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A MARQUIS ON MATRIMONY
"My dear Miss Scott," Lord Arranmore said, settling himself in the most comfortable of her fragile easy-chairs, and declining tea. "I cannot fail to perceive that my cause is hopeless. The united efforts of myself and your worthy relatives appear to be powerless to unearth a single grain of common-sense in your--er--pardon me--singularly obstinate disposition."
A subdued smile played at the corners of her mouth.
"I am delighted that you are convinced, Lord Arranmore," she said. "It will save us both a good deal of time and breath."
"Well--as to that I am not so sure," he answered, deliberately. "You forget that there is still an important matter to be decided."
She looked at him questioningly.
"The disposal of the money, of course," he said.
"The disposal of it? But that has nothing to do with me!" she declared. "I refuse to touch it--to have anything to do with it."
He shook his head.
"You see," he explained, "I have placed it, or rather my solicitors have, in trust. Actually you may decline, as you are doing, to have anything to do with it--legally you cannot avoid your responsibilities. That money cannot be touched without your signature."
She laughed a little indignantly.
"Then you had better withdraw it from trust, or whatever you call it, at once. If it was there until I was eighty I should never touch it."
"I understand that perfectly," Lord Arranmore said. "You have refused it. Very well! What are we going to do with it?"
"Put it back where it came from, of course," she answered.
"Well," he said, "by signing several papers that might be managed. In that case I should distribute it amongst the various public-houses in the East End to provide drinks for the thirstiest of their customers."
"If you think that," she said, scornfully, "a reputable use to make of your money."
He held out his hand.
"My dear Miss Scott. Our money!"
"The money," she exclaimed. "I repeat, the money. Well, there is nothing more to be said about it."
"Will you sign the papers which authorize me to distribute the money in this way?"
She thought for a moment.
"No; I will not."
"Exactly. You would be very foolish and very untrue to your principles if you did. So you see, this sum is not to be foisted altogether upon me, for there is no doubt that I should misuse it. Now I believe that if you were to give the matter a little consideration you could hit upon a more reasonable manner of laying out this sum. Don't interrupt me, please. My own views as to charity you know. You however look at the matter from an altogether different point of view. Let us leave it where it is for the moment. Something may occur to you within the next few months. Don't let it be a hospital, if you can help it--something altogether original would be best. Set your brain to work. I shall be at your service at any moment."
He rose to his feet and began slowly to collect his belongings. Then their eyes met, and she burst out laughing--he too smiled.
"You are very ingenious, Lord Arranmore," she said.
"It is my conscience," he assured her. "It is out of gear to the tune of three thousand."
"I don't believe in the conscience," she answered. 'This is sheer obstinacy. You have made up your mind that I should be interested in that money somehow, and you can't bear to suffer defeat."
"I am an old man," he said, "and you are a young woman. Let us leave it where it is for a while. I have an idea of the sort of life which you are planning for yourself. Believe me, that before you have lived here for many months you will be willing to give years of your life, years of your labour and your youth, to throw yourself into a struggle which without money is hopeless. Remember that there was a time when I too was young. I too saw these things as you and Brooks see them to-day. I do not wish to preach pessimism to you. I fought and was worsted. So will you be. The whole thing is a vast chimera, a jest of the God you have made for yourself. But as long as the world lasts the young will have to buy knowledge--as I have bought it. Don't go into the fray empty-handed--it will only prolong the suffering."
"You speak," she protested, gently, "as though it were impossible to do good."
"It is absolutely and entirely impossible to do good by any means which you and Brooks and the whole army of your fellow-philanthropists have yet evoked," he answered, with a sudden fierce note in his tone. "Don't think that I speak to you as a cynic, one who loiters on the edge of the cauldron and peers in to gratify cravings for sensation. I have been there, down in the thick of it, there where the mud is as black as hell--bottomless as eternity. I was young--as you--mad with enthusiasm. I had faith, strength, belief. I meant to cleanse the world. I worked till the skin hung on my bones. I gave all that I had--youth--gifts--money. And, do you know what I was doing? I was swimming against the tide of natural law, stronger than all mankind, unconquerable, eternal. There wasn't the smallest corner of the world the better for my broken life. There wasn't a child, a man, or a woman content to grasp my hand and climb out. There were plenty who mocked me. But they fell back again. They fell back always."
"Oh, but you can't tell that," she cried. "You can't be sure."
"You can be as sure of it as of life itself," he answered. "Come, take my advice. I know. I can save you a broken youth--a broken heart. Keep away from there."
He pointed out of the window eastwards.
"You can be charitable like the others, subscribe to societies, visit the sick, read the Bible, play at it as long as you like--but keep away from the real thing. If you feel the fever in your veins--fly. Go abroad, study art, literature, music--anything. Only don't listen to that cry. It will draw you against your will even. But not you nor the whole world of women, or the world full of gold, will ever stop it. It is the everlasting legacy to the world of outraged nature."
He went swiftly and silently, leaving her motionless. She saw him far down on the pavement below step into his brougham, pausing for a moment to light a cigarette. And half-an-hour later he walked with elastic tread into Mr. Ascough's office.
Mr. Ascough greeted him with an inquiring smile. Lord Arranmore nodded and sat down.
"You were quite right," he announced. "The tongues of men or of angels wouldn't move her. Never mind. She's going to use the money for charity."
"Well, that's something, at any rate," Mr. Ascough remarked.
"The eloquence," Lord Arranmore said, lazily, "which I have wasted upon that young woman would entrance the House of Lords. By the bye, Ascough, I am going to take my seat next week."
"I am delighted to hear it, your lordship."
"Yes, it's good news for the country, isn't it?" Lord Arranmore remarked. "I have not quite decided what my particular line shall be, but I have no doubt but that the papers will all be calling me a welcome addition to that august assembly before long. I believe that's what's the matter with me. I want to make a speech. Do you remember me at the Bar, Ascough? Couldn't keep me down, could they?"
Mr. Ascough smiled.
"You were rather fond of being on your feet!" he admitted.
Lord Arranmore sighed regretfully.
"And to think that I might have been Lord High Chancellor by now," he remarked. "Good-bye, Ascough."
* * * * * * *
Later, at the reception of a Cabinet Minister, Lord Arranmore came across Hennibul talking with half-a-dozen other men. He detached himself at once.
"This is odd," he remarked, with a whimsical smile. "What the dickens are you doing in this respectable household, Arranmore? You look like a lost sheep."
Lord Arranmore shrugged his shoulders.
"I've decided to go in for something," he said; "politics or society or something of that sort. What do you recommend?"
"Supper!" Mr. Hennibul answered, promptly.
"Come on then," Lord Arranmore assented. "One of those little tables in the far room, eh?"
"The pate here is delicious," Mr. Hennibul said; "but for Heaven's sake leave the champagne alone." "There's some decent hock. You'll excuse my pointing out these little things to you, but, of course, you don't know the runs yet. I'll give you a safe tip while I'm about it. The Opposition food is beastly, but the wine is all right--Pommery and Heidsieck, most of it, and the right years. The Government food now is good, but the wine, especially the champagne, is positively unholy."
"One should eat then with the Government, and drink with the Opposition," Lord Arranmore remarked.
"Or, better still," Mr. Hennibul said, "do both with the Speaker. By the bye, did you know that they are going to make me a judge?"
"I heard that your friends wanted to get rid of you!" Arranmore answered.
"To make yourself obnoxious--thoroughly obnoxious," Mr. Hennibul murmured, "is the sure road to advancement."
"That's right, give me a few tips," Lord Arranmore begged, sipping his wine.
"My dear fellow, I don't know what you're going in for yet."
"Neither do I. What about the stage? I used to be rather good at private theatricals. Elderly Wyndhamy parts, you know."
Mr. Hennibul shook his head.
"Twenty years too late," he declared. "Even the suburbs turn up their noses at a lord now."
"I must do something," Arranmore declared, meditatively.
"Don't see the necessity," Hennibul remarked.
Lord Arranmore lifted his glass and looked thoughtfully at the wine for a moment.
"Ah, well," he said, "you were born lazy, and I was born restless. That is the reason you have done something, and I haven't."
"If you want my advice--my serious advice," the K. C. said, quietly, "you will make yourself a nuisance to that right woman, whoever she is, until she marries you--if only to get rid of you."
"All sorts of things in the way," Lord Arranmore declared. "You see, I was married abroad."
Mr. Hennibul looked up quickly.
"Quite true, I assure you."
"Is she alive?"
"No--but her son is.
"Great Heavens. Why, he's Lord Kingston?"
"Of course he is."
"How old is he?"
"Twenty-eight--or somewhere thereabouts."
"What is he doing? Where is he? Why don't we know him?"
"He doesn't approve of me," Lord Arranmore said. "Fact, really! We are scarcely on speaking terms."
"Says I deserted his mother. So I did! Played the blackguard altogether. Left 'em both to starve, or next door to it!"
Mr. Hennibul fetched out his handkerchief and dabbed his forehead.
"You are serious, Arranmore?"
"Rather! You wouldn't expect me to be frivolous on this hock."
"That young man must be talked to," Mr. Hennibul declared. "He ought to be filling his proper place in the world. It's no use carrying on a grudge against his own father. Let me have a try at him."
"No!" Lord Arranmore said, quietly. "I am obliged to you, Hennibul, but the matter is one which does not admit of outside interference, however kindly. Besides, the boy is right. I wilfully deserted both him and his mother, and she died during my absence. My life, whilst away from them, was the sort one forgets--or tries to--and he knows about it. Further, when I returned to England I was two years before I took the trouble to go and see him. I merely alluded to these domestic matters that you might not wholly misjudge the situation."
Mr. Hennibul went on with his supper in silence. Lord Arranmore. whose appetite had soon failed him, leaned back in his chair and watched the people in the further room.
"This rather puts me off politics," he remarked, after a while. "I don't like the look of the people."
"Oh, you'll get in for the select crushers," Mr. Hennibul said. "This is a rank and file affair. You mustn't judge by appearances. But why must you specialize? Take my advice. Don't go in specially for politics, or society, or sport. Mix them all up. Be cosmopolitan and commonplace."
"Upon my word, Hennibul, you are a genius," Arranmore declared, "and yonder goes my good fairy."
He sprang up and disappeared into the further room.
"Lady Caroom," he exclaimed, bending over her shoulder. "I never suspected it of you."
She started slightly--she was silent perhaps for the fraction of a second. Then she looked up with a bright smile, meeting him on his own ground.
"But of you," she cried, "it is incredible. Come at once and explain."
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