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THE ADVICE OF MR. BULLSOM
At no time in his life was Brooks conscious of so profound a feeling of dissatisfaction with regard to himself, his work, and his judgment, as during the next few weeks. His friendship with Mary Scott, which had been a more pleasant thing than he had ever realized, seemed to him to be practically at an end, he had received a stinging rebuke from the one man in the world whose right to administer it he would have vigorously denied, and he was forced to admit to himself that his last few weeks had been spent in a fool's paradise, into which he ought never to have ventured. He had the feeling of having been pulled up sharply in the midst of a very delightful interlude--and the whole thing seemed to him to come as a warning against any deviation whatsoever from the life which he had marked out for himself. So, after a day of indecision and nerveless hesitation, he turned back once more to his work. Here, at any rate, he could find absorption.
He formed his Board--without figure-heads, wholly of workers. There was scarcely a name which any one had ever heard of before. He had his interview with the bishop, who was shocked at his views, and publicly pronounced his enterprise harmful and pauperizing, and Verity, with the names of the Board as a new weapon, came for him more vehemently than ever. Brooks, at last goaded into action, sent the paper to his solicitors and went down to Medchester to attend a dinner given to Mr. Bullsom.
It was at Medchester that he recovered his spirits. He knew the place so well that it was easy for him to gauge and appreciate the altered state of affairs there. The centre of the town was swept clean at last of those throngs of weary-faced men and youths looking for a job, the factories were running full time-there seemed to his fancy to be even an added briskness in the faces and the footsteps of the hurrying crowds of people. Later on at the public dinner which he had come down to attend, he was amply assured as to the sudden wave of prosperity which was passing over the whole country. Mr. Bullsom, with an immense expanse of white shirt, a white waistcoat and a scarlet camellia in his button-hole, beamed and oozed amiability upon every one. Brooks he grasped by both hands with a full return to his old cordiality, indulgence in which he had rather avoided since he had been aware of the social gulf between them.
"Brooks," he said, "I owe this to you. It was your suggestion. And I don't think it's turned out so badly, eh? What do you think?"
"I think that you have found your proper sphere," Brooks answered, smiling. "I can't think why you ever needed me to suggest it to you."
"My boy, I can't either," Mr. Bullsom declared. "This is one of the proudest nights of my life. Do you know what we've done up there at Westminster, eh? We've given this old country a new lease of life. How they were all laughing at us up their sleeve, eh! Germans, and Frenchmen, and Yankees. It's a horse of another colour now. John Bull has found out how to protect himself. And, Brooks, my boy, it's been mentioned to-night, and I'm a proud man when I think of it. There were others who did the showy part of the work, of course, the speechmaking and the bill-framing and all that, but I was the first man to set the Protection snowball rolling. It wasn't much I had to say, but I said it. A glass of wine with you, Sir Henry? With pleasure, sir!
"I wonder how long it will last," Brooks' neighbour remarked, cynically. "The manufacturers are like a lot of children with a new toy. What about the Colonies? What are they going to say about it?"
"We have no Colonies," Brooks answered, smiling. "You are only half an Imperialist. Don't you know that they have been incorporated in the British Empire?
"Hope they'll like it," his neighbour remarked, sardonically. "Plenty of glory and a good price to pay for it. What licks me is that every one seems to imagine that this Tariff Bill is going to give the working-classes a leg-up. To my mind it's the capitalist who's going to score by it."
"The capitalist manufacturer," Brooks answered. "But after all you can't under our present conditions dissociate capital and labour. The benefit of one will be the benefit of the other. No food stuffs are taxed, you know."
His neighbour grunted.
"Pity Cobden's ghost can't come and listen to the rot those fellows are talking," he remarked. "We shall see in a dozen years how the thing works."
The dinner ended with a firework of speeches, and an ovation to their popular townsman and member, which left Mr. Bullsom very red in the face and a little watery about the eyes. Brooks and he drove off together afterwards, and Mr. Bullsom occupied the first five minutes or so of the journey with a vigorous mopping of his cheeks and forehead.
"A great night, Brooks," he exclaimed, faintly. "A night to remember. Don't mind admitting that I'm more than a bit exhausted though. Phew!"
Brooks laughed, and leaning forward looked out of the windows of the carriage.
"Are we going in the right direction?" he asked. "This isn't the way to 'Homelands.'"
Mr. Bullsom smiled.
"Little surprise for you, Brooks!" he remarked. "We found the sort of place the girls were hankering after, to let furnished, and we've took it for a year. We moved in a fortnight ago."
"Do I know the house?" Brooks asked. "It's Woton Hall," Mr. Bullsom remarked, impressively. "Nice old place. Dare say you remember it."
"Remember it! Of course I do," Brooks answered. "How do the young ladies like it?"
Mr. Bullsom laid hold of the strap of the carriage. The road was rough, the horses were fresh, and Mr. Bullsom's head had felt steadier.
"Well," Mr. Bullsom said, "you'd think to hear em we'd stepped straight into heaven. We're close to the barracks, you know, and I'm blest if half the officers haven't called already. They drop in to luncheon, or dinner, or whatever's going on, in the most friendly way, just as they used to, you know, when Sir Henry lived there, him as took wine with me, you remember. Lord, you should hear Selina on the military. Can't say I take to 'em much myself. I'll bet there'll be one or two of them hanging about the place to-night. Phew!"
Mr. Bullsom mopped his forehead again. The carriage had turned in at the drive, and he glanced towards Brooks a little uneasily.
"Do I look-as though I'd been going it a bit?" he asked. "Since Selina's got these band-box young men hanging around she's so mighty particular."
Brooks leaned forward and rescued Mr. Bullsom's tie from underneath his ear.
"You're all right," he said, reassuringly. "You mustn't let the girls bully you, you know."
Mr. Bullsom sat bolt upright.
"You are quite right, Brooks," he declared. "I will not. But we took on the servants here as well, and they're a bit strange to me. After all, though, I'm the boss. I'll let 'em know it, too."
A footman threw open the door and took Brooks' dressing-case. A butler, hurrying up from the background, ushered them into the drawing-room. Mr. Bullsom pulled down his waistcoat and marched in; whistling softly a popular tune. Selina and Louise, in elaborate evening gowns, were playing bridge with two young men.
Selina rose and held out her hand to Brooks a little languidly.
"So glad to see you, Mr. Brooks," she declared. "Let me introduce Mr. Suppeton, Captain Meyton!"
The two young men were good enough to acknowledge the introduction, and Brooks shook hands with Louise. Selina was surveying her father with uplifted eyebrows.
"Why, father, where on earth have you been?" she exclaimed. "I never saw anybody such a sight. Your shirt is like a rag, and your collar too."
"Never you mind me, Selina," Mr. Bullsom answered, firmly. "As to where I've been, you know quite well. Political dinners may be bad for your linen, and there may be more healths drunk than is altogether wise, but a Member of Parliament has to take things as he finds 'em. Don't let us interrupt your game. Brooks and I are going to have a game at billiards."
One of the young men laid down his cards.
"Can't we join you?" he suggested. "We might have a game of pool, if it isn't too late."
"You are soon tired of bridge," Selina remarked, reproachfully. "Very well, we will all go into the billiard-room."
The men played a four-handed game. Between the shots Selina talked to Brooks.
"Were you surprised?" she asked. "Had you heard?"
"Not a word. I was astonished," he answered.
"You hadn't seen it in the papers either? Most of them mentioned it--in the county notes."
"I so seldom read the newspapers," he said. "You like it, of course?"
Selina was bereft of words.
"How we ever existed in that hateful suburb," she whispered under her breath. "And the people round here too are so sociable. Papa being a member makes a difference, of course. Then the barracks--isn't it delightful having them so close? There is always something going on. A cricket match to-morrow, I believe. Louise and I are going to play. Mrs. Malevey--she's the Colonel's wife, you know persuaded us into it."
"And your mother?" Brooks asked a minute or two later.
Selina tossed her head.
"Mother is so foolish," she declared. "She misses the sound of the trains, and she actually calls the place dead alive, because she can't sit at the windows and see the tradesmen's carts and her neighbours go by. Isn't it ridiculous?"
"I suppose so," he answered. "Your mother can have her friends out here, though. It really is only a short drive to Medchester."
"She won't have them oftener than I can help," Selina declared, doggedly. "Old Mrs. Mason called the other day when Captain Meyton and Mrs. Malevey were here. It was most awkward. But I don't know why I tell you all these things," she declared, abruptly. "Somehow I always feel that you are quite an old friend."
Selina's languishing glance was intercepted by one of her admirers from the barracks, as she had intended it to be. Brooks went off to play his shot and returned smiling.
"I am only too happy that you should feel so," he declared. "Your father was very kind to me."
"Isn't it almost a pity that you didn't stay in Medchester, Mr. Brooks?" Selina remarked, with a faint note of patronage in her tone. "Papa is so much more influential now, you know, and he was always so fond of you."
"It is rather a pity," Brooks remarked, with twinkling eyes. "One can't foresee these things, you know."
Selina felt it time to bestow her attention elsewhere, and the game soon came to an end. The girls glanced at the clock and reluctantly withdrew.
"Remember, Miss Bullsom, that we are relying upon you to-morrow," the younger of the two officers remarked, as he opened the door. "Two o'clock sharp--but you lunch with Mrs. Malevey first, don't you?"
"We shan't forget," Selina assured him, graciously. "Good-night."
The two young men left soon afterwards. Mr. Bullsom mixed himself a whisky-and-soda, and stood for a few minutes on the hearthrug before retiring.
"You're not up to the mark, Brooks, my boy," he said, kindly.
Brooks shrugged his shoulders. "I am about as usual," he answered.
Mr. Bullsom set down his glass.
"Look here, Brooks," he said, "you've given me many a useful piece of advice, even when you used to charge me six and eightpence for it. I'm going to turn the tables. One doesn't need to look at you twice to see that things aren't going altogether as they should do with you. See here! Are you sure that you're not cutting off your nose to spite your face, eh?"
"Perhaps I am," Brooks answered. "But it is too late to draw back now."
"It is never too late," Mr. Bullsom declared, vigorously. "I've no fancy for weathercocks, but I haven't a ha'porth of respect for a man who ain't smart enough to own up when he's made a mistake, and who isn't willing to start again on a fresh page. You take my advice, Brooks. Be reconciled with your father, and let 'em all know who you are. I've seen a bit of Lord Arranmore, and I'll stake my last shilling that he's not a bad 'un at heart. You make it up with him, Brooks. Come, that's a straight tip, and it's a good one."
Brooks threw away his cigarette and held out his hand.
"It is very good advice, Mr. Bullsom," he said, "under any ordinary circumstances. I wish I could take it. Good-night."
Mr. Bullsom grasped his hand.
"You're not offended, my boy?" he asked, anxiously.
"Not I," Brooks answered, heartily. "I'm not such an idiot."
"I don't want to take any liberties," Bullsom said, "and I'm afraid I forget sometimes who you are, but that's your fault, seeing that you will call yourself only Mr. Kingston Brooks when you're by rights a lord. But if you were the Prince of Wales I'd still say that my advice was good. Forgive your father anything you've got against him, and start afresh."
"Well, I'll think about it," Brooks promised.
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