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A THOUSAND POUNDS
Brooks had ridden a bicycle from Medchester, and his trousers and boots were splashed with mud. His presence at Enton was due to an impulse, the inspiration of which he had already begun seriously to doubt. Arranmore's kindly reception of him was more than ordinarily welcome.
"I am very glad to see you, Mr. Brooks," he said, holding out his hand. "How comes it that you are able to take even so short a holiday as this? I pictured you surrounded by canvassers and bill-posters and journalists, all clamouring for your ear."
Brooks laughed, completely at his ease now, thanks to the unspoken cordiality of the other man. He took the easy-chair which the servant had noiselessly wheeled up to him.
"I am afraid that you exaggerate my importance,--Lord Arranmore," he said. "I was very busy early this morning, and I shall be again after four. But I am allowed a little respite now and then."
"You spend it very sensibly out of doors," Arranmore remarked. "How did you get here?"
"I cycled," Brooks answered. "It was very pleasant, but muddy."
"What will you have?" Lord Arranmore asked. "Some wine and biscuits, or something of that sort?"
His hand was upon the bell, but Brooks stopped him.
"Nothing at all, thank you, just now."
"Luncheon will be served in half-an-hour," the Marquis said. "You will prefer to wait until then?"
"I am much obliged to you," Brooks answered, "but I must be getting back to Medchester as soon as possible. Besides," he added, with a smile, "I am afraid when I have spoken of the object of my visit you may feel inclined to kick me out."
"I hope not," Arranmore replied, lightly. "I was hoping that your visit had no object at all, and that you had been good enough just to look me up.
"I should not have intruded without a purpose," Brooks said, quietly, "but you will be almost justified in treating my visit as an impertinence when I have disclosed my errand. Lord Arranmore, I am the secretary for the fund which is being raised in Medchester for the relief of the Unemployed."
"Oh, yes," he said. "I had a visit a few days ago from a worthy Medchester gentleman connected with it."
"It is concerning that visit, Lord Arranmore, that I have come to see you," Brooks continued, quietly. "I only heard of it yesterday afternoon, but this morning it seems to me that every one whom I have met has alluded to it."
The Marquis was lounging against the broad mantelpiece. Some part of the cordiality of his manner had vanished.
"Lord Arranmore, I wondered whether it was not possible that some mistake had been made," Brooks said. "I wondered whether Mr. Wensome had altogether understood you properly--"
"I did my best to be explicit," the Marquis murmured.
"Or whether you had misunderstood him," Brooks continued, doggedly. "This fund has become absolutely necessary unless we wish to see the people starve in the streets. There are between six and seven thousand operatives and artisans in Medchester to-day who are without work through no fault of their own. It is our duty as citizens to do our best for them. Nearly every one in Medchester has contributed according to their means. You are a large property-owner in the town. Cannot you consider this appeal as an unenforced rate? It comes to that in the long run."
The Marquis shrugged his shoulders.
"I think," he said, "that on the subject of charity Englishmen generally wholly misapprehend the situation. You say that between six and seven thousand men are out of work in Medchester. Very well, I affirm that there must be a cause for that. If you are a philanthropist it is your duty to at once investigate the economic and political reasons for such a state of things, and alter them. By going about and collecting money for these people you commit what is little short of a crime. You must know the demoralizing effect of charity. No man who has ever received a dole is ever again an independent person. Besides that, you are diverting the public mind from the real point of issue, which is not that so many thousand people are hungry, but that a flaw exists in the administration of the laws of the country so grave that a certain number of thousands of people who have a God-sent right to productive labour haven't got it. Do you follow me?"
"Perfectly," Brooks answered. "You did not talk like this to Mr. Wensome."
"I admit it. He was an ignorant man in whom I felt no interest whatever, and I did not take the trouble. Besides, I will frankly admit that I am in no sense of the word a sentimentalist. The distresses of other people do not interest me particularly. I have been poor myself, and I never asked for, nor was offered, any sort of help. Consequently I feel very little responsibility concerning these unfortunate people, whose cause you have espoused."
"May I revert to your first argument?" Brooks said. "If you saw a man drowning then, instead of trying to save him you would subscribe towards a fund to teach people to swim?"
"That is ingenious," Lord Arranmore replied, smiling grimly, "but it doesn't interest me. If I saw a man drowning I shouldn't think of interfering unless the loss of that man brought inconvenience or loss to myself. If it did I should endeavour to save him--not unless. As for the fund you speak of, I should not think of subscribing to it. It would not interest me to know that other people were provided with a safeguard against drowning. I should probably spend the money in perfecting myself in the art of swimming. Don't you see that no man who has ever received help from another is exactly in the same position again? As an individual he is a weaker creature. That is where I disagree with nearly every existing form of charity. They are wrong in principle. They are a debauchment."
"Your views, Lord Arranmore," Brooks said, "are excellent for a model world. For practical purposes I think they are a little pedantic. You are quite right in your idea that charity is a great danger. I can assure you that we are trying to realize that in Medchester. We ask for money, and we dispense it unwillingly, but as a necessary evil. And we are trying to earnestly see where our social system is at fault, and to readjust it. But meanwhile, men and women and children even are starving. We must help them."
"That is where you are wholly wrong, and where you retard all progress," Arranmore remarked. "Can't you see that you are continually plugging up dangerous leaks with putty instead of lead? You muffle the cry which but for you must ring through the land, and make itself heard to every one. Let the people starve who are without means. Legislation would stir itself fast enough then. It is the only way. Charity to individuals is poison to the multitude. You create the criminal classes with your charities, you blindfold statesmen and mislead political economists. I tell you that the more you give away the more distress you create."
Brooks rose from his seat.
"Charity is older than nations or history, Lord Arranmore," he said, "and I am foolish enough to think that the world is a better place for it. Your reasoning is very excellent, but life has not yet become an exact science. The weaknesses of men and women have to be considered. You have probably never seen a starving person."
Lord Arranmore laughed, and Brooks looked across the room at him in amazement. The Marquis was always pale, but his pallor just then was as unnatural as the laugh itself.
"My dear young man," he said, "if I could show you what I have seen your hair would turn grey, and your wits go wandering. Do you think that I know nothing of life save its crust? I tell you that I have been down in the depths, aye, single-handed, there in the devil's own cauldron, where creatures in the shape of men and women, the very sight of whom would turn you sick with horror, creep like spawn through life, brainless and soulless, foul things who would murder one another for the sake of a crust, or--Bah! What horrible memories."
He broke off abruptly. When he spoke again his tone was as usual.
"Come," he said, "I mustn't let you have this journey for nothing. After all, the only luxury in having principles is in the departing from them. I will give you a cheque, Mr. Brooks, only I beg you to think over what I have said. Abandon this doling principle as soon as it is possible. Give your serious attention to the social questions and imperfect laws which are at the back of all this distress."
Brooks felt as though he had been awakened from a nightmare. He never forgot that single moment of revelation on the part of the man who sat now smiling and debonair before his writing-table.
"You are very kind indeed, Lord Arranmore," he said. "I can assure you that the money will be most carefully used, and amongst my party, at any rate, we do really appreciate the necessity for going to the root of the matter."
Arranmore's pen went scratching across the paper. He tore out a cheque, and placing it in an envelope, handed it to Brooks.
"I noticed," he remarked, thoughtfully, "that a good many people coming out of the factories hissed my carriage in Medchester last time I was there. I hope they will not consider my cheque as a sign of weakness. But after all," he added, with a smile, "what does it matter? Let us go in to luncheon, Brooks."
Brooks glanced down at his mud-splashed clothes and boots.
"I must really ask you to excuse me," he began, but Arranmore only rang the bell.
"My valet will smarten you up," he said. "Here, Fritz, take Mr. Brooks into my room and look after him, will you. I shall be in the hall when you come down."
As he passed from the dressing-room a few minutes later, Brooks paused for a moment to look up at the wonderful ceiling above the hall. Below, Lord Arranmore was idly knocking about the billiard balls, and all around him was the murmur of pleasant conversation. Brooks drew the envelope from his pocket and glanced at the cheque. He gave a little gasp of astonishment. It was for a thousand pounds.
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