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KINGSTON BROOKS MAKES INQUIRIES
At luncheon Brooks found himself between Sybil Caroom and Mr. Hennibul. She began to talk to him at once.
"I want to know all about your candidate, Mr. Brooks," she declared. "You can't imagine how pleased I am to have you here. I have had the feeling ever since I came of being shut up in a hostile camp. I am a Radical, you know, and these good people, even my mother, are rabid Conservatives."
Brooks smiled as he unfolded his serviette.
"Well, Henslow isn't exactly an ornamental candidate," he said, "but he is particularly sound and a man with any amount of common-sense. You should come and hear him speak."
"I'd love to," she answered, "but no one would bring me from here. They are all hopeless. Mr. Molyneux there is going to support Mr. Rochester. If I wasn't sure that he'd do more harm than good, I wouldn't let him go. But I don't suppose they'll let you speak, Sydney," she added. "They won't if they've ever heard you."
Molyneux smiled an imperturbable smile.
"Personally," he said, "I should prefer to lend my moral support only, but my fame as an orator is too well known. There is not the least chance that they will let me off."
Sybil looked at Brooks.
"Did you ever hear such conceit?" she remarked, in a pitying tone. "And I don't believe he's ever opened his mouth in the House, except to shout 'Hear, hear'! Besides, he's as nervous as a kitten. Tell me, are you going to return Mr. Henslow?"
"I think so," Brooks answered. "It is certain to be a very close contest, but I believe we shall get a small majority. The Jingo element are our greatest trouble. They are all the time trying to make people believe that Conservatives have the monopoly of the Imperial sentiment. As a matter of fact, I think that Henslow is almost rabid on the war question."
"Still, your platform--to use an Americanism," Mr. Hennibul interposed, "must be founded upon domestic questions. Medchester is a manufacturing town, and I am given to understand is suffering severely. Has your man any original views on the present depression in trade?"
Brooks glanced towards the speaker with a smile.
"You have been reading the Medchester Post!" he remarked.
The barrister nodded.
"Yes. It hinted at some rather surprising revelation."
"You must read Henslow's speech at the mass meeting to-morrow night," Brooks said. "At present I mustn't discuss these matters too much, especially before a political opponent," he remarked, smiling at Mr. Molyneux. "You might induce Mr. Rochester to play our trump card."
"If your trump card is what I suspect it to be," Mr. Hennibul said, "I don't think you need fear that. Rochester would be ready enough to try it, but some of his supporters wouldn't listen to it."
The conversation drifted away from politics. Brooks found himself enjoying his luncheon amazingly. Sybil Caroom devoted herself to him, and he found himself somehow drawn with marvellous facility into the little circle of intimate friends. Afterwards they all strolled into the hall together for coffee, and Arranmore laid his hand upon his arm.
"I am sorry that you will not have time to look round the place," he said. "You must come over again before long."
"You are very kind," Brooks said, dropping his voice a little. "There are one or two more things which I should like to ask you about Canada."
"I shall always be at your service," Lord Arranmore answered.
"And I cannot go," Brooks continued, "without thanking you--"
"We will take that for granted," Arranmore interrupted. "You know the spirit in which I gave it. It is not, I fear, one of sympathy, but it may at any rate save me from having my carriage windows broken one dark night. By the bye, I have ordered a brougham for you in half-an-hour. As you see, it is raining. Your bicycle shall be sent in to-morrow."
"It is very kind of you indeed," Brooks declared.
"Molyneux has to go in, so you may just as well drive together," Arranmore remarked. "By the bye, do you shoot?"
"A little," Brooks admitted.
"You must have a day with us. My head keeper is coming up this afternoon, and I will try and arrange something. The election is next week, of course. We must plan a day after then."
"I am afraid that my performance would scarcely be up to your standard," Brooks said, "although it is very kind of you to ask me. I might come and look on."
"Hennibul is all right," he said, "but Molyneux is a shocking duffer. We'll give you an easy place. We have some early callers, I see."
The butler was moving towards them, followed by two men in hunting-clothes.
"Sir George Marson and Mr. Lacroix, your lordship," he announced.
For a second Arranmore stood motionless. His eyes seemed to pass through the man in pink, who was approaching with outstretched hand, and to be fastened upon the face of his companion. It chanced that Brooks, who had stepped a little on one side, was watching his host, and for the second time in one day he saw things which amazed him. His expression seemed frozen on to his face--something underneath seemed struggling for expression. In a second it had all passed away. Brooks could almost have persuaded himself that it was fancy.
"Come for something to eat, Arranmore," Sir George declared, hungrily. "My second man's gone off with the sandwich-case--hunting on his own, I believe. I'll sack him to-morrow. Here's my friend Lacroix, who says you saved him from starvation once before out in the wilds somewhere. Awfully sorry to take you by storm like this, but we're twelve miles from home, and it's a God-forsaken country for inns."
"Luncheon for two at once, Groves," Lord Arranmore answered. "Delighted to meet you again, Mr. Lacroix. Last time we were both of us in very different trim."
Lady Caroom came gliding up to them, and shook hands with Sir George.
"This sounds so interesting," she murmured. "Did you say that you met Lord Arranmore in his exploring days?" she asked, turning to Mr. Lacroix.
"I found Lord Arranmore in a log hut which he had built himself on the shores of Lake Ono," Lacroix said, smiling. "And when I tell you that I had lost all my stores, and that his was the only dwelling-place for fifty miles around, you can imagine that his hospitality was more welcome to me then even than to-day."
Brooks, who was standing near, could not repress a start. He fancied that Lord Arranmore glanced in his direction.
Lady Caroom shuddered.
"The only dwelling-house for fifty miles," she repeated. "What hideous misanthropy."
"There was no doubt about it," Lacroix declared, smiling. "My Indian guide, who knew every inch of the country, told me so many times. I can assure you that Lord Arranmore, whom I am very pleased to meet again, was a very different person in those days."
The butler glided up from the background.
"Luncheon is served in the small dining-room, Sir George," he announced.
* * * * * * *
Molyneux and Brooks drove in together to Medchester, and the former was disposed--for him to be talkative.
"Queer thing about Lacroix turning up," he remarked. "I fancy our host looked a bit staggered."
"It was enough to surprise him," Brooks answered. "From Lake Ono to Medchester is a long way."
"By Jove, it is," he affirmed. "Queer stick our host. Close as wax. I've known him ever since he dropped in for the title and estates, and I've never yet heard him open his mouth on the subject of his travels."
"Was he away from England for very long?" Brooks asked.
"No one knows where he was," Molyneux replied. "Twenty years ago he was reading for the Bar in London, and he suddenly disappeared. Well, I have never met a soul except Lacroix to-day who has seen anything of him in the interval between his disappearance and his coming to claim the estates. That means that for pretty well half a lifetime he passed completely out of the world. Poor beggar! I fancy that he was hard up, for one thing." To Brooks the subject was fascinating, but he had an idea that it was scarcely the best of form to be discussing their late host with a man who was comparatively a stranger to him. So he remained silent, and Molyneux, with a yawn, abandoned the subject.
"Where does Rochester hang out, do you know?" he asked Brooks. "I don't suppose for a moment I shall be able to find him."
"His headquarters are at the Bell Hotel," Brooks replied. "You will easily be able to come across him, for he has a series of ward meetings to-night. I am sorry that we are to be opponents."
"We shan't quarrel about that," Molyneux answered. "Here we are, at Medchester, then. Better let him put you down, and then he can go on with me. You're coming out to shoot at Enton, aren't you?"
"Lord Arranmore was good enough to ask me," Brooks answered, dubiously, "but I scarcely know whether I ought to accept. I am such a wretched shot."
"Well, I couldn't hit a haystack," he said, "so you needn't mind that. Besides, Arranmore isn't keen about his bag, like some chaps. Are these your offices? See you again, then."
Brooks found a dozen matters waiting for his attention. But before he settled down to work he wrote two letters. One was to the man who was doing his work as Secretary to the Unemployed Fund during the election, and with a brief mention of a large subscription, instructed him to open several relief stations which they had been obliged to chose a few days ago. And the other letter was to Victor Lacroix, whom he addressed at Westbury Park, Sir George Marson's seat.
"I should be exceedingly obliged if you would accord me a few minutes' interview on a purely personal matter. I will wait upon you anywhere, according to your convenience.
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