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In the garden the question was settled without serious difference of opinion. If Sir Robert Perry really could not go on--and Lady Eynesford was by no means prepared to concede even that--then Mr. Puttock, bourgeois as he was, or Mr. Coxon, conceited and priggish though he might be, must come in. At any rate, the one indisputable fact was the impossibility of Mr. Medland: this was, to Lady Eynesford's mind, axiomatic, and, in the safe privacy of her family circle (for Miss Scaife counted as one of the family, and Captain Heseltine and Mr. Flemyng did not count at all), she went so far as to declare that, let the Governor do as he would (in the inconceivable case of his being so foolish as to do anything of the kind), she at least would not receive Mr. Medland. Having launched this hypothetical thunderbolt, she asked Alicia Derosne to give her another cup of tea. Alicia poured out the tea, handed it to her sister-in-law, and asked,
"But, Mary, what is there so dreadful about Mr. Medland?"
"Everything," said Lady Eynesford.
"Still," suggested Miss Scaife, "if the creatures are bent on having him----"
"My dear Eleanor, what is a Governor for?" demanded Lady Eynesford.
"To do as he's told and subscribe to the Cup," interposed Dick Derosne. And he added, "They are having a palaver. Old Perry's been in an hour and a half."
Captain Heseltine and Mr. Flemyng looked at their watches and nodded gravely.
"Poor Willie!" murmured Lady Eynesford. "He'll miss his ride."
Poor Willie--that is to say, His Excellency William Delaporte, Baron Eynesford, Governor of New Lindsey--deserved all the sympathy his wife's exclamation implied, and even more. For, after a vast amount of fencing and an elaborate disquisition on the state of parties in the colony, Sir Robert Perry decisively refused the dissolution the Governor offered, and ended by saying, with eyebrows raised and the slightest shrug of his shoulders,
"In fact, sir, it's my duty to advise you to send for Mr. Medland."
The Governor pushed his chair back from the table.
"You won't try again?" he asked.
"Impossible, until he has failed."
"You think Puttock out of the question?"
"Quite. He has not following enough: people wouldn't stand Medland being passed over. Really, I don't think you'll find Medland hard to get on with. He's a very able man. For myself, I like him."
The Governor sat silent for a few minutes. Sir Robert, conceiving that his interview was at an end, rose to take leave. Lord Eynesford expressed much regret at being obliged to lose his services: Sir Robert replied suitably, and was at the door before the Governor reverted to Mr. Medland.
"There are queer stories about him, aren't there?" he asked. "I mean about his private life."
"Well, there is some vague gossip of the kind."
"There now! That's very awkward. He must come here, you know, and what shall I say to my wife?"
"She's been dead three or four years now," said Sir Robert, not referring to the Governor's wife. "And it's only rumour after all. Nothing has ever come to light on the subject."
"But there's a girl."
"There's nothing against the girl--except of course----"
"Oh, just so," said the Governor; "but that makes it awkward. Besides, somebody told me he used to get drunk."
"I think you may disregard that," said Sir Robert. "It only means that he likes his glass of wine as most of us do."
Sir Robert retired, and presently Dick Derosne, who acted as his brother's private secretary, came in. The Governor was in an easy-chair, smoking a cigar.
"So you've settled it," said Dick.
"Yes. Perry won't hear of going on."
"Well, he hardly could after being beaten by seventeen on his biggest bill. What's going to happen?"
Now the Governor thought fit to assume that the course he had, after so much hesitation, determined upon was, to every sensible man, the only possible course. Perhaps he fancied that he would thus be in a stronger position for justifying it to a sensible woman.
"Of course," he said, in a tone expressive of some surprise at a question so unnecessary, "I am sending for Medland."
Dick Derosne whistled. The Governor relapsed into sincerity.
"No help for it," he pleaded. "You must back me up, old man, with Mary. Women can't understand constitutional obligations."
"She said she wouldn't have him to the house," remarked Dick.
"Oh, Eleanor Scaife must persuade her. I wish you'd go and tell them, Dick. I'm expecting Medland in half-an-hour. I wish I was out of it. I distrust these fellows, both them and their policy."
"And yet you'll have to be civil to them."
"Civil! I must be just as cordial as I was with Perry. That's why it's so important that Mary should be----"
"Reasonable?" suggested Dick.
"Well, yes," said Lord Eynesford.
"How does Perry take it?"
"Oh, I don't think he minds much. He thinks Medland's gang will soon fall to pieces and he'll come back. Besides, the K.C.M.G. softens the blow."
"Ah! It's the cheap defence of nations now--vice chivalry, out of fashion," laughed Dick.
Hitherto Lord Eynesford and his wife had enjoyed their reign. Everything had gone well. The Governor agreed heartily with the measures introduced by Sir Robert Perry's ministry, and his relations with the members of the government, and especially with its chief, had been based on reciprocal liking and respect: they were most of them gentlemen and all of them respectable men, and, what was hardly less important, their wives and families had afforded no excuse for the exercise of Lady Eynesford's somewhat fastidious nicety as to manners, or her distinctly rigid scrutiny into morals. Under such conditions, the duty and the inclinations of Government House went hand-in-hand. Suddenly, in the midst of an apparently peaceful session, came what the Governor considered an unhallowed combination between a discontented section of Perry's party, and the Opposition under Medland's leadership. The result was the defeat of the Government, the resignation of Sir Robert, and the inevitability of Mr. Medland.
Entering the Legislative Assembly as the representative of an outlying constituency, Medland had speedily made himself the spokesman of the growing Labour Party, and now, after fifteen years of public life, and a secret and subterranean struggle with the old middle-class element, was established as the leader of a united party, so powerful in numbers that the accession of some dozen deserters had placed it in a majority. Mr. Coxon had led the revolt against Sir Robert Perry, and the Governor disliked Coxon even more thoroughly than he distrusted Medland. Miss Scaife said that Medland was the more dangerous, inasmuch as he was sincere and impetuous, while Coxon was neither; but then, the Governor would reply, Coxon was a snob, and Medland, if not exactly a gentleman according to the ideas of Eton and Christchurch--and Lord Eynesford adhered to these ideas--scorned a bad imitation where he could not attain the reality, and by his simplicity and freedom from pretension extorted the admission of good breeding. But why compare the men? He would have to accept both, for Medland must offer Coxon a place, and beyond doubt the offer would be accepted. The Governor was alarmed for the fate of New Lindsey under such ruling, and awaited with apprehension his next interview with his wife.
Dick Derosne had fulfilled his mission, and his tidings had spread dismay on the lawn. Lady Eynesford reiterated her edict of exclusion against the new Premier; Eleanor Scaife smiled and told her she would be forced to receive him. Alicia in vain sought particulars of Mr. Medland's misdeeds, and the aides-de-camp speculated curiously on the composition of the Cabinet, Captain Heseltine betting Mr. Flemyng five to two that it would include Mr. Giles, the leading tailor of Kirton, to whose services the captain had once been driven to resort with immense trepidation and disastrous results. As a fact, the captain lost his bet; the Cabinet did not include Mr. Giles, because that gentleman, albeit an able speaker, and a man of much greater intellect than most of his customers, was suspected of paying low wages to his employés, though, according to the captain, it was impossible that he should pay them as little as their skill deserved.
"I don't think I ever saw Mr. Medland," said Alicia, who had come out from England only a few months before.
"I have seen him," said Eleanor Scaife. "In fact, I had a little talk with him at the Jubilee Banquet."
"Was he sober?" Lady Eynesford, in her bitterness of spirit, allowed herself to ask.
"Mary! Of course he was. He was also rather interesting. He was then in mourning for Mrs. Medland, and he told me he only came because his absence would have been put down to disloyalty."
The mention of Mrs. Medland increased the downward curve of Lady Eynesford's mouth, and she was about to speak, when Dick Derosne exclaimed,
"Well, you can see him now, Al. He's walking up the drive."
The party and their tea-table were screened by trees, and they were able, themselves unseen, to watch Mr. Medland, as, in obedience to the Governor's summons, he walked slowly up to Government House. A girl of about seventeen or eighteen accompanied him to the gate, and left him there with a merry wave of her hand, and he strode on alone, his hands in his trousers pockets and a soft felt hat on the back of his head.
James--or, as his followers called him, "Jimmy"--Medland was forty-one years of age, once an engineer, now a politician, by profession, a tall, loose-limbed, slouching man, with stiff black hair and a shaven face. His features were large and had been clear-cut, but by now they had grown coarser, and his deep-set eyes, under heavy lids and bushy eyebrows, alone survived unimpaired by time and life. Deep lines ran either side from nose to mouth, and the like across his forehead. He had cut himself while shaving that morning, and a large patch of black plaster showed in the centre of his long, prominent chin: as he walked, he now and then lifted a hand to pluck nervously at it; save in this unconscious gesture, he betrayed no sign of excitement or preoccupation, for, as he walked, he looked about him and once, for a minute, he whistled.
"Awful!" said Lady Eynesford in a whisper.
"He wants a new coat," said Captain Heseltine.
"He looks rather interesting, I think," said Alicia.
At this moment a rare and beautiful butterfly fluttered close over Mr. Medland's head. He paused and watched it for a moment. Then he looked carefully round him: no one was in sight: the butterfly settled for a moment on a flowerbed. Mr. Medland looked round again. Then he cautiously lifted his soft hat from his head, wistfully eyed the butterfly, looked round again, suddenly pounced down on his knees, and pressed the hat to the ground. He was very close to the hidden tea-party now, so close that Alicia's suppressed scream of laughter almost betrayed its presence. Mr. Medland put his head down and, raising one corner of the hat, peered under it. Alicia laughed outright, for the butterfly was fluttering in the air above him. Medland did not hear her; he looked up, saw the butterfly, rose to his feet, put on his hat, and exclaimed, in a voice audible by all the listeners----
"Missed it, by heaven!"
"You see the sort of man he is," observed Lady Eynesford.
"An entomologist, I suppose," suggested Miss Scaife.
"He chases butterflies in the Governor's garden, and swears when he doesn't catch them!"
"He fears not God, neither regards the Governor," remarked Dick, with a solemn shake of his head.
"Don't be flippant, Dick," said Lady Eynesford sharply.
"He might at least brush the knees of his trousers," moaned Captain Heseltine.
Meanwhile Mr. Medland walked up to the door and rang the bell. He was received by Jackson, the butler; and Jackson was flanked by two footmen. Jackson politely concealed his surprise at not seeing a carriage and pair, and stated that his Excellency would receive Mr. Medland at once.
"I hope I haven't kept him waiting," answered Medland. "The pony's lame, and I had to walk."
The footmen, who were young, raw, and English, almost smiled. A Premier dependent on one pony! Jackson redoubled his obsequious attention.
The Governor used to say that he wished his wife had imbibed the constitutional spirit as readily as Jackson.
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