GRANDMAMMA RENEWS HER YOUTH
WHEN Philip and Mary returned to Grandmamma’s, with their inmost thoughts centred upon a dish of tea, a great surprise awaited them. The sitting-room overlooking the sea was in the occupation of no less a person than his Britannic Majesty’s ex-Ambassador to Persia. He had come, it appeared, to thank Grandmamma personally for the loan of her apparatus and to commemorate the amount of good it had already done the complaint from which they suffered in common.
Long before Philip, accompanied by Mary, returned in his unconventional footballing costume, these two interesting persons were getting on like a house on fire. The past was reconstructed and repeopled; the present was deplored, and alas! abused not a little. Mrs. Catheart had known Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Disraeli,—whom she could n’t abide, — Mr. Dickens, Mr. Thackeray, Lord Tennyson, Mr. Bright, and Garibaldi. Comparisons are invidious, but where are the persons of that type nowadays ?
Mary and Philip undoubtedly interrupted an agreeable tête-à-tête. But the ex-Ambassador shook hands with them both, and informed Mary once more how devilish obliged he was for the improvement that had already been wrought in his rheumatism. Mary was delighted to hear that, of course; and she rang for more tea and ordered heaps of hot buttered cakes; and Papa was so genial that this might never have been the creature who had stolen a march on Adela.
Mr. Philip, it must be admitted, was not very conversational. Even in the most favorable circumstances he was a silent young man. But Mary could talk enough for two, or enough for twenty if it came to that, being one of those gifted young women who are never at a loss in any society. Yet she was tactful of course with this Grecian gift.
The tactful young madam hoped that Lord Warlock would excuse their unconventional attire. They had been playing football for the benefit of the widow and five young children of the late Joe MacPherson, and ten thousand people had been present, and quite a substantial sum was likely to be raised, and if Lord Warlock would be so kind as to give her the sovereign he had promised for the fund she would have great pleasure in forwarding it to the treasurer, who she was sure would have equal pleasure in receiving it because the cause was so deserving.
Papa paid up there and then, like a fine old Irish gentleman and a sportsman to boot; and Mary promised to send on the receipt as soon as she received it; and my lord said the receipt was of no consequence; and Mary, with her square and sensible face, said a receipt was always of consequence; not that she contradicted Papa at all rudely, you know, as we fear another young person has been known to do on occasion.
She then explained that their side had won the match by two goals to one, and that the winning goal had been scored by Philip; and my lord remarked that a devilish good game was polo, and it was a great pity we had allowed the Cup to go to America, and we must send a good team and plenty of ponies and get it back again; in which the Siddons-Cap-of-Real-Lace concurred with great spirit, and affirmed her conviction that there had been negligence somewhere.
‘Oh we shall just muddle along until Uncle Jonathan annexes us, and then we shall begin to wake up a bit, I dare say.’
And everybody laughed loudly, of course, at the caustic ambassadorial humor.
But it was n’t polo they had been playing, says little Miss Newnham, with her passion for exactitude. Of course it was n’t, my dear. Then why did n’t Mary say so? Her tact again, my dear. It always bores a real live ex-ambassador to have to stand corrected; and football is so plebeian that polo sounds nicer; and it really did n’t matter a straw, so there was no use in being tediously literal, was there?
Had Mary been tediously literal she would probably not have received an invitation to Hurlingham any afternoon she cared to come during the season, which she promptly accepted with becoming gratitude; and then before the ex-Ambassador could take up his hat and rise from the sofa, she had asked the important question: Could Lord Warlock be so very kind as to give her advice how to get Philip into Parliament?
The ex-Ambassador fixed his monocle, of course, with a little pardonable magniloquence of bearing as any other ex-ambassador would have done; looked about as wise as you make ’em, and said, in the sharp dry manner that he had really copied from his father, who had copied it from Mr. Rogers, although that was a secret that lay with him in his grave — And what did the ex-Ambassador say? He said the best way to get into Parliament is to see that you keep out of it.
How very deep and subtle; quite worthy of Mr. Punch at his best, say all parents and guardians.
That was the ambassadorial reply; and real tact — the genuine guaranteed article — in the person of Mistress Mary was delighted with this brilliant mot; and the Real-Lace-of-Siddons immensely admired its esprit and said quite audibly to the crochet-work antimacassar ‘that it was worthy of dear Dicky Milnes’; and the ex-Ambassador, still feeling quite comfortable on the sofa, in spite of the fact that the springs were broken and that the stuffing was distributed so unevenly, thought he might just as well stay another five minutes.
There can be no doubt that the extension of the visit was entirely due to Mary’s tact. And now let us see the use that she made of it.
‘If only there would be a vacancy at Blackhampton, I think I could get him in myself, because I really think I have got Blackhampton in my pocket.’
‘ A very right and proper place in which to keep a borough; it was in our time, Mrs. Cathcart, eh?’
The Siddons cap and the inheritor of the Rogers tradition had this delectable morsel all to themselves. The brain of Mary the Tactful was much too busy marshaling its battalions, and Mr. Philip was far too much interested in hot buttered tea-cake, which he had certainly earned, to be able to follow the conversation except at a very respectful distance. Therefore the continued esprit of my lord was like to have gone unhonored save for Granny, who could have imagined Sydney Smith, etc.
So after all it was really as much due to the Siddons cap that the five minutes grew into ten; and this further extension was rather important, since Mary was busy posing the mighty problem how could she get this absentee Irish landlord, who was bound by the nature of the case to be a Vandeleurite, to play the game of a perfectly ferocious Balsquithian, which she always had been, and please God she always would be.
‘You see, Lord Warlock, I want my Philip to go into Parliament, but we don’t know anybody who has got any influence with Mr. Balsquith, because all our friends are on the other side.’
Very nicely calculated candor, Tactful Mary. Well might the ex-Ambassador incline his ear and look cynical.
‘Seems to me then you had better apply to the other party.’
‘Oh no, Lord Warlock. My Philip is nothing like clever enough to be a Vandeleurite.’
Rather sacrificing her lord though, was n’t she, on the altar of high diplomacy? Not that Mr. Philip minded that particularly. Hot buttered teacake was of far more consequence than anything that had been said by anybody up to the present.
The ex-Ambassador was constrained to feel that the ambitious young woman’s reasoning was sound. The young hussy then proceeded to draw her next card out of the pack, and it was n’t a very bad one either.
‘You see, Lord Warlock, I am so keen for my Philip to go into politics, because, you know, I really want people to say that the best day’s work he ever did was when he married me.’
There was only one reply for an old diplomatist to make to this engaging candor; and you may be sure that no time was lost in making it.
How did Mary, who is really too pushing to be quite nice in my opinion, receive the obviously insincere compliment that was paid to her? says our little friend Miss Newnham. She did n’t say a word, my dear, but she blushed quite charmingly — at least the ex-Ambassador thought she did — and then that absolutely staunch straight glance of about two thousand candlepower came right at the noble earl, who proceeded to register on the tablets of his worldly-wise old mind the following pearl of wisdom: —
NO WONDER THE YOUNG FOOLS MARRY ’EM NOWADAYS.
‘So you want to get him into Parliament do you — as a Rag?’ mused the old cynic.
‘Dear Lord Warlock, if you would only give me a little advice, because I’m so ignorant!’
There was just room for two persons on the decrepit sofa that had the honor of holding my lord. Would it bear the weight of both of ’em? was another poser for Mary the Tactful. She would risk it anyhow, and so she sat down beside the ex-Ambassador in a charmingly impulsive manner, and said, ‘Dear Lord Warlock, do help me,’ and very nearly slew one who had grown old in diplomacy with her good gray eyes.
It may almost be laid down as an axiom that ex-ambassadors are pretty deep as a rule. This one was certainly not an exception. Not only did his dark and self-contained appearance suggest considerable guile, but this picturesque impression was amply confirmed by the fascinating curves of his intellect. In fine, my lords and gentlemen, his Britannic Majesty’s ex-Ambassador to Persia was a long way from being a fool.
Therefore he made no immediate reply to Mary the Tactful. But the Pushful Young Hussy — as every young married woman should be, mark you — knew perfectly well that she had given the fellow occupant of the sofa something to think about. As a matter of fact, the fellow occupant thought considerable, and somewhat in this tenor.
I am not very pleased with Vandeleur just now. He as good as promised me that vacant Thistle, but he gave it to Blougram instead, who, of course, has not rendered one tenth of my services to the Empire. Then this young fool is the eldest son of an old fool who takes himself far too seriously; an old fool who has jobbed his way into unmerited favor, and has done as much as anybody, outside the perfectly appalling Front Bench, to ruin the party. Well, I owe Vandeleur a grudge; I can’t abide pompous mediocrity; I’m feeling rather mischievous just now with this ill-tempered girl o’ mine left on my hands when she ought to have been settled five years ago; and if the successor to Van’s very last and very worst creation goes over lock, stock, and barrel to the Rag, Tag, and Bobtails, legs are going to be pulled pretty badly all round, eh?
We hope the reasoning of the noble lord is clear to all parents and guardians. Certainly it is a little too advanced for the junior members of the congregation. We have done our humble best to make it as lucid as possible, but the mental processes of an exambassador call for the very nicest skill on the part of our Pegasus, who was never a very agile beast at his best, and age don’t improve him. Perhaps you may have caught the general drift at any rate, which is the best we are entitled to hope for.
Mary the Tactful waited quite a minute for the fellow occupant to break the silence. And then momentously the silence was shattered.
‘I don’t say I’ve any influence with Balsquith, but I might throw out a hint to Huffham and MacMurdo and the other Rag, Tag, and Bobtail wirepullers that your man would like to stand for ’em, and a very able man, too.’
Tactful Mary was breathless with gratitude. But not for a moment did her statesmanlike grasp desert her.
‘Some large manufacturing town — Leeds or Nottingham or Blackhampton, where they’d remember my Cinderella and where I’ve presented medals and where I’ve sung at concerts. If Free Trade and I can’t get him in any of those places, where they know a Cinderella when they see one—’
The grand-daughter of the goddaughter of Edmund Kean burst into a peal of laughter.
There was the grim light of humor also in the ambassadorial eye.
‘Best thing you can do, Mrs. Shelmerdine,’ said Worldly Wisdom, ‘is to see that your young chap writes a nice sensible letter to Balsquith, stating his views clearly in as few words as he can; and in the meantime I’ll sow a few myself, and get Huffham or MacMurdo to meet him at lunch at the Helicon; and if at the next bye-election one Vandeleur don’t get his leg pulled, I’m better fitted to eat thistles than to wear ’em.’
Even Mary the Tactful, whose knowledge of the world was so immense, hardly appreciated the full flavor of the latter remark; but what she did appreciate, and quite as keenly as most, was the enormous importance of those that had preceded it.
She did n’t overdo her gratitude, because ex-ambassadors are not at all partial to fuss. She thanked my lord very simply and sincerely; but she let the good gray eyes do most of the work, and very charmingly they did it, too. A very sensible girl, who will make a good wife for anybody, and I only wish that insolent wench of mine had got half her brains, thought the Ambassadorial One. Not that he said so to Mary the Tactful; although strictly between ourselves, young ladies of Newnham and Girton, she would n’t have minded very much if he had.
Lord Warlock took his leave at last, having passed quite an agreeable hour, whereas he had but expected a formal and perfunctory ten minutes. It had been indeed a pleasure to meet Mrs. Cathcart again; and we have seen what an impression the grand-daughter had made upon the old diplomatist. Yes, he assured the latter, a word in season should reach the chiefs of the Party. It was rash to make promises, but he hoped and believed — particularly as the Rags were always glad to have young men of family in order to redress the balance a bit — Mr. Philip might find himself in the midst of a bye-election in the not distant future.
This was imparted to Mary in strict confidence while she conducted the visitor downstairs. And when the young minx had sped my lord over the doorstep with a merry smile, she came up the stairs again, two at a time, in a mood highly exultant.
‘And now, Phil-ipp,’ said she, ‘you must go at once and have a nice warm bath; and I will go to the chemist’s and get something for those poor feet.’
IS OF A POLITICAL NATURE
What had Warlock in his mind, was really the question of questions for Sir Joseph Huffham, Bart., M, P., a few weeks after the occurrences recounted in the last chapter. What Machiavellian subtlety lurked in the bringing forward of this very dark horse for the purpose of helping a party in which he was not interested? What private axe had he to grind? To be sure there was that little business of the vacant Thistle, which all the world and his wife had smiled over. There was also the fact that this not particularly bright young man had disappointed the expectations of two families. What game was the old Jesuit playing? was the question that Sir Joseph felt constrained to ask.
Sir Joseph found the question by no means easy to answer, and we must confess that we share his difficulty. It would be idle, my lords and gentlemen, for us to pretend to throw light on the darkness. But candidly we do feel that the Principal Girl had had not a little to do therewith; although, of course, Sir Joseph could not be expected to know that, and he would have been frankly incredulous had anyone attempted to enlighten him. Things don’t happen in that way, he would have said.
Sir Joseph certainly thought it was piquant that the son of S of P should desire to help the Party. His qualifications for public life appeared to be rather obscure, but being the eldest son of his father, he was not without a face value for the enemy.
‘And so, Mr. Shelmerdine,’ said the illustrious man smiling over the club claret, ‘you think with your wife’s assistance you might be able to win a seat like South-West Blackhampton for the party of progress.’
‘ My wife is sure she could win it for me,’ was the answer of Philip.
It was not perhaps the answer to be expected from a champion of the democracy; and the illustrious man looked rather quizzically across the table at his host. Were he and his party going to have their legs pulled in company with Van and the other side? Never trust an Irishman, on principle, was one of Sir Joseph’s axioms; and in this case he felt rather like living up to it.
All the same, the exigencies of the situation called for a man somewhat out of the ordinary for South-West Blackhampton. At present that large and important industrial constituency was represented by a man of independent judgment who owed allegiance to none. The power of his personalityhad carried him to the top of the poll in a three-cornered contest, in spite of the fact that he had an official Rag, and an official Wagger, able men both, against him. Good, sound, conventional candidates had failed against this Rawhead and Bloody-bones. It was just possible that the husband of a favorite actress, and a famous footballer to boot, might be successful where another might fail. That at least was the local opinion.
‘ I presume, Mr. Shelmerdine,’ said Sir Joseph Huffham, ‘in the event of your being adopted as a candidate for South-West Blackhampton you would have no objection to signing a — er —’ Sir Joseph paused while he took a typewritten document from his pocketbook— ‘a football-league form for the Blackhampton Rovers? ’
Mr. Shelmerdine was quite prepared to do that.
‘And of playing for them occasionally, I presume, if your services were called upon?’
Mr. Shelmerdine had no objection to doing that either, although he was rather short of practice these days.
‘I am informed, Mr. Shelmerdine, that you kicked three goals against Scotland in an international match.’
With excellent modesty the young man admitted this impeachment.
‘Well, I think I am entitled to say, Mr. Shelmerdine,’ said Sir Joseph, who was himself a pretty shrewd Lancastrian, ‘if you can kick three goals against Liverpool or Manchester City in an important league-match you are very likely to be returned at the top of the poll.’
Very simply and seriously and quite sincerely Mr. Shelmerdine promised to do his best in this matter.
A general election was expected in October. The head-office said things must be put in train at once. Communications had of course to pass between the constituency and Westminster, but within a month Mr. Philip had received an invitation from the Chief Tribesmen of South-West Blackhampton to come forth and make them acquainted with his views.
Then it was that Mr. Philip found himself in a bit of a funk. The fact was that he had n’t any views; at least, any views to speak about. Party of progress; government of the People, by the People, for the People; greatest good of the greatest number, and so forth. That was all he knew, and you could n’t very well make a speech out of that, could you?
With this, however, Mary did n’t quite agree. She seemed to think you could. She had been reading up the subject lately. Therefore she sat down at once, pen in hand, and began to collect her ideas upon the subject.
In common with other ready-witted people, she had the useful faculty of being fluent on paper. By lunch-time she had covered ten pages of foolscap, writing on one side of the paper only; and after lunch, when over the cigarettes and coffee she read the result of her labors aloud to the future member for South-West Blackhampton, the young man found it hard to repress his enthusiasm.
‘I shall have ’em absolutely stiff,’ said he; ‘ that is, if I can only remember it all. But I say, old girl, what if they begin to ask questions?’
‘Tell them, Phil-ipp, that you believe in Mr. Balsquith; and that anything he votes for you’ll vote for because you know that he can’t go wrong.’
‘Yes, that’s all right, old girl, but a chap is expected to have a bit of a mind of his own, ain’t he?’
‘Oh, no, no, no — pray why should he have? Trust Mr. Balsquith, and South-West Blackhampton will trust you. Now start learning your speech like a good boy; and you must repeat it to me word for word every morning from memory, so that you’ll be all right on the night and absolutely wordperfect.’
As an instance of Providence in one of its less atrabilious humors, it befell that Philip was invited to meet the local committee in the evening following the one in which Mary was to appear at the Royal Italian Opera House for the benefit of Harry Merino. Thus they were able to stay together at the best hotel in Blackhampton, and to feel that they were killing, as it were, two birds with a single stone.
It was perfectly true that at Blackhampton the name of Mary Caspar ranked high with the population. It was in the largest type on every hoarding; her portrait appeared in the window of every other shop; her wonderful smile was to be seen on countless picture-postcards; an illustrated interview with the general favorite was printed in the press.
Yes, they were very hearty genuine people at Blackhampton. The principal girl of three Royal pantomimes was to them an imperishable memory. In the divine order of womanhood the Queen of England ranked first in their estimation; Mary Caspar ranked second; and the third place was reserved for the Duchess of Dumbarton, although local opinion was strongly averse from the peerage merely as such.
It was probable that one such as Philip would find a difficult row to hoe in Blackhampton. They had n’t much use for frills as a general thing. If the young man was going to stand for Blackhampton it was by no means clear that those white spats were not an error of judgment. But the general opinion was that even a future hereditary legislator might be returned for Blackhampton if he happened to be Mary Caspar’s husband, and if he signed a league-form for the Rovers, and kicked a few goals against Aston Villa.
Alderman Slocock, J. P., the leading Rag statesman for twenty miles around, presided at the meeting of the executive committee at the Gladstone Club. The proceedings were of a strictly private character; ladies were not admitted; Mary could not be present; and, in consequence, the Candidate was horribly nervous.
Alderman Slocock made a very long speech from the chair. The prospective candidate would be given every opportunity to express his views at length; but before coming to that part of the programme Alderman Slocock, a master-hairdresser with no fewer than twenty-four shops spread over the district, spoke for nearly an hour. It was not a very opportune beginning, since the longer the master-hairdresser went on, the more nervous grew Mr. Philip; moreover, the other members of the committee grew decidedly restless. But at last the Candidate was called upon to express his views; and then arose the question for gods and men, would the Candidate be able to remember them?
For three solid weeks had he repeated to Mary from memory his speech, every morning and every night, in order that he should be thoroughly prepared for this great ordeal. When he entered the club he would have wagered that he could have recited it backwards; but as soon as he got on his legs he was paralyzed with the knowledge that he could n’t remember a word.
To begin with, his throat was so terribly dry that he was bound to have recourse to a modest libation before he could proceed. But there were broadminded men and advanced thinkers on the executive committee who rather approved this weakness, because it showed that the Candidate was human like themselves, and they thought none the worse of him for it. On the other hand there were representatives of Little Bethel in this august assembly who deplored the Candidate’s early recourse to whiskey-and-water.
‘ Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen,’ began the wretched Philip in a thin small voice. Oh, joy! at the instance of those familiar words the speech suddenly flowed into his mind. ‘ Members of the Gladstone Club, Electors of Blackhampton,’ — The cunning young minx had said that this style of address was bound to sound well in the ears of the committee, — ‘ I have followed with the closest attention and, I may say, with deep admiration the speech from Alderman Slocock to which we have just had the pleasure of listening. I cannot understand how it is, gentlemen, that having a man like Alderman Slocock in your midst you should go outside your fine old city, of which I am sure you must be awfully proud, to look for a man worthy to represent it in Parliament.’
Loud applause which bucked up the Candidate considerably.
Certainly this felicitous opening seemed to put the Candidate on good terms with his audience. Things began to go swimmingly. The voice was good; the matter was sound so far as it went, and, very wisely, it did not go further than amiable generalities. He was the son of a lord undoubtedly, but it was clear that he was much above the average of his class.
The end of his ordeal was not yet, however. Alderman Slocock had a few questions to ask.
Would the Candidate be good enough to enlighten the Committee as to the nature of his views upon the subject of Free Trade.
‘Sir, I shall be most happy,’ said the Candidate, smiling graciously. ‘Gentlemen, my views on the subject of Free Trade are those of Mr. Balsquith, and it is a matter upon which I trust his judgment implicitly.’
The Committee was much gratified by this statesmanlike reply.
‘And the question of the House of Lords?’ said Alderman Slocock. The Committee would be happy to have the Candidate’s views upon that vexed subject.
The views of the Candidate in respect to the House of Lords were those of Mr. Balsquith; that also was a subject upon which he trusted his judgment implicitly.
This answer was equally successful; and as it did duty for all the questions that followed, the Candidate was guilty of nothing that was likely to efface the highly favorable effect he had already created. Therefore he was able to return to the best hotel in Blackhampton reasonably secure in the conviction that he was about to be chosen as the official representative of the Rags.
IS VICTORIAN IN THE BEST SENSE
In Grosvenor Square, at this period, rose-color was not the prevailing hue. The Pro-Consul had declined to attend the wedding. Moreover he had given Mr. Philip clearly to understand that Mrs. Philip would not be persona gratissima in Grosvenor Square. The attitude of the Pro-Consul is hardly one to commend to parents and guardians in general. It was surely based upon error. And, unfortunately, Mother upheld the Pro-Consul in his forwardness. She, too, as had so many Colthursts of Suffolk before her, had formed the fatal habit of governing others. And she, too, having been thwarted in a pet design and, moreover, having had to submit to a pretty shrewd buffet from the grandmother of the Person, was inclined to behave in a Victorian manner.
There was one aspect of the affair that really astonished both of them immensely. It was the attitude taken up by a much injured man and a thwarted father-in-law when they ventured into the next street but one in order to condole with him, and perhaps, incidentally, to obtain a little balm for their own wounded feelings. Father and Mother were frankly amazed that their standpoint had to forego the sanction of his Britannic Majesty’s ex-Ambassador to Persia.
‘Fact is, Shelmerdine,’ said my lord, ‘the young fool has done a dashed sight better for himself than by marrying this girl of mine.’
Mother was amazed at such levity from such a quarter; and rather pointedly she said so.
‘We must look facts in the face,’ said my lord robustly. ‘She is an uncommonly able young woman and one of these days you’ll remember that I’ve said so.’
‘I don’t think I like ability in women,’ said Mother.
O Mother! And you, by common consent, one of the ablest women in Grosvenor Square and its environs.
‘Still, it’s a useful thing to keep in the house,’ said the ex-Ambassador.
Now Mother did n’t subscribe to his ignoble point of view; she never could, and never would, subscribe to it; but strictly between ourselves she was not at all displeased that a man of his calibre should entertain it. For it would do no harm to anybody if the world should realize that the heir to the barony had shown a little of the shrewdness for which both sides of the family were famous, when he went in the broad light of day and did as he had done.
A little light was thrown upon the unlooked-for magnanimity of the Friend-of-the-Family about a week later. For this the Morning Post was responsible, and the illumination was the following: —
‘A marriage has been arranged, and will shortly take place, between the Marquis of Craigenputtock, eldest son of the Duke and Duchess of Dumbarton, and Adela, youngest daughter of the Earl of Warlock, K. C. M. G.’
Everything for the best in the best of all possible worlds, you see.
‘By the way,’ said the ex-Ambassador, when heartfelt congratulations had been offered and accepted, ‘I see in the Thunderer this morning that Philip is going into politics.’
This was news for Father. Mother was incredulous.
‘And as a Tag, Rag, and Bobtail, if you please,’ said Papa quietly.
Father it was who was now smitten with incredulity.
‘Impossible,’ said he.
Papa sent for the Thunderer; and there it was as plain as your hand that Mr. Philip Shelmerdine, the son of Lord Shelmerdine of Potterhanworth, had been adopted by the Party of Progress to fight their cause at Blackhampton.
‘Boy must be insane,’ said Father. ‘He won’t get in, at any rate; there’s that consolation. I don’t know any man more unfitted for public life.’
‘He may learn a wrinkle or two, though, Shelmerdine. A deuced clever wife he’s married, you know.’
‘He’ll need a clever wife if he is going to get in as a Rag at Blackhampton. It’s — it’s an act of insanity.’
Then it was that Adela’s young man, who with his future Lady assisted at this interview, was guilty of an error of judgment.
‘Married the celebrated actress, did n’t he?’ said Adela’s young man.
The only thing to be said for him is that he was not at all well up in recent history. The silence was deep.
‘I remember seeing her in a pantomime at Christmas and I thought she was the jolliest girl I had ever seen — on the stage, I mean.’
The afterthought sounded sincere; and the whole speech was animated by the best of intentions. But it really was not very clever of the young fellow; although that obvious fact was not in anywise clear to him.
‘Warlock,’ said Father bitterly, ‘I think that boy of mine must be mad. I would n’t have had this happen for a very great deal. I don’t know what Vandeleur will think, I’m sure.’
‘I can tell you, Shelmerdine,’said the possessor of the satyr-like air, smiling grimly at the empty fireplace. ‘Vandeleur will think there is no tooth so keen as man’s ingratitude.’
‘Warlock,’ said Father with clenched hands, ‘it’s damnable. And Vandeleur morbidly sensitive, too, on the question of personal loyalty. Can’t we stop the young scoundrel?’
Warlock, speaking in mournful accents proper to a constitutional crisis, failed to see how the young scoundrel could be stopped without invoking the aid of a commission in lunacy.
‘Fellow’s mad enough, Warlock, if it comes to that.’
‘Certainly, Shelmerdine, his latest action has all the appearance of insanity.’
And then Mother lifted up her voice in all its natural majesty.
‘It is that woman. I am convinced that she is at the bottom of this.’
‘Cherchez la femme,’ put in my lord.
‘This must go no further, Warlock,’ said the imperious Pro-Consul.
‘I really hope it may not,’ said the ex-Ambassador, ‘for the sake of you, for the sake of us, for the sake of Vandeleur, for the sake of the Empire.’
An impartial judgment might have had a doubt of the sincerity of such a speech; but Father and Mother accepted it in simple good faith.
A CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS
By the irony of circumstance, Mother and Father were dining out that evening — now where do you suppose? Why in the Inner Circles of the Party, at Carlton House Terrace. It was no more than a quite small and informal gathering; but several of the Heads were sure to be there.
‘Agatha, it is the deuce,’ said the Pro-Consul, while Agatha performed the important operation of tieing his evening tie.
‘It is that woman, I am convinced of it. Philip would never have thought of such a thing himself.’
‘I don’t know what Vandeleur will say. And such a disagreeable and supercilious fellow when he gets really cross. Of course I dissociate myself entirely from a step so subversive, but it is bound to make one’s position rather invidious.’
The Heads certainly received Father somewhat askance that evening. In parenthesis it may be remarked that the world at large considered S of P by way of being a Head himself. But appearances are proverbially a little deceptive, are n’t they? A Head he was, of course, in any ordinary assembly; but this assembly, small though it was, was by no means ordinary.
It was the Hostess, a massive and rather domineering daughter of Caledonia, who first referred to the vexed subject, just as Father, with a rather poor appetite, had begun upon his bird.
‘Lord Shelmerdine, what is this one hears about your son standing as a Rag?’
No, it was not exactly kind of Caledonia’s daughter. The pause was awkward, particularly as Mr. Everard Vandeleur was seated on the right of his hostess.
‘I have no need to say that I dissociate myself entirely from this ill-considered action,’ said the unhappy S of P. ‘Beyond that I say nothing.’
‘But you must say something, Shelmerdine,’ thought the Front Bench, of which two were present in addition to Mr. Vandeleur. ‘It will create a most unhappy impression in the country.’
‘I can only attribute it to a mental aberration,’ said S of P.
Mr. Everard Vandeleur shook his Jesuitical gray curls.
‘Shelmerdine, my dear fellow,’ he said in tones vibrant with emotion, ‘I would rather have lost five seats in the country than this should have occurred.’
‘ I had rather you had done so, Vandeleur, than that this should have taken place.’
‘Can you impose no check?’ said Mr. Vandeleur. ‘Can you not refuse supply?’
‘Unfortunately, no. The young scoundrel has a private income. But I hold his wife responsible for this.’
‘His wife?’ said Mr. Vandeleur.
‘The root of all evil,’ said the husband of the Hostess, who, to be sure, was at the other end of the mahogany.
‘Your boy has married a wife, has he?’ said Mr. Vandeleur, with the air of one who asks politely for information.
And who do you think, my lords and gentlemen, was seated opposite the Great Man? No less than his Britannic Majesty’s former Ambassador to Persia. Not a soul saw the glance that passed between them, though.
‘A great deal of marrying and giving in marriage these days apparently,’ said Mr. Vandeleur.
‘Your turn next, Van,’ said a privileged. individual, whose brilliant sally of course set the table in a roar.
‘Married a wife, has he?’ said the Great Man, not to be diverted. ‘Good for the state, although not always good for the state of Denmark. And she has brought him to this.’
‘It is revenge, of course,’ said S of P.
A word so sinister caused the whole table to cock its ears.
‘Revenge, Lord Shelmerdine!’ said Caledonia’s daughter.
‘She is not received in the Family at present, and we get this stab in the back in consequence.’
Two persons round the Opposition mahogany were as grim as griffins. One was Father and the other was Mother. For the rest of the company we will not presume to speak.
‘ Why is n’t she received in the Family?’ said Caledonia’s daughter, as blunt a woman as you would find in a long day’s journey.
‘He married contrary to the wishes of his parents,’ said Mother, preening her plumage at the hostess in a way which said quite clearly that she would thank her to be careful as the ground was rather delicate. ‘Old-fashioned ideas, perhaps, but such marriages can only end in a general weakening of responsibility.’
‘I am out of my depth,’ said the plaintive Mr. Vandeleur. ‘But the position as I see it is this. Your son’s wife, out of favor at Court, plots against the dynasty. The dynasty trembles —’
‘I beg your pardon. Mr. Vandeleur, it does nothing of the kind,’ said a very significant factor in the dynasty.
‘Metaphorically, of course, Lady Shelmerdine. I speak in metaphor. The dynasty trembles because a bombshell has been thrown in the country, — nothing less than a bombshell I unhesitatingly affirm, — and to avert red ruin one course only seems to be open to it.’
‘What is that course, Mr. Vandeleur? said Lady Shelmerdine.
‘To compose this internecine quarrel and avert a further sanguinary conflict.’
A great man had spoken. His air of weight affected the Paris Bourse, the German Reichstag, and was wont to exert an influence as far afield as Vienna and St. Petersburg. No wonder that his outline of policy received the most respectful attention.
‘ Let the Family receive her and pray let us have no more of it,’ said Caledonia’s blunt daughter.
Mother’s eyes sparkled with the light of battle.
‘Will it really make any difference to the Party, Mr. Vandeleur, his standing for Blackhampton?’
‘Bound to convey an unfortunate impression, Lady Shelmerdine.’
‘But he can’t possibly get in.’
‘One is glad to know that. But, being the son of his father, think of the weight he will carry with the Rags!’
The compliment was a little doubleedged, perhaps, to some minds, but happily only one aspect of it was visible to those to whom it was addressed.
‘Why can’t he possibly get in?’ inquired the Hostess.
‘No brains,’ said Father.
‘At least, not many,’ corrected Mother.
‘Quite enough to be returned as a Rag by Blackhampton,’ said Caledonia’s daughter. ‘The less brains one has, the better for that purpose, don’t you think so, Mr. Vandeleur?’
Like a wise statesman Mr. Vandeleur declined to commit himself upon so technical a subject.
‘Shelmerdine, I think you ought to realize that we can’t have him standing for Blackhampton as a Rag in any case, when we have barely enough candidates of our own to go round.’
‘Yes, I do realize that, my dear Vandeleur. I realize it most fully. Steps shall be taken. Steps shall be taken at once.’
‘ Receive the girl in the Family, — a nice girl, too, I’m told, — and let us hear no more of it,’ said the Hostess to Mother, who would not have been averse from striking her for her effrontery. What a pity it is that diamonds in excess are apt to give people such exaggerated notions of their status!
Full and ample forgiveness on the part of Grosvenor Square seemed to be indicated, provided that a proper humility and a reversion to the status quo ante were forthcoming on the part of the erring. Let the young woman be received in the Family, provided that the heir to the barony withdrew his odious candidature for Blackhampton, had said in effect the Leader of the Opposition, and a tolerably easy constituency should be provided for the young man. He might then emerge as a full-blown Wagger after a period of grace in which to efface this present unseemly page in his history.
Father and Mother drove home in the electric brougham pondering deeply the wisdom of the sage. It looked like Humble Pie, and patrician stomachs are not very fond of that dish.
‘One thing, Agatha, we may congratulate ourselves upon at any rate,’ said the Pro-Consul. ‘Vandeleur took it much better than we had reason to expect.’
‘That is very well, Wally. But don’t let us congratulate ourselves until we are out of the wood. It may not be so easy to get him to withdraw as Mr. Vandeleur supposes.’
In what manner should the olive branch be conveyed by the dove of peace? Delicacy was called for. Was Mother or was Father the better qualified to exercise it?
‘Wally,’ said the Colthurst of Suffolk at the breakfast-table on the following morning, ‘I have given the matter most anxious consideration, and I think, having regard to everything, it is perhaps best left in my hands.’
The Pro-Consul looked just a little dubious as he removed the top of a hard-boiled egg.
‘You are quite sure, Agatha, that you feel competent?’
‘ Well, perhaps you are right. I hope so, at all events.’
It was decided that Mother should call that afternoon upon Daughter-inLaw, in spite of the danger.
‘That I will risk,’ said Mother, who at heart was an Amazon. ‘Only once have I seen her, and that was in Bedford Gardens, and she opened the door to me holding a potato in one hand and a knife in the other.’
(To be concluded.)