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THE MARQUIS OF ARRANMORE
They had met almost on the steps of his office, and only a few minutes after he had left Mr. Bullsom. Brooks was attracted first by a certain sense of familiarity with the trim, well-balanced figure, and immediately afterwards she raised her eyes to his in passing. He wheeled sharply round, and held out his hand.
"Miss Scott, isn't it? Do you know I have just left your uncle?"
She smiled a little absently. She looked tired, and her boots and skirt were splashed as though with much walking.
"Indeed! I suppose you see a good deal of him just now while the election is on?"
"I must make myself a perfect nuisance to him," Brooks admitted. "You see the work is all new to me, and he has been through it many times before. Are you just going home?"
"I have been out since two o'clock," she said.
"And you are almost wet through, and quite tired out," he said. "Look here. Come across to Mellor's and have some tea with me, and I will put you in a car afterwards."
She hesitated--and he led the way across the Street, giving her no opportunity to frame a refusal. The little tea-place was warm and cosy. He found a comfortable corner, and took her wet umbrella and cape away.
"I believe," he said, sitting down opposite her, "that I have saved your life."
"Then I am not sure," she answered, "that I feel grateful to you. I ought to have warned you that I am not in the least likely to be a cheerful companion. I have had a most depressing afternoon."
"You have been to your tailor's," he suggested, "and your new gown is a failure--or is it even worse than that?"
She laughed dubiously. Then the tea was brought, and for a moment their conversation was interrupted. He thought her very graceful as she bent forward and busied herself attending to his wants. Her affinity to Selina and Louise was undistinguishable. It was true that she was pale, but it was the pallor of refinement, the student's absence of colour rather than the pallor of ill-health.
"Mr. Brooks," she said, presently, "you are busy with this election, and you are brought constantly into touch with all classes of people. Can you tell me why it is that it is so hard just now for poor people to get work? Is it true, what they tell me, that many of the factories in Medchester are closed, and many of those that are open are only working half and three-quarter time?"
"I am afraid that it is quite true, Miss Scott," he answered. "As for the first part of your question, it is very hard to answer. There seem to be so many causes at work just now.
"But it is the work of the politician surely to analyze these causes.
"It should be," he answered. "Tell me what has brought this into your mind."
"Some of the girls in our class," she said, "are out of work, and those who have anything to do seem to be working themselves almost to death to keep their parents or somebody dependent upon them. Two of them I am anxious about. I have been trying to find them this afternoon. I have heard things, Mr. Brooks, which have made me ashamed--sick at heart--ashamed to go home and think how we live, while they die. And these girls--they have known so much misery. I am afraid of what may happen to them."
"These girls are mostly boot and shoe machinists, are they not?"
"Yes. But even Mr. Stuart says that he cannot find them work."
"It is only this afternoon that we have all been discussing this matter," he said, gravely. "It is serious enough, God knows. The manufacturer tells us that he is suffering from American competition--here and in the Colonies. He tells us that the workpeople themselves are largely to blame, that their trades unions restrict them to such an extent that he is hopelessly handicapped from the start. But there are other causes. There is a terrible wave of depression all through the country. The working classes have no money to spend. Every industry is flagging, and every industry seems threatened with competition from abroad. Do you understand the principles of Free Trade at all?"
"Not in the least. I wish I did."
"Some day we must have a talk about it. Henslow has made a very daring suggestion to-day. He has given us all plenty to think about. We are all agreed upon one thing. The crisis is fast approaching, and it must be faced. These people have the right to live, and they have the right to demand that legislation should interfere on their behalf."
"It is a comfort to hear you talk like this," she said. "To me it seems almost maddening to see so much suffering, so many people suffering, not only physically, but being dragged down into a lower moral state by sheer force of circumstances and their surroundings, and all the time we educated people go on our way and live our lives, as though nothing were happening--as though we had no responsibility whatever for the holocaust of misery at our doors. So few people stop to think. They won't understand. It is so easy to put things behind one."
"Come," he said, cheerfully, "you and I, at least, are not amongst those. And there is a certain duty which we owe to ourselves, too, as well as to others--to look upon the brighter side of things. Let us talk about something less depressing."
"You shall tell me," she suggested, "who is going to win the election."
"Henslow!" he answered, promptly.
"Owing, I suppose--"
"To his agent, of course. You may laugh, Miss Scott, but I can assure you that my duties are no sinecure. I never knew what work was before."
"Too much work," she said, "is better than too little. After all, more people die of the latter than the former."
"Nature meant me," he said, "for a hazy man. I have all the qualifications for a first-class idler. And circumstances and the misfortune of my opinions are going to keep me going at express speed all my life. I can see it coming. Sometimes it makes me shudder."
"You are too young," she remarked, "to shrink from work. I have no sympathy to offer you."
"I begin to fear, Miss Scott," he said, "that you are not what is called sympathetic."
She smiled--and the smile broke into a laugh, as though some transient idea rather than his words had pleased her.
"You should apply to my cousin Selina for that," she said. "Every one calls her most delightfully sympathetic."
"Sympathy," he remarked, "is either a heaven-sent joy--or a bore. It depends upon the individual."
"That is either enigmatical or rude," she answered. "But, after all, you don't know Selina."
"Why not?" he asked. "I have talked with her as long as with you--and I feel that I know you quite well."
"I can't be responsible for your feelings," she said, a little brusquely, "but I'm quite sure that I don't know you well enough to be sitting here at tea with you even."
"I won't admit that," he answered, "but it was very nice of you to come.
"The fact of it was," she admitted, "my headache and appetite were stronger than my sense of the conventions. Now that the former are dissipated the latter are beginning to assert themselves. And so--"
She began to draw on her gloves. Just then a carriage with postilions and ladies with luggage came clattering up the street. She watched it with darkening face.
"That is the sort of man I detest," she said, motioning her head towards the window. "You know whose carriage it is, don't you?"
He shook his head.
"No, I did not know that any one round here drove with positions."
"It is the Marquis of Arranmore. He has a place at Enton, I believe, but he is only here for a few months in the year."
Brooks started and leaned eagerly forward.
"Why do you hate him?" he asked. "What has he done?"
"Didn't you hear how he treated the Mayor when he went out for a subscription to the Unemployed Fund?"
Brooks shook his head.
"No! I have heard nothing."
"Poor old Mr. Wensome went out all that way purposely to see him. He was kept waiting an hour, and then when he explained his errand the Marquis laughed at him. 'My dear fellow,' he said, 'the poor people of Medchester do not interest me in the least. I do not go to the people who are better off than I am and ask them to help support me, nor do I see the least reason why those who are worse off than I am should expect me to support them.' Mr. Wensome tried to appeal to his humanity, and the brute only continued to laugh in a cynical way. He declared that poor people did not interest him. His tenants he was prepared to look after--outside his own property he didn't care a snap of the fingers whether people lived or died. Mr. Wensome said it was perfectly awful to hear him talk, and he came away without a penny. Yet his property in this country alone is worth fifty thousand a year.
"It is very surprising," Brooks said, thoughtfully. "The more surprising because I know of a kind action which he once did."
"Sh! they're coming here!" she exclaimed. "That is the Marquis."
The omnibus had pulled up outside. A tall footman threw open the door, and held an umbrella over the two ladies who had descended. The Marquis and two other men followed. They trooped into the little place, bringing with them a strange flavour of another world. The women wore wonderful furs, and one who had ermine around her neck wore a great bunch of Neapolitan violets, whose perfume seemed to fill the room.
"This is a delightful idea," the taller one said, turning towards her host. "An eight-mile drive before tea sounded appalling. Where shall we sit, and may we have muffins?"
"There is nothing about your youth, Lady Sybil, which I envy more than your digestion," he answered, motioning them towards a table. "To be able to eat muffins with plenty of butter would be unalloyed bliss. Nevertheless, you shall have them. No one has ever called me selfish. Let us have tea, and toast, and bread-and-butter and cakes, and a great many muffins, please, young lady," he ordered. "And will you send out some tea to my servants, please? It will save them from trying to obtain drinks from the hotel next door, and ensure us a safe drive home."
"And don't forget to send out for that pack of cards, Arranmore," the elder lady said. "We are going to play bridge driving home with that wonderful little electric lamp of yours.
"I will not forget," he promised. "We are to be partners, you know."
He was on the point of sitting down when he saw Brooks at the next table. He held out his hand.
"How do you do, Mr. Brooks?" he said. "I am glad to see that you are going to get your man in.
"Thank you," Brooks answered, rising and waiting for his companion, who was buttoning her gloves. "I was afraid that your sympathies would be on the other side."
"Dear me, no," the Marquis answered. "My enemies would tell you that I have neither sympathy nor politics, but I assure you that at heart I am a most devout Radical. I have a vote, too, and you may count upon me.
"I am very glad to hear it," Brooks answered. "Shall I put you down on the list 'to be fetched'?"
The Marquis laughed.
"I'll come without," he declared. "I promise. Just remind me of the day."
He glanced towards Mary Scott, and for a moment seemed about to include her in some forthcoming remark. But whatever it might have been--it was never made. She kept her eyes averted, and though her self-possession was absolutely unruffled she hastened her departure. "I am not hurrying you, Mr. Brooks?" she asked. "Not in the least," he assured her.
He raised his hat to the Marquis and his party, and the former nodded good-humouredly. There was silence until the two were in the street. Then one of the men who had been looking after them dropped his eye-glass.
"I tell you what," he said to his vis-a-vis. "There's some chance for us in Medchester after all. I don't believe Arranmore is popular amongst the ladies of his own neighbourhood."
The Marquis laughed softly.
"She has a nice face," he remarked, "and I should imagine excellent perceptions. Curiously enough, too, she reminded me of some one who has every reason to hate me. But to the best of my belief I never saw her before in my life. Lady Caroom, that weird-looking object in front of you is a teapot--and those are teacups. May I suggest a use for them?"
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