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Lady Grenside's hospitable instincts were unquenchable. The small house-party to which her brother had reluctantly consented had grown by odd couples until the house was more than half full. Twenty-two people sat down to dinner that night. For the first time in his life, Mr. Foley interfered with the arrangement of the table. He sought his sister out just as the dressing-bell rang.
"My dear Catharine," he asked, a little reprovingly, "was it necessary to have such a crowd here--at any rate until after Monday? You know that I don't interfere as a rule, but there were special reasons why I wanted to be as quiet as possible until after Maraton had left."
Lady Grenside's expression was delightfully apologetic. It conveyed, also, a sense of helplessness.
"What was I to do?" she demanded. "Most of these people were asked, or half asked, weeks ago, and I hate putting any one off. It is quite a weakness of mine, that. And I am sure, Stephen, there isn't a soul who could possibly object to Mr. Maraton. Personally, I think he is altogether charming, and so distinguished-looking. He has quite the air of being used to good society."
Mr. Foley's eyes lit with joyful appreciation of his sister's na´vetÚ. Perhaps one reason why they got on so well together was because she was continually ministering to his sense of humour.
"It wasn't altogether that," he said, "but never mind. We can't send the people away now--that's certain. What I wanted to tell you was that Elisabeth must sit next Maraton to-night."
Lady Grenside was horrified.
"However could I explain such an arrangement to Jack Carton!" she protested. "Apart from a matter of precedence, you know that he is Elisabeth's declared admirer. It is perfectly certain that at a word of encouragement from her, he would propose. A most suitable match, too, in every way, and, you know, Elisabeth is beginning to be just a little anxiety to me. She is twenty-four, and girls marry so young, nowadays."
"Carton and she can make up for lost time later on," Mr. Foley insisted. "Maraton goes to-morrow. To-night I am relying upon Elisabeth to look after him. For some reason or other, they seem to get on together excellently."
Lady Grenside took Lord Carton into one of the corners of her brother's quaint and delightful drawing-room, to explain the matter.
"My dear Jack," she began, "never be a politician."
"I like that!" the young man answered. "Lady Elisabeth has been talking to me for half an hour before dinner, trying to get me to interest myself in what she calls serious objects."
"Oh, it's all right, so far as the man is concerned!" Lady Grenside amended. "I was thinking of my own position. Only an hour ago, my brother comes to me and tells me that I am to send Elisabeth in to dinner to-night with--with whom do you think?"
"With me, I hope," the young man replied promptly, "only I don't know why he should interfere."
"With Mr. Maraton."
"What, the anarchist fellow?"
Lady Grenside nodded several times.
"I can't refuse Stephen in his own house," she said, "and Mr. Maraton is leaving to-morrow."
The young man sighed.
"He is just one of those thoughtful chaps with plenty of gas, that Elisabeth likes to talk to," he complained. "Never mind, it's got to be put up with, I suppose."
"I am sending you in with Lily," Lady Grenside continued. "She'll keep you amused. Only I felt that I must explain."
"I can't think what the fellow's doing here, anyhow," Carton remarked discontentedly. "A few generations ago we should have hung him."
"Hush!" Lady Grenside whispered. "Don't let Elisabeth hear you talk like that. Here she comes. I wonder--"
Lady Grenside stopped short. She was looking steadily at her daughter and her expression of doubt had a genuine impulse behind it. Carton was not so reticent.
"By Jove, she does look stunning!" he murmured.
Elisabeth, who seldom wore colours, was dressed in blue, with a necklace of turquoises. On the threshold she paused to make some laughing rejoinder to a man who was holding open the door for her. Her eyes were brilliant, her face was full of animation. Lady Grenside's face darkened as the unseen man came into sight. It was Maraton.
"Never saw Elisabeth look so ripping," Carton repeated. "Just my luck, not to take her in."
"To-morrow night," Lady Grenside promised.
"That's all very well," Carton grumbled. "I wish she didn't look so thundering pleased with herself."
Lady Grenside leaned a little towards him.
"Elisabeth is a dear girl," she declared. "She is doing all this for her uncle's sake. Mr. Foley is very anxious indeed to conciliate this man, and Elisabeth is helping him. You know how keen she is on doing what she can in that way."
Carton nodded a little more hopefully. His eyes were fixed now upon Maraton.
"Can't think how the fellow learnt to turn himself out like that. I thought these sort of people dressed anyhow."
Lady Grenside shrugged her shoulders.
"I believe," she said, "that this man is full of queer contradictions. Some one once told me that he was enormously wealthy; that he had been to an English public school and changed his name out in America. Rubbish, I expect. . . . Run and find Lily, there's a dear boy. We are going in now."
Dinner was served at a round table, and a good deal of the conversation was general. On Maraton's left hand, however, was a lady whose horror at his presence, concealed out of deference to her host, reduced her to stolid and unbending silence. Elisabeth, quickly aware of the fact, made swift atonement. While the others talked all around them of general subjects, she conversed with Maraton almost in whispers, lightly enough at first, but with an undernote of seriousness always there. Maraton would have been less than human if he had not been susceptible to the charm of her conversation.
"I cannot tell you," she declared, towards the end of the meal, "how much I am hoping from this brief visit of yours. I know you feel that our class has little feeling for the people whom you represent. If only I could convince you how wrong that idea is! Nothing has interested me so much as the different measures which have been brought in for the sake of the people. And my uncle, too--he is the kindest of men and very broad. He would go even further than he does, but for his colleagues."
"He goes a long way," Maraton reminded her, "when he asks me to his home; invites me--well, why should I not say it?--invites me to join his party."
"He is doing what he believes is sensible," she went on eagerly. "He is doing what I know is right. It is the best, the most splendid idea he has ever had. I think that if nothing comes of it," she added, leaning forward so that her eyes met his, "I think that if nothing comes of it, it will break my heart."
Maraton was a little more serious for a few minutes. She waited in some anxiety for him to speak. When he did so, she realised that there was a new gravity in his face and in his tone.
"Lady Elisabeth," he said, "I am afraid that there is very little hope of our coming to any agreement. You must remember that when I promised to come here--"
"Oh, I know that!" she interrupted. "Only I wish that we had a little longer time. You think that my interest in the people is an amateurish affair, half sentimental and half freakish, don't you? You were probably surprised to hear that I had ever read a volume of political economy in my life. But I have. I have studied things. I have read dozens and dozens of books on Sociology, and Socialism, and Syndicalism, and every conceivable subject that bears upon the relations between your class and ours, and I can't come to any but one conclusion. There is only one logical conclusion. Violent methods are useless. The betterment of the poor must come about gradually. If religion hadn't interfered, things would have been far better now, even."
He looked at her, a little startled.
"It seems strange to hear you say that," he remarked.
"Strange only because you will think of me as a dilettante," she replied swiftly. "I have some sort of a brain. I have thought of these matters, talked of them with my uncle, with many others whom even you would admit to be clever men. I, too, see that charity and charitable impulses have perhaps been the greatest drawback of the day to a scientific betterment of the people. I, too, want to see the thing done by laws and not by impulses."
"You and how many more," he sighed, "and, alas! this is an age of majorities. People talk a good deal. I wonder how many of your hateful middle class would give up a tithe of their luxuries to add to the welfare of the others. There isn't a person breathing with so little real feeling for the slaves of the world, as your middle-class manufacturer, your tradesman. That is why, in the days to come, he will be the person who is going to suffer most."
Maraton was appealed to from across the table with reference to some of the art treasures which were reputed to have found their way from Italy to New York. He gave at once the information required, speaking fluently and with the appreciative air of a connoisseur, of many of the pictures which were under discussion. Soon afterwards, Lady Grenside rose and the men drew up their chairs. The evening papers had arrived and there was a general air of seriousness. Mr. Foley sent one to Maraton, who glanced at the opening page upon which his name was displayed in large type:
FIVE MILLION WORKERS WAIT FOR
WHAT THE STRIKE MAY MEAN.
HOME SECRETARY LEAVES POST MANCHESTER.
ILLEGAL STRIKES BILL TO RE PROPOSED
Maraton only glanced at the paper and put it on one side. There was a little constraint. One or two who had not known of his identity were glancing curiously in his direction. Mr. Foley smiled at him pleasantly.
"You may drink your port without fear, Mr. Maraton," he said. "We live in civilised ages. A thousand years ago, you would certainly have had some cause for suspicion!"
Maraton raised his glass to his lips and sipped the wine critically.
"I am afraid," he remarked, with a gleam in his eyes, "that there are a good many of you who may be wishing that they could set back time a thousand years!"
Mr. Foley shook his head.
"No," he decided, "to-day's principles are the best. We argue away what is wrong in the minds of our enemies, and we take unto ourselves what they bring us of good. If you would rather, Mr. Maraton, we will not talk politics at all. On the other hand, the news to-night is serious. Armley here is wondering what the actual results will be if Sheffield, Leeds, and Manchester stand together, and the railway strike comes at the same time."
"I do not know that I wonder at all," Lord Armley declared. "The result will be ruin.
"There is no such thing as permanent destruction," Maraton objected. "The springs of human life are never crushed. Sometimes a generation must suffer that succeeding ones may be blest."
"The question is," Mr. Foley said, holding up his wine-glass, "how far we are justified in experiments concerning which nothing absolute can be known, experiments of so disastrous a nature."
A servant entered and made a communication to Mr. Foley, who turned at once to Maraton.
"It is your secretary," he announced, "who has arrived from London with some letters."
Maraton at once followed the servant from the room. Mr. Foley, too, rose to his feet.
"In ten minutes or so," he declared, "I shall follow you. We can have our chat quietly in the study."
Maraton followed the butler across the hall and found himself ushered into a room at the back of the house--a room lined with books; with French windows, wide open, leading out on to the lawn; a room beautifully cool and odoriferous with the perfume of roses. A single lamp was burning upon a table; for the rest, the apartment seemed full of the soft blue twilight of the summer night. Maraton came to a standstill with an exclamation of surprise. A tall, very slim figure in plain dark clothes had turned from the French windows and was standing there now, her face turned towards him a little eagerly, a strange light upon her pale cheeks and in the eyes which seemed to shine at him almost feverishly out of the sensuous twilight.
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