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MARY SCOTT'S TWO VISITORS
"I AM sure," he said, "that Selina would consider this most improper."
"You are quite right," Mary assured him, laughing. "It was one of the first things she mentioned. When I told her that I should ask any one to tea I liked she was positively indignant."
"It is hard to believe that you are cousins," he remarked.
"We were brought up very differently."
He looked around him. He was in a tiny sitting-room of a tiny flat high up in a great building. Out of the window he seemed to look down upon the Ferris wheel. Inside everything was cramped but cosy. Mary Scott sat behind the tea-tray, and laughed at his expression.
"I will read your thoughts," she exclaimed. "You are wondering how you will get out of this room without knocking anything over."
"On the contrary," he answered, "I was wondering how I ever got in."
"You were really very clever. Now do have some more tea, and tell me all the news."
"I will have the tea, if you please," he answered, "and you shall have the news, such as it is."
"First of all then," she said, "I hear that you are leaving Medchester, giving up your business and coming to live in London, and that you have had some money left you. Do you know that all this sounds very mysterious?"
"I admit it," he answered, slowly stirring his tea. "Yet in the main--it is true."
"How nice to hear all about it," she sighed, contentedly. "You know I have scarcely had a word with you while my uncle and cousins were up. Selina monopolized you most disgracefully."
He looked at her with twinkling eyes.
"Selina was very amusing," he said.
"You seemed to find her so," she answered. "But Selina isn't here now, and you have to entertain me. You are really going to live in London?"
"I have taken rooms!"
"Delightful. Whereabouts?" "In Jermyn Street!"
"And are you going to practise?"
He shook his head.
"No, I shall have enough to live on. I am going to study social subjects and politics generally."
"You are going into Parliament?" she exclaimed, breathlessly.
"Some day, perhaps," he answered, hesitatingly. "If I can find a constituency."
She was silent for a moment.
"Do you know, I think I rather dislike you," she said. "I envy you most hideously."
"What an evil nature!"
"Well, I've never denied it. I'm dreadfully envious of people who have the chance of doing things, whose limitations are not chalked out on the blackboard before them."
"Oh, well, you yourself are not at Medchester now," he reminded her. "You have kicked your own limitation away. Literature is as wide a field as politics."
"That is true enough," she answered. "I must not grumble. After Medchester this is elysium. But literature is a big name to give my little efforts. I'm just a helper on a lady's threepenny paper, and between you and me I don't believe they think much of my work yet."
"Surely they haven't been discouraging you?"
"No, they have been very kind. But they keep on assuring me that I am bound to improve, and the way they use the blue pencil! However, it's only the journalist's part they go for. The little stories are all right still.''
"I should think so," he declared, warmly. "I think they are charming."
"How nice you are," she sighed. "No wonder Selina didn't like going home."
He looked at her in amused wonder.
"Do you know," he said, "you are getting positively frivolous. I don't recognize you. I never saw such a change."
She leaned back in her chair, laughing heartily, her eyes bright, her beautiful white teeth in delightful evidence.
"Oh, I suppose it's the sense of freedom," she exclaimed. "It's delightful, isn't it? Medchester had got on my nerves. I hated it. One saw nothing but the ugly side of life, day after day. It was hideously depressing. Here one can breathe. There's room for every one."
"The change agrees with you!"
"Why not. I feel years younger. Think how much there is to do, and see, even for a pauper like myself--picture galleries, the shops, the people, the theatres."
He looked at her thoughtfully.
"Don't think me a prig, will you?" he said, "but I want to understand you. In Medchester you used to work for the people--it was the greater part of your life. You are not giving that up altogether, are you?"
She laughed him to scorn.
"Am I such a butterfly? No, I hope to get some serious work to do, and I am looking forward to it. I have a letter of introduction to a Mrs. Capenhurst, whom I am going to see on Sunday. I expect to learn a lot from her. I was very, very sorry to leave my own girls. It was the only regret I had in leaving Medchester. By the bye, what is this about Mr. Henslow?"
"We are thinking of asking him to resign," Brooks answered. "He has been a terrible disappointment to us."
"I am sorry. From his speeches he seemed such an excellent candidate."
"He was a magnificent candidate," Brooks said ruefully, "but a shocking Member. I am afraid what I heard in the City the other day must have some truth in it. They say that he only wanted to be able to write M.P. after his name for this last session to get on the board of two new companies. He will never sit for Medchester again."
"He was at the hotel the other day, wasn't he?" Mary asked, "with you and uncle? What has he to say for himself?"
"Well, he shelters himself behind the old fudge about duty to his Party," Brooks answered. "You see the Liberals only just scraped in last election because of the war scandals, and their majority is too small for them to care about any of the rank and file introducing any disputative measures. Still that scarcely affects the question. He won his seat on certain definite pledges, and if he persists in his present attitude, we shall ask him at once to resign."
You still keep up your interest in Medchester, then?"
"Why, yes!" he answered. "Between ourselves, if I could choose, I would rather, when the time comes, stand for Medchester than anywhere."
"I am glad! I should like to see you Member for Medchester. Do you know, even now, although I am so happy, I cannot think about the last few months there without a shudder. It seemed to me that things were getting worse and worse. The people's faces haunt me sometimes."
He looked up at her sympathetically.
"If you have once lived with them," he said, "once really understood, you never can forget. You can travel or amuse yourself in any way, but their faces are always coming before you, their voices seem always in your ears. It is the one eternal sadness of life. And the strangest part of it is, that just as you who have once really understood can never forget, so it is the most difficult thing in the world to make those people understand who have not themselves lived and toiled amongst them. It is a cry which you cannot translate, but if once you have heard it, it will follow you from the earth to the stars."
"You too, then," she said, "have some of the old aim at heart. You are not going to immerse yourself wholly in politics?"
"My studies," he said, "will be in life. It is not from books that I hope to gain experience. I want to get a little nearer to the heart of the thing. You and I may easily come across one another, even in this great city."
"You," she said, "are going to watch, to observe, to trace the external only that you may understand the internal. But I am going to work on my hands and knees."
"And you think that I am going to play the dilettante?"
"Not altogether. But you will want to pass from one scheme to another to see the inner workings of all. I shall be content to find occupation in any one.
"I shall be coming to you," he said, "for information and help."
"I doubt it," she answered, cheerfully. "Never mind! It is pleasant to build castles, and we may yet find ourselves working side by side."
He suddenly looked at her.
"I have answered all your questions," he said. "There is something about you which I should like to know."
"I am sure you shall."
"Lord Arranmore came to me when I was staying at the Metropole with your uncle and cousin. He wished me to use my influence with you to induce you to accept a certain sum of money which it seemed that you had already declined."
"Of course I refused. In the first place, as I told him, I was not aware that I possessed any influence over you. And in the second I had every confidence in your own judgment."
She was suddenly very thoughtful.
"My own judgment," she repeated. "I am afraid that I have lost a good deal of faith in that lately."
"I have learned to repent of that impulsive visit of mine to Enton."
"I was mad with rage against Lord Arranmore. I think that I was wrong. It was many years ago, and he has repented."
Brooks smiled faintly. The idea of Lord Arranmore repenting of anything appealed in some measure to his sense of humour.
"Then I am afraid that I did him some great harm in accusing him like that--openly. He has seemed to me since like an altered man. Tell me, those others who were there--they believed me?"
"It did him harm--with the lady, the handsome woman who was playing billiards with him?"
"Was he engaged to her?
"No! He proposed to her afterwards, and she refused him."
Her eyes were suddenly dim.
"I am sorry," she said.
"I think," he said, quietly, "that you need not be. You probably saved her a good deal of unhappiness."
She looked at him curiously.
"Why are you so bitter against Lord Arranmore?" she asked.
"I?" he laughed. "I am not bitter against him. Only I believe him to be a man without heart or conscience or principles."
"That is your opinion--really?"
"Then I don't agree with you," she answered.
"Simply that I don't."
"Excellent! But you have reasons as well as convictions?
"Perhaps. Why, for instance, is he so anxious for me to have this money? That must be a matter of conscience?"
"Not necessarily. An accident might bring his Montreal career to light. His behaviour towards you would be an excellent defence."
She shook her head.
"He isn't mean enough to think so far ahead for his own advantage. Villain or paragon, he is on a large scale, your Lord Arranmore."
"He has had the good fortune," Brooks said, with a note of satire in his tone, "to attract your sympathies."
"Why not? I struck hard enough at him, and he has borne me no ill-will. He even made friends with Selina and my uncle to induce me to accept his well, conscience money."
"I need not ask you what the result was," Brooks said. "You declined it, of course."
She looked at him thoughtfully.
"I refused it at first, as you know," she said. "Since then, well, I have wavered."
He looked at her blankly.
"You mean--that you have contemplated--accepting it?"
"Why not? There is reason in it. I do not say that I have accepted it, but at any rate I see nothing which should make you look upon my possible acceptance as a heinous thing."
He was silent for a moment.
"May I ask you then what the position is?"
"I will tell you. Lord Arranmore is coming to me perhaps this afternoon for my answer. I asked him for a few days to think it over."
"And your decision--is it ready?"
"No, I don't think it is," she admitted. "To tell you the truth, I shall not decide until he is actually here--until I have heard just how he speaks of it."
He got up and stood for a moment looking out of the window. Then he turned suddenly towards her with outstretched hand.
"I am going--Miss Scott. Good-afternoon." She rose and held out her hand.
"Aren't you--a little abrupt?" she asked.
"Perhaps I am. I think that it is better that I should go away now. There are reasons why I do not want to talk about Lord Arranmore, or discuss this matter with you, and if I stayed I might do both. Will you dine with me somewhere on Friday night? I will come and fetch you."
"Of course I will. Do be careful how you walk. About 7:30."
"I will be here by then," he answered.
On the last flight of stone steps he came face to face with Lord Arranmore, who nodded and pointed upwards with his walking-stick.
"How much of this sort of thing?" he asked, dryly.
"Ten storeys," Brooks answered, and passed out into the street.
Lord Arranmore looked after him--watched him until he was out of sight. Then he stood irresolute for several moments, tapping his boots.
"Damned young fool!" he muttered at last; and began the ascent.
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