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A NEW DON QUIXOTE
Brooks reached London the next evening to find himself famous. The evening papers, one of which he had purchased en route, were one and all discussing his new charitable schemes. He found himself held up at once to ridicule and contempt--praised and blamed almost in the same breath. The Daily Gazette, in an article entitled "The New Utopia," dubbed him the "Don Quixote of philanthropy" the St. James's made other remarks scarcely so flattering. He drove at once to Stepney, and found his headquarters besieged by a crowd which his little staff of helpers was wholly unable to cope with, and half-a-dozen reporters waiting to snatch a word with him. Mary watched his entrance with a little sigh of relief.
"I'm so glad you have come," she exclaimed. "It is hard to send these people away, but do you know, they have come from all parts of London? Neither Mr. Flitch nor I can make them understand that we can only deal with cases in the immediate neighbourhood. You must try."
Brooks stood up at once.
"I am very sorry," he said, "if there has been any misunderstanding, but I want you all to remember this. It is impossible for us to deal with any cases to-night unless you are residents of the immediate neighbourhood. The list of streets is on the front door. Please do not present yourselves before any of the desks unless you lodge or live in one of them."
There was a murmur of disappointment, and in the background a few growls.
"I hope before very long," Brooks continued, "that we shall have a great many more branches open, and be able to offer help to all of you. But at present we cannot make any exceptions. Will every one except our neighbours please help us by leaving the room."
For the most part he was obeyed, and then one of the reporters touched him on the shoulder.
"Good-evening, Mr. Brooks. I am representing the Evening Courier. We should be glad to know what your ideas are as to the future of this new departure of yours, and any other information you might cane to give us. There are some others here, I see, on the same errand. Any exclusive information you cared to place at my disposal would be much valued, and we should take especial pains to put your case fairly before the public."
"Really," he said, "it seems as though I were on my defence."
The reporter took out his pencil.
"Well, you know," he said, "some of the established charitable institutions are rather conservative, and they look upon you as an interloper, and your methods as a little too broad."
"Well," Brooks said, "if it is to be war between us and the other charitable institutions you name, I am ready for it, but I cannot talk to you now. As you see, I have an evening's work before me."
"When can you spare me half-an-hour, sir?"
"At midnight--my rooms, in, Jermyn Street."
The reporter closed his book.
"I don't wish to waste your time, sir," he answered. "If you are not going to say anything to the others before then I will go away."
Brooks nodded. The reporters whispered together.
"May we stay and watch for a few minutes?" one of them asked.
Brooks agreed, and went on with his work. Once more the human flotsam and jetsam, worthy and unworthy, laid bare the sore places in their lives, sometimes with the smooth tongue of deceit, sometimes with the unconscious eloquence of suffering long pent up. One by one they found their way into Brooks' ledgers as cases to be reckoned out and solved. And meanwhile nearly all of them found some immediate relief, passing out into the night with footsteps a little less shuffling, and hearts a little lighter. The night's work was a long one. It was eleven o'clock before Brooks left his seat with a little gesture of relief and lit a cigarette.
"I must go and get something to eat," he said. "Will you come Miss Scott?"
She shook her head.
"I have to make out a list of things we want for my department," she said. "Last night they were nearly all women here. Don't bother about me. Mr. Flitch will put me in an omnibus at London Bridge. You must see those reporters. You've read the evening papers, haven't you?"
"Yes. I knew we should have opposition. This isn't even the beginning of it. It won't hurt us."
Nevertheless Brooks was anxious to be properly understood, and he talked for a long time with the reporter, whom he found awaiting him in Jermyn Street--a pleasant young fellow just back from the war, with the easy manner and rattling conversation of his order.
"You ought to call in and have a chat with the chief, Mr. Brooks," he said. "He'd be delighted to hear your views personally, I'm sure, and I believe you'd convert him. He's a bit old-fashioned, you know, that is for a sub--believes in the orthodox societies, and makes a great point of not encouraging idleness."
"I'd be glad to some time," Brooks answered. "But I can tell you this. If we can get the money, and I haven't asked for a penny yet, nothing in the shape of popular opinion is going to stop us. Idleness and drunkenness, deceit and filthy-mindedness, and all those vices which I admit are like a pestilence amongst these people, are sins which we are responsible for, not them, and, of course, we must suffer to some extent from them. But we've got to grapple with them. We shall be taken advantage of, and grossly deceived continually. I know of one or two cases already. We expect it--count upon it. But in the end we shall come out on the top. If we are consistent the thing will right itself."
"You are a young man to be so interested in philanthropic work, Mr. Brooks Every one seems to consider philanthropy the pursuit of the old," Brooks answered. "I don't know why, I am sure."
"And may I ask if that is a sample of your daily correspondence?" he asked, pointing to the table.
Brooks looked at the enormous pile of letters and shook his head.
"I have never had more than twenty letters at a time in my life," he answered. "There seems to be almost as many thousands there. It is, I suppose, a result of the Press booming our modest little show. I can scarcely feel as grateful as I should like to. Have another pipe, will you--or a cigar? I think unless there's anything else you'd like to ask I'd better begin on these."
"Nothing more, thanks," the pressman answered; "but if I might I'd like to stay while you open a few. There might be something interesting. If you'll forgive my remarking it, there seem to be a good many registered letters. I understood that you had not appealed to the public for subscriptions."
"Neither have I," Brooks answered, stretching out his hand. "If there is money in these it is entirely unsolicited."
He plunged into a correspondence as various as it was voluminous. There were letters of abuse, of sympathy, of friendship, of remonstrance, of reproof. There were offers of help, money, advice, suggestions, and advertisements. There were small sums of money, and a few larger ones. He was amused to find that a great many people addressed him as an infidel--the little mission preacher had certainly been busy, and everywhere it seemed to be understood that his enterprise was an anti-Christian one. And finally there was a long packet, marked as having been delivered by hand, and inside--without a word of any sort, on a single clue as to its sender--a bank-note for one thousand pounds.
Brooks passed it over to his companion, who saw the amount with a little start.
"A thousand pounds--not even registered--in a plain envelope. And you have no idea from whom it came?
"None whatever," Brooks answered.
The pressman folded it up silently, and passed it back. He looked at the huge pile of correspondence and at Brooks--his dark thoughtful face suddenly lit up with a rare gleam of excitement. In his own mind he was making a thumb-nail sketch of these things. There was material for one of those broad, suggestive articles which his editor loved. He wished Brooks good-night.
"I'm much obliged for all you've told me," he said. "If you don't mind, I'd like to drop in now and again down at Stepney. I believe that this is going to be rather a big thing for you."
"So do I," he answered. "Come whenever you like."
Brooks sank into an easy-chair, conscious at last of a more than ordinary exhaustion. He looked at the pile of newspapers at his feet, the sea of correspondence on the table--his thoughts travelled back to the bare, dusty room in Stepney, with its patient, white-faced crowd of men and women and children. Perhaps, after all, then he had found his life's work here. If so he need surely regret no longer his lost political opportunities. Yet in his heart he knew that it had been from the House of Commons he had meant to force home his schemes. To work outside had always seemed to him to be labouring under a disadvantage, to be missing the true and best opportunity of impressing upon the law-makers of the country their true responsibilities. But of that there was no longer any hope. Of the House of Lords he thought only with a cold shiver. No, political life was denied to him. He must do his best for the furtherance of his work outside.
He fell asleep to awake in the cold grey of the morning, stiff and cramped, and cold to the bone. Stamping up and down the room in a vigorous attempt to restore his lost circulation, he noticed as he passed the corner of the table a still unopened letter addressed to him in a familiar handwriting. He took it over to the window, and, glancing at the faintly-sketched coronet on time back, turned it over and broke the seal.
"ST. JAMES'S HOUSE, LONDON.
"MY DEAR BROOKS,
"I have read with an amusement which I am sure you will not fail to share, the shower of condemnation, approval, and remonstrance which by your doings in Stepney you appear to have brought down upon your head. The religious element especially, you seem to have set by the ears. I sat within hearing of our premier bishop last night at dinner, and his speculations with regard to you and your ultimate aims were so amusing that I passed without noticing it my favourite entree.
"You will have observed that it is your anonymity which is the weapon of which your antagonists make most use. Why not dissipate it and confound them? A Mr. Brooks of unknown antecedents might well be supposed capable of starting a philanthropic work for his own good; the same suspicion could never fall on Lord Kingston Ross, a future marquis. You will notice that I make no appeal to you from any personal motive. I should suggest that we preserve our present relations without alteration. But if you care to accept my suggestion I would propose that you nominate me trustee of your society, and I will give, as a contribution to its funds, the sum of five thousand pounds."
Brooks looked down the long street, quiet and strangely unfamiliar in the dawning light, and for a moment he hesitated. The letter he held in his hand crushed up into a shapeless ball. It would make things very easy. And then--a rush of memories. He swung round and sat down at his desk, drawing paper and ink towards him.
"DEAR LORD ARRANMORE," he wrote, "I am much obliged to you for the suggestion contained in your letter, but I regret that its acceptance would involve the carrying out on my part of certain obligations which I am not at present prepared to undertake. We will, therefore, if you please, allow matters to remain on this footing.
Bareheaded he stole out into the street, and breathed freely only when he heard it drop into the pillar-box. For only he himself knew what other things went with the rejection of that offer.
He crept up-stairs to lie down for a while, and 'on the way he laughed softly to himself.
"What a fool she would think me!" he muttered. "What a fool I am!"
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