'I see it all,' cried he, as he paced his room in self-examination. 'I have suffered myself to be carried away by a burst of momentary impulse. I brought up all my reserves, and have failed utterly. Nothing can save me now, but a "change of front." It is the last bit of generalship remaining—a change of front—a change of front!' And he repeated the words over and over, as though hoping they might light up his ingenuity. 'I might go and tell her that all I had been saying was mere jest—that I could never have dreamed of asking her to follow me into barbarism: that to go to Guatemala was equivalent to accepting a yellow fever—it was courting disease, perhaps death; that my insistence was a mere mockery, in the worst possible taste; but that I had already agreed with Lord Danesbury, our engagement should be cancelled; that his lordship's memory of our conversation would corroborate me in saying I had no intention to propose such a sacrifice to her; and indeed I had but provoked her to say the very things, and use the very arguments, I had already employed to myself as a sort of aid to my own heartfelt convictions. Here would be a "change of front" with a vengeance.
'She will already have written off the whole interview: the despatch is finished,' cried he, after a moment. 'It is a change of front the day after the battle. The people will read of my manoeuvre with the bulletin of victory before them.
'Poor Frank Touchet used to say,' cried he aloud, '"Whenever they refuse my cheques at the Bank, I always transfer my account"; and fortunately the world is big enough for these tactics for several years. That's a change of front too, if I knew how to adapt it. I must marry another woman—there's nothing else for it. It is the only escape; and the question is, who shall she be?' The more he meditated over this change of front the more he saw that his destiny pointed to the Greek. If he could see clearly before him to a high career in diplomacy, the Greek girl, in everything but fortune, would suit him well. Her marvellous beauty, her grace of manner, her social tact and readiness, her skill in languages, were all the very qualities most in request. Such a woman would make the full complement, by her fascinations, of all that her husband could accomplish by his abilities. The little indiscretions of old men—especially old men—with these women, the lapses of confidence they made them, the dropping admissions of this or that intention, made up what Walpole knew to be high diplomacy.
'Nothing worth hearing is ever got by a man,' was an adage he treasured as deep wisdom. Why kings resort to that watering-place, and accidentally meet certain Ministers going somewhere else; why kaisers affect to review troops here, that they may be able to talk statecraft there; how princely compacts and contracts of marriage are made at sulphur springs; all these and such like leaked out as small-talk with a young and pretty woman, whose frivolity of manner went bail for the safety of the confidence, and went far to persuade Walpole, that though bank-stock might be a surer investment, there were paying qualities in certain women that in the end promised larger returns than mere money and higher rewards than mere wealth. 'Yes,' cried he to himself, 'this is the real change of front—this has all in its favour.'
Nor yet all. Strong as Walpole's self-esteem was, and high his estimate of his own capacity, he had—he could not conceal it—a certain misgiving as to whether he really understood that girl or not. 'I have watched many a bolt from her bow,' said he, 'and think I know their range. But now and then she has shot an arrow into the clear sky, and far beyond my sight to follow it.'
That scene in the wood too. Absurd enough that it should obtrude itself at such a moment, but it was the sort of indication that meant much more to a man like Walpole than to men of other experiences. Was she flirting with this young Austrian soldier? No great harm if she were; but still there had been passages between himself and her which should have bound her over to more circumspection. Was there not a shadowy sort of engagement between them? Lawyers deem a mere promise to grant a lease as equivalent to a contract. It would be a curious question in morals to inquire how far the licensed perjuries of courtship are statutory offences. Perhaps a sly consciousness on his own part that he was not playing perfectly fair made him, as it might do, more than usually tenacious that his adversary should be honest. What chance the innocent public would have with two people who were so adroit with each other was his next thought; and he actually laughed aloud as it occurred to him. 'I only wish my lord would invite us here before we sail. If I could but show her to Maude, half an hour of these women together would be the heaviest vengeance I could ask her! I wonder how could that be managed?'
'A despatch, sir, his lordship begs you to read,' said a servant, entering. It was an open envelope, and contained these words on a slip of paper:—
'W. shall have Guatemala. He must go out by the mail of November 15. Send him here for instructions.' Some words in cipher followed, and an under-secretary's initials.
'Now, then, for the "change of front." I'll write to Nina by this post. I'll ask my lord to let me tear off this portion of the telegram, and I shall inclose it.'
The letter was not so easily written as he thought—at least he made more than one draft—and was at last in great doubt whether a long statement or a few and very decided lines might be better. How he ultimately determined, and what he said, cannot be given here; for, unhappily, the conditions of my narrative require I should ask my reader to accompany me to a very distant spot and other interests which were just then occupying the attention of an almost forgotten acquaintance of ours, the redoubted Joseph Atlee.
WITH A PASHA
Joseph Atlee had a very busy morning of it on a certain November day at Pera, when the post brought him tidings that Lord Danesbury had resigned the Irish viceroyalty, and had been once more named to his old post as ambassador at Constantinople.
'My uncle desires me,' wrote Lady Maude, 'to impress you with the now all-important necessity of obtaining the papers you know of, and, so far as you are able, to secure that no authorised copies of them are extant. Kulbash Pasha will, my lord says, be very tractable when once assured that our return to Turkey is a certainty; but should you detect signs of hesitation or distrust in the Grand-Vizier's conduct, you will hint that the investigation as to the issue of the Galatz shares—"preference shares"—may be reopened at any moment, and that the Ottoman Bank agent, Schaffer, has drawn up a memoir which my uncle now holds. I copy my lord's words for all this, and sincerely hope you will understand it, which, I confess, I do not at all. My lord cautioned me not to occupy your time or attention by any reference to Irish questions, but leave you perfectly free to deal with those larger interests of the East that should now engage you. I forbear, therefore, to do more than mark with a pencil the part in the debates which might interest you especially, and merely add the fact, otherwise, perhaps, not very credible, that Mr. Walpole did write the famous letter imputed to him—did promise the amnesty, or whatever be the name of it, and did pledge the honour of the Government to a transaction with these Fenian leaders. With what success to his own prospects, the Gazette will speak that announces his appointment to Guatemala.
'I am myself very far from sorry at our change of destination. I prefer the Bosporus to the Bay of Dublin, and like Pera better than the Phoenix. It is not alone that the interests are greater, the questions larger, and the consequences more important to the world at large, but that, as my uncle has just said, you are spared the peddling impertinence of Parliament interfering at every moment, and questioning your conduct, from an invitation to Cardinal Cullen to the dismissal of a chief constable. Happily, the gentlemen at Westminster know nothing about Turkey, and have the prudence not to ventilate their ignorance, except in secret committee. I am sorry to have to tell you that my lord sees great difficulty in what you propose as to yourself. F. O., he says, would not easily consent to your being named even a third secretary without your going through the established grade of attache. All the unquestionable merits he knows you to possess would count for nothing against an official regulation. The course my lord would suggest is this: To enter now as mere attache, to continue in this position some three or four months, come over here for the general election in February, get into "the House," and after some few sessions, one or two, rejoin diplomacy, to which you might be appointed as a secretary of legation. My uncle named to me three, if not four cases of this kind—one, indeed, stepped at once into a mission and became a minister; and though of course the Opposition made a fuss, they failed in their attempt to break the appointment, and the man will probably be soon an ambassador. I accept the little yataghan, but sincerely wish the present had been of less value. There is one enormous emerald in the handle which I am much tempted to transfer to a ring. Perhaps I ought, in decency, to have your permission for the change. The burnous is very beautiful, but I could not accept it—an article of dress is in the category of things impossible. Have you no Irish sisters, or even cousins? Pray give me a destination to address it to in your next.
'My uncle desires me to say that, all invaluable as your services have become where you are, he needs you greatly here, and would hear with pleasure that you were about to return. He is curious to know who wrote "L'Orient et Lord D." in the last Revue des Deux Mondes. The savagery of the attack implies a personal rancour. Find out the author, and reply to him in the Edinburgh. My lord suspects he may have had access to the papers he has already alluded to, and is the more eager to repossess them.'
A telegraphic despatch in cipher was put into his hands as he was reading. It was from Lord Danesbury, and said: 'Come back as soon as you can, but not before making K. Pasha know his fate is in my hands.'
As the Grand-Vizier had already learned from the Ottoman ambassador at London the news that Lord Danesbury was about to resume his former post at Constantinople, his Turkish impassiveness was in no way imperilled by Atlee's abrupt announcement. It is true he would have been pleased had the English Government sent out some one new to the East and a stranger to all Oriental questions. He would have liked one of those veterans of diplomacy versed in the old-fashioned ways and knaveries of German courts, and whose shrewdest ideas of a subtle policy are centred in a few social spies and a 'Cabinet Noir.' The Pasha had no desire to see there a man who knew all the secret machinery of a Turkish administration, what corruption could do, and where to look for the men who could employ it.
The thing was done, however, and with that philosophy of resignation to a fact in which no nation can rival his own, he muttered his polite congratulations on the event, and declared that the dearest wish of his heart was now accomplished.
'We had half begun to believe you had abandoned us, Mr. Atlee,' said he. 'When England commits her interests to inferior men, she usually means to imply that they are worth nothing better. I am rejoiced to see that we are, at last, awakened from this delusion. With his Excellency Lord Danesbury here, we shall be soon once more where we have been.'
'Your fleet is in effective condition, well armed, and well disciplined?'
'All, all,' smiled the Pasha.
'The army reformed, the artillery supplied with the most efficient guns, and officers of European services encouraged to join your staff?'
'Wise economies in your financial matters, close supervision in the collection of the revenue, and searching inquiries where abuses exist?'
'Especial care that the administration of justice should be beyond even the malevolence of distrust, that men of station and influence should be clear-handed and honourable, not a taint of unfairness to attach to them?'
'Be it all so,' ejaculated the Pasha blandly.
'By the way, I am reminded by a line I have just received from his Excellency with reference to Sulina, or was it Galatz?'
The Pasha could not decide, and he went on—
'I remember, it is Galatz. There is some curious question there of a concession for a line of railroad, which a Servian commissioner had the skill to obtain from the Cabinet here, by a sort of influence which our Stock Exchange people in London scarcely regard as regular.'
The Pasha nodded to imply attention, and smoked on as before.
'But I weary your Excellency,' said Atlee, rising, 'and my real business here is accomplished.'
'Tell my lord that I await his arrival with impatience, that of all pending questions none shall receive solution till he comes, that I am the very least of his servants.' And with an air of most dignified sincerity, he bowed him out, and Atlee hastened away to tell his chief that he had 'squared the Turk,' and would sail on the morrow.
ATLEE ON HIS TRAVELS
On board the Austrian Lloyd's steamer in which he sailed from Constantinople, Joseph Atlee employed himself in the composition of a small volume purporting to be The Experiences of a Two Years' Residence in Greece. In an opening chapter of this work he had modestly intimated to the reader how an intimate acquaintance with the language and literature of modern Greece, great opportunities of mixing with every class and condition of the people, a mind well stored with classical acquirements and thoroughly versed in antiquarian lore, a strong poetic temperament and the feeling of an artist for scenery, had all combined to give him a certain fitness for his task; and by the extracts from his diary it would be seen on what terms of freedom he conversed with Ministers and ambassadors, even with royalty itself.
A most pitiless chapter was devoted to the exposure of the mistakes and misrepresentations of a late Quarterly article called 'Greece and her Protectors,' whose statements were the more mercilessly handled and ridiculed that the paper in question had been written by himself, and the sarcastic allusions to the sources of the information not the less pungent on that account.
That the writer had been admitted to frequent audiences of the king, that he had discussed with his Majesty the cutting of the Isthmus of Corinth, that the king had seriously confided to him his belief that in the event of his abdication, the Ionian Islands must revert to him as a personal appanage, the terms on which they were annexed to Greece being decided by lawyers to bear this interpretation—all these Atlee denied of his own knowledge, an asked the reader to follow him into the royal cabinet for his reasons.
When, therefore, he heard that from some damage to the machinery the vessel must be detained some days at Syra to refit, Atlee was scarcely sorry that necessity gave him an opportunity to visit Athens.
A little about Ulysses and a good deal about Lord Byron, a smattering of Grote, and a more perfect memory of About, were, as he owned to himself, all his Greece; but he could answer for what three days in the country would do for him, particularly with that spirit of candid inquiry he could now bring to his task, and the genuine fairness with which he desired to judge the people.
'The two years' resident' in Athens must doubtless often have dined with his Minister, and so Atlee sent his card to the Legation.
Mr. Brammell, our 'present Minister at Athens,' as the Times continued to designate him, as though to imply that the appointment might not be permanent, was an excellent man, of that stamp of which diplomacy has more—who consider that the Court to which they are accredited concentrates for the time the political interests of the globe. That any one in Europe thought, read, spoke, or listened to anything but what was then happening in Greece, Mr. Brammell could not believe. That France or Prussia, Spain or Italy, could divide attention with this small kingdom; that the great political minds of the Continent were not more eager to know what Comoundouros thought and Bulgaris required, than all about Bismarck and Gortschakoff, he could not be brought to conceive; and in consequence of these convictions, he was an admirable Minister, and fully represented all the interests of his country.
As that admirable public instructor, the Levant Herald, had frequently mentioned Atlee's name, now as the guest of Kulbash Pasha, now as having attended some public ceremony with other persons of importance, and once as 'our distinguished countryman, whose wise suggestions and acute observations have been duly accepted by the imperial cabinet,' Brammell at once knew that this distinguished countryman should be entertained at dinner, and he sent him an invitation. That habit—so popular of late years—to send out some man from England to do something at a foreign Court that the British ambassador or Minister there either has not done, or cannot do, possibly ought never to do, had invested Atlee in Brammell's eyes with the character of one of those semi-accredited inscrutable people whose function it would seem to be to make us out the most meddlesome people in Europe.
Of course Brammell was not pleased to see him at Athens, and he ran over all the possible contingencies he might have come for. It might be the old Greek loan, which was to be raked up again as a new grievance. It might be the pensions that they would not pay, or the brigands that they would not catch—pretty much for the same reasons—that they could not. It might be that they wanted to hear what Tsousicheff, the new Russian Minister, was doing, and whether the farce of the 'Grand Idea' was advertised for repetition. It might be Crete was on the tapis, or it might be the question of the Greek envoy to the Porte that the Sultan refused to receive, and which promised to turn out a very pretty quarrel if only adroitly treated.
The more Brammell thought of it, the more he felt assured this must be the reason of Atlee's visit, and the more indignant he grew that extra-official means should be employed to investigate what he had written seventeen despatches to explain—seventeen despatches, with nine 'inclosures,' and a 'private and confidential,' about to appear in a blue-book.
To make the dinner as confidential as might be, the only guests besides Atlee were a couple of yachting Englishmen, a German Professor of Archaeology, and the American Minister, who, of course, speaking no language but his own, could always be escaped from by a digression into French, German, or Italian.
Atlee felt, as he entered the drawing-room, that the company was what he irreverently called afterwards, a scratch team; and with an almost equal quickness, he saw that he himself was the 'personage' of the entertainment, the 'man of mark' of the party.
The same tact which enabled him to perceive all this, made him especially guarded in all he said, so that his host's efforts to unveil his intentions and learn what he had come for were complete failures. 'Greece was a charming country—Greece was the parent of any civilisation we boasted. She gave us those ideas of architecture with which we raised that glorious temple at Kensington, and that taste for sculpture which we exhibited near Apsley House. Aristophanes gave us our comic drama, and only the defaults of our language made it difficult to show why the member for Cork did not more often recall Demosthenes.'
As for insolvency, it was a very gentlemanlike failing; while brigandage was only what Sheil used to euphemise as 'the wild justice' of noble spirits, too impatient for the sluggard steps of slow redress, and too proud not to be self-reliant.
Thus excusing and extenuating wherein he could not flatter, Atlee talked on the entire evening, till he sent the two Englishmen home heartily sick of a bombastic eulogy on the land where a pilot had run their cutter on a rock, and a revenue officer had seized all their tobacco. The German had retired early, and the Yankee hastened to his lodgings to 'jot down' all the fine things he could commit to his next despatch home, and overwhelm Mr. Seward with an array of historic celebrities such as had never been seen at Washington.
'They're gone at last,' said the Minister. 'Let us have our cigar on the terrace.'
The unbounded frankness, the unlimited trustfulness that now ensued between these two men, was charming. Brammell represented one hard worked and sorely tried in his country's service—the perfect slave of office, spending nights long at his desk, but not appreciated, not valued at home. It was delightful, therefore, to him, to find a man like Atlee to whom he could tell this—could tell for what an ungrateful country he toiled, what ignorance he sought to enlighten, what actual stupidity he had to counteract. He spoke of the Office—from his tone of horror it might have been the Holy Office—with a sort of tremulous terror and aversion: the absurd instructions they sent him, the impossible things he was to do, the inconceivable lines of policy he was to insist on; how but for him the king would abdicate, and a Russian protectorate be proclaimed; how the revolt at Athens would be proclaimed in Thessaly; how Skulkekoff, the Russian general, was waiting to move into the provinces 'at the first check my policy shall receive here,' cried he. 'I shall show you on this map; and here are the names, armament, and tonnage of a hundred and ninety-four gunboats now ready at Nicholief to move down on Constantinople.'
Was it not strange, was it not worse than strange, after such a show of unbounded confidence as this, Atlee would reveal nothing? Whatever his grievances against the people he served—and who is without them?—he would say nothing, he had no complaint to make. Things he admitted were bad, but they might be worse. The monarchy existed still, and the House of Lords was, for a while at least, tolerated. Ireland was disturbed, but not in open rebellion; and if we had no army to speak of, we still had a navy, and even the present Admiralty only lost about five ships a year!
Till long after midnight did they fence with each other, with buttons on their foils—very harmlessly, no doubt, but very uselessly too: Brammell could make nothing of a man who neither wanted to hear about finance or taxation, court scandal, schools, or public robbery; and though he could not in so many words ask—What have you come for? why are you here? he said this in full fifty different ways for three hours and more.
'You make some stay amongst us, I trust?' said the Minister, as his guest rose to take leave. 'You mean to see something of this interesting country before you leave?'
'I fear not; when the repairs to the steamer enable her to put to sea, they are to let me know by telegraph, and I shall join her.'
'Are you so pressed for time that you cannot spare us a week or two?'
'Totally impossible! Parliament will sit in January next, and I must hasten home.'
This was to imply that he was in the House, or that he expected to be, or that he ought to be, and even if he were not, that his presence in England was all-essential to somebody who was in Parliament, and for whom his information, his explanation, his accusation, or anything else, was all needed, and so Brammell read it and bowed accordingly.
'By the way,' said the Minister, as the other was leaving the room, and with that sudden abruptness of a wayward thought, 'we have been talking of all sorts of things and people, but not a word about what we are so full of here. How is this difficulty about the new Greek envoy to the Porte to end? You know, of course, the Sultan refuses to receive him?'
'The Pasha told me something of it, but I confess to have paid little attention. I treated the matter as insignificant.'
'Insignificant! You cannot mean that an affront so openly administered as this, the greatest national offence that could be offered, is insignificant?' and then with a volubility that smacked very little of want of preparation, he showed that the idea of sending a particular man, long compromised by his complicity in the Cretan revolt, to Constantinople, came from Russia, and that the opposition of the Porte to accept him was also Russian. 'I got to the bottom of the whole intrigue. I wrote home how Tsousicheff was nursing this new quarrel. I told our people facts of the Muscovite policy that they never got a hint of from their ambassador at St. Petersburg.'
'It was rare luck that we had you here: good-night, good-night,' said Atlee as he buttoned his coat.
'More than that, I said, "If the Cabinet here persist in sending Kostalergi—"'
'Whom did you say? What name was it you said?'
'Kostalergi—the Prince. As much a prince as you are. First of all, they have no better; and secondly, this is the most consummate adventurer in the East.'
'I should like to know him. Is he here—at Athens?'
'Of course he is. He is waiting till he hears the Sultan will receive him.'
'I should like to know him,' said Atlee, more seriously.
'Nothing easier. He comes here every day. Will you meet him at dinner to-morrow?'
'Delighted! but then I should like a little conversation with him in the morning. Perhaps you would kindly make me known to him?'
'With sincere pleasure. I'll write and ask him to dine—and I'll say that you will wait on him. I'll say, "My distinguished friend Mr. Atlee, of whom you have heard, will wait on you about eleven or twelve." Will that do?'
'Perfectly. So then I may make my visit on the presumption of being expected?'
'Certainly. Not that Kostalergi wants much preparation. He plays baccarat all night, but he is at his desk at six.'
'Is he rich?'
'Hasn't a sixpence—but plays all the same. And what people are more surprised at, pays when he loses. If I had not already passed an evening in your company, I should be bold enough to hint to you the need of caution—great caution—in talking with him.'
'I know—I am aware,' said Atlee, with a meaning smile.
'You will not be misled by his cunning, Mr. Atlee, but beware of his candour.'
'I will be on my guard. Many thanks for the caution. Good-night!—once more, good-night!'
GREEK MEETS GREEK
So excited did Atlee feel about meeting the father of Nina Kostalergi—of whose strange doings and adventurous life he had heard much—that he scarcely slept the entire night. It puzzled him greatly to determine in what character he should present himself to this crafty Greek. Political amateurship was now so popular in England, that he might easily enough pass off for one of those 'Bulls' desirous to make himself up on the Greek question. This was a part that offered no difficulty. 'Give me five minutes of any man—a little longer with a woman—and I'll know where his sympathies incline to.' This was a constant boast of his, and not altogether a vain one. He might be an archaeological traveller eager about new-discovered relics and curious about ruined temples. He might be a yachting man, who only cared for Salamis as good anchorage, nor thought of the Acropolis, except as a point of departure; or he might be one of those myriads who travel without knowing where, or caring why: airing their ennui now at Thebes, now at Trolhatten; a weariful, dispirited race, who rarely look so thoroughly alive as when choosing a cigar or changing their money. There was no reason why the 'distinguished Mr. Atlee' might not be one of these—he was accredited, too, by his Minister, and his 'solidarity,' as the French call it, was beyond question.
While yet revolving these points, a kavass—with much gold in his jacket, and a voluminous petticoat of white calico—came to inform him that his Excellency the Prince hope to see him at breakfast at eleven o'clock; and it now only wanted a few minutes of that hour. Atlee detained the messenger to show him the road, and at last set out.
Traversing one dreary, ill-built street after another, they arrived at last at what seemed a little lane, the entrance to which carriages were denied by a line of stone posts, at the extremity of which a small green gate appeared in a wall. Pushing this wide open, the kavass stood respectfully, while Atlee passed in, and found himself in what for Greece was a garden. There were two fine palm-trees, and a small scrub of oleanders and dwarf cedars that grew around a little fish-pond, where a small Triton in the middle, with distended cheeks, should have poured forth a refreshing jet of water, but his lips were dry, and his conch-shell empty, and the muddy tank at his feet a mere surface of broad water-lilies convulsively shaken by bull-frogs. A short shady path led to the house, a two-storeyed edifice, with the external stair of wood that seemed to crawl round it on every side.
In a good-sized room of the ground-floor Atlee found the prince awaiting him. He was confined to a sofa by a slight sprain, he called it, and apologised for his not being able to rise.
The prince, though advanced in years, was still handsome: his features had all the splendid regularity of their Greek origin; but in the enormous orbits, of which the tint was nearly black, and the indented temples, traversed by veins of immense size, and the firm compression of his lips, might be read the signs of a man who carried the gambling spirit into every incident of life, one ready 'to back his luck,' and show a bold front to fortune when fate proved adverse.
The Greek's manner was perfect. There was all the ease of a man used to society, with a sort of half-sly courtesy, as he said, 'This is kindness, Mr. Atlee—this is real kindness. I scarcely thought an Englishman would have the courage to call upon anything so unpopular as I am.'
'I have come to see you and the Parthenon, Prince, and I have begun with you.'
'And you will tell them, when you get home, that I am not the terrible revolutionist they think me: that I am neither Danton nor Felix Pyat, but a very mild and rather tiresome old man, whose extreme violence goes no further than believing that people ought to be masters in their own house, and that when any one disputes the right, the best thing is to throw him out of the window.'
'If he will not go by the door,' remarked Atlee.
'No, I would not give him the chance of the door. Otherwise you make no distinction between your friends and your enemies. It is by the mild methods—what you call "milk-and-water methods"—men spoil all their efforts for freedom. You always want to cut off somebody's head and spill no blood. There's the mistake of those Irish rebels: they tell me they have courage, but I find it hard to believe them.'
'Do believe them then, and know for certain that there is not a braver people in Europe.'
'How do you keep them down, then?'
'You must not ask me that, for I am one of them.'
'Yes, Irish—very Irish.'
'Ah! I see. Irish in an English sense? Just as there are Greeks here who believe in Kulbash Pasha, and would say, Stay at home and till your currant-fields and mind your coasting trade. Don't try to be civilised, for civilisation goes badly with brigandage, and scarcely suits trickery. And you are aware, Mr. Atlee, that trickery and brigandage are more to Greece than olives or dried figs?'
There was that of mockery in the way he said this, and the little smile that played about his mouth when he finished, that left Atlee in considerable doubt how to read him.
'I study your newspapers, Mr. Atlee,' resumed he. 'I never omit to read your Times, and I see how my old acquaintance, Lord Danesbury, has been making Turkey out of Ireland! It is so hard to persuade an old ambassador that you cannot do everything by corruption!'
'I scarcely think you do him justice.'
'Poor Danesbury,' ejaculated he sorrowfully.
'You opine that his policy is a mistake?'
'Poor Danesbury!' said he again.
'He is one of our ablest men, notwithstanding. At this moment we have not his superior in anything.'
'I was going to say, Poor Danesbury, but I now say, Poor England.'
Atlee bit his lips with anger at the sarcasm, but went on, 'I infer you are not aware of the exact share subordinates have had in what you call Lord Danesbury's Irish blunders—'
'Pardon my interrupting you, but a really able man has no subordinates. His inferior agents are so thoroughly absorbed by his own individuality that they have no wills—no instincts—and, therefore, they can do no indiscretions They are the simple emanations of himself in action.'
'In Turkey, perhaps,' said Atlee, with a smile.
'If in Turkey, why not in England, or, at least, in Ireland? If you are well served—and mind, you must be well served, or you are powerless—you can always in political life see the adversary's hand. That he sees yours, is of course true: the great question then is, how much you mean to mislead him by the showing it? I give you an instance: Lord Danesbury's cleverest stroke in policy here, the one hit probably he made in the East, was to have a private correspondence with the Khedive made known to the Russian embassy, and induce Gortschakoff to believe that he could not trust the Pasha! All the Russian preparations to move down on the Provinces were countermanded. The stores of grain that were being made on the Pruth were arrested, and three, nearly four weeks elapsed before the mistake was discovered, and in that interval England had reinforced the squadron at Malta, and taken steps to encourage Turkey—always to be done by money, or promise of money.'
'It was a coup of great adroitness,' said Atlee.
'It was more,' cried the Greek, with elation. 'It was a move of such subtlety as smacks of something higher than the Saxon! The men who do these things have the instinct of their craft. It is theirs to understand that chemistry of human motives by which a certain combination results in effects totally remote from the agents that produce it. Can you follow me?'
'I believe I can.'
'I would rather say, Is my attempt at an explanation sufficiently clear to be intelligible?'
Atlee looked fixedly at him, and he could do so unobserved, for the other was now occupied in preparing his pipe, without minding the question. Therefore Atlee set himself to study the features before him. It was evident enough, from the intensity of his gaze and a certain trembling of his upper lip, that the scrutiny cost him no common effort. It was, in fact, the effort to divine what, if he mistook to read aright, would be an irreparable blunder.
With the long-drawn inspiration a man makes before he adventures a daring feat, he said: 'It is time I should be candid with you, Prince. It is time I should tell you that I am in Greece only to see you.'
'To see me?' said the other, and a very faint flush passed across his face.
'To see you,' said Atlee slowly, while he drew out a pocket-book and took from it a letter. 'This,' said he, handing it, 'is to your address.' The words on the cover were M. Spiridionides.
'I am Spiridion Kostalergi, and by birth a Prince of Delos,' said the Greek, waving back the letter.
'I am well aware of that, and it is only in perfect confidence that I venture to recall a past that your Excellency will see I respect,' and Atlee spoke with an air of deference.
'The antecedents of the men who serve this country are not to be measured by the artificial habits of a people who regulate condition by money. Your statesmen have no need to be journalists, teachers, tutors; Frenchmen and Italians are all these, and on the Lower Danube and in Greece we are these and something more.—Nor are we less politicians that we are more men of the world.—The little of statecraft that French Emperor ever knew, he picked up in his days of exile.' All this he blurted out in short and passionate bursts, like an angry man who was trying to be logical in his anger, and to make an effort of reason subdue his wrath.
'If I had not understood these things as you yourself understand them, I should not have been so indiscreet as to offer you that letter,' and once more he proffered it.
This time the Greek took it, tore open the envelope, and read it through.
'It is from Lord Danesbury,' said he at length. 'When we parted last, I was, in a certain sense, my lord's subordinate—that is, there were things none of his staff or secretaries or attaches or dragomen could do, and I could do them. Times are changed, and if we are to meet again, it will be as colleagues. It is true, Mr. Atlee, the ambassador of England and the envoy of Greece are not exactly of the same rank. I do not permit myself many illusions, and this is not one of them; but remember, if Great Britain be a first-rate Power, Greece is a volcano. It is for us to say when there shall be an eruption.'
It was evident, from the rambling tenor of this speech, he was speaking rather to conceal his thoughts and give himself time for reflection, than to enunciate any definite opinion; and so Atlee, with native acuteness, read him, as he simply bowed a cold assent.
'Why should I give him back his letters?' burst out the Greek warmly. 'What does he offer me in exchange for them? Money! mere money! By what presumption does he assume that I must be in such want of money, that the only question should be the sum? May not the time come when I shall be questioned in our chamber as to certain matters of policy, and my only vindication be the documents of this same English ambassador, written in his own hand, and signed with his name? Will you tell me that the triumphant assertion of a man's honour is not more to him than bank-notes?'
Though the heroic spirit of this speech went but a short way to deceive Atlee, who only read it as a plea for a higher price, it was his policy to seem to believe every word of it, and he looked a perfect picture of quiet conviction.
'You little suspect what these letters are?' said the Greek.
I believe I know: I rather think I have a catalogue of them and their contents,' mildly hinted the other.
'Ah! indeed, and are you prepared to vouch for the accuracy and completeness of your list?'
'You must be aware it is only my lord himself can answer that question.'
'Is there—in your enumeration—is there the letter about Crete? and the false news that deceived the Baron de Baude? Is there the note of my instructions to the Khedive? Is there—I'm sure there is not—any mention of the negotiation with Stephanotis Bey?'
'I have seen Stephanotis myself; I have just come from him,' said Atlee, grasping at the escape the name offered.
'Ah, you know the old Paiikao?'
'Intimately; we are, I hope, close friends; he was at Kulbash Pasha's while I was there, and we had much talk together.'
'And from him it was you learned that Spiridionides was Spiridion Kostalergi?' said the Greek slowly.
'Surely this is not meant as a question, or, at least, a question to be answered?' said Atlee, smiling.
'No, no, of course not,' replied the other politely. 'We are chatting together, if not like old friends, like men who have every element to become dear friends. We see life pretty much from the same point of view, Mr. Atlee, is it not so?'
'It would be a great flattery to me to think it.' And Joe's eyes sparkled as he spoke.
'One has to make his choice somewhat early in the world, whether he will hunt or be hunted: I believe that is about the case.'
'I suspect so.'
'I did not take long to decide: I took my place with the wolves!' Nothing could be more quietly uttered than these words; but there was a savage ferocity in his look as he said them that held Atlee almost spell-bound. 'And you, Mr. Atlee? and you? I need scarcely ask where your choice fell!' It was so palpable that the words meant a compliment, Atlee had only to smile a polite acceptance of them.
'These letters,' said the Greek, resuming, and like one who had not mentally lapsed from the theme—'these letters are all that my lord deems them. They are the very stuff that, in your country of publicity and free discussion, would make or mar the very best reputations amongst you. And,' added he, after a pause, 'there are none of them destroyed, none!'
'He is aware of that.'
'No, he is not aware of it to the extent I speak of, for many of the documents that he believed he saw burned in his own presence, on his own hearth, are here, here in the room we sit in! So that I am in the proud position of being able to vindicate his policy in many cases where his memory might prove weak or fallacious.'
'Although I know Lord Danesbury's value for these papers does not bear out your own, I will not suffer myself to discuss the point. I return at once to what I have come for. Shall I make you an offer in money for them, Monsieur Kostalergi?'
'What is the amount you propose?'
'I was to negotiate for a thousand pounds first. I was to give two thousand at the last resort. I will begin at the last resort and pay you two.'
'Why not piastres, Mr. Atlee? I am sure your instructions must have said piastres.'
Quite unmoved by the sarcasm, Atlee took out his pocket-book and read from a memorandum: 'Should M. Kostalergi refuse your offer, or think it insufficient, on no account let the negotiation take any turn of acrimony or recrimination. He has rendered me great services in past times, and it will be for himself to determine whether he should do or say what should in any way bar our future relations together.'
'This is not a menace?' said the Greek, smiling superciliously.
'No. It is simply an instruction,' said the other, after a slight hesitation.
'The men who make a trade of diplomacy,' said the Greek haughtily, 'reserve it for their dealings with Cabinets. In home or familiar intercourse they are straightforward and simple. Without these papers your noble master cannot return to Turkey as ambassador. Do not interrupt me. He cannot come back as ambassador to the Porte! It is for him to say how he estimates the post. An ambitious man with ample reason for his ambition, an able man with a thorough conviction of his ability, a patriotic man who understood and saw the services he could render to his country, would not bargain at the price the place should cost him, nor say ten thousand pounds too much to pay for it.'
'Ten thousand pounds!' exclaimed Atlee, but in real and unfeigned astonishment.
'I have said ten thousand, and I will not say nine—nor nine thousand nine hundred.'
Atlee slowly arose and took his hat.
'I have too much respect for yourself and for your time, M. Kostalergi, to impose any longer on your leisure. I have no need to say that your proposal is totally unacceptable.'
'You have not heard it all, sir. The money is but a part of what I insist on. I shall demand, besides, that the British ambassador at Constantinople shall formally support my claim to be received as envoy from Greece, and that the whole might of England be pledged to the ratification of my appointment.'
A very cold but not uncourteous smile was all Atlee's acknowledgment of this speech.
'There are small details which regard my title and the rank that I lay claim to. With these I do not trouble you. I will merely say I reserve them if we should discuss this in future.'
'Of that there is little prospect. Indeed, I see none whatever. I may say this much, however, Prince, that I shall most willingly undertake to place your claims to be received as Minister for Greece at the Porte under Lord Danesbury's notice, and, I have every hope, for favourable consideration. We are not likely to meet again: may I assume that we part friends?'
'You only anticipate my own sincere desire.'
As they passed slowly through the garden, Atlee stopped and said: 'Had I been able to tell my lord, "The Prince is just named special envoy at Constantinople. The Turks are offended at something he has done in Crete or Thessaly. Without certain pressure on the Divan they will not receive him. Will your lordship empower me to say that you will undertake this, and, moreover, enable me to assure him that all the cost and expenditure of his outfit shall be met in a suitable form?" If, in fact, you give me your permission to submit such a basis as this, I should leave Athens far happier than I feel now.'
'The Chamber has already voted the outfit. It is very modest, but it is enough. Our national resources are at a low ebb. You might, indeed—that is, if you still wished to plead my cause—you might tell my lord that I had destined this sum as the fortune of my daughter. I have a daughter, Mr. Atlee, and at present sojourning in your own country. And though at one time I was minded to recall her, and take her with me to Turkey, I have grown to doubt whether it would be a wise policy. Our Greek contingencies are too many and too sudden to let us project very far in life.'
'Strange enough,' said Atlee thoughtfully, 'you have just—as it were by mere hazard—struck the one chord in the English nature that will always respond to the appeal of a home affection. Were I to say, "Do you know why Kostalergi makes so hard a bargain? It is to endow a daughter. It is the sole provision he stipulates to make her—Greek statesmen can amass no fortunes—this hazard will secure the girl's future!" On my life, I cannot think of one argument that would have equal weight.'
Kostalergi smiled faintly, but did not speak.
'Lord Danesbury never married, but I know with what interest and affection he follows the fortunes of men who live to secure the happiness of their children. It is the one plea he could not resist; to be sure he might say, "Kostalergi told you this, and perhaps at the time he himself believed it; but how can a man who likes the world and its very costliest pleasures guard himself against his own habits? Who is to pledge his honour that the girl will ever be the owner of this sum?"'
'I shall place that beyond a cavil or a question: he shall be himself her guardian. The money shall not leave his hands till she marries. You have your own laws, by which a man can charge his estate with the payment of a certain amount. My lord, if he assents to this, will know how it may be done. I repeat, I do not desire to touch a drachma of the sum.'
'You interest me immensely. I cannot tell you how intensely I feel interested in all this. In fact, I shall own to you frankly that you have at last employed an argument, I do not know how, even if I wished, to answer. Am I at liberty to state this pretty much as you have told it?'
'Every word of it.'
'Will you go further—will you give me a little line, a memorandum in your own hand, to show that I do not misstate nor mistake you—that I have your meaning correctly, and without even a chance of error?'
'I will write it formally and deliberately.'
The bell of the outer door rang at the moment. It was a telegraphic message to Atlee, to say that the steamer had perfected her repairs and would sail that evening.
'You mean to sail with her?' asked the Greek. 'Well, within an hour, you shall have my packet. Good-bye. I have no doubt we shall hear of each other again.'
'I think I could venture to bet on it,' were Atlee's last words as he turned away.
Lord Danesbury had arrived at Bruton Street to confer with certain members of the Cabinet who remained in town after the session, chiefly to consult with him. He was accompanied by his niece, Lady Maude, and by Walpole, the latter continuing to reside under his roof, rather from old habit than from any strong wish on either side.
Walpole had obtained a short extension of his leave, and employed the time in endeavouring to make up his mind about a certain letter to Nina Kostalergi, which he had written nearly fifty times in different versions and destroyed. Neither his lordship nor his niece ever saw him. They knew he had a room or two somewhere, a servant was occasionally encountered on the way to him with a breakfast-tray and an urn; his letters were seen on the hall-table; but, except these, he gave no signs of life—never appeared at luncheon or at dinner—and as much dropped out of all memory or interest as though he had ceased to be.
It was one evening, yet early—scarcely eleven o'clock—as Lord Danesbury's little party of four Cabinet chiefs had just departed, that he sat at the drawing-room fire with Lady Maude, chatting over the events of the evening's conversation, and discussing, as men will do at times, the characters of their guests.
'It has been nearly as tiresome as a Cabinet Council, Maude!' said he, with a sigh, 'and not unlike it in one thing—it was almost always the men who knew least of any matter who discussed it most exhaustively.'
'I conclude you know what you are going out to do, my lord, and do not care to hear the desultory notions of people who know nothing.'
'Just so. What could a First Lord tell me about those Russian intrigues in Albania, or is it likely that a Home Secretary is aware of what is preparing in Montenegro? They get hold of some crotchet in the Revue des Deux Mondes, and assuming it all to be true, they ask defiantly, "How are you going to deal with that? Why did you not foresee the other?" and such like. How little they know, as that fellow Atlee says, that a man evolves his Turkey out of the necessities of his pocket, and captures his Constantinople to pay for a dinner at the "Freres." What fleets of Russian gunboats have I seen launched to procure a few bottles of champagne! I remember a chasse of Kersch, with the cafe, costing a whole battery of Krupp's breech-loaders!'
'Are our own journals more correct?'
'They are more cautious, Maude—far more cautious. Nine days' wonders with us would be too costly. Nothing must be risked that can affect the funds. The share-list is too solemn a thing for joking.'
'The Premier was very silent to-night,' said she, after a pause.
'He generally is in company: he looks like a man bored at being obliged to listen to people saying the things that he knows as well, and could tell better, than they do.'
'How completely he appears to have forgiven or forgotten the Irish fiasco.'
'Of course he has. An extra blunder in the conduct of Irish affairs is only like an additional mask in a fancy ball—the whole thing is motley; and asking for consistency would be like requesting the company to behave like arch-deacons.'
'And so the mischief has blown over?'
'In a measure it has. The Opposition quarrelled amongst themselves; and such as were not ready to take office if we were beaten, declined to press the motion. The irresponsibles went on, as they always do, to their own destruction. They became violent, and, of course, our people appealed against the violence, and with such temperate language and good-breeding that we carried the House with us.'
'I see there was quite a sensation about the word "villain."'
'No; miscreant. It was miscreant—a word very popular in O'Connell's day, but rather obsolete now. When the Speaker called on the member for an apology, we had won the day! These rash utterances in debate are the explosive balls that no one must use in battle; and if we only discover one in a fellow's pouch, we discredit the whole army.'
'I forget; did they press for a division?'
'No; we stopped them. We agreed to give them a "special committee to inquire." Of all devices for secrecy invented, I know of none like a "special committee of inquiry." Whatever people have known beforehand, their faith will now be shaken in, and every possible or accidental contingency assume a shape, a size, and a stability beyond all belief. They have got their committee, and I wish them luck of it! The only men who could tell them anything will take care not to criminate themselves, and the report will be a plaintive cry over a country where so few people can be persuaded to tell the truth, and nobody should seem any worse in consequence.'
'Cecil certainly did it,' said she, with a certain bitterness. 'I suppose he did. These young players are always thinking of scoring eight or ten on a single hazard: one should never back them!'
'Mr. Atlee said there was some female influence at work. He would not tell what nor whom. Possibly he did not know.'
'I rather suspect he did know. They were people, if I mistake not, belonging to that Irish castle—Kil—Kil-somebody, or Kil-something.'
'Was Walpole flirting there? was he going to marry one of them?'
'Flirting, I take it, must have been the extent of the folly. Cecil often said he could not marry Irish. I have known men do it! You are aware, Maude,' and here he looked with uncommon gravity, 'the penal laws have all been repealed.'
'I was speaking of society, my lord, not the statutes,' said she resentfully, and half suspicious of a sly jest.
'Had she money?' asked he curtly.
'I cannot tell; I know nothing of these people whatever! I remember something—it was a newspaper story—of a girl that saved Cecil's life by throwing herself before him—a very pretty incident it was; but these things make no figure in a settlement; and a woman may be as bold as Joan of Arc, and not have sixpence. Atlee says you can always settle the courage on the younger children.'
'Atlee's an arrant scamp,' said my lord, laughing. 'He should have written some days since.'
'I suppose he is too late for the borough: the Cradford election comes on next week?' Though there could not be anything more languidly indifferent than her voice in this question, a faint pinkish tinge flitted across her cheek, and left it colourless as before.
'Yes, he has his address out, and there is a sort of committee—certain licensed-victualler people—to whom he has been promising some especial Sabbath-breaking that they yearn after. I have not read it.'
'I have; and it is cleverly written, and there is little more radical in it than we heard this very day at dinner. He tells the electors, "You are no more bound to the support of an army or a navy, if you do not wish to fight, than to maintain the College of Surgeons or Physicians, if you object to take physic." He says, "To tell me that I, with eight shillings a week, have an equal interest in resisting invasion as your Lord Dido, with eighty thousand per annum, is simply nonsense. If you," cries he to one of his supporters, "were to be offered your life by a highwayman on surrendering some few pence or halfpence you carried in your pocket, you do not mean to dictate what my Lord Marquis might do, who has got a gold watch and a pocketful of notes in his. And so I say once more, let the rich pay for the defence of what they value. You and I have nothing worth fighting for, and we will not fight. Then as to religion—"'
'Oh, spare me his theology! I can almost imagine it, Maude. I had no conception he was such a Radical.'
'He is not really, my lord; but he tells me that we must all go through this stage. It is, as he says, like a course of those waters whose benefit is exactly in proportion to the way they disagree with you at first. He even said, one evening before he went away, "Take my word for it, Lady Maude, we shall be burning these apostles of ballot and universal suffrage in effigy one day; but I intend to go beyond every one else in the meanwhile, else the rebound will lose half its excellence."'
'What is this?' cried he, as the servant entered with a telegram. 'This is from Athens, Maude, and in cipher, too. How are we to make it out.'
'Cecil has the key, my lord. It is the diplomatic cipher.'
'Do you think you could find it in his room, Maude? It is possible this might be imminent.'
'I shall see if he is at home,' said she, rising to ring the bell. The servant sent to inquire returned, saying that Mr. Walpole had dined abroad, and not returned since dinner.
'I'm sure you could find the book, Maude, and it is a small square-shaped volume, bound in dark Russia leather, marked with F. O. on the cover.'
'I know the look of it well enough; but I do not fancy ransacking Cecil's chamber.'
'I do not know that I should like to await his return to read my despatch. I can just make out that it comes from Atlee.'
'I suppose I had better go, then,' said she reluctantly, as she rose and left the room.
Ordering the butler to precede and show her the way, Lady Maude ascended to a storey above that she usually inhabited, and found herself in a very spacious chamber, with an alcove, into which a bed fitted, the remaining space being arranged like an ordinary sitting-room. There were numerous chairs and sofas of comfortable form, a well-cushioned ottoman, smelling, indeed, villainously of tobacco, and a neat writing-table, with a most luxurious arrangement of shaded wax-lights above it.
A singularly well-executed photograph of a young and very lovely woman, with masses of loose hair flowing over her neck and shoulders, stood on a little easel on the desk, and it was, strange enough, with a sense of actual relief, Maude read the word Titian on the frame. It was a copy of the great master's picture in the Dresden Gallery, and of which there is a replica in the Barberini Palace at Rome; but still the portrait had another memory for Lady Maude, who quickly recalled the girl she had once seen in a crowded assembly, passing through a murmur of admiration that no conventionality could repress, and whose marvellous beauty seemed to glow with the homage it inspired.
Scraps of poetry, copies of verses, changed and blotted couplets, were scrawled on loose sheets of paper on the desk; but Maude minded none of these, as she pushed them away to rest her arm on the table, while she sat gazing on the picture.
The face had so completely absorbed her attention—so, to say, fascinated her—that when the servant had found the volume he was in search of, and presented it to her, she merely said, 'Take it to my lord,' and sat still, with her head resting on her hands, and her eyes fixed on the portrait. 'There may be some resemblance, there may be, at least, what might remind people of "the Laura "—so was it called; but who will pretend that she carried her head with that swing of lofty pride, or that her look could rival the blended majesty and womanhood we see here! I do not—I cannot believe it!'
'What is it, Maude, that you will not or cannot believe?' said a low voice, and she saw Walpole standing beside her.
'Let me first excuse myself for being here,' said she, blushing. 'I came in search of that little cipher-book to interpret a despatch that has just come. When Fenton found it, I was so engrossed by this pretty face that I have done nothing but gaze at it.'
'And what was it that seemed so incredible as I came in?'
'Simply this, then, that any one should be so beautiful.'
'Titian seems to have solved that point; at least, Vasari tells us this was a portrait of a lady of the Guicciardini family.'
'I know—I know that,' said she impatiently; 'and we do see faces in which Titian or Velasquez have stamped nobility and birth as palpably as they have printed loveliness and expression. And such were these women, daughters in a long line of the proud Patricians who once ruled Rome.'
'And yet,' said he slowly, 'that portrait has its living counterpart.'
'I am aware of whom you speak: the awkward angular girl we all saw at Rome, whom young gentlemen called the Tizziana.'
'She is certainly no longer awkward, nor angular, now, if she were once so, which I do not remember. She is a model of grace and symmetry, and as much more beautiful than that picture as colour, expression, and movement are better than a lifeless image.'
'There is the fervour of a lover in your words, Cecil,' said she, smiling faintly.
'It is not often I am so forgetful,' muttered he; 'but so it is, our cousinship has done it all, Maude. One revels in expansiveness with his own, and I can speak to you as I cannot speak to another.'
'It is a great flattery to me.'
'In fact, I feel that at last I have a sister—a dear and loving spirit who will give to true friendship those delightful traits of pity and tenderness, and even forgiveness, of which only the woman's nature can know the needs.'
Lady Maude rose slowly, without a word. Nothing of heightened colour or movement of her features indicated anger or indignation, and though Walpole stood with an affected submissiveness before her, he marked her closely. 'I am sure, Maude,' continued he, 'you must often have wished to have a brother.'
'Never so much as at this moment!' said she calmly—and now she had reached the door. 'If I had had a brother, Cecil Walpole, it is possible I might have been spared this insult!'
The next moment the door closed, and Walpole was alone.
'I am right, Maude,' said Lord Danesbury as his niece re-entered the drawing-room. 'This is from Atlee, who is at Athens; but why there I cannot make out as yet. There are, according to the book, two explanations here. 491 means a white dromedary or the chief clerk, and B + 49 = 12 stands for our envoy in Greece or a snuffer-dish.'
'Don't you think, my lord, it would be better for you to send this up to Cecil? He has just come in. He has had much experience of these things.'
'You are quite right, Maude; let Fenton take it up and beg for a speedy transcript of it. I should like to see it at once!'
While his lordship waited for his despatch, he grumbled away about everything that occurred to him, and even, at last, about the presence of the very man, Walpole, who was at that same moment engaged in serving him.
'Stupid fellow,' muttered he, 'why does he ask for extension of his leave? Staying in town here is only another name for spending money. He'll have to go out at last; better do it at once!'
'He may have his own reasons, my lord, for delay,' said Maude, rather to suggest further discussion of the point.
'He may think he has, I've no doubt. These small creatures have always scores of irons in the fire. So it was when I agreed to go to Ireland. There were innumerable fine things and clever things he was to do. There were schemes by which "the Cardinal" was to be cajoled, and the whole Bar bamboozled. Every one was to have office dangled before his eyes, and to be treated so confidentially and affectionately, under disappointment, that even when a man got nothing he would feel he had secured the regard of the Prime Minister! If I took him out to Turkey to-morrow, he'd never be easy till he had a plan "to square" the Grand-Vizier, and entrap Gortschakoff or Miliutin. These men don't know that a clever fellow no more goes in search of rogueries than a foxhunter looks out for stiff fences. You "take them" when they lie before you, that's all.' This little burst of indignation seemed to have the effect on him of a little wholesome exercise, for he appeared to feel himself better and easier after it.
'Dear me! dear me!' muttered he, 'how pleasant one's life might be if it were not for the clever fellows! I mean, of course,' added he, after a second or two, 'the clever fellows who want to impress us with their cleverness.'
Maude would not be entrapped or enticed into what might lead to a discussion. She never uttered a word, and he was silent.
It was in the perfect stillness that followed that Walpole entered the room with the telegram in his hand, and advanced to where Lord Danesbury was sitting.
'I believe, my lord, I have made out this message in such a shape as will enable you to divine what it means. It runs thus: "Athens, 5th, 12 o'clock. Have seen S——, and conferred at length with him. His estimate of value" or "his price"—for the signs will mean either—"to my thinking enormous. His reasonings certainly strong and not easy to rebut." That may be possibly rendered, "demands that might probably be reduced." "I leave to-day, and shall be in England by middle of next week.—ATLEE."'
Walpole looked keenly at the other's face as he read the paper, to mark what signs of interest and eagerness the tidings might evoke. There was, however, nothing to be read in those cold and quiet features.
'I am glad he is coming back,' said he at length. 'Let us see: he can reach Marseilles by Monday, or even Sunday night. I don't see why he should not be here Wednesday, or Thursday at farthest. By the way, Cecil, tell me something about our friend—who is he?'
'Don't know, my lord.'
'Don't know! How came you acquainted with him?'
'Met him at a country-house, where I happened to break my arm, and took advantage of this young fellow's skill in surgery to engage his services to carry me to town. There's the whole of it.'
'Is he a surgeon?'
'No, my lord, any more than he is fifty other things, of which he has a smattering.'
'Has he any means—any private fortune?'
'I suspect not.'
'Who and what are his family? Are there Atlees in Ireland?'
'There may be, my lord. There was an Atlee, a college porter, in Dublin; but I heard our friend say that they were only distantly related.'
He could not help watching Lady Maude as he said this, and was rejoiced to see a sudden twitch of her lower lip as if in pain.
'You evidently sent him over to me, then, on a very meagre knowledge of the man,' said his lordship rebukingly.
'I believe, my lord, I said at the time that I had by me a clever fellow, who wrote a good hand, could copy correctly, and was sufficient of a gentleman in his manners to make intercourse with him easy, and not disagreeable.'
'A very guarded recommendation,' said Lady Maude, with a smile.
'Was it not, Maude?' continued he, his eyes flashing with triumphant insolence.
'I found he could do more than copy a despatch—I found he could write one. He replied to an article in the Edinburgh on Turkey, and I saw him write it as I did not know there was another man but myself in England could have done.'
'Perhaps your lordship had talked over the subject in his presence, or with him?'
'And if I had, sir? and if all his knowledge on a complex question was such as he could carry away from a random conversation, what a gifted dog he must be to sift the wheat from the chaff—to strip a question of what were mere accidental elements, and to test a difficulty by its real qualities. Atlee is a clever fellow, an able fellow, I assure you. That very telegram before us is a proof how he can deal with a matter on which instruction would be impossible.'
'Indeed, my lord!' said Walpole, with well-assumed innocence.
'I am right glad to know he is coming home. He must demolish that writer in the Revue des Deux Mondes at once—some unprincipled French blackguard, who has been put up to attack me by Thouvenel!'
Would it have appeased his lordship's wrath to know that the writer of this defamatory article was no other than Joe Atlee himself, and that the reply which was to 'demolish it' was more than half-written in his desk at that moment?
'I shall ask,' continued my lord, 'I shall ask him, besides, to write a paper on Ireland, and that fiasco of yours, Cecil.'
'Much obliged, my lord!'
'Don't be angry or indignant! A fellow with a neat, light hand like Atlee can, even under the guise of allegation, do more to clear you than scores of vulgar apologists. He can, at least, show that what our distinguished head of the Cabinet calls "the flesh-and-blood argument," has its full weight with us in our government of Ireland, and that our bitterest enemies cannot say we have no sympathies with the nation we rule over.'
'I suspect, my lord, that what you have so graciously called my fiasco is well-nigh forgotten by this time, and wiser policy would say, "Do not revive it."'
'There's a great policy in saying in "an article" all that could be said in "a debate," and showing, after all, how little it comes to. Even the feeble grievance-mongers grow ashamed at retailing the review and the newspapers; but, what is better still, if the article be smartly written, they are sure to mistake the peculiarities of style for points in the argument. I have seen some splendid blunders of that kind when I sat in the Lower House! I wish Atlee was in Parliament.'
'I am not aware that he can speak, my lord.'
'Neither am I; but I should risk a small bet on it. He is a ready fellow, and the ready fellows are many-sided—eh, Maude?' Now, though his lordship only asked for his niece's concurrence in his own sage remark, Walpole affected to understand it as a direct appeal to her opinion of Atlee, and said, 'Is that your judgment of this gentleman, Maude?'
'I have no prescription to measure the abilities of such men as Mr. Atlee.'
'You find him pleasant, witty, and agreeable, I hope?' said he, with a touch of sarcasm.
'Yes, I think so.'
'With an admirable memory and great readiness for an apropos?'
'Perhaps he has.'
'As a retailer of an incident they tell me he has no rival.'
'I cannot say.'
'Of course not. I take it the fellow has tact enough not to tell stories here.'
'What is all that you are saying there?' cried his lordship, to whom these few sentences were an 'aside.'
'Cecil is praising Mr. Atlee, my lord,' said Maude bluntly.
'I did not know I had been, my lord,' said he. 'He belongs to that class of men who interest me very little.'
'What class may that be?'
'The adventurers, my lord. The fellows who make the campaign of life on the faith that they shall find their rations in some other man's knapsack.'
'Ha! indeed. Is that our friend's line?'
'Most undoubtedly, my lord. I am ashamed to say that it was entirely my own fault if you are saddled with the fellow at all.'
'I do not see the infliction—'
'I mean, my lord, that, in a measure, I put him on you without very well knowing what it was that I did.'
'Have you heard—do you know anything of the man that should inspire caution or distrust?'
'Well, these are strong words,' muttered he hesitatingly.
But Lady Maude broke in with a passionate tone, 'Don't you see, my lord, that he does not know anything to this person's disadvantage; that it is only my cousin's diplomatic reserve—that commendable caution of his order—suggests his careful conduct? Cecil knows no more of Atlee than we do.'
'Perhaps not so much,' said Walpole, with an impertinent simper.
'I know,' said his lordship, 'that he is a monstrous clever fellow. He can find you the passage you want or the authority you are seeking for at a moment; and when he writes, he can be rapid and concise too.'
'He has many rare gifts, my lord,' said Walpole, with the sly air of one who had said a covert impertinence. 'I am very curious to know what you mean to do with him.'
'Mean to do with him? Why, what should I mean to do with him?'
'The very point I wish to learn. A protege, my lord, is a parasitic plant, and you cannot deprive it of its double instincts—to cling and to climb.'
'How witty my cousin has become since his sojourn in Ireland,' said Maude.
Walpole flushed deeply, and for a moment he seemed about to reply angrily; but, with an effort, he controlled himself, and turning towards the timepiece on the chimney, said, 'How late! I could not have believed it was past one! I hope, my lord, I have made your despatch intelligible?'
'Yes, yes; I think so. Besides, he will be here in a day or two to explain.'
'I shall, then, say good-night, my lord. Good-night, Cousin Maude.' But Lady Maude had already left the room unnoticed.
Once more in his own room, Walpole returned to the task of that letter to Nina Kostalergi, of which he had made nigh fifty drafts, and not one with which he was satisfied.
It was not really very easy to do what he wished. He desired to seem a warm, rapturous, impulsive lover, who had no thought in life—no other hope or ambition—than the success of his suit. He sought to show that she had so enraptured and enthralled him that, until she consented to share his fortunes, he was a man utterly lost to life and life's ambitions; and while insinuating what a tremendous responsibility she would take on herself if she should venture by a refusal of him to rob the world of those abilities that the age could ill spare, he also dimly shadowed the natural pride a woman ought to feel in knowing that she was asked to be the partner of such a man, and that one, for whom destiny in all likelihood reserved the highest rewards of public life, was then, with the full consciousness of what he was, and what awaited him, ready to share that proud eminence with her, as a prince might have offered to share his throne.
In spite of himself, in spite of all he could do, it was on this latter part of his letter his pen ran most freely. He could condense his raptures, he could control in most praiseworthy fashion all the extravagances of passion and the imaginative joys of love, but, for the life of him, he could abate nothing of the triumphant ecstasy that must be the feeling of the woman who had won him—the passionate delight of her who should be his wife, and enter life the chosen one of his affection.
It was wonderful how glibly he could insist on this to himself; and fancying for the moment that he was one of the outer world commenting on the match, say, 'Yes, let people decry the Walpole class how they might—they are elegant, they are exclusive, they are fastidious, they are all that you like to call the spoiled children of Fortune in their wit, their brilliancy, and their readiness, but they are the only men, the only men in the world, who marry—we'll not say for "love," for the phrase is vulgar—but who marry to please themselves! This girl had not a shilling. As to family, all is said when we say she was a Greek! Is there not something downright chivalrous in marrying such a woman? Is it the act of a worldly man?'
He walked the room, uttering this question to himself over and over. Not exactly that he thought disparagingly of worldliness and material advantages, but he had lashed himself into a false enthusiasm as to qualities which he thought had some special worshippers of their own, and whose good opinion might possibly be turned to profit somehow and somewhere, if he only knew how and where. It was a monstrous fine thing he was about to do; that he felt. Where was there another man in his position would take a portionless girl and make her his wife? Cadets and cornets in light-dragoon regiments did these things: they liked their 'bit of beauty'; and there was a sort of mock-poetry about these creatures that suited that sort of thing; but for a man who wrote his letters from Brookes's, and whose dinner invitations included all that was great in town, to stoop to such an alliance was as bold a defiance as one could throw at a world of self-seeking and conventionality.
'That Emperor of the French did it,' cried he. 'I cannot recall to my mind another. He did the very same thing I am going to do. To be sure, he had the "pull on me" in one point. As he said himself, "I am a parvenu." Now, I cannot go that far! I must justify my act on other grounds, as I hope I can do,' cried he, after a pause; while, with head erect and swelling chest, he went on: 'I felt within me the place I yet should occupy. I knew—ay, knew—the prize that awaited me, and I asked myself, "Do you see in any capital of Europe one woman with whom you would like to share this fortune? Is there one sufficiently gifted and graceful to make her elevation seem a natural and fitting promotion, and herself appear the appropriate occupant of the station?"
'She is wonderfully beautiful: there is no doubt of it. Such beauty as they have never seen here in their lives! Fanciful extravagances in dress, and atrocious hair-dressing, cannot disfigure her; and by Jove! she has tried both. And one has only to imagine that woman dressed and "coiffeed," as she might be, to conceive such a triumph as London has not witnessed for the century! And I do long for such a triumph. If my lord would only invite us here, were it but for a week! We should be asked to Goreham and the Bexsmiths'. My lady never omits to invite a great beauty. It's her way to protest that she is still handsome, and not at all jealous. How are we to get "asked" to Bruton Street?' asked he over and over, as though the sounds must secure the answer. 'Maude will never permit it. The unlucky picture has settled that point. Maude will not suffer her to cross the threshold! But for the portrait I could bespeak my cousin's favour and indulgence for a somewhat countrified young girl, dowdy and awkward. I could plead for her good looks in that ad misericordiam fashion that disarms jealousy and enlists her generosity for a humble connection she need never see more of! If I could only persuade Maude that I had done an indiscretion, and that I knew it, I should be sure of her friendship. Once make her believe that I have gone clean head over heels into a mesalliance, and our honeymoon here is assured. I wish I had not tormented her about Atlee. I wish with all my heart I had kept my impertinences to myself, and gone no further than certain dark hints about what I could say, if I were to be evil-minded. What rare wisdom it is not to fire away one's last cartridge. I suppose it is too late now. She'll not forgive me that disparagement before my uncle; that is, if there be anything between herself and Atlee, a point which a few minutes will settle when I see them together. It would not be very difficult to make Atlee regard me as his friend, and as one ready to aid him in this same ambition. Of course he is prepared to see in me the enemy of all his plans. What would he not give, or say, or do, to find me his aider and abettor? Shrewd tactician as the fellow is, he will know all the value of having an accomplice within the fortress; and it would be exactly from a man like myself he might be disposed to expect the most resolute opposition.'
He thought for a long time over this. He turned it over and over in his mind, canvassing all the various benefits any line of action might promise, and starting every doubt or objection he could imagine. Nor was the thought extraneous to his calculations that in forwarding Atlee's suit to Maude he was exacting the heaviest 'vendetta' for her refusal of himself.
'There is not a woman in Europe,' he exclaimed, 'less fitted to encounter small means and a small station—to live a life of petty economies, and be the daily associate of a snob!'
'What the fellow may become at the end of the race—what place he may win after years of toil and jobbery, I neither know nor care! She will be an old woman by that time, and will have had space enough in the interval to mourn over her rejection of me. I shall be a Minister, not impossibly at some court of the Continent; Atlee, to say the best, an Under-Secretary of State for something, or a Poor-Law or Education Chief. There will be just enough of disparity in our stations to fill her woman's heart with bitterness—the bitterness of having backed the wrong man!
'The unavailing regrets that beset us for not having taken the left-hand road in life instead of the right are our chief mental resources after forty, and they tell me that we men only know half the poignancy of these miserable recollections. Women have a special adaptiveness for this kind of torture—would seem actually to revel in it.'
He turned once more to his desk, and to the letter. Somehow he could make nothing of it. All the dangers that he desired to avoid so cramped his ingenuity that he could say little beyond platitudes; and he thought with terror of her who was to read them. The scornful contempt with which she would treat such a letter was all before him, and he snatched up the paper and tore it in pieces.
'It must not be done by writing,' cried he at last. 'Who is to guess for which of the fifty moods of such a woman a man's letter is to be composed? What you could say now you dared not have written half an hour ago. What would have gone far to gain her love yesterday, to-day will show you the door! It is only by consummate address and skill she can be approached at all, and without her look and bearing, the inflections of her voice, her gestures, her "pose," to guide you, it would be utter rashness to risk her humour.'
He suddenly bethought him at this moment that he had many things to do in Ireland ere he left England. He had tradesmen's bills to settle, and 'traps' to be got rid of. 'Traps' included furniture, and books, and horses, and horse-gear: details which at first he had hoped his friend Lockwood would have taken off his hands; but Lockwood had only written him word that a Jew broker from Liverpool would give him forty pounds for his house effects, and as for 'the screws,' there was nothing but an auction.
Most of us have known at some period or other of our lives what it is to suffer from the painful disparagement our chattels undergo when they become objects of sale; but no adverse criticism of your bed or your bookcase, your ottoman or your arm-chair, can approach the sense of pain inflicted by the impertinent comments on your horse. Every imputed blemish is a distinct personality, and you reject the insinuated spavin, or the suggested splint, as imputations on your honour as a gentleman. In fact, you are pushed into the pleasant dilemma of either being ignorant as to the defects of your beast, or wilfully bent on an act of palpable dishonesty. When we remember that every confession a man makes of his unacquaintance with matters 'horsy' is, in English acceptance, a count in the indictment against his claim to be thought a gentleman, it is not surprising that there will be men more ready to hazard their characters than their connoisseurship. 'I'll go over myself to Ireland,' said he at last; 'and a week will do everything.'
THOUGHTS ON MARRIAGE
Lockwood was seated at his fireside in his quarters, the Upper Castle Yard, when Walpole burst in upon him unexpectedly. 'What! you here?' cried the major. 'Have you the courage to face Ireland again?'
'I see nothing that should prevent my coming here. Ireland certainly cannot pretend to lay a grievance to my charge.'
'Maybe not. I don't understand these things. I only know what people say in the clubs and laugh over at dinner-tables.'