The New Minister
"Poor old Paragon!" exclaimed Archibald Currie, as he stood with his back to the fire among his colleagues at the Foreign Office on the day after John Morton's death.
"Poor young Paragon! that's the pity of it," said Mounser Green. "I don't suppose he was turned thirty, and he was a useful man,--a very useful man. That's the worst of it. He was just one of those men that the country can't afford to lose, and whom it is so very hard to replace." Mounser Green was always eloquent as to the needs of the public service, and did really in his heart of hearts care about his office. "Who is to go to Patagonia, I'm sure I don't know. Platitude was asking me about it, and I told him that I couldn't name a man."
"Old Platitude always thinks that the world is coming to an end," said Currie. "There are as good fish in the sea as ever were caught"
"Who is there? Monsoon won't go, even if they ask him. The Paragon was just the fellow for it. He had his heart in the work. An immense deal depends on what sort of man we have in Patagonia at the present moment. If Paraguay gets the better of the Patagonese all Brazil will be in a ferment, and you know how that kind of thing spreads among half-caste Spaniards and Portuguese. Nobody can interfere but the British Minister. When I suggested Morton I knew I had the right man if he'd only take it"
"And now he has gone and died!" said Hoffmann.
"And now he has gone and died," continued Mounser Green. "'I never nursed a dear gazelle,' and all the rest of it. Poor Paragon! I fear he was a little cut about Miss Trefoil."
"She was down with him the day before he died," said young Glossop. "I happen to know that"
"It was before he thought of going to Patagonia that she was at Bragton," said Currie.
"That's all you know about it, old fellow," said the indignant young one. "She was there a second time, just before his death. I had it from Lady Penwether who was in the neighbourhood."
"My dear little boy," said Mounser Green, "that was exactly what was likely to happen, and he yet may have broken his heart. I have seen a good deal of the lady lately, and under no circumstances would she have married him. When he accepted the mission that at any rate was all over."
"The Rufford affair had begun before that," said Hoffmann.
"The Rufford affair as you call it," said Glossop, "was no affair at all."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Currie.
"I mean. that Rufford was never engaged to her,--not for an instant," said the lad, urgent in spreading the lesson which he had received from his cousin. "It was all a dead take-in."
"Who was taken in?" asked Mounser Green.
"Well;--nobody was taken in as it happened. But I suppose there can't be a doubt that she tried her best to catch him, and that the Duke and Duchess and Mistletoe, and old Trefoil, all backed her up. It was a regular plant. The only thing is, it didn't come off."
"Look here, young shaver;"--this was Mounser Green again; "when you speak of a young lady do you be a little more discreet"
"But didn't she do it, Green?"
"That's more than you or I can tell. If you want to know what I think, I believe he paid her a great deal of attention and then behaved very badly to her."
"He didn't behave badly at all," said young Glossop.
"My dear boy, when you are as old as I am, you will have learned how very hard it is to know everything. I only say what I believe, and perhaps I may have better ground for believing than you. He certainly paid her a great deal of attention, and then her friends,--especially the Duchess,--went to work."
"They've wanted to get her off their hands these six or eight years," said Currie.
"That's nonsense again," continued the new advocate, "for there is no doubt she might have married Morton all the time had she pleased."
"Yes;--but Rufford!--a fellow with sixty thousand a year!" said Glossop.
"About a third of that would be nearer the mark, Glossy. Take my word for it, you don't know everything yet, though you have so many advantages." After that Mounser Green retreated to his own room with a look and tone as though he were angry.
"What makes him so ferocious about it?" asked Glossop when the door was shut.
"You are always putting your foot in it," said Currie. "I kept on winking to you but it was no good. He sees her almost every day now. She's staying with old Mrs. Green in Portugal Street. There has been some break up between her and her mother, and old Mrs. Green has taken her in. There's some sort of relationship. Mounser is the old woman's nephew, and she is aunt by marriage to the Connop Greens down in Hampshire, and Mrs. Connop Green is first cousin to Lady Augustus."
"If Dick's sister married Tom's brother what relation would Dick be to Tom's mother? That's the kind of thing, isn't it?" suggested Hoffmann.
"At any rate there she is, and Mounser sees her every day."
"It don't make any difference about Rufford," said young Glossop stoutly.
All this happened before the will had been declared,--when Arabella did not dream that she was an heiress. A day or two afterwards she received a letter from the lawyer, telling her of her good fortune, and informing her that the trinkets would be given up to her and the money paid,--short of legacy duty,--whenever she would fix a time and place. The news almost stunned her. There was a moment in which she thought that she was bound to reject this money, as she had rejected that tendered to her by the other man. Poor as she was, greedy as she was, alive as she was to the necessity of doing something for herself,--still this legacy was to her at first bitter rather than sweet. She had never treated any man so ill as she had treated this man; and it was thus that he punished her! She was alive to the feeling that he had always been true to her. In her intercourse with other men there had been generally a battle carried on with some fairness. Diamond had striven to cut diamond. But here the dishonesty had all been on one side, and she was aware that it had been so. In her later affair with Lord Rufford, she really did think that she had been ill used; but she was quite alive to the fact that her treatment of John Morton had been abominable. The one man, in order that he might escape without further trouble, had in the grossest manner, sent to her the offer of a bribe. The other,--in regard to whose end her hard heart was touched, even her conscience seared, had named her in his will as though his affection was unimpaired. Of course she took the money, but she took it with inward groans. She took the money and the trinkets, and the matter was all arranged for her by Mounser Green.
"So after all the Paragon left her whatever he could leave," said Currie in the same room at the Foreign Office. A week had passed since the last conversation, and at this moment Mounser Green was not in the room.
"Oh, dear no," said young Glossy. "She doesn't have Bragton. That goes to his cousin."
"That was entailed, Glossy, my boy."
"Not a bit of it. Everybody thought he would leave the place to another Morton, a fellow he'd never seen, in one of those Somerset House Offices. He and this fellow who is to have it, were enemies,--but he wouldn't put it out of the right line. It's all very well for Mounser to be down on me, but I do happen to know what goes on in that country. She gets a pot of money, and no end of family jewels; but he didn't leave her the estate as he might have done."
At that moment Mounser Green came into the room. It was rather later than usual, being past one o'clock; and he looked as though he were flurried. He didn't speak for a few minutes, but stood before the fire smoking a cigar. And there was a general silence, there being now a feeling among them that Arabella Trefoil was not to be talked about in the old way before Mounser Green. At last he spoke himself. "I suppose you haven't heard who is to go to Patagonia after all?"
"Is it settled?" asked Currie.
"Anybody we know?" asked Hoffmann.
"I hope it's no d-- outsider," said the too energetic Glossop.
"It is settled; and it is somebody you know; and it is not a d-- outsider; unless, indeed, he may be considered to be an outsider in reference to that branch of the service."
"It's some consul," said Currie. "Backstairs from Panama, I'll bet a crown."
"It isn't Backstairs, it isn't a consul. Gentlemen, get out your pocket-handkerchiefs. Mounser Green has consented to be expatriated for the good of his country."
"You going to Patagonia!" said Currie. "You're chaffing," said Glossop. "I never was so shot in my life," said Hoffmann.
"It's true, my dear boys."
"I never was so sorry for anything in all my born days," said Glossop, almost crying. "Why on earth should you go to Patagonia?"
"Patagonia!" ejaculated Currie. "What will you do in Patagonia?"
"It's an opening, my dear fellow," said Mounser Green leaning affectionately on Glossop's shoulder. "What should I do by remaining here? When Drummond asked me I saw he wanted me to go. They don't forget that kind of thing." At that moment a messenger opened the door, and the Senator Gotobed, almost without being announced, entered the room. He had become so intimate of late at the Foreign Office, and his visits were so frequent, that he was almost able to dispense with the assistance of any messenger. Perhaps Mounser Green and his colleagues were a little tired of him; but yet, after their fashion, they were always civil to him, and remembered, as they were bound to do, that he was one of the leading politicians of a great nation. "I have secured the hall," he said at once, as though aware that no news could be so important as the news he thus conveyed.
"Have you indeed?" said Currie.
"Secured it for the fifteenth. Now the question is-"
"What do you think," said Glossop, interrupting him without the slightest hesitation. "Mounser Green is going to Patagonia, in place of the poor Paragon."
"I beg to congratulate Mr. Green with all my heart."
"By George I don't," said the juvenile clerk. "Fancy congratulating a fellow on going to Patagonia! It's what I call an awful sell for everybody."
"But as I was saying I have the hall for the fifteenth."
"You mean to lecture then after all," said Green.
"Certainly I do, I am not going to be deterred from doing my duty because I am told there is a little danger. What I want to know is whether I can depend on having a staff of policemen."
"Of course there will be police," said Green.
"But I mean some extra strength. I don't mind for myself, but I should be so unhappy if there were anything of a commotion." Then he was assured that the officers of the police force would look to that, and was assured also that Mounser Green and the other gentlemen in the room would certainly attend the lecture. "I don't suppose I shall be gone by that time," said Mounser Green in a melancholy tone of voice.
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