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THE THEORIES OF A NOVELIST
The novelist smiled. He had been buttonholed by a very great man, which pleased him. He raised his voice a little. There were others standing around. He fancied himself already the centre of the group. He forgot the greatness of the great man.
"In common with many other people, my dear Marquis," he said, "you labour under a great mistake. Human character is governed by as exact laws as the physical world. Give me a man's characteristics, and I will undertake to tell you exactly how he will act under any given circumstances. It is a question of mathematics. We all carry with us, inherited or acquired, a certain amount of resistance to evil influence, certain predilections towards good and vice versa, according as we are decent fellows or blackguards. Some natures are more complex than others, of course--that only means that the weighing up of the good and evil in them is a more difficult matter. There are experts who can tell you the weight of a haystack by looking at it, and there are others who are able at Christmas-time to indulge in an unquenchable thirst by accurately computing the weight, down to ounces, of the pig or turkey raffled for at their favourite public-house. So the trained student of his fellows can also diagnose his subjects and anticipate their actions."
The Marquis smiled.
"You analytical novelists would destroy for us the whole romance of life," he declared. "I will not listen to you any longer. I fear ignorance less than disillusion!"
He passed on, and the little group at once dispersed. The novelist was left alone. He went off in a huff. Lord Chelsford plucked me by the arm.
"Let us sit down, Ducaine," he said. "What rubbish these men of letters talk!"
I glanced towards the ballroom, but my companion shook his head.
"Angela is dancing with the Portuguese Ambassador," he said, "and he will never give up his ten minutes afterwards. You must pay the penalty of having--married the most beautiful woman in London, Guy, and sit out with the old fogies. What rubbish that fellow did talk!"
"You are thinking--" I murmured.
"Of the Duke! Yes! There was a man who to all appearance was a typical English gentleman, proud, sensitive of his honour, in every action which came before the world a right-dealing and a right-doing man. To do what seemed right to him from one point of view he stripped himself of lands and fortune, and when that was not enough he stooped to unutterable baseness. He was willing to betray his country to justify his own sense of personal honour."
"In justice to him," I said, "one must remember that he never for a moment believed in the possibility of a French invasion."
Lord Cheisford shook his head.
"It is too nice a point," he declared. "We may not reckon it in his favour. I wonder how our friends on the other side felt when they knew that they had paid fifty thousand pounds for false information? We ought to make you a peer, Ducaine. The Trogoldy money would stand it."
"For Heaven's sake, don't!" I cried. "What have I done that you should want to banish me into the pastures?"
"You talk too much," my companion murmured. "In the Lords it wouldn't matter, but in the Commons you are a nuisance. I suppose you want to be taken into the Cabinet."
"Quite true!" I admitted. "You want young men there, and I am ready any time."
"A man with a wife like yours," Lord Chelsford remarked, thoughtfully, "is bound to go anywhere he wants. Then he sits down and takes all the credit to himself."
Angela passed on the arm of the Ambassador. She waved her hand gaily to us, but her companion drew her firmly away. We both looked after her admiringly.
"Guy," Lord Chelsford said, "we have both of us done some good work in our time, but never anything better than the way we managed to hoodwink everybody--even herself, about her father. Amongst the middle classes he remains a canonized saint, the man who pauperized himself for their sakes. Ray was too full of Blenavon's little aberrations to suspect any one else, and our friends from across the water who might--I mean the woman--have been inclined for a little blackmail, were obliging enough to make a final disappearance in the unlucky Henriette. The woman was saved, though, by-the-bye."
"The woman is still alive," I told him, "but I will answer for her silence. I allow her a small pension--all she would accept. She is living in the south of France somewhere."
"And Blenavon," Lord Chelsford said, with a smile, "has married an American girl who has made a different man of him. What character those women have! She hasn't a penny, they tell me, until her father dies, and they work on their ranch from sunrise. She will be an ornament to our aristocracy when they do come back."
"They are coming next spring," I remarked, "if they can do it out of the profits of the ranch--not unless. Blenavon has carried out his father's wishes to the letter, and cut off the entail of everything that was necessary."
"What a silly ass that novelist was!" Lord Chelsford declared vigorously.
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