting upon that slight protuberance which denoted the advent of a stomach. He had thrown away the cigar which he had lit in the committee-room. Mrs. Bullsom did not approve of smoking in the covered wagonette, which she frequently honoured with her presence.

"There's nothing in the world worth having that hasn't to be worked for, my boy," he declared, good-humoredly.

"By other people!" Brooks remarked, smiling.

"That's as it may be," Mr. Bullsom admitted. "To my mind that's where the art of the thing comes in. Any fool can work, but it takes a shrewd man to keep a lot of others working hard for him while he pockets the oof himself."

"I suppose," the younger man remarked, thoughtfully, "that you would consider Mr. Henslow a shrewd man?"

"Shrewd! Oh, Henslow's shrewd enough. There's no question about that!"

"And honest?"

Mr. Bullsom hesitated. He drew his hand down his stubbly grey beard.

"Honest! Oh, yes, he's honest! You've no fault to find with him, eh?"

"None whatever," Brooks hastened to say. "You see," he continued more slowly, "I have never been really behind the scenes in this sort of thing before, and Henslow has such a very earnest manner in speaking. He talked to the working men last night as though his one desire in life was to further the different radical schemes which we have on the programme. Why, the tears were actually in his eyes when he spoke of the Old Age Pension Bill. He told them over and over again that the passing of that Bill was the one object of his political career. Then, you know, there was the luncheon to-day—and I fancied that he was a little flippant about the labour vote. It was perhaps only his way of speaking."

Mr. Bullsom smiled and rubbed the carriage window with the cuff of his coat. He was very hungry.

"Oh, well, a politician has to trim a little, you know," he remarked. "Votes he must have, and Henslow has a very good idea how to get them. Here we are, thank goodness." The carriage had turned up a short drive, and deposited them before the door of a highly ornate villa. Mr. Bullsom led the way indoors, and himself took charge of his guest's coat and hat. Then he opened the door of the drawing-room.

"Mrs. Bullsom and the girls," he remarked, urbanely, "will be delighted to see you. Come in!"



CHAPTER II

THE BULLSOM FAMILY AT HOME

There were fans upon the wall, and much bric-a-brac of Oriental shape but Brummagem finish, a complete suite of drawing-room furniture, incandescent lights of fierce brilliancy, and a pianola. Mrs. Peter Bullsom, stout and shiny in black silk and a chatelaine, was dozing peacefully in a chair, with the latest novel from the circulating library in her lap; whilst her two daughters, in evening blouses, which were somehow suggestive of the odd elevenpence, were engrossed in more serious occupation. Louise, the elder, whose budding resemblance to her mother was already a protection against the over-amorous youths of the town, was reading a political speech in the Times. Selina, who had sandy hair, a slight figure, and was considered by her family the essence of refinement, was struggling with a volume of Cowper, who had been recommended to her by a librarian with a sense of humour, as a poet unlikely to bring a blush into her virginal cheeks. Mr. Bullsom looked in upon his domestic circle with pardonable pride, and with a little flourish introduced his guest.

"Mrs. Bullsom," he said, "this is my young friend, Kingston Brooks. My two daughters, sir, Louise and Selina." The ladies were gracious, but had the air of being taken by surprise, which, considering Mr. Bullsom's parting words a few hours ago, seemed strange.

"We've had a great meeting," Mr. Bullsom remarked, sidling towards the hearthrug, and with his thumbs already stealing towards the armholes of his waistcoat, "a great meeting, my dears. Not that I am surprised! Oh, no! As I said to Padgett, when he insisted that I should take the chair, 'Padgett,' I said, 'mark my words, we're going to surprise the town. Mr. Henslow may not be the most popular candidate we've ever had, but he's on the right side, and those who think Radicalism has had its day in Medchester will be amazed.' And so they have been. I've dropped a few hints during my speeches at the ward meetings lately, and Mr. Brooks, though he's new at the work, did his best, and I can tell you the result was a marvel. The hall was packed—simply packed. When I rose to speak there wasn't an empty place or chair to be seen."

"Dear me!" Mrs. Bullsom remarked, affably. "Supper is quite ready, my love."

Mr. Bullsom abandoned his position precipitately, and his face expressed his lively satisfaction.

"Ah!" he exclaimed. "I was hoping that you would have a bite for me. As I said to Mr. Brooks when I asked him to drop in with me, there's sure to be something to eat. And I can tell you I'm about ready for it."

Brooks found an opportunity to speak almost for the first time. He was standing between the two Misses Bullsom, and already they had approved of him. He was distinctly of a different class from the casual visitors whom their father was in the habit of introducing into the family circle.

"Mr. Bullsom was kind enough to take pity on an unfortunate bachelor," he said, with a pleasant smile. "My landlady has few faults, but an over-love of punctuality is one of them. By this time she and her household are probably in bed. Our meeting lasted a long time."

"If you will touch the bell, Peter," Mrs. Bullsom remarked, "Ann shall dish up the supper."

The young ladies exchanged shocked glances. "Dish up." What an abominable phrase! They looked covertly at their guest, but his face was imperturbable.

"We think that we have been very considerate, Mr. Brooks," Selina remarked, with an engaging smile. "We gave up our usual dinner this evening as papa had to leave so early."

Mr. Brooks smiled as he offered his arm to Mrs. Bullsom—a courtesy which much embarrassed her.

"I think," he said, "that we shall be able to show you some practical appreciation of your thoughtfulness. I know nothing so stimulating to the appetite as politics, and to-day we have been so busy that I missed even my afternoon tea."

"I'm sure that we are quite repaid for giving up our dinner," Selina remarked, with a backward glance at the young man. "Oh, here you are at last, Mary. I didn't hear you come in."

"My niece, Miss Scott," Mr. Bullsom announced. "Now you know all the family."

A plainly-dressed girl with dark eyes and unusually pale cheeks returned his greeting quietly, and followed them into the dining-room. Mrs. Bullsom spread herself over her seat with a little sigh of relief. Brooks gazed in silent wonder at the gilt-framed oleographs which hung thick upon the walls, and Mr. Bullsom stood up to carve a joint of beef.

"Plain fare, Mr. Brooks, for plain people," he remarked, gently elevating the sirloin on his fork, and determining upon a point of attack. "We don't understand frills here, but we've a welcome for our friends, and a hearty one."

"If there is anything in the world better than roast beef," Brooks remarked, unfolding his serviette, "I haven't found it."

"There's one thing," Mr. Bullsom remarked, pausing for a moment in his labours, "I can give you a good glass of wine. Ann, I think that if you look in the right-hand drawer of the sideboard you will find a bottle of champagne. If not I'll have to go down into the cellar."

Ann, however, produced it—which, considering that Mr. Bullsom had carefully placed it there a few hours ago, was not extraordinary—and Brooks sipped the wine with inward tremors, justified by the result.

"I suppose, Mr. Brooks," Selina remarked, turning towards him in an engaging fashion, "that you are a great politician. I see your name so much in the papers."

Brooks smiled.

"My political career," he answered, "dates from yesterday morning. I am taking Mr. Morrison's place, you know, as agent for Mr. Henslow. I have never done anything of the sort before, and I have scarcely any claims to be considered a politician at all."

"A very lucky change for us, Brooks," Mr. Bullsom declared, with the burly familiarity which he considered justified by his position as chairman of the Radical committee. "Poor Morrison was past the job. It was partly through his muddling that we lost the seat at the last election. I'd made up my mind to have a change this time, and so I told 'em."

Brooks was tired of politics, and he looked across the table. This pale girl with the tired eyes and self-contained manner interested him. The difference, too, between her and the rest of the family was puzzling.

"I believe, Miss Scott," he said, "that I met you at the Stuarts' dance."

"I was there," she admitted. "I don't think I danced with you, but we had supper at the same table."

"I remember it perfectly," he said. "Wasn't it supposed to be a very good dance?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"I believe so," she answered. "There was the usual fault—too many girls. But it was very pretty to watch."

"You do not care for dancing, yourself, perhaps?" he hazarded.

"Indeed I do," she declared. "But I knew scarcely any one there. I see a good deal of Kate sometimes, but the others I scarcely know at all."

"You were in the same position as I was, then," he answered, smiling.

"Oh, you—you are different," she remarked. "I mean that you are a man, and at a dance that means everything. That is why I rather dislike dances. We are too dependent upon you. If you would only let us dance alone."

Selina smiled in a superior manner. She would have given a good deal to have been invited to the dance in question, but that was a matter which she did not think it worth while to mention.

"My dear Mary!" she said, "what an idea. I am quite sure that when you go out with us you need never have any difficulty about partners."

"Our programmes for the Liberal Club Dance and the County Cricket Ball were full before we had been in the room five minutes," Louise interposed.

Mary smiled inwardly, but said nothing, and Brooks was quite sure then that she was different. He realized too that her teeth were perfect, and her complexion, notwithstanding its pallor, was faultless. She would have been strikingly good-looking but for her mouth, and that—was it a discontented or a supercilious curl? At any rate it disappeared when she smiled.

"May I ask whether you have been attending a political meeting this evening, Miss Scott?" he asked. "You came in after us, I think."

She shook her head.

"No, I have a class on Wednesday evening."

"A class!" he repeated, doubtfully.

Mr. Bullsom, who thought he had been out of the conversation long enough, interposed.

"Mary calls herself a bit of a philanthropist, you see, Mr. Brooks," he explained. "Goes down into Medchester and teaches factory girls to play the piano on Wednesday evenings. Much good may it do them."

There was a curious gleam in the girl's eyes for a moment which checked the words on Brooks' lips, and led him to precipitately abandon the conversation. But afterwards, while Selina was pedalling at the pianola and playing havoc with the expression-stops, he crossed the room and stood for a moment by her chair.

"I should like you to tell me about your class," he said. "I have several myself—of different sorts."

She closed her magazine, but left her finger in the place.

"Oh, mine is a very unambitious undertaking," she said. "Kate Stuart and I started it for the girls in her father's factory, and we aim at nothing higher than an attempt to direct their taste in fiction. They bring their Free Library lists to us, and we mark them together. Then we all read one more serious book at the same time—history or biography—and talk about it when we meet."

"It is an excellent idea," he said, earnestly. "By the bye, something occurs to me. You know, or rather you don't know, that I give free lectures on certain books or any simple literary subject on Wednesday evenings at the Secular Hall when this electioneering isn't on. Couldn't you bring your girls one evening? I would be guided in my choice of a subject by you."

"Yes, I should like that," she answered, "and I think the girls would. It is very good of you to suggest it."

Louise, with a great book under her arm, deposited her dumpy person in a seat by his side, and looked up at him with a smile of engaging candour.

"Mr. Brooks," she said, "I am going to do a terrible thing. I am going to show you some of my sketches and ask your opinion."

Brooks turned towards her without undue enthusiasm.

"It is very good of you, Miss Bullsom," he said, doubtfully; "but I never drew a straight line in my life, and I know nothing whatever about perspective. My opinion would be worse than worthless."

Louise giggled artlessly, and turned over the first few pages.

"You men all say that at first," she declared, "and then you turn out such terrible critics. I declare I'm afraid to show them to you, after all."

Brooks scarcely showed that desire to overcome her new resolution which politeness demanded. But Selina came tripping across the room, and took up her position on the other side of him.

"You must show them now you've brought them out, Louise," she declared. "I am sure that Mr. Brooks' advice will be most valuable. But mind, if you dare to show mine, I'll tear them into pieces."

"I wasn't going to, dear," Louise declared, a little tartly. "Shall I begin at the beginning, Mr. Brooks, or—"

"Oh, don't show those first few, dear," Selina exclaimed. "You know they're not nearly so good as some of the others. That mill is all out of drawing."

Mary, who had been elbowed into the background, rose quietly and crossed to the other end of the room. Brooks followed her for a moment with regretful eyes. Her simple gown, with the little piece of ribbon around her graceful neck, seemed almost distinguished by comparison with the loud-patterned and dressier blouses of the two girls who had now hemmed him in. For a moment he ignored the waiting pages.

"Your cousin," he remarked, "is quite unlike any of you. Has she been with you long?"

Louise looked up a little tartly.

"Oh, about three years. You are quite right when you say that she is unlike any of us. It doesn't seem nice to complain about her exactly, but she really is terribly trying, isn't she, Selina?"

Selina nodded, and dropped her voice.

"She is getting worse," she declared. "She is becoming a positive trouble to us."

Brooks endeavoured to look properly sympathetic, and considered himself justified in pursuing the conversation. "Indeed! May I ask in what way?"

"Oh, she has such old-fashioned ideas," Louise said, confidentially. "I've quite lost patience with her, and so has Selina; haven't you, dear? She never goes to parties if she can help it, she is positively rude to all our friends, and the sarcastic things she says sometimes are most unpleasant. You know, papa is very, very good to her."

"Yes, indeed," Selina interrupted. "You know, Mr. Brooks, she has no father and mother, and she was living quite alone in London when papa found her out and brought her here—and in the most abject poverty. I believe he found her in a garret. Fancy that!"

"And now," Louise continued, "he allows her for her clothes exactly the same as he does us—and look at her. Would you believe it, now? She is like that nearly every evening, although we have friends dropping in continually. Of course I don't believe in extravagance, but if a girl has relations who are generous enough to give her the means, I do think that, for their sake, she ought to dress properly. I think that she owes it to them, as well as to herself."

"And out of doors it is positively worse," Selina whispered, impressively. "I declare," she added, with a simper, "that although nobody can say that I am proud, there are times when I am positively ashamed to be seen out with her. What she does with her money I can't imagine."

Brooks, who was something of a critic in such matters, and had recognized the art of her severely simple gown, smiled to himself. He was wise enough, however, not to commit himself.

"Perhaps," he suggested, "she thinks that absolute simplicity suits her best. She has a nice figure."

Selina tossed her much-beaded slipper impatiently.

"Heaven only knows what Mary does think," she exclaimed, impatiently.

"And Heaven only knows what I am to say about these," Brooks groaned inwardly, as the sketch-book fell open before him at last, and its contents were revealed to his astonished eyes.



CHAPTER III

KINGSTON BROOKS HAS A VISITOR

Kingston Brooks was twenty-five years old, strong, nervous, and with a strenuous desire to make his way so far as was humanly possible into the heart of life. He was a young solicitor recently established in Medchester, without friends save those he was now making, and absolutely without interest of any sort. He had a small capital, and already the beginnings of a practice. He had some sort of a reputation as a speaker, and was well spoken of by those who had entrusted business to him. Yet he was still fighting for a living when this piece of luck had befallen him. Mr. Bullsom had entrusted a small case to him, and found him capable and cheap. Amongst that worthy gentleman's chief characteristics was a decided weakness for patronizing younger and less successful men, and he went everywhere with Kingston Brooks' name on his lips. Then came the election, and the sudden illness of Mr. Morrison, who had always acted as agent for the Radical candidates for the borough. Another agent had to be found. Several who would have been suitable were unavailable. An urgent committee meeting was held, and Mr. Bullsom at once called attention to an excellent little speech of Kingston Brooks' at a ward meeting on the previous night. In an hour he was closeted with the young lawyer, and the affair was settled. Brooks knew that henceforth the material side of his career would be comparatively easy sailing.

He had accepted his good fortune with something of the same cheerful philosophy with which he had seen difficulty loom up in his path a few months ago. But to-night, on his way home from Mr. Bullsom's suburban residence, a different mood possessed him. Usually a self-contained and somewhat gravely minded person, to-night the blood went tingling through his veins with a new and unaccustomed warmth. He carried himself blithely, the cool night air was so grateful and sweet to him that he had no mind even to smoke. There seemed to be no tangible reason for the change. The political excitement, which a few weeks ago he had begun to feel exhilarating, had for him decreased now that his share in it lay behind the scenes, and he found himself wholly occupied with the purely routine work of the election. Nor was there any sufficient explanation to be found in the entertainment which he had felt himself bound to accept at Mr. Bullsom's hands. Of the wine, which had been only tolerable, he had drunk, as was his custom, sparingly, and of Mary Scott, who had certainly interested him in a manner which the rest of the family had not, he had after all seen but very little. He found himself thinking with fervor of the desirable things in life, never had the various tasks which he had set himself seemed so easy an accomplishment, his own powers more real and alive. And beneath it all he was conscious of a vague sense of excitement, a nervous dancing of the blood, as though even now the time were at hand when he might find himself in touch with some of the greater forces of life, all of which he intended some day to realize. It was delightful after all to be young and strong, to be stripped for the race in the morning of life, when every indrawn breath seems sweet with the perfume of beautiful things, and the heart is tuned to music.

The fatigue of the day was wholly forgotten. He was surprised indeed when he found himself in the little street where his rooms were. A small brougham was standing at the corner, the liveries and horse of which, though quiet enough, caused him a moment's surprise as being superior to the ordinary equipages of the neighborhood. He passed on to the sober-fronted house where he lived, and entering with his latch-key made his way to his study. Immediately he entered he was conscious of a man comfortably seated in his easy-chair, and apparently engrossed in a magazine.

He advanced towards him inquiringly, and his visitor, carefully setting down the magazine, rose slowly to his feet. The young man's surprise at finding his rooms occupied was increased by the appearance of his visitor. He was apparently of more than middle age, with deeply-lined face, tall, and with an expression the coldness of which was only slightly mitigated by a sensitive mouth that seemed at once cynical and humorous. He was of more than ordinary height, and dressed in the plainest dinner garb of the day, but his dinner jacket, his black tie and the set of his shirt were revelations to Brooks, who dealt only with the Medchester tradespeople. He did not hold out his hand, but he eyed Brooks with a sort of critical survey, which the latter found a little disconcerting.

"You wished to see me, sir?" Brooks asked. "My name is Kingston Brooks, and these are my rooms."

"So I understood," the new-comer replied imperturbably. "I called about an hour ago, and took the liberty of awaiting your return."

Brooks sat down. His vis-a-vis was calmly selecting a cigarette from a capacious case. Brooks found himself offering a light and accepting a cigarette himself, the flavour of which he at once appreciated.

"Can I offer you a whisky-and-soda?" he inquired.

"I thank you, no," was the quiet reply.

There was a short pause.

"You wished to see me on some business connected with the election, no doubt?" Brooks suggested.

His visitor shook his head slowly. He knocked the ash from his cigarette and smiled whimsically.

"My dear fellow," he said, "I haven't the least idea why I came to see you this evening."

Brooks felt that he had a right to be puzzled, and he looked it. But his visitor was so evidently a gentleman and a person of account, that the obvious rejoinder did not occur to him. He merely waited with uplifted eyebrows.

"Not the least idea," his visitor repeated, still smiling. "But at the same time I fancy that before I leave you I shall find myself explaining, or endeavouring to explain, not why I am here, but why I have not visited you before. What do you think of that?"

"I find it," Brooks answered, "enigmatic but interesting."

"Exactly. Well, I hate talking, so my explanation will not be a tedious one. Your name is Kingston Brooks."

"Yes."

"Your mother's name was Dorothy Kenneir. She was, before her marriage, the matron of a home in the East End of London, and a lady devoted to philanthropic work. Your father was a police-court missionary."

Brooks was leaning a little forward in his chair. These things were true enough. Who was his visitor?

"Your father, through over-devotion to the philanthropic works in which he was engaged, lost his reason temporarily, and on his partial recovery I understand that the doctors considered him still to be mentally in a very weak state. They ordered him a sea voyage. He left England on the Corinthia fifteen years ago, and I believe that you heard nothing more of him until you received the news of his death—probably ten years back."

"Yes! Ten years ago.

"Your mother, I think, lived for only a few months after your father left England. You found a guardian in Mr. Ascough of Lincoln's Inn Fields. There my knowledge of your history ceases.

"How do you know these things?" Brooks asked.

"I was with your father when he died. It was I who wrote to you and sent his effects to England."

"You were there—in Canada?"

"Yes. I had a dwelling within a dozen miles of where your father had built his hut by the side of the great lake. He was the only other Englishman within a hundred miles. So I was with him often."

"It is wonderful—after all these years," Brooks exclaimed. "You were there for sport, of course?"

"For sport!" his visitor repeated in a colourless tone.

"But my father—what led him there? Why did he cut himself off from every one, send no word home, creep away into that lone country to die by himself? It is horrible to think of."

"Your father was not a communicative man. He spoke of his illness. I always considered him as a person mentally shattered. He spent his days alone, looking out across the lake or wandering in the woods. He had no companions, of course, but there were always animals around him. He had the look of a man who had suffered."

"He was to have gone to Australia," Brooks said. "It was from there that we expected news from him. I cannot see what possible reason he had for changing his plans. There was no mystery about his life in London. It was one splendid record of self-denial and devotion to what he thought his duty."

"From what he told me," his vis-a-vis continued, handing again his cigarette-case, and looking steadily into the fire, "he seems to have left England with the secret determination never to return. But why I do not know. One thing is certain. His mental state was not altogether healthy. His desire for solitude was almost a passion. Towards the end, however, his mind was clear enough. He told me about your mother and you, and he handed me all the papers, which I subsequently sent to London. He spoke of no trouble, and his transition was quite peaceful."

"It was a cruel ending," Brooks said, quietly. "There were people in London whom he had befriended who would have worked their passage out and faced any hardships to be with him. And my mother, notwithstanding his desertion, believed in him to the last."

There was a moment's intense silence. This visitor who had come so strangely was to all appearance a man not easily to be moved. Yet Brooks fancied that the long white fingers were trembling, and that the strange quiet of his features was one of intense self-repression. His tone when he spoke again, however, was clear, and almost indifferent.

"I feel," he said, "that it would have been only decently courteous of me to have sought you out before, although I have, as you see, nothing whatever to add to the communications I sent you. But I have not been a very long time in England, and I have a very evil habit of putting off things concerning which there is no urgency. I called at Ascough's, and learned that you were in practice in Medchester. I am now living for a short time not far from here, and reading of the election, I drove in to-night to attend one of the meetings—I scarcely cared which. I heard your name, saw you on the platform, and called here, hoping to find you."

"It was very kind," Brooks said.

He felt curiously tongue-tied. This sudden upheaval of a past which he had never properly understood affected him strangely.

"I gathered from Mr. Ascough that you were left sufficient means to pay for your education, and also to start you in life," his visitor continued. "Yours is considered to be an overcrowded profession, but I am glad to understand that you seem likely to make your way."

Brooks thanked him absently.

"From your position on the platform to-night I gather that you are a politician?"

"Scarcely that," Brooks answered. "I was fortunate enough to be appointed agent to Mr. Henslow owing to the illness of another man. It will help me in my profession."

The visitor rose to his feet. He stood with his hands behind him, looking at the younger man. And Brooks suddenly remembered that he did not even know his name.

"You will forgive me," he said, also rising, "if I have seemed a little dazed. I am very grateful to you for coming. I have always wanted more than anything in the world to meet some one who saw my father after he left England. There is so much which even now seems mysterious with regard to his disappearance from the world."

"I fear that you will never discover more than you have done from me," was the quiet reply. "Your father had been living for years in profound solitude when I found him. Frankly, I considered from the first that his mind was unhinged. Therein I fancy lies the whole explanation of his silence and his voluntary disappearance. I am assuming, of course, that there was nothing in England to make his absence desirable."

"There was nothing," Brooks declared with conviction. "That I can personally vouch for. His life as a police-court missionary was the life of a militant martyr's, the life of a saint. The urgent advice of his physicians alone led him to embark upon that voyage; I see now that it was a mistake. He left before he had sufficiently recovered to be safely trusted alone. By the bye," Brooks continued, after a moment's hesitation, "you have not told me your name, whom I have to thank for this kindness. Your letters from Canada were not signed."

There was a short silence. From outside came the sound of the pawing of horses' feet and the jingling of harness.

"I was a fellow-traveller in that great unpeopled world," the visitor said, "and there was nothing but common humanity in anything I did. I lived out there as Philip Ferringshaw, here I have to add my title, the Marquis of Arranmore. I was a younger son in those days. If there is anything which I have forgotten, I am at Enton for a month or so. It is an easy walk from Medchester, if your clients can spare you for an afternoon. Good-night, Mr. Brooks."

He held out his hand. He was sleepy apparently, for his voice had become almost a drawl, and he stifled a yawn as he passed along the little passage. Kingston Brooks returned to his little room, and threw himself back into his easy-chair. Truly this had been a wonderful day.



CHAPTER IV

A QUESTION FOR THE COUNTRY

For the first time in many years it seemed certain that the Conservatives had lost their hold upon the country. The times were ripe for a change of any sort. An ill-conducted and ruinous war had drained the empire of its surplus wealth, and every known industry was suffering from an almost paralyzing depression—Medchester, perhaps, as severely as any town in the United Kingdom. Its staple manufactures were being imported from the States and elsewhere at prices which the local manufacturers declared to be ruinous. Many of the largest factories were standing idle, a great majority of the remainder were being worked at half or three-quarters time. Thoughtful men, looking ten years ahead, saw the cloud, which even now was threatening enough, grow blacker and blacker, and shuddered at the thought of the tempest which before long must break over the land. Meanwhile, the streets were filled with unemployed, whose demeanour day by day grew less and less pacific. People asked one another helplessly what was being done to avert the threatened crisis. The manufacturers, openly threatened by their discharged employees, and cajoled by others higher in authority and by public opinion, still pronounced themselves helpless to move without the aid of legislation. For the first time for years Protection was openly spoken of from a political platform.

Henslow, a shrewd man and a politician of some years' standing, was one of the first to read the signs of the times, and rightly to appreciate them. He had just returned from a lengthened visit to the United States, and what he had seen there he kept at first very much to himself. But at a small committee meeting held when his election was still a matter of doubt, he unbosomed himself at last to some effect.

"The vote we want," he said, "is the vote of those people who are losing their bread, and who see ruin and starvation coming in upon them. I mean the middle-class manufacturers and the operatives who are dependent upon them. I tell you where I think that as a nation we are going wrong. We fixed once upon a great principle, and we nailed it to our mast—for all time. That is a mistake. Absolute Free Trade, such as is at present our national policy, was a magnificent principle in the days of Cobden—but the times have changed. We must change with them. That is where the typical Englishman fails. It is a matter of temperament. He is too slow to adapt himself to changing circumstances."

There was a moment's silence. These were ominous words. Every one felt that they were not lightly spoken. Henslow had more behind. A prominent manufacturer, Harrison by name, interposed from his place.

"You are aware, Mr. Henslow," he said, "that many a man has lost an assured seat for a more guarded speech than that. For generations even a whisper of the sort has been counted heresy—especially from our party."

"Maybe," Henslow answered, "but I am reminded of this, Mr. Harrison. The pioneers of every great social change have suffered throughout the whole of history, but the man who has selected the proper moment and struck hard, has never failed to win his reward. Now I am no novice in politics, and I am going to make a prophecy. Years ago the two political parties were readjusted on the Irish question. Every election which was fought was simply on these lines—it was upon the principle of Home Rule for Ireland, and the severance of that country from the United Kingdom, or the maintenance of the Union. Good! Now, in more recent times, the South African war and the realization of what our Colonies could do for us has introduced a new factor. Those who have believed in a doctrine of expansion have called themselves 'Imperialists,' and those who have favoured less wide-reaching ideals, and perhaps more attention to home matters, have been christened 'Little Englanders.' Many elections have been fought out on these lines, if not between two men absolutely at variance with one another on this question, still on the matter of degree. Now, I am going to prophesy. I say that the next readjustment of Parties, and the time is not far ahead, will be on the tariff question, and I believe that the controversy on this matter, when once the country has laid hold of it, will be the greatest political event of this century. Listen, gentlemen. I do not speak without having given this question careful and anxious thought, and I tell you that I can see it coming."

The committee meeting broke up at a late hour in the afternoon amidst some excitement, and Mr. Bullsom walked back to his office with Brooks. A fine rain was falling, and the two men were close together under one umbrella.

"What do you think of it, Brooks?" Bullsom asked anxiously.

"To tell you the truth, I scarcely know," the younger answered. "Ten years ago there could have been but one answer—to-day—well, look there."

The two men stood still for a moment. They were in the centre of the town, at a spot from which the main thoroughfares radiated into the suburbs and manufacturing centres. Everywhere the pavements and the open space where a memorial tower stood were crowded with loiterers. Men in long lines stood upon the kerbstones, their hands in their pockets, watching, waiting—God knows for what. There were all sorts, of course, the professional idlers and the drunkard were there, but the others—there was no lack of them. There was no lack of men, white-faced, dull-eyed, dejected, some of them actually with the brand of starvation to be seen in their sunken cheeks and wasted limbs. No wonder that the swing-doors of the public-houses, where there was light and warmth inside, opened and shut continually.

"Look," Brooks repeated, with a tremor in his tone. "There are thousands and thousands of them—and all of them must have some sort of a home to go to. Fancy it—one's womankind, perhaps children—and nothing to take home to them. It's such an old story, that it sounds hackneyed and commonplace. But God knows there's no other tragedy on His earth like it."

Mr. Bullsom was uncomfortable.

"I've given a hundred pounds to the Unemployed Fund," he said.

"It's money well spent if it had been a thousand," Brooks answered. "Some day they may learn their strength, and they will not suffer then, like brute animals, in silence. Look here. I'm going to speak to one of them."

He touched a tall youth on the shoulder. "Out of work, my lad?" he asked. The youth turned surlily round. "Yes. Looks like it, don't it?"

"What are you?" Brooks asked.

"Clicker."

"Why did you leave your last place?"

"Gaffer said he's no more orders—couldn't keep us on. The shop's shut up. Know of a job, guv'nor?" he asked, with a momentary eagerness. "I've two characters in my pocket—good 'uns."

"You've tried to get a place elsewhere?" Brooks asked.

"Tried? D'ye suppose I'm standing here for fun? I've tramped the blessed town. I went to thirty factories yesterday, and forty to-day. Know of a job, guv'nor? I'm not particular."

"I wish I did," Brooks answered, simply. "Here's half-a-crown. Go to that coffee-palace over there and get a meal. It's all I can do for you."

"Good for you, guv'nor," was the prompt answer. "I can treat my brother on that. Here, Ned," he caught hold of a younger boy by the shoulder, "hot coffee and eggs, you sinner. Come on."

The two scurried off together. Brooks and his companion passed on.

"It is just this," Brooks said, in a low tone, "just the thought of these people makes me afraid, positively afraid to argue with Henslow. You see—he may be right. I tell you that in a healthily-governed country there should be work for every man who is able and willing to work. And in England there isn't. Free Trade works out all right logically, but it's one thing to see it all on paper, and it's another to see this—here around us—and Medchester isn't the worst off by any means."

Bullsom was silent for several moments.

"I tell you what it is, Brooks," he said. "I'll send another hundred to the Unemployed Fund to-night."

"It's generous of you, Mr. Bullsom," the young lawyer answered. "You'll never regret it. But look here. There's a greater responsibility even than feeding these poor fellows resting upon us to-day. They don't want our charity. They've an equal right to live with us. What they want, and what they have a right to, is just legislation. That's where we come in. Politics isn't a huge joke, or the vehicle for any one man's personal ambition. We who interest ourselves, however remotely, in them, impose upon ourselves a great obligation. We've got to find the truth. That's why I hesitate to say anything against Henslow's new departure. We're off the track now. I want to hear all that Henslow has to say. We must not neglect a single chance whilst that terrible cry is ever in our ears."

They parted at the tram terminus, Mr. Bullsom taking a car for his suburban paradise. As usual, he was the centre of a little group of acquaintances.

"And how goes the election, Bullsom?" some one asked him.

Mr. Bullsom was in no hurry to answer the question. He glanced round the car, collecting the attention of those who might be supposed interested.

"I will answer that question better," he said, "after the mass meeting on Saturday night. I think that Henslow's success or failure will depend on that."

"Got something up your sleeve, eh?" his first questioner remarked.

"Maybe," Mr. Bullsom answered. "Maybe not. But apart from the immediate matter of this election, I can tell you one thing, gentlemen, which may interest you."

He paused. One thumb stole towards the armhole of his waistcoat. He liked to see these nightly companions of his hang upon his words. It was a proper and gratifying tribute to his success as a man of affairs.

"I have just left," he said, "our future Member."

The significance of his speech was not immediately apparent.

"Henslow! Oh, yes. Committee meeting this afternoon, wasn't it?" some one remarked.

"I do not mean Henslow," Mr. Bullsom replied. "I mean Kingston Brooks."

The desired sensation was apparent.

"Why, he's your new agent, isn't he?"

"Young fellow who plays cricket rather well."

"Great golfer, they say!"

"Makes a good speech, some one was saying."

"Gives free lectures at the Secular Hall." "Rather a smart young solicitor, they say!"

Mr. Bullsom looked around him.

"He is all these things, and he does all these things. He is one of these youngsters who has the knack of doing everything well. Mark my words, all of you. I gave him his first case of any importance, and I got him this job as agent for Henslow. He's bound to rise. He's ambitious, and he's got the brains. He'll be M.P. for this borough before we know where we are."

Half-a-dozen men of more or less importance made a mental note to nod to Kingston Brooks next time they saw him, and Mr. Bullsom trudged up his avenue with fresh schemes maturing in his mind. In the domestic circle he further unburdened himself.

"Mrs. Bullsom," he said, "I am thinking of giving a dinner-party. How many people do we know better than ourselves?"

Mrs. Bullsom was aghast, and the young ladies, Selina and Louise, who were in the room, were indignant.

"Really, papa," Selina exclaimed, "what do you mean?"

"What I say," he answered, gruffly. "We're plain people, your mother and I, at any rate, and when you come to reckon things up, I suppose you'll admit that we're not much in the social way. There's plenty of people living round us in a sight smaller houses who don't know us, and wouldn't if they could—and I'm not so sure that it's altogether the fault of your father and mother either, Selina," he added, breaking ruthlessly in upon a sotto-voce remark of that young lady's.

"Well, I never!" Selina exclaimed, tossing her head.

"Come, come, I don't want no sauce from you girls," he added, drifting towards the fireplace, and adopting a more assured tone as he reached his favourite position. "I've reasons for wishing to have Mr. Kingston Brooks here, and I'd like him to meet gentlefolk. Now, there's the Vicar and his wife. Do you suppose they'd come?"

"Well, I should like to know why not," Mrs. Bullsom remarked, laying down her knitting, "when it's only three weeks ago you sent him ten guineas for the curates' fund. Come indeed! They'd better."

"Then there's Dr. Seventon," Mr. Bullsom continued, "and his wife. Better drop him a line and tell him to look in and see me at the office. I can invent something the matter with me, and I'd best drop him a hint. They say Mrs. Seventon is exclusive. But I'll just let him know she's got to come. Now, who else, girls?"

"The Huntingdons might come—if they knew that it was this sort of an affair," Selina remarked, thoughtfully.

"And Mr. Seaton," Louise added. "I'm sure he's most gentlemanly."

"I don't want gentlemanly people this time," Mr. Bullsom declared, "I want gentle-people. That's all there is about it. I let you ask who you like to the house, and give you what you want for subscriptions and clothes and such-like. You've had a free 'and. Now let's see something for it. Half-a-dozen couples'll be enough if you can't get more, but I Won't have the Nortons, or the Marvises, or any of that podgy set. You understand that? And, first of all, you, Selina, had better write to Mr. Brooks and ask him to dine with us in a friendly way one night the week after next, when the election is over and done with."

"In a friendly way, pa?" Selina repeated, doubtfully. "But we can't ask these other people whom we know so slightly like that—and, besides, Mr. Brooks might not dress if we put it like that."

"A nice lot you know about gentle-people and their ways," Mr. Bullsom remarked, with scorn. "A young fellow like Brooks would tog himself out for dinner all right even if we were alone, as long as there were ladies there. And as for the dinner, you don't suppose I'm such a mug as to leave that to Ann. I shall go to the Queen's Hotel, and have 'em send a cook and waiters, and run the whole show. Don't know that I shan't send to London. You get the people! I'll feed 'em!"

"Do as your father says, Selina," Mrs. Bullsom said, mildly. "I'm sure he's very considerate."

"Where's Mary?" Mr. Bullsom inquired. "This is a bit in her line."

Selina tossed her head.

"I'm sure I don't know why you should say that, papa," she declared. "Mary knows nothing about society, and she has no friends who would be the least use to us."

"Where is she, anyway?" Mr. Bullsom demanded. No one knew. As a matter of fact she was having tea with Kingston Brooks.



CHAPTER V

THE MARQUIS OF ARRANMORE

They had met almost on the steps of his office, and only a few minutes after he had left Mr. Bullsom. Brooks was attracted first by a certain sense of familiarity with the trim, well-balanced figure, and immediately afterwards she raised her eyes to his in passing. He wheeled sharply round, and held out his hand.

"Miss Scott, isn't it? Do you know I have just left your uncle?"

She smiled a little absently. She looked tired, and her boots and skirt were splashed as though with much walking.

"Indeed! I suppose you see a good deal of him just now while the election is on?"

"I must make myself a perfect nuisance to him," Brooks admitted. "You see the work is all new to me, and he has been through it many times before. Are you just going home?"

She nodded.

"I have been out since two o'clock," she said.

"And you are almost wet through, and quite tired out," he said. "Look here. Come across to Mellor's and have some tea with me, and I will put you in a car afterwards."

She hesitated—and he led the way across the Street, giving her no opportunity to frame a refusal. The little tea-place was warm and cosy. He found a comfortable corner, and took her wet umbrella and cape away.

"I believe," he said, sitting down opposite her, "that I have saved your life."

"Then I am not sure," she answered, "that I feel grateful to you. I ought to have warned you that I am not in the least likely to be a cheerful companion. I have had a most depressing afternoon."

"You have been to your tailor's," he suggested, "and your new gown is a failure—or is it even worse than that?"

She laughed dubiously. Then the tea was brought, and for a moment their conversation was interrupted. He thought her very graceful as she bent forward and busied herself attending to his wants. Her affinity to Selina and Louise was undistinguishable. It was true that she was pale, but it was the pallor of refinement, the student's absence of colour rather than the pallor of ill-health.

"Mr. Brooks," she said, presently, "you are busy with this election, and you are brought constantly into touch with all classes of people. Can you tell me why it is that it is so hard just now for poor people to get work? Is it true, what they tell me, that many of the factories in Medchester are closed, and many of those that are open are only working half and three-quarter time?"

"I am afraid that it is quite true, Miss Scott," he answered. "As for the first part of your question, it is very hard to answer. There seem to be so many causes at work just now.

"But it is the work of the politician surely to analyze these causes.

"It should be," he answered. "Tell me what has brought this into your mind."

"Some of the girls in our class," she said, "are out of work, and those who have anything to do seem to be working themselves almost to death to keep their parents or somebody dependent upon them. Two of them I am anxious about. I have been trying to find them this afternoon. I have heard things, Mr. Brooks, which have made me ashamed—sick at heart—ashamed to go home and think how we live, while they die. And these girls—they have known so much misery. I am afraid of what may happen to them."

"These girls are mostly boot and shoe machinists, are they not?"

"Yes. But even Mr. Stuart says that he cannot find them work."

"It is only this afternoon that we have all been discussing this matter," he said, gravely. "It is serious enough, God knows. The manufacturer tells us that he is suffering from American competition—here and in the Colonies. He tells us that the workpeople themselves are largely to blame, that their trades unions restrict them to such an extent that he is hopelessly handicapped from the start. But there are other causes. There is a terrible wave of depression all through the country. The working classes have no money to spend. Every industry is flagging, and every industry seems threatened with competition from abroad. Do you understand the principles of Free Trade at all?"

"Not in the least. I wish I did."

"Some day we must have a talk about it. Henslow has made a very daring suggestion to-day. He has given us all plenty to think about. We are all agreed upon one thing. The crisis is fast approaching, and it must be faced. These people have the right to live, and they have the right to demand that legislation should interfere on their behalf."

She sighed.

"It is a comfort to hear you talk like this," she said. "To me it seems almost maddening to see so much suffering, so many people suffering, not only physically, but being dragged down into a lower moral state by sheer force of circumstances and their surroundings, and all the time we educated people go on our way and live our lives, as though nothing were happening—as though we had no responsibility whatever for the holocaust of misery at our doors. So few people stop to think. They won't understand. It is so easy to put things behind one."

"Come," he said, cheerfully, "you and I, at least, are not amongst those. And there is a certain duty which we owe to ourselves, too, as well as to others—to look upon the brighter side of things. Let us talk about something less depressing."

"You shall tell me," she suggested, "who is going to win the election."

"Henslow!" he answered, promptly.

"Owing, I suppose—"

"To his agent, of course. You may laugh, Miss Scott, but I can assure you that my duties are no sinecure. I never knew what work was before."

"Too much work," she said, "is better than too little. After all, more people die of the latter than the former."

"Nature meant me," he said, "for a hazy man. I have all the qualifications for a first-class idler. And circumstances and the misfortune of my opinions are going to keep me going at express speed all my life. I can see it coming. Sometimes it makes me shudder."

"You are too young," she remarked, "to shrink from work. I have no sympathy to offer you."

"I begin to fear, Miss Scott," he said, "that you are not what is called sympathetic."

She smiled—and the smile broke into a laugh, as though some transient idea rather than his words had pleased her.

"You should apply to my cousin Selina for that," she said. "Every one calls her most delightfully sympathetic."

"Sympathy," he remarked, "is either a heaven-sent joy—or a bore. It depends upon the individual."

"That is either enigmatical or rude," she answered. "But, after all, you don't know Selina."

"Why not?" he asked. "I have talked with her as long as with you—and I feel that I know you quite well."

"I can't be responsible for your feelings," she said, a little brusquely, "but I'm quite sure that I don't know you well enough to be sitting here at tea with you even."

"I won't admit that," he answered, "but it was very nice of you to come.

"The fact of it was," she admitted, "my headache and appetite were stronger than my sense of the conventions. Now that the former are dissipated the latter are beginning to assert themselves. And so—"

She began to draw on her gloves. Just then a carriage with postilions and ladies with luggage came clattering up the street. She watched it with darkening face.

"That is the sort of man I detest," she said, motioning her head towards the window. "You know whose carriage it is, don't you?"

He shook his head.

"No, I did not know that any one round here drove with positions."

"It is the Marquis of Arranmore. He has a place at Enton, I believe, but he is only here for a few months in the year."

Brooks started and leaned eagerly forward.

"Why do you hate him?" he asked. "What has he done?"

"Didn't you hear how he treated the Mayor when he went out for a subscription to the Unemployed Fund?"

Brooks shook his head.

"No! I have heard nothing."

"Poor old Mr. Wensome went out all that way purposely to see him. He was kept waiting an hour, and then when he explained his errand the Marquis laughed at him. 'My dear fellow,' he said, 'the poor people of Medchester do not interest me in the least. I do not go to the people who are better off than I am and ask them to help support me, nor do I see the least reason why those who are worse off than I am should expect me to support them.' Mr. Wensome tried to appeal to his humanity, and the brute only continued to laugh in a cynical way. He declared that poor people did not interest him. His tenants he was prepared to look after—outside his own property he didn't care a snap of the fingers whether people lived or died. Mr. Wensome said it was perfectly awful to hear him talk, and he came away without a penny. Yet his property in this country alone is worth fifty thousand a year.

"It is very surprising," Brooks said, thoughtfully. "The more surprising because I know of a kind action which he once did."

"Sh! they're coming here!" she exclaimed. "That is the Marquis."

The omnibus had pulled up outside. A tall footman threw open the door, and held an umbrella over the two ladies who had descended. The Marquis and two other men followed. They trooped into the little place, bringing with them a strange flavour of another world. The women wore wonderful furs, and one who had ermine around her neck wore a great bunch of Neapolitan violets, whose perfume seemed to fill the room.

"This is a delightful idea," the taller one said, turning towards her host. "An eight-mile drive before tea sounded appalling. Where shall we sit, and may we have muffins?"

"There is nothing about your youth, Lady Sybil, which I envy more than your digestion," he answered, motioning them towards a table. "To be able to eat muffins with plenty of butter would be unalloyed bliss. Nevertheless, you shall have them. No one has ever called me selfish. Let us have tea, and toast, and bread-and-butter and cakes, and a great many muffins, please, young lady," he ordered. "And will you send out some tea to my servants, please? It will save them from trying to obtain drinks from the hotel next door, and ensure us a safe drive home."

"And don't forget to send out for that pack of cards, Arranmore," the elder lady said. "We are going to play bridge driving home with that wonderful little electric lamp of yours.

"I will not forget," he promised. "We are to be partners, you know."

He was on the point of sitting down when he saw Brooks at the next table. He held out his hand.

"How do you do, Mr. Brooks?" he said. "I am glad to see that you are going to get your man in.

"Thank you," Brooks answered, rising and waiting for his companion, who was buttoning her gloves. "I was afraid that your sympathies would be on the other side."

"Dear me, no," the Marquis answered. "My enemies would tell you that I have neither sympathy nor politics, but I assure you that at heart I am a most devout Radical. I have a vote, too, and you may count upon me.

"I am very glad to hear it," Brooks answered. "Shall I put you down on the list 'to be fetched'?"

The Marquis laughed.

"I'll come without," he declared. "I promise. Just remind me of the day."

He glanced towards Mary Scott, and for a moment seemed about to include her in some forthcoming remark. But whatever it might have been—it was never made. She kept her eyes averted, and though her self-possession was absolutely unruffled she hastened her departure. "I am not hurrying you, Mr. Brooks?" she asked. "Not in the least," he assured her.

He raised his hat to the Marquis and his party, and the former nodded good-humouredly. There was silence until the two were in the street. Then one of the men who had been looking after them dropped his eye-glass.

"I tell you what," he said to his vis-a-vis. "There's some chance for us in Medchester after all. I don't believe Arranmore is popular amongst the ladies of his own neighbourhood."

The Marquis laughed softly.

"She has a nice face," he remarked, "and I should imagine excellent perceptions. Curiously enough, too, she reminded me of some one who has every reason to hate me. But to the best of my belief I never saw her before in my life. Lady Caroom, that weird-looking object in front of you is a teapot—and those are teacups. May I suggest a use for them?"



CHAPTER VI

THE MAN WHO WENT TO HELL

The Hon. Sydney Chester Molyneux stood with his cue in one hand, and an open telegram in the other, in the billiard-room at Enton. He was visibly annoyed.

"Beastly hard luck," he declared. "Parliament is a shocking grind anyway. It isn't that one ever does anything, you know, but one wastes such a lot of time when one might have been doing something worth while."

"Do repeat that, Sydney," Lady Caroom begged, laying down her novel for a moment. "It really sounds as though it ought to mean something."

"I couldn't!" he admitted. "I wish to cultivate a reputation for originality, and my first object is to forget everything I have said directly I have said it, in case I should repeat myself."

"A short memory," Arranmore remarked, "is a politician's most valuable possession, isn't it?"

"No memory at all is better," Molyneux answered.

"And your telegram?" Lady Caroom asked.

"Is from my indefatigable uncle," Molyneux groaned. "He insists upon it that I interest myself in the election here, which means that I must go in to-morrow and call upon Rochester."

The younger girl looked up from her chair, and laughed softly.

"You will have to speak for him," she said. "How interesting! We will all come in and hear you."

Molyneux missed an easy cannon, and laid down his cue with an aggrieved air.

"It is all very well for you," he remarked, dismally, "but it is a horrible grind for me. I have just succeeded in forgetting all that we did last session, and our programme for next. Now I've got to wade through it all. I wonder why on earth Providence selected for me an uncle who thinks it worth while to be a Cabinet Minister?"

Sybil Caroom shrugged her shoulders.

"I wonder why on earth," she remarked, "any constituency thinks it worth while to be represented by such a politician as you. How did you get in, Sydney?"

"Don't know," he answered. "I was on the right side, and I talked the usual rot."

"For myself," she said, "I like a politician who is in earnest. They are more amusing, and more impressive in every way. Who was the young man you spoke to in that little place where we had tea?" she asked her host.

"His name is Kingston Brooks," Arranmore answered. "He is the agent for Henslow, the Radical candidate."

"Well, I liked him," she said. "If I had a vote I would let him convert me to Radicalism. I am sure that he could do it."

"He shall try—if you like," Arranmore remarked.

I am going to ask him to shoot one day."

"I am delighted to hear it," the girl answered. "I think he would be a wholesome change. You are all too flippant here."

The door opened. Mr. Hennibul, K.C., inserted his head and shoulders.

"I have been to look at Arranmore's golf-links," he remarked. "They are quite decent. Will some one come and play a round?"

"I will come," Sybil declared, putting down her book.

"And I," Molyneux joined in. "Hennibul can play our best ball."

Lady Caroom and her host were left alone. He came over to her side.

"What can I do to entertain your ladyship?" he asked, lightly. "Will you play billiards, walk or drive? There is an hour before lunch which must be charmed away."

"I am not energetic," she declared. "I ought to walk for the sake of my figure. I'm getting shockingly stout. Marie made me promise to walk a mile to-day. But I'm feeling deliciously lazy."

"/Embonpoint/ is the fashion," he remarked, "and you are inches short of even that yet. Come and sit in the study while I write some letters." She held out her hands.

"Pull me up, then! I am much too comfortable to move unaided."

She sprang to her feet lightly enough, and for a moment he kept her hands, which rested willingly enough in his. They looked at one another in silence. Then she laughed.

"My dear Arranmore," she protested, "I am not made up half carefully enough to stand such a critical survey by daylight. Your north windows are too terrible."

"Not to you, dear lady," he answered, smiling. "I was wondering whether it was possible that you could be forty-one."

"You brute," she exclaimed, with uplifted eyebrows. "How dare you? Forty if you like—for as long as you like. Forty is the fashionable age, but one year over that is fatal. Don't you know that now-a-days a woman goes straight from forty to sixty? It is such a delicious long rest. And besides, it gives a woman an object in life which she has probably been groping about for all her days. One is never bored after forty."

"And the object?"

"To keep young, of course. There's scope for any amount of ingenuity. Since that dear man in Paris has hit upon the real secret of enamelling, we are thinking of extending the limit to sixty-five. Lily Cestigan is seventy-one, you know, and she told me only last week that Mat Harlowe—you know Harlowe, he's rather a nice boy, in the Guards had asked her to run away with him. She's known him three months, and he's seen her at least three times by daylight. She's delighted about it."

"And is she going?" Arranmore asked.

"Well, I'm not sure that she'd care to risk that," Lady Caroom answered, thoughtfully. "She told him she'd think about it, and, meanwhile, he's just as devoted as ever."

They crossed the great stone hall together—the hall which, with its wonderful pillars and carved dome, made Enton the show-house of the county. Arranmore's study was a small octagonal room leading out from the library. A fire of cedar logs was burning in an open grate, and he wheeled up an easy-chair for her close to his writing-table.

"I wonder," she remarked, thoughtfully, "what you think of Syd Molyneux?"

"Is there anything—to be thought about him?" he answered, lighting a cigarette.

"He's rather that way, isn't he?" she assented. "I mean for Sybil, you know."

"I should let Sybil decide," he answered.

"She probably will," Lady Caroom said. "Still, she's horribly bored at having to be dragged about to places, you know, and that sort of thing, just because she isn't married, and she likes Syd all right. He's no fool!"

"I suppose not," Arranmore answered. "He's of a type, you know, which has sprung up during my—absence from civilization. You want to grow up with it to appreciate it properly. I don't think he's good enough for Sybil."

Lady Caroom sighed.

"Sybil's a dear girl," she said, "although she's a terrible nuisance to me. I shouldn't be at all surprised either if she developed views. I wish you were a marrying man, Arranmore. I used to think of you myself once, but you would be too old for me now. You're exactly the right age for Sybil."

Arranmore smiled. He had quite forgotten his letters. Lady Caroom always amused him so well.

"She is very like what you were at her age," he remarked. "What a pity it was that I was such a poverty-stricken beggar in those days. I am sure that I should have married you."

"Now I am beginning to like you," she declared, settling down more comfortably in her chair. "If you can keep up like that we shall be getting positively sentimental presently, and if there's anything I adore in this world—especially before luncheon—it is sentiment. Do you remember we used to waltz together, Arranmore?"

"You gave me a glove one night," he said. "I have it still."

"And you pressed my hand—and—it was in the Setons' conservatory—how bold you were."

"And the next day," he declared, in an aggrieved tone, "I heard that you were engaged to Caroom. You treated me shamefully."

"These reminiscences," she declared, "are really sweet, but you are most ungrateful. I was really almost too kind to you. They were all fearfully anxious to get me married, because Dumesnil always used to say that my complexion would give out in a year or two, and I wasted no end of time upon you, who were perfectly hopeless as a husband. After all, though, I believe it paid. It used to annoy Caroom so much, and I believe he proposed to me long before he meant to so as to get rid of you."

"I," Arranmore remarked, "was the victim."

She sat up with eyes suddenly bright.

"Upon my word," she declared, "I have an idea. It is the most charming and flattering thing, and it never occurred to me before. After all, it was not eccentricity which caused you to throw up your work at the Bar—and disappear. It was your hopeless devotion to me. Don't disappoint me now by denying it. Please don't! It was the announcement of my engagement, wasn't it?"

"And it has taken you all these years to find it out?

"I was shockingly obtuse," she murmured. "The thing came to me just now as a revelation. Poor, dear man, how you must have suffered. This puts us on a different footing altogether, doesn't it?" "Altogether," he admitted.

"And," she continued, eyeing him now with a sudden nervousness, "emboldens me to ask you a question which I have been dying to ask you for the last few years. I wonder whether you will answer it."

"I wonder!" he repeated.

A change in him, too, was noticeable. That wonderful impassivity of feature which never even in his lighter moments passed altogether away, seemed to deepen every line in his hard, clear-cut face. His mouth was close drawn, his eyes were suddenly colder and expressionless. There was about him at such times as—these an almost repellent hardness. His emotions, and the man himself, seemed frozen. Lady Caroom had seen him look like it once before, and she sighed. Nevertheless, she persevered.

"For nearly twenty years," she said, "you disappeared. You were reported at different times to be in every quarter of the earth, from Zambesia to Pekin. But no one knew, and, of course, in a season or two you were forgotten. I always wondered, I am wondering now, where were you? What did you do with yourself?

"I went down into Hell," he answered. "Can't you see the marks of it in my face? For many years I lived in Hell—for many years."

"You puzzle me," she said, in a low tone. "You had no taste for dissipation. You look as though life had scorched you up at some time or other. But how? where? You were found in Canada, I know, when your brother died. But you had only been there for a few years. Before then?"

"Ay! Before then?"

There was a short silence. Then Arranmore, who had been gazing steadily into the fire, looked up. She fancied that his eyes were softer.

"Dear friend," he said, "of those days I have nothing to tell—even you. But there are more awful things even than moral degeneration. You do me justice when you impute that I never ate from the trough. But what I did, and where I lived, I do not think that I shall ever willingly tell any one."

A piece of burning wood fell upon the hearthstone. He stooped and picked it up, placed it carefully in its place, and busied himself for a moment or two with the little brass poker. Then he straightened himself.

"Catherine," he said, "I think if I were you that I would not marry Sybil to Molyneux. It struck me to-day that his eyeglass-chain was of last year's pattern, and I am not sure that he is sound on the subject of collars. You know how important these things are to a young man who has to make his own way in the world. Perhaps, I am not sure, but I think it is very likely I might be able to find a husband for her."

"You dear man," Lady Caroom murmured. "I should rely upon your taste and judgment so thoroughly."

There was a discreet knock at the door. A servant entered with a card.

Arranmore took it up, and retained it in his fingers.

"Tell Mr. Brooks," he said, "that I will be with him in a moment. If he has ridden over, ask him to take some refreshment."

"You have a visitor," Lady Caroom said, rising. "If you will excuse me I will go and lie down until luncheon-time, and let my maid touch me up. These sentimental conversations are so harrowing. I feel a perfect wreck."

She glided from the room, graceful, brisk and charming, the most wonderful woman in England, as the Society papers were never tired of calling her. Arranmore glanced once more at the card between his fingers.

"Mr. Kingston Brooks."

He stood for a few seconds, motionless. Then he rang the bell.

"Show Mr. Brooks in here," he directed.



CHAPTER VII

A THOUSAND POUNDS

Brooks had ridden a bicycle from Medchester, and his trousers and boots were splashed with mud. His presence at Enton was due to an impulse, the inspiration of which he had already begun seriously to doubt. Arranmore's kindly reception of him was more than ordinarily welcome.

"I am very glad to see you, Mr. Brooks," he said, holding out his hand. "How comes it that you are able to take even so short a holiday as this? I pictured you surrounded by canvassers and bill-posters and journalists, all clamouring for your ear."

Brooks laughed, completely at his ease now, thanks to the unspoken cordiality of the other man. He took the easy-chair which the servant had noiselessly wheeled up to him.

"I am afraid that you exaggerate my importance,—Lord Arranmore," he said. "I was very busy early this morning, and I shall be again after four. But I am allowed a little respite now and then."

"You spend it very sensibly out of doors," Arranmore remarked. "How did you get here?"

"I cycled," Brooks answered. "It was very pleasant, but muddy."

"What will you have?" Lord Arranmore asked. "Some wine and biscuits, or something of that sort?"

His hand was upon the bell, but Brooks stopped him.

"Nothing at all, thank you, just now."

"Luncheon will be served in half-an-hour," the Marquis said. "You will prefer to wait until then?"

"I am much obliged to you," Brooks answered, "but I must be getting back to Medchester as soon as possible. Besides," he added, with a smile, "I am afraid when I have spoken of the object of my visit you may feel inclined to kick me out."

"I hope not," Arranmore replied, lightly. "I was hoping that your visit had no object at all, and that you had been good enough just to look me up.

"I should not have intruded without a purpose," Brooks said, quietly, "but you will be almost justified in treating my visit as an impertinence when I have disclosed my errand. Lord Arranmore, I am the secretary for the fund which is being raised in Medchester for the relief of the Unemployed."

Arranmore nodded.

"Oh, yes," he said. "I had a visit a few days ago from a worthy Medchester gentleman connected with it."

"It is concerning that visit, Lord Arranmore, that I have come to see you," Brooks continued, quietly. "I only heard of it yesterday afternoon, but this morning it seems to me that every one whom I have met has alluded to it."

The Marquis was lounging against the broad mantelpiece. Some part of the cordiality of his manner had vanished.

"Well?"

"Lord Arranmore, I wondered whether it was not possible that some mistake had been made," Brooks said. "I wondered whether Mr. Wensome had altogether understood you properly—"

"I did my best to be explicit," the Marquis murmured.

"Or whether you had misunderstood him," Brooks continued, doggedly. "This fund has become absolutely necessary unless we wish to see the people starve in the streets. There are between six and seven thousand operatives and artisans in Medchester to-day who are without work through no fault of their own. It is our duty as citizens to do our best for them. Nearly every one in Medchester has contributed according to their means. You are a large property-owner in the town. Cannot you consider this appeal as an unenforced rate? It comes to that in the long run."

The Marquis shrugged his shoulders.

"I think," he said, "that on the subject of charity Englishmen generally wholly misapprehend the situation. You say that between six and seven thousand men are out of work in Medchester. Very well, I affirm that there must be a cause for that. If you are a philanthropist it is your duty to at once investigate the economic and political reasons for such a state of things, and alter them. By going about and collecting money for these people you commit what is little short of a crime. You must know the demoralizing effect of charity. No man who has ever received a dole is ever again an independent person. Besides that, you are diverting the public mind from the real point of issue, which is not that so many thousand people are hungry, but that a flaw exists in the administration of the laws of the country so grave that a certain number of thousands of people who have a God-sent right to productive labour haven't got it. Do you follow me?"

"Perfectly," Brooks answered. "You did not talk like this to Mr. Wensome."

"I admit it. He was an ignorant man in whom I felt no interest whatever, and I did not take the trouble. Besides, I will frankly admit that I am in no sense of the word a sentimentalist. The distresses of other people do not interest me particularly. I have been poor myself, and I never asked for, nor was offered, any sort of help. Consequently I feel very little responsibility concerning these unfortunate people, whose cause you have espoused."

"May I revert to your first argument?" Brooks said. "If you saw a man drowning then, instead of trying to save him you would subscribe towards a fund to teach people to swim?"

"That is ingenious," Lord Arranmore replied, smiling grimly, "but it doesn't interest me. If I saw a man drowning I shouldn't think of interfering unless the loss of that man brought inconvenience or loss to myself. If it did I should endeavour to save him—not unless. As for the fund you speak of, I should not think of subscribing to it. It would not interest me to know that other people were provided with a safeguard against drowning. I should probably spend the money in perfecting myself in the art of swimming. Don't you see that no man who has ever received help from another is exactly in the same position again? As an individual he is a weaker creature. That is where I disagree with nearly every existing form of charity. They are wrong in principle. They are a debauchment."

"Your views, Lord Arranmore," Brooks said, "are excellent for a model world. For practical purposes I think they are a little pedantic. You are quite right in your idea that charity is a great danger. I can assure you that we are trying to realize that in Medchester. We ask for money, and we dispense it unwillingly, but as a necessary evil. And we are trying to earnestly see where our social system is at fault, and to readjust it. But meanwhile, men and women and children even are starving. We must help them."

"That is where you are wholly wrong, and where you retard all progress," Arranmore remarked. "Can't you see that you are continually plugging up dangerous leaks with putty instead of lead? You muffle the cry which but for you must ring through the land, and make itself heard to every one. Let the people starve who are without means. Legislation would stir itself fast enough then. It is the only way. Charity to individuals is poison to the multitude. You create the criminal classes with your charities, you blindfold statesmen and mislead political economists. I tell you that the more you give away the more distress you create."

Brooks rose from his seat.

"Charity is older than nations or history, Lord Arranmore," he said, "and I am foolish enough to think that the world is a better place for it. Your reasoning is very excellent, but life has not yet become an exact science. The weaknesses of men and women have to be considered. You have probably never seen a starving person."

Lord Arranmore laughed, and Brooks looked across the room at him in amazement. The Marquis was always pale, but his pallor just then was as unnatural as the laugh itself.

"My dear young man," he said, "if I could show you what I have seen your hair would turn grey, and your wits go wandering. Do you think that I know nothing of life save its crust? I tell you that I have been down in the depths, aye, single-handed, there in the devil's own cauldron, where creatures in the shape of men and women, the very sight of whom would turn you sick with horror, creep like spawn through life, brainless and soulless, foul things who would murder one another for the sake of a crust, or—Bah! What horrible memories."

He broke off abruptly. When he spoke again his tone was as usual.

"Come," he said, "I mustn't let you have this journey for nothing. After all, the only luxury in having principles is in the departing from them. I will give you a cheque, Mr. Brooks, only I beg you to think over what I have said. Abandon this doling principle as soon as it is possible. Give your serious attention to the social questions and imperfect laws which are at the back of all this distress."

Brooks felt as though he had been awakened from a nightmare. He never forgot that single moment of revelation on the part of the man who sat now smiling and debonair before his writing-table.

"You are very kind indeed, Lord Arranmore," he said. "I can assure you that the money will be most carefully used, and amongst my party, at any rate, we do really appreciate the necessity for going to the root of the matter."

Arranmore's pen went scratching across the paper. He tore out a cheque, and placing it in an envelope, handed it to Brooks.

"I noticed," he remarked, thoughtfully, "that a good many people coming out of the factories hissed my carriage in Medchester last time I was there. I hope they will not consider my cheque as a sign of weakness. But after all," he added, with a smile, "what does it matter? Let us go in to luncheon, Brooks."

Brooks glanced down at his mud-splashed clothes and boots.

"I must really ask you to excuse me," he began, but Arranmore only rang the bell.

"My valet will smarten you up," he said. "Here, Fritz, take Mr. Brooks into my room and look after him, will you. I shall be in the hall when you come down."

As he passed from the dressing-room a few minutes later, Brooks paused for a moment to look up at the wonderful ceiling above the hall. Below, Lord Arranmore was idly knocking about the billiard balls, and all around him was the murmur of pleasant conversation. Brooks drew the envelope from his pocket and glanced at the cheque. He gave a little gasp of astonishment. It was for a thousand pounds.



CHAPTER VIII

KINGSTON BROOKS MAKES INQUIRIES

At luncheon Brooks found himself between Sybil Caroom and Mr. Hennibul. She began to talk to him at once.

"I want to know all about your candidate, Mr. Brooks," she declared. "You can't imagine how pleased I am to have you here. I have had the feeling ever since I came of being shut up in a hostile camp. I am a Radical, you know, and these good people, even my mother, are rabid Conservatives."

Brooks smiled as he unfolded his serviette.

"Well, Henslow isn't exactly an ornamental candidate," he said, "but he is particularly sound and a man with any amount of common-sense. You should come and hear him speak."

"I'd love to," she answered, "but no one would bring me from here. They are all hopeless. Mr. Molyneux there is going to support Mr. Rochester. If I wasn't sure that he'd do more harm than good, I wouldn't let him go. But I don't suppose they'll let you speak, Sydney," she added. "They won't if they've ever heard you."

Molyneux smiled an imperturbable smile.

"Personally," he said, "I should prefer to lend my moral support only, but my fame as an orator is too well known. There is not the least chance that they will let me off."

Sybil looked at Brooks.

"Did you ever hear such conceit?" she remarked, in a pitying tone. "And I don't believe he's ever opened his mouth in the House, except to shout 'Hear, hear'! Besides, he's as nervous as a kitten. Tell me, are you going to return Mr. Henslow?"

"I think so," Brooks answered. "It is certain to be a very close contest, but I believe we shall get a small majority. The Jingo element are our greatest trouble. They are all the time trying to make people believe that Conservatives have the monopoly of the Imperial sentiment. As a matter of fact, I think that Henslow is almost rabid on the war question."

"Still, your platform—to use an Americanism," Mr. Hennibul interposed, "must be founded upon domestic questions. Medchester is a manufacturing town, and I am given to understand is suffering severely. Has your man any original views on the present depression in trade?"

Brooks glanced towards the speaker with a smile.

"You have been reading the Medchester Post!" he remarked.

The barrister nodded.

"Yes. It hinted at some rather surprising revelation."

"You must read Henslow's speech at the mass meeting to-morrow night," Brooks said. "At present I mustn't discuss these matters too much, especially before a political opponent," he remarked, smiling at Mr. Molyneux. "You might induce Mr. Rochester to play our trump card."

"If your trump card is what I suspect it to be," Mr. Hennibul said, "I don't think you need fear that. Rochester would be ready enough to try it, but some of his supporters wouldn't listen to it."

The conversation drifted away from politics. Brooks found himself enjoying his luncheon amazingly. Sybil Caroom devoted herself to him, and he found himself somehow drawn with marvellous facility into the little circle of intimate friends. Afterwards they all strolled into the hall together for coffee, and Arranmore laid his hand upon his arm.

"I am sorry that you will not have time to look round the place," he said. "You must come over again before long."

"You are very kind," Brooks said, dropping his voice a little. "There are one or two more things which I should like to ask you about Canada."

"I shall always be at your service," Lord Arranmore answered.

"And I cannot go," Brooks continued, "without thanking you—"

"We will take that for granted," Arranmore interrupted. "You know the spirit in which I gave it. It is not, I fear, one of sympathy, but it may at any rate save me from having my carriage windows broken one dark night. By the bye, I have ordered a brougham for you in half-an-hour. As you see, it is raining. Your bicycle shall be sent in to-morrow."

"It is very kind of you indeed," Brooks declared.

"Molyneux has to go in, so you may just as well drive together," Arranmore remarked. "By the bye, do you shoot?"

"A little," Brooks admitted.

"You must have a day with us. My head keeper is coming up this afternoon, and I will try and arrange something. The election is next week, of course. We must plan a day after then."

"I am afraid that my performance would scarcely be up to your standard," Brooks said, "although it is very kind of you to ask me. I might come and look on."

Arranmore laughed.

"Hennibul is all right," he said, "but Molyneux is a shocking duffer. We'll give you an easy place. We have some early callers, I see."

The butler was moving towards them, followed by two men in hunting-clothes.

"Sir George Marson and Mr. Lacroix, your lordship," he announced.

For a second Arranmore stood motionless. His eyes seemed to pass through the man in pink, who was approaching with outstretched hand, and to be fastened upon the face of his companion. It chanced that Brooks, who had stepped a little on one side, was watching his host, and for the second time in one day he saw things which amazed him. His expression seemed frozen on to his face—something underneath seemed struggling for expression. In a second it had all passed away. Brooks could almost have persuaded himself that it was fancy.

"Come for something to eat, Arranmore," Sir George declared, hungrily. "My second man's gone off with the sandwich-case—hunting on his own, I believe. I'll sack him to-morrow. Here's my friend Lacroix, who says you saved him from starvation once before out in the wilds somewhere. Awfully sorry to take you by storm like this, but we're twelve miles from home, and it's a God-forsaken country for inns."

"Luncheon for two at once, Groves," Lord Arranmore answered. "Delighted to meet you again, Mr. Lacroix. Last time we were both of us in very different trim."

Lady Caroom came gliding up to them, and shook hands with Sir George.

"This sounds so interesting," she murmured. "Did you say that you met Lord Arranmore in his exploring days?" she asked, turning to Mr. Lacroix.

"I found Lord Arranmore in a log hut which he had built himself on the shores of Lake Ono," Lacroix said, smiling. "And when I tell you that I had lost all my stores, and that his was the only dwelling-place for fifty miles around, you can imagine that his hospitality was more welcome to me then even than to-day."

Brooks, who was standing near, could not repress a start. He fancied that Lord Arranmore glanced in his direction.

Lady Caroom shuddered.

"The only dwelling-house for fifty miles," she repeated. "What hideous misanthropy."

"There was no doubt about it," Lacroix declared, smiling. "My Indian guide, who knew every inch of the country, told me so many times. I can assure you that Lord Arranmore, whom I am very pleased to meet again, was a very different person in those days."

The butler glided up from the background.

"Luncheon is served in the small dining-room, Sir George," he announced.

* * * * *

Molyneux and Brooks drove in together to Medchester, and the former was disposed—for him to be talkative.

"Queer thing about Lacroix turning up," he remarked. "I fancy our host looked a bit staggered."

"It was enough to surprise him," Brooks answered. "From Lake Ono to Medchester is a long way."

Molyneux nodded.

"By Jove, it is," he affirmed. "Queer stick our host. Close as wax. I've known him ever since he dropped in for the title and estates, and I've never yet heard him open his mouth on the subject of his travels."

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