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AN ATTEMPT AT TERRORISM.
All the world was driving, riding, or walking in the great avenue of the Park. The Governor had just gone by on horseback, accompanied by his sister and his A.D.C.'s, and Lady Eynesford's carriage was drawn up by the pathway. The air was full of gossip and rumours, for although it was an "off-day" at the House, and nothing important was expected to happen there before the following Monday, there had been that morning a meeting of the Premier's principal adherents, and every one knew or professed to know the decision arrived at. One said resignation, another dissolution, a third coalition, a fourth submission, and the variety of report only increased the confidence with which each man backed his opinion. Sir Robert Perry alone knew nothing, had heard nothing, and would guess nothing--by which adroit attitude he doubled his reputation for omniscience. And Mr. Kilshaw alone cared nothing: the Ministry was "cornered," he said, and that was enough for him. Eleanor Scaife was insatiable for information, or, failing that, conjecture, and she eagerly questioned the throng of men who came and went, paying their respects to the Governor's wife, and lingering to say a few words on the situation. Sir John Oakapple fixed himself permanently by the steps of the carriage, and played the part of a good-humoured though cynical chorus to the shifting drama.
Presently, a little way off, Mr. Coxon made his appearance, showing in his manner a pleased consciousness of his importance. They all wanted a word with him, and laid traps to catch a hint of his future action; he had explained his motives and refused to explain his intentions half-a-dozen times at least. If this flattering prominence could last, he must think twice before he accepted even the most dignified of shelves; but his cool head told him it would not, and he was glad to remember the provision he had made for a rainy day. Meanwhile he basked in the sun of notoriety, and played his rôle of the man of principle.
"Ah," exclaimed Eleanor, "here comes the hero of the hour, the maker and unmaker of Ministries."
"As the weather-cock makes and unmakes the wind," said Sir John, with a smile.
"What? Mr. Coxon?" said Lady Eynesford, and, pleased to have an opportunity of renewing her politeness without revoking her edict, she made the late Minister a very gracious bow.
Coxon's face lit up as he returned the salutation. Had his reward come already? He had been right then; it was not towards him as himself, but towards the Medlandite that Lady Eynesford had displayed her arrogance and scorn. Smothering his recurrent misgivings, and ignoring the weakness of his theory, he laid the balm to his sore and obliterated all traces of wounded dignity from his response to Lady Eynesford's advance.
"My husband tells me," she said, "that I must leave my opinion of your exploits unspoken, Mr. Coxon. Why do you laugh, Sir John?"
"At a wife's obedience, Lady Eynesford."
"Then," said Coxon, "I shall indulge myself by imagining that I have your approbation."
"And what is going to happen?" asked Eleanor, for about the twentieth time that day.
Coxon smiled and shook his head.
"They all do that," observed Sir John. "Come, Coxon, admit you don't know."
"We'd better suppose that it's as the Chief Justice says," answered Coxon, whose smile still hinted wilful reticence.
"But think how uninteresting it makes you!" protested Eleanor.
"Oh, I don't agree," said Lady Eynesford. "I am studying every line of Mr. Coxon's face, and trying to find out for myself."
"I told you," he said in a lower voice, and under cover of a joke Sir John was retailing to Eleanor, "that I was a bad hand at concealment."
"I hope you have not remembered all I said then as well as all you said? I was so surprised and--and upset. Was I very rude?"
The implied apology disarmed Coxon of his last resentment.
"I was afraid," he said, "it meant an end to our acquain----"
"Our friendship," interposed the lady with swift graciousness. "Oh, then, I was much more disagreeable than I meant to be."
"It didn't mean that?"
"You don't ask seriously? Now do tell me--what about the Ministry?"
He sank his voice as he answered,
"They can't possibly last a week."
"You are sure?"
"Certain, Lady Eynesford. They'll be beaten on Monday."
Lady Eynesford, with a significant smile, beat one gloved hand softly against the other.
"That can't be seen outside the carriage, can it? You mustn't tell of me! And we owe it all to you, Mr. Coxon!" And for the moment Lady Eynesford's heart really warmed to the man who had relieved her of the Medlands. "When are you coming to see us?" she went on. "Or is it wrong for you to come now? Politically wrong, I mean."
"I was afraid it might be wrong otherwise," Coxon suggested.
"Not unless you feel it so, I'm sure."
"Perhaps Miss Derosne--" he began, but Lady Eynesford was on the alert.
"Her friendly feelings towards you have undergone no change, and if you can forget--Ah, here are Alicia and my husband!" and Lady Eynesford, feeling the arrival excellently well timed, broke off the tête-à-tête before the protests she feared could form themselves on Coxon's lips.
It might be that Alicia's feelings had undergone no change, but, if so, Coxon was forced to recognise that he could never have enjoyed a large share of her favour, for she acknowledged his presence with the minimum of civility, and, when he addressed her directly, replied with the coldness of pronounced displeasure.
Lady Eynesford, perceiving that graciousness on her part was perfectly safe, redoubled her efforts to soothe the despised admirer. She had liked him well enough, he had served her against her enemies, and she was ready and eager to do all she could to soften the blow, provided always that she could rely on the blow being struck. Now, from Alicia's manner it was plain that the blow had fallen from an unfaltering hand.
Suddenly the Chief Justice said,
"Ah, it's settled one way or the other. Here come Medland and Miss Daisy."
In the distance the Premier appeared, walking by the pony his daughter rode. Lady Eynesford turned to her husband and whispered appealingly,
"Need they come here, Willie?"
He shook his head in indulgent disapproval, and said to Alicia,
"Come, Al, we'll go and speak to them," and before Lady Eynesford could declare Alicia's company unnecessary, the pair had turned their horses' heads and were on the way to join the Medlands.
Lady Eynesford's eyes followed them. She saw the meeting, and presently she noticed the Governor ride on with Daisy Medland, while Alicia walked her horse and kept pace with the Premier. They passed by her on the other side of the broad avenue, Medland acknowledging her salutation but not crossing to speak to her. She saw Alicia's heightened colour and the eager interest with which she bent down to catch Medland's words. Medland spoke quickly and earnestly. Once he laughed, and Alicia's gay peal struck on her sister-in-law's ear. Lady Eynesford, as she looked after them, heard Sir John say to Eleanor,
"He's a wonderful man, with a very extraordinary attraction about him. Everybody feels it who comes into personal relations with him. I know I do. And Perry has remarked the same thing to me. Lady Perry, you know, like all women, openly admires him. It's very amusing to see Sir Robert's face when she praises him."
Lady Eynesford did not notice Eleanor's reply. A frown gathered on her brow as she still gazed after the two figures. What did they mean by talking about the man's attractiveness? He had never attracted her: and Alicia--It suddenly struck her that Alicia's former championship of the Premier had changed to a complete silence, and she was vaguely disturbed by the idea of this unnatural reticence. Alicia, she knew, was friendly, too friendly, with the girl; that did not so much matter now that Dick was safe on board ship. But if the friendship were not only for the daughter!
She roused herself from her reverie and turned again to Coxon. She found him looking at her closely, with a bitter smile on his lips. She had not noticed that Eleanor had got out and accepted Sir John's escort for a stroll. She and Coxon were alone.
"Miss Derosne's displeasure with me," he said, "is fully explained, isn't it?"
"What do you mean?" she asked sharply.
For reply he pointed with his cane.
"She favours the Ministry," he said. "Your views are not hers, Lady Eynesford."
"Oh, she knows nothing about politics."
"Perhaps it isn't all politics," he answered, with a boldly undisguised significance.
Lady Eynesford turned quickly on him, a haughty rebuke on her lips, but he did not quail. He smiled his bitter smile again, and she turned away with her words unspoken.
A silence followed. Coxon was wondering if his hint had gone too far. Lady Eynesford wondered how far he had meant it to carry. The idea of danger there was new and strange, and perhaps absurd, but infinitely disagreeable and disquieting.
"Well, good-bye, Lady Eynesford," he began.
"No, don't go," she answered. But before she could say more, there was a sudden stir in the footpath, voices broke out in eager talk, groups formed, and men ran from one to the other. Women's high voices asked for the news, and men's deep tones declared it in answer. Coxon turned eagerly to look, and as he did so, Kilshaw's carriage dashed up. Kilshaw sat inside, with the evening paper in his hand. He hurriedly greeted Lady Eynesford, and went on--
"Pray excuse me, but have you seen Sir Robert Perry? I am most anxious to find him."
"He's there on the path," answered Coxon, and Kilshaw leapt to the ground.
"Run and listen, and come and tell me," cried Lady Eynesford, and Coxon, hastening off, overtook Kilshaw just as the latter came upon Sir Robert Perry.
The news soon spread. The Premier, conscious of his danger, had determined on a demonstration of his power. On the Sunday before that eventful, much-discussed Monday, when the critical clause was to come before the Legislative Assembly, he and his followers had decided to convene mass-meetings throughout the country, in every constituency whose member was a waverer, or suspected of being one of "Coxon's rats," as somebody--possibly Captain Heseltine--had nicknamed them. This was bad, Kilshaw declared. But far worse remained: in the capital itself, in that very Park in which they were, there was to be an immense meeting: the Premier himself would speak, and the thousands who listened were to threaten the recreant Legislature with vengeance if it threw out the people's Minister.
"It's nothing more or less than an attempt to terrorise us," declared Sir Robert, in calm and deliberate tones. "It's a most unconstitutional and dangerous thing."
And Kilshaw endorsed his chief's views in less measured tones.
"If there's bloodshed, on his head be it! If he appeals to force, by Jove, he shall have it!"
Amid all this ferment the Premier walked by, half hidden by Alicia Derosne's horse.
"What is the excitement?" she exclaimed.
"My last shot," he answered, smiling. "Good-bye. Go and hear me abused."
Lady Eynesford would have been none the happier for knowing that Alicia thought, and Medland found, a smile answer enough.
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