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SIR LESLIE BORROWDEAN INCURS A HEAVY DEBT
"I suppose," Lord Redford remarked, thoughtfully, "politics represents a different thing to all of us, according to our temperament. To me, I must confess, it is a plain, practical business, the business of law-making. To you, Mannering, I fancy that it appeals a little differently. Now, let us understand one another. Are you prepared to undertake this campaign which we planned out a few months ago?"
"If I did undertake it," Mannering said, "it would be to leave unsaid the things which you would naturally expect from me, and to say things of which you could not possibly approve. I am very sorry. You can command my resignation at any moment, if you will. But my views, though in the main they have not changed, are very much modified."
Lord Redford nodded.
"That," he said, "is our misfortune, but it certainly is not your fault. As for your resignation, if you crossed the floor of the House to-morrow we should not require it of you. You are responsible to your constituents only. We dragged you back into public life--you see I admit it freely--and we are willing to take our risk. Whether you are with us or against us, we recognize you as one of those whose place is amongst the rulers of the people."
"You are very generous, Lord Redford," Mannering answered.
"Not at all. It is no use being peevish. You are a great disappointment to us, but we have not given up hope. If you are not altogether with us to-day, there is to-morrow. I tell you frankly, Mannering, that I look upon you as a man temporarily led astray by a wave of sentimentality. So long as the world lasts there will be rich men and poor, but you must always remember in considering this that it is character as well as circumstances which is at the root of the acquisition of wealth. Generations have gone to the formation of our social fabric. It is the slow evolution of the human laws of necessity. The socialist and the sentimentalist and the philanthropist, dropping gold through his fingers, have each had their fling at it, but their cry is like the cry from the wilderness--a long, lone thing! And then to come to the real point, Mannering. Grant for a moment all that you have told Borrowdean and myself about the condition of the labour classes in the great towns and the universal depression of trade. How can you possibly imagine that the imposition of tariff duties is the sovereign, or even a possible, remedy? Why, you yourself have been one of the most brilliant pamphleteers against anything of the sort. You have been called the Cobden of the day. You cannot throw principles away like an old garment."
"Let us leave for one moment," Mannering answered, "the personal side of the matter. I have seen in the majority of our large cities terrible and convincing proof of the decline of our manufacturing industries. I have seen the outcome of this in hundreds of ruined homes, in a whole generation coming into the world half starved, half clothed--God help those children. I have always maintained that the labouring classes should be the happiest race of people in this country. I find them without leisure or recreation, fighting fate with both hands for food. Redford, the whole world has never shown us a greater tragedy than the one which we others deliberately and persistently close our eyes to--I mean the struggle for life which is being waged in every one of our great cities."
"We have statistics," Borrowdean began.
"Damn statistics!" Mannering interrupted. "I have juggled with figures myself in the old days, and I know how easy it is. So do you, and so does Redford. This is what I want to put to you. The tragedy is there. Perhaps those who have faced it and come back again to tell of their experiences have been a little hysterical--the horror of it has carried them away. They may not have adopted the most effectual means of making the world understand, but it is there. I have seen it. A thousandth part of this misery in a country with which we had nothing to do, and no business to interfere, and we should be having mass meetings at Exeter Hall, and making general asses of ourselves all over the country, shrieking for intervention, wasting a whole dictionary of rhetoric, and probably getting well snubbed for our pains. And because the murders are by slow poison instead of with steel, because they are in our own cities and amongst our own people, we accept them with a sort of placid satisfaction. You, Lord Redford, speak of character and enunciate social laws, and Borrowdean will argue that after all the trade of the country is not so bad as it might be, and will make an epigram on the importation of sentimentality into politics. In plain words, Lord Redford, we, as a party, are asleep to what is going on. One statesman has recognized it, and proposed a startling and drastic remedy. We attack the remedy tooth and nail, but we place forward no counter proposition. It is as though a dying man were attended by two doctors, one of whom has prepared a remedy which the other declines to administer without suggesting one of his own. It is not a logical position. The medicine may not cure, but let the man have his chance of life."
"Your simile," Lord Redford said, "assumes that the man is dying."
"I have seen the mark of death upon his face," Mannering answered. "The men who are traitors to their country to-day are those who, healthy enough themselves, talk causeless and shallow optimism which is fed alone by their own prosperity. The doctrine of Christ is the care of others. If you do not believe, the sick-room is open also to you; go there unprejudiced, and with an open mind, and you will come away as I have come away."
"Must we take it, then, Mannering," Lord Redford said, gravely, "that you are prepared to support the administering of the medicine you spoke of?"
Mannering was silent for a moment.
"At least," he said, "I am not going to be amongst those who cry out against it and offer nothing themselves. I am going to analyze that medicine, and if I see a chance of life in it I shall say, let us run a little risk, rather than stand by inactive, to look upon the face of death. In other words, I become for the moment a passive figure in politics so far as this question is concerned."
Lord Redford held out his hand.
"Let it go at that, Mannering," he said. "I believe that you will come back to us. We shall be always glad of your support, but of course you will understand that the position from to-day is changed. If you had carried the standard, as we had hoped, the reward also was to have been yours. We must elect one of ourselves to take your place. To put it plainly, your defection now releases us from all pledges."
"I understand," Mannering answered. "It was scarcely ambition which brought me back into politics, and I must work for the cause in which I believe. If I am forced to take any definite action, I shall, of course, resign my seat."
The door closed behind him. Borrowdean struck a match, and Lord Redford looked thoughtfully out of the window across the park.
"I was always afraid of this," Borrowdean said, gloomily. "There is a leaven of madness in the man."
Lord Redford shrugged his shoulders.
"Genius or madness," he remarked. "We may yet see him a modern Rienzi carried into power on the shoulders of the people. Such a man might become anything. As a matter of fact, I think that he will go back into his study. He has the brain to fashion wonderful thoughts, and the lips to fire them into life. But I doubt his adaptability. I cannot imagine him ever becoming a real and effective force."
Borrowdean, who was bitterly disappointed, smoked furiously.
"We shall see," he said. "If Mannering is not for us, I think that I can at least promise that he does no harm on the other side."
Lord Redford turned away from the window. He eyed Borrowdean curiously.
"It was you," he remarked, "who brought Mannering back into public life. You had a certain reward for it, and you would have had a much greater one if things had gone our way. But I want you to remember this. Mannering is best left alone--now, for the present. You understand me?"
Borrowdean shrugged his shoulders. There was a good deal too much sentiment in politics.
* * * * * * *
Mannering and Berenice came together for a few moments on the terrace after dinner. He was not so completely engrossed in his own affairs as to fail to notice her lack of colour and a certain weariness of manner, which had kept her more silent than usual during the whole evening.
"Well?" she said.
"There is nothing definite," he answered. "You see, the question of tariff reform is not before the House at present, and Redford does not require me to resign my seat. But of course it will come to that sooner or later."
She leaned over the grey balustrade. With her it was a moment of weakness. She was suddenly conscious of the fact that she was no longer a young woman. The time when she might hope to find in life the actual flavour and joy of passionate living was nearing the end. And a little while ago they had seemed so near! The pity of it stirred up a certain sense of rebellion in her heart. She was still a beautiful woman. She knew very well the arts by which men are enslaved. Why should she not try them upon him--this man who loved her, who seemed willing to sacrifice both their lives to a piece of senseless quixoticism? Her fingers touched his, and held them softly. Thrilled through all his senses, he turned towards her wonderingly.
"Are we wise, Lawrence," she whispered, "if indeed you love me? Life is so short, and I am not a young woman any more. I have been lonely so long. I want a little happiness before I go."
"Don't!" he cried, hoarsely. "You know--what comes between us."
She was a little indignant, but still tender.
"This woman does not want you, Lawrence," she cried. "I do! Oh, Lawrence!"
He faltered. She laid her fingers upon his arm.
"Come down the steps," she murmured, "and I will show you Lady Redford's rose-garden."
Her touch was compelling. He could not have resisted it. And about his heart lay the joy of her near presence. Side by side they moved along the terrace--it seemed to him that they passed towards their destiny. The gentle rustling of her clothes, their slight, mysterious perfume, was like music to him. A sudden wave of passion carried him away. The primitive virility of the man, awake at last, demanded its birthright.
And then upon the lower step they met Borrowdean, and he placed himself squarely in their way.
"I am sorry to interrupt you," he said, gravely, "but Lord Redford has sent me out to look for you and to send you at once into the library. Something rather serious has happened."
Mannering came down to earth.
"The evening papers have come," Borrowdean said. "The Pall Mall has the whole story. You were seen at the working-men's club in Glasgow!"
Mannering turned towards the house. His nerves were all tingling with excitement, but the thread had suddenly been snapped. He was no longer in danger of yielding to that flood of delicious sensations. His voice had been almost steady as he had begged Berenice to excuse him. Berenice stood quite still. Her hand was pressed to her side, her dark eyes were lit with passion. She leaned forward towards Borrowdean, and seemed about to strike him.
"You will find yourself--repaid for this, Sir Leslie," she murmured.
Then she turned abruptly away. For an hour or more she walked alone amongst the trellised walks of Lady Redford's rose-garden. But Mannering did not return.
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