"So Peter Boyd is to go to Washington in the Paragon's place, and Jack Slade goes to Vienna, and young Palliser is to get Slade's berth at Lisbon." This information was given by a handsome man, known as Mounser Green, about six feet high, wearing a velvet shooting coat,--more properly called an office coat from its present uses, who had just entered a spacious well-carpeted comfortable room in which three other gentlemen were sitting at their different tables. This was one of the rooms in the Foreign Office and looked out into St. James's Park. Mounser Green was a distinguished clerk in that department,--and distinguished also in various ways, being one of the fashionable men about town, a great adept at private theatricals, remarkable as a billiard player at his club, and a contributor to various magazines. At this moment he had a cigar in his mouth, and when he entered the room he stood with his back to the fire ready for conversation and looking very unlike a clerk who intended to do any work. But there was a general idea that Mounser Green was invaluable to the Foreign Office. He could speak and write two or three foreign languages; he could do a spurt of work,--ten hours at a sitting when required; he was ready to go through fire and water for his chief; and was a gentleman all round. Though still nominally a young man, being perhaps thirty-five years of age--he had entered the service before competitive examination had assumed its present shape and had therefore the gifts which were required for his special position. Some critics on the Civil Service were no doubt apt to find fault with Mounser Green. When called upon at his office he was never seen to be doing anything, and he always had a cigar in his mouth. These gentlemen found out too that he never entered his office till half-past twelve, perhaps not having also learned that he was generally there till nearly seven. No doubt during the time that he remained there he read a great many newspapers, and wrote a great many private notes,--on official paper! But there may be a question whether even these employments did not help to make Mounser Green the valuable man he was.
"What a lounge for Jack Slade," said young Hoffmann.
"I'll tell you who it won't be a lounge for, Green," said Archibald Currie, the clerk who held the second authority among them. "What will Bell Trefoil think of going to Patagonia?"
"That's all off," said Mounser Green.
"I don't think so," said Charley Glossop, one of the numerous younger sons of Lord Glossop. "She was staying only the other day down at the Paragon's place in Rufford, and they went together to my cousin Rufford's house. His sister, that's Lady Penwether, told me they were certainly engaged then."
"That was before the Paragon had been named for Patagonia. To tell you a little bit of my own private mind,--which isn't scandal," said Mounser Green, "because it is only given as opinion,--I think it just possible that the Paragon has taken this very uncomfortable mission because it offered him some chance of escape."
"Then he has more sense about him than I gave him credit for," said Archibald Currie.
"Why should a man like Morton go to Patagonia?" continued Green. "He has an independent fortune and doesn't want the money. He'd have been sure to have something comfortable in Europe very soon if he had waited, and was much better off as second at a place like Washington. I was quite surprised when he took it."
"Patagonia isn't bad at all," said Currie.
"That depends on whether a man has got money of his own. When I heard about the Paragon and Bell Trefoil at Washington, I knew there had been a mistake made. He didn't know what he was doing. I'm a poor man, but I wouldn't take her with 5,000 pounds a year, settled on myself." Poor Mounser Green!
"I think she's the handsomest girl in London," said Hoffmann, who was a young man of German parentage and perhaps of German taste.
"That may be," continued Green; "but, heaven and earth! what a life she would lead a man like the Paragon! He's found it out, and therefore thought it well to go to South America. She has declined already, I'm told; but he means to stick to the mission." During all this time Mounser Green was smoking his cigar with his back to the fire, and the other clerks looked as though they had nothing to do but talk about the private affairs of ministers abroad and their friends. Of course it will be understood that since we last saw John Morton the position of Minister Plenipotentiary at Patagonia had been offered to him and that he had accepted the place in spite of Bragton and of Arabella Trefoil.
At that moment a card was handed to Mounser Green by a messenger who was desired to show the gentleman up. "It's the Paragon himself," said Green.
We'll make him tell us whether he's going out single or double," said Archibald Currie.
"After what the Rufford people said to me I'm sure he's going to marry her," said young Glossop. No doubt Lady Penwether had been anxious to make it understood by every one connected with the family that if any gossip should be heard about Rufford and Arabella Trefoil there was nothing in it.
Then the Paragon was shown into the room and Mounser Green and the young men were delighted to see him. Colonial governors at their seats of government, and Ministers Plenipotentiary in their ambassadorial residences are very great persons indeed; and when met in society at home, with the stars and ribbons which are common among them now, they are, less indeed, but still something. But at the colonial and foreign offices in London, among the assistant secretaries and clerks, they are hardly more than common men. All the gingerbread is gone there. His Excellency is no more than Jones, and the Representative or Alter Ego of Royalty mildly asks little favours of the junior clerks.
"Lord Drummond only wants to know what you wish and it shall be done," said Mounser Green. Lord Drummond was the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the day. "I hope I need hardly say that we were delighted that you accepted the offer."
"One doesn't like to refuse a step upward," said Morton; "otherwise Patagonia isn't exactly the place one would like."
"Very good climate," said Currie. "Ladies I have known who have gone there have enjoyed it very much."
"A little rough I suppose?"
"They didn't seem to say so. Young Bartletot took his wife out there, just married. He liked it. There wasn't much society, but they didn't care about that just at first"
"Ah;--I'm a single man," said Morton laughing. He was too good a diplomate to be pumped in that simple way by such a one as Archibald Currie.
"You'll like to see Lord Drummond. He is here and will be glad to shake hands with you. Come into my room," Then Mounser Green led the way into a small inner sanctum in which it may be presumed that he really did his work. It was here at any rate that he wrote the notes on official note paper.
"They haven't settled as yet how they're to be off it," said Currie in a whisper, as soon as the two men were gone, "but I'll bet a five-pound note that Bell Trefoil doesn't go out to Patagonia as his wife."
"We know the Senator here well enough." This was said in the inner room by Mounser Green to Morton, who had breakfasted with the Senator that morning and had made an appointment to meet him at the Foreign Office. The Senator wanted to secure a seat for himself at the opening of Parliament which was appointed to take place in the course of the next month, and being a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the American Senate of course thought himself entitled to have things done for him by the Foreign Office clerks. "Oh yes, I'll see him. Lord Drummond will get him a seat as a matter of course. How is he getting on with your neighbour at Dillsborough?"
"So you've heard of that."
"Heard of it! who hasn't heard of it?"--At this moment the messenger came in again and the Senator was announced. "Lord Drummond will manage about the seats in the House of Lords, Mr. Gotobed. Of course he'll see you if you wish it; but I'll take a note of it"
"If you'll do that, Mr. Green, I shall be fixed up straight. And I'd a great deal sooner see you than his lordship."
"That's very flattering, Mr. Gotobed, but I'm sure I don't know why."
"Because Lord Drummond always seems to me to have more on hand than he knows how to get through, and you never seem to have anything to do."
"That's not quite so flattering,--and would be killing, only that I feel that your opinion is founded on error. Mens conscia recti, Mr. Gotobed."
"Exactly. I understand English pretty well; better as far as I can see than some of those I meet around me here; but I don't go beyond that, Mr. Green."
"I merely meant to observe, Mr. Gotobed, that as, within my own breast, I am conscious of my zeal and diligence in Her Majesty's service your shafts of satire pass me by without hurting me. Shall I offer you a cigar? A candle burned at both ends is soon consumed." It was quite clear that as quickly as the Senator got through one end of his cigar by the usual process of burning, so quickly did he eat the other end. But he took that which Mounser Green offered him without any displeasure at the allusion. "I'm sorry to say that I haven't a spittoon," said Mounser Green, "but the whole fire-place is at your service." The Senator could hardly have heard this, as it made no difference in his practice.
Morton at this moment was sent for by the Secretary of State, and the Senator expressed his intention of waiting for him in Mr. Green's room. "How does the great Goarly case get on, Mr. Gotobed?" asked the clerk.
Well! I don't know that it's getting on very much."
"You are not growing tired of it, Senator?"
"Not by any means. But it's getting itself complicated, Mr. Green. I mean to see the end of it, and if I'm beat,--why I can take a beating as well as another man."
"You begin to think you will be beat?"
"I didn't say so, Mr. Green. It is very hard to understand all the ins and outs of a case like that in a foreign country."
"Then I shouldn't try it, Senator."
"There I differ. It is my object to learn all I can."
"At any rate I shouldn't pay for the lesson as you are like to do. What'll the bill be? Four hundred dollars?"
"Never mind, Mr. Green. If you'll take the opinion of a good deal older man than yourself and one who has perhaps worked harder, you'll understand that there's no knowledge got so thoroughly as that for which a man pays." Soon after this Morton came out from the great man's room and went away in company with the Senator.
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