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WEEDING OUT THE WEAK-KNEED.
In a short time it happened that Lady Eynesford conceived a high opinion of Mr. Coxon. He was, she declared, the one bright spot in the new Ministry; he possessed ability, principle, sound Churchmanship, and gentlemanly demeanour. A young man thus equipped could hardly fail of success, and Lady Eynesford, in spite of the Governor's decidedly lukewarm approbation, was pleased to take the Attorney-General under her special protection. More than once in the next week or two did Mr. Coxon, tall-hatted, frock-coated, and new-gloved, in obedience to cordial invitations, take tea in the verandah of Government House. He was naturally gratified by these attentions, and, being not devoid of ambition, soon began to look upon his position as the starting-point for a greater prize. Lady Eynesford was, here again, with him--up to a point. She thought (and thoughts are apt to put themselves with a bluntness which would be inexcusable in speech) that it was high time that Eleanor Scaife was married, and, from an abstract point of view, this could hardly be denied. Lady Eynesford took the next step. Eleanor and Coxon would suit one another to perfection. Hence the invitations to tea, and Lady Eynesford's considerate withdrawals into the house, or out of sight in the garden. Of course it was impossible to gauge Eleanor's views at this early stage, but Lady Eynesford was assured of Mr. Coxon's gratitude--his bearing left no doubt of it--and she congratulated herself warmly on the promising and benevolent scheme which she had set afoot.
Now the danger of encouraging ambitious young men--and this remark is general in its scope, and not confined at all to one subject-matter--is that their vaulting imaginations constantly overleap the benevolence of their patrons. Mr. Coxon would not have been very grateful for permission to make love to Miss Scaife; he was extremely grateful for the opportunity of recommending himself to Alicia Derosne. The Governor's sister--none less--became by degrees his aim and object, and when Lady Eynesford left him with Miss Scaife, hoping that Alicia would have the sense not to get in the way, Mr. Coxon's soaring mind regarded himself as left with Alicia, and he hoped that the necessary exercise of discretion would be forthcoming from Miss Scaife. Presently this little comedy revealed itself to Eleanor, and, after an amused glance at the retreating figure of her misguided friend, she would bury herself in Tomes on the British Colonies, and abandon Alicia to the visitor's wiles. A little indignant at the idea of being "married off" in this fashion, she did not feel it incumbent on her to open Lady Eynesford's eyes. As for Alicia--Alicia laughed, and thought that young men were much the same all the world over.
"Tomes," said Eleanor on one occasion, looking up from the first volume of that author--and perhaps she chose her passage with malice--"clearly intimates his opinion that the Empire can't hold together unless the social bonds between England and the colonies are strengthened."
"Does he, dear?" said Alicia, playing with the pug. "Do look at his tongue, Mr. Coxon. Isn't it charming?"
"Yes. Listen to this: 'It is on every ground to be regretted that the divorce between society at home and in the colonies is so complete. The ties of common interest and personal friendship which, impalpable though they be, bind nations together more closely than constitutions and laws, are to a great extent wanting. Even the interchange of visits is rare; closer connection by intermarriage, in a broad view, non-existent.'"
"There's a great deal of sense in that," said Coxon.
"Well, Mr. Coxon," laughed Alicia, "you should have thought of it when you were in England."
Eleanor's eyes had dropped again to Tomes, and Mr. Coxon answered, in a tone not calculated to disturb the reader,
"I hope it's not altogether too late."
"The choice is so small out here, isn't it? Now, according to Tomes, Mr. Medland ought to marry a duchess--well, a dowager-duchess--but there isn't one."
"I should hardly have thought the Premier quite the man for a duchess," said Coxon, rather superciliously.
"Well, I like him much better than most dukes I've seen. Why do you shake your head?"
"I've the greatest respect for Mr. Medland as my leader, but--come, Miss Derosne, he's hardly--now is he?"
"I like him very much indeed," declared Alicia. "I think he's the most interesting man I've ever met."
"But thinking a man interesting and thinking him a man one would like to marry are quite different, surely?" suggested fastidious Mr. Coxon.
"Thinking him interesting and thinking him a man one would be likely to marry are quite different," corrected Eleanor, emerging from Tomes.
"By the way, who was Mrs. Medland?" asked Alicia.
Coxon hesitated for a moment: Eleanor raised her eyes.
"I believe her name was Benyon," he answered. "I--I know nothing about her."
"Didn't you know her?"
"No, I was in England, and she died a year after I came back--before I went into politics at all."
"I wonder if she was nice."
"My dear Alicia, what can it matter?" asked Eleanor.
"If you come to that, Eleanor, most of the things we talk about don't matter," protested Alicia. "We are not Attorney-Generals, like Mr. Coxon, whose words are worth--how much?"
"Now, Miss Derosne, you're chaffing me."
"Come and feed the swans," said Alicia, rising.
"What will Mary think?" said Eleanor, settling herself down again to Tomes. "And why is Alicia so curious about the Medlands?"
It was perhaps natural that Eleanor should be puzzled to answer the question she put to herself, but in reality the interest Alicia felt admitted of easy explanation. She had first encountered Medland under conditions which invested him with all the attraction that a visibly dominant character exercises over a young mind, and the impression then created had been of late much deepened by what she heard from her brother. Dick felt that the Governor would be a cold, and Lady Eynesford a thoroughly unfavourable, auditor of his views on the Medlands, but, in spite of Daisy's cruel indifference, he had taken advantage of her permission to pay her more than one visit, and he poured out his soul to his sister. His outpourings consisted of enthusiastic praises of both father and daughter.
"By Jove!" he said, "it's simply--you know, Al--simply fetching to see them together. He's a splendid chap--not an ounce of side or nonsense about him. And she's awfully pretty. Don't you think she's awfully pretty, Al?"
"I only saw her for a moment, dear."
"It's too bad of Mary to go on as she does. She simply ignores Miss Medland."
"Miss Medland's still very young, Dick. Is he--how does he treat her?"
"I don't know. It's almost funny--they're always jumping up to get one another things, don't you know!" answered Dick, whose feelings outran his powers of elegant description.
"Do you go there much, Dick?"
"Now, Al, don't try to do Mary to me."
"I think Mary will 'do' as much 'Mary' to you as you want, if you don't take care, you foolish boy. But, Dick, tell me. How do Willie and Mr. Medland get on?"
"Oh, pretty well, but-- You won't tell?"
Alicia promised secrecy, and Dick, conscious of criminality, lowered his voice and continued,
"I believe there's a row on in the Cabinet already. Willie said Puttock and Jewell were at loggerheads with Norburn, and Medland was inclined to back Norburn."
"And Mr. Coxon?"
"He's supposed to be lying low. And then I was down at the club and met old Oakapple there, and he told me that Kilshaw had boasted of having done a deal with Puttock."
"What did he mean?"
"Why, that he and his gang--the rich capitalists, you know--were to back up old Puttock's temperance measures, provided Puttock (and Jewell, if Puttock could nobble him) prevented Medland from bringing in--what the deuce was it?--some Socialistic labour legislation or other--I forget what. Anyhow the Chief Justice thought Perry would be back soon."
"What? That Mr. Medland would be turned out? What a shame! He hasn't had a fair chance, has he?"
The gossip which Dick had picked up was not very wide of the mark. It was perhaps too early to talk of absolute dissensions, but it was tolerably well known that a struggle was likely to occur in the Cabinet, nominally on the question of the relative priority to be given to different measures, more truly perhaps on the issue whether the advanced labour party, represented by Norburn, or the Radicals of the older type, headed by Puttock and Jewell, were to control the policy of the Premier and the Government. The latter section was inextricably connected, and, in its personnel, almost identical with the party who set the Prohibition question above and before all other matters. The concrete form taken by this conflict of abstract principles seemed likely to be--should the Government begin with a Temperance measure, or should it, in the first place, proceed to give to Labour that drastic Factory and Workshop Act which Norburn had advocated and Medland accepted, and which would, Mr. Kilshaw declared, reduce every manufacturer to the position of a slave of Government and a pauper to boot, would drive capital from the colony, and shut up every mill in New Lindsey? Now Mr. Kilshaw would, if he were reduced to choose, rather close the public-houses than the mills. So he told Sir Robert Perry, who was very quiet, but very watchful just now; and the story was that Sir Robert said, "Puttock has got shares in the Southern Sea Mill--and Puttock's a Prohibition man," and refused to say any more; but that was enough--so the talk ran--to send Mr. Kilshaw straight to Puttock's hall-door.
These public matters gave Mr. Coxon much food for thought. His own attitude was, at present, considered to be one of neutrality towards the rival factions in the Government. He was in the habit of defining his aim in political life as being a steady and gradual removal of obstacles to the progress of the colony; to attain complete truth, it was only necessary to alter the definition by substituting "Mr. Coxon" for "the colony"; and the question which now occupied him was how he might best secure the best possible position for himself, without, as he hastened to protest, abandoning his principles. He disliked Puttock, and he was envious of Norburn, who threatened to supplant him as the "rising man" of his party. Should he help Puttock to remove Norburn, or lend Norburn a hand in ousting Puttock?
Down to the very week before the Legislative Assembly met, Mr. Medland kept his own counsel, disclosing his mind not even to his colleagues. Then he called a Cabinet, and listened to the conflicting views set forth by Puttock and Norburn.
"And what do you say, Mr. Coxon?" he asked, when Puttock's vehement harangue came to an end.
"I shall follow your judgment implicitly," replied Mr. Coxon, with touching fidelity.
"I feel bound to state," said Mr. Puttock, "and I believe I speak for my friend Jewell also" (Mr. Jewell nodded), "that with us priority for Temperance legislation and a cautious policy in imposing hampering restrictions on commercial undertakings are of vital moment. We cannot agree to give way on either point."
"And you, Norburn?" asked Medland, turning to his devoted follower, and smiling a kindly smile.
Norburn was about to speak, when Puttock broke in,
"It is best that the Premier should understand our position; what we have stated is absolutely essential to our continuance in the Government."
Mr. Medland thought that the function of a follower was to follow, and of a leader to lead. He always found it difficult to put up with opposition, and patience was not among whatever qualities of statesmanship he possessed.
Drumming gently on the table, he said,
"Oh, no Temperance this session. We'll give 'em a Labour session." He paused, and added, "And give it 'em hot and strong."
So that evening Puttock and Jewell resigned, and the Cabinet, meeting the House shorn and maimed, was established in power by the magnificent majority of ten.
"If so soon as this I'm done for, I wonder what I was begun for!"
quoted Sir John Oakapple. "If they never agreed at all, what did they take office together for?"
"The screw," suggested Captain Heseltine.
"Then why haven't they stuck to it?"
Silence met this question, and the Chief Justice turned a look of bland inquiry on Mr. Kilshaw.
Mr. Kilshaw coughed and turned the pages of the Kirton World.
The Chief Justice winked at Dick Derosne, and said that it was refreshing to see there were still men who would sacrifice office to conviction.
"Oh, uncommon, Sir John," said Dick Derosne, and these cynics, having done entire injustice to two deeply sincere men, went off and joined in a game of pool. The Chief Justice took the pool.
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