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Title: Lord Bellinger
Author: Harry Graham
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Title: Lord Bellinger
Author: Harry Graham





Lord Bellinger
An Autobiography
Edited by Harry Graham

1911




CONTENTS

        INTRODUCTION
I.      PARENTAGE
II.     EARLY YEARS
III.    FAMILY LIFE AND FRIENDS
IV.     A DIGRESSION
V.      BELLINGER HALL
VI.     THE FIRE
VII.    TWO CAMPAIGNS
VIII.   FOREIGN TRAVEL
IX.     THE RETURN
X.      THE RETURN (Continued)
XI.     HOME AGAIN
XII.    THE END



INTRODUCTION


In this age of literary self-analysis a volume of autobiographical
memoirs needs neither explanation nor apology. But a short time has
elapsed since Mr. George Bernard Shaw heralded the advent in the world of
letters of a Super-tramp whose gift of prosody has already brought him a
well-earned meed of fame. Soon afterwards, Mr. H. G. Wells, not to be
outdone, acted as sponsor to a literary bath-chairman whose biographical
revelations caused a temporary stir in the peaceful backwaters of the
Circulating Libraries. The popular appreciation accorded to the
discoveries of Mr. Shaw and Mr. Wells supplies adequate proof of the
interest which the British public will always take in personal
reminiscences that are written with simplicity, sincerity and a complete
lack of reserve. That this interest is not confined to the writings of
vagrants and casuals may be gathered from the continuous publication of
those absorbing volumes of memoirs which it is the habit of modern ladies
of title to compile in their leisure moments. It is not too much to hope
that this fashion of self-revelation, which exposes the most intimate
details of domestic life to the gaze of the public, may soon become
universal.

The House of Lords has but recently been the centre of a controversy
unique in its violence and bitterness. This may therefore be considered a
singularly appropriate moment for the publication of an autobiography
written by one who may be rightly regarded as a thoroughly typical member
of that august and much maligned assembly. It was originally intended
that this autobiography should be published anonymously. Indeed, Lord
Bellinger was at one time anxious that its publication should be deferred
until some time after his decease. He doubtless realised that his candid
criticism of many of his nearest and dearest might prove unpalatable to
thin-skinned or sensitive relations, and, being himself a man of an
exceptionally tender heart, was naturally loth to hurt the feelings of
his friends, at any rate during his own lifetime. Circumstances have,
however, arisen which render it possible to publish the memoirs without
further delay, and it is to be hoped that their appearance will cause but
little pain to those of Lord Bellinger's acquaintance who may recognise
their own portraits in these pages. (It may save trouble if I state that
Mr. Bridgitt, of the firm of Bridgitt, Bridgitt and Venable, Lord
Bellinger's family solicitors, has submitted the MS. to the consideration
of a legal expert who has pronounced the satisfactory opinion that
although certain passages might possibly be criticised as being in
execrable taste, there is nothing libellous or actionable in the book.)

The winter of 1910 will always be notable as a period of intense and
exceptional political stress. It culminated, as will no doubt be
remembered, in a Constitutional crisis of unparalleled importance in the
annals of English history. In November, we may recall, the House of Lords
nobly responded to the demands of a clamorous Democracy. That passion for
self-improvement which had been slumbering for so many centuries, almost
unnoticed, in the bosoms of the Peerage, burst forth into sudden flame.
Within the brief space of a single week the Lords, with a celerity which
evoked the admiration and wonder of the whole civilized world, resolved
upon the adoption of a number of the most drastic measures of internal
reform, involving the sacrifice of that hereditary principle upon which
their whole existence had so long depended. The sudden passionate desire
to amend its constitution, displayed by the Upper Chamber during those
momentous days of November, shamed even the bitterest opponents into
silence, and it was universally admitted that men who were thus prepared
to relinquish at a moment's notice all the rights and privileges for
which their forefathers had bled and paid, for such countless
generations, must be moved by no ordinary spirit of disinterested
patriotism and self-sacrifice.

It cannot, however, be denied that among the many Peers who were thus
called upon to immolate themselves upon the altar of their Empire and
their Party were a certain number of strenuous souls who viewed the idea
of renouncing their legislative birthright with extreme reluctance. Of
these perhaps the most prominent was Lord Bellinger. He was away hunting
in Leicestershire when the news was brought to him of the surrender of
that hereditary principle which he had always regarded as the salvation
of England. He was not therefore able to take any personal part in the
debate upon his leader's startling reformatory resolutions until a week
later, when there was a hard frost. He did not remain idle, however, but
spent nearly the whole of one Sunday morning composing a masterly letter
to the _Morning Post_ in which he explained at some length the danger
that would threaten England and the Empire if men like himself were no
longer qualified to take part in the deliberations of the Upper Chamber.
"It will be a deplorable day for this country," he wrote, "when the
possession of large estates, often held by the same family for two or
more generations, shall no longer entitle land-owners to play the
principal part in the government of these islands. It will be a sad day
for the Empire when the aristocracy of birth and wealth shall cease to
represent themselves in our Imperial Senate, and the composition of the
Second Chamber is restricted to individuals whose only qualifications
consist of some fortuitous intellectual eminence, or mere personal
merit."

Lord Bellinger's protests, alas! fell upon deaf ears, and when he
discovered that he himself could not hope to find a seat in any House of
Lords constituted upon lines so narrow and democratic as those
foreshadowed by the leaders of the so-called Reform Movement, he very
rightly determined that his country should be punished for her
ingratitude, and, after selling his English property and disposing of
Bellinger House, Mayfair, bade farewell to the land which (as he bitterly
declared) seemed to have no further use for his services.

Bellinger Hall became the property of Mr. Wilbur P. Balch, familiarly
known in Chicago as the Chew-gum King, while Lord Bellinger's London
residence was acquired by a Limited Entertainment Company which proposes
to convert it into an Electric Palace and Skating Rink.

During his brief colonial tour, which he describes in these memoirs, Lord
Bellinger had been greatly attracted by the climate and scenery of
Western Canada. When therefore he decided to cut himself adrift of all
his old associations he took steps to purchase a large tract of land in
British Columbia, and, after shaking the dust of England off his feet,
emigrated to Vancouver, at the commencement of this year, taking his wife
and infant daughter with him. Before leaving he handed me a packet
containing this autobiographical sketch, and informed me that I was at
liberty to publish it whenever I felt disposed to do so. It had been
completed some months before the occurrence of that Constitutional crisis
which was the immediate cause of his emigration, and terminates therefore
upon a suitably optimistic note.

My own share in the production of this work is of the slightest, but
should perhaps be made clear. As was becoming in a man of his social
position, Lord Bellinger enjoyed the privilege of a public-school
education, and was afterwards brought up in a fashion suited to one
destined from birth to undertake the responsibilities of hereditary
statesmanship. He would therefore have been the last man in the world to
claim the possession of any literary skill or pretend that he had
anything but the most rudimentary acquaintance with the intricacies of
grammar, style or punctuation. He was rightly content to leave such minor
matters to less fortunate persons who, like myself, have been compelled
by circumstances to study the laws of syntax and composition. As the
editor of his memoirs it has been my pleasant duty to rewrite most of the
original manuscript which the distinguished author had dictated somewhat
hurriedly to his typewriter. And so, although the matter is invariably
Lord Bellinger's, the manner is generally my own.

With these brief words of introduction my task comes to an end, and I
will leave Lord Bellinger to tell his own story and trace the development
of his own character by a simple portrayal of the numerous events of
interest that have combined to form the groundwork of his successful
career as a soldier and (until recently) a statesman.

H. G.



CHAPTER I - PARENTAGE


Of my lamented father, John Albert Bellinger, 1st Baron Bellinger, who
figured for so many years in the forefront of English political and
social life, it is not necessary for me to say very much. Lord Bellinger,
as is well known, was the offspring of wealthy parents who belonged to
that upper-middle class which forms the very backbone of the British
Empire. His father, Sir Percy Bellinger, was a successful brewer, with a
large and flourishing business at Maidstone and a country-seat in the
immediate neighbourhood of that town. His mother, née Miss Elizabeth
Berridge, was the daughter of an affluent Lancashire cotton-spinner. My
grandparents were, as may therefore be imagined, simple, unpretentious
people, and neither my father nor myself has ever been ashamed of the
fact. By a wise combination of finances, however, they contrived to
emerge from the caterpillar state of provincial respectability to which
they were born, into the chrysalis condition of a county family, and
finally took their places without question in the butterfly world of
Mayfair.

For the first twenty years of their married life the Percy Bellingers
lived in comparative obscurity at Bellinger Hall, Maidstone. Later on,
when business improved to such an extent that my grandfather felt no
qualms about accepting the honour of Knighthood which the Prime Minister
repeatedly offered him, the family moved to London. They bought a small
house on the sunny side of Queen's Gate, and entertained their friends
lavishly but unostentatiously, with the aid of a plethoric but
well-meaning butler who breathed heavily on their heads when handing the
wine, and not more than two (or at the outside three) footmen to minister
to their needs.

Even when they moved to Grosvenor Square, my grandparents continued to
maintain a rare and dignified simplicity, scarcely altering their mode of
life in any but the smallest domestic particulars, such as buying a
curled white wig for the coachman, engaging taller footmen with powdered
hair and calves of greater girth, and having a larger crest embossed upon
their carriages and harness.

They did not pretend to be any better than they were--honest, rich
gentlefolk, with a right to wear court-dress and the assured privilege of
admittance to the Royal Enclosure at Ascot; and the virtues of
self-effacement and modesty formed by no means the least precious part of
that inheritance which they bequeathed to their only son. Indeed, when
Sir Percy died of apoplexy, the day after a Lord Mayor's Banquet, and his
widow was fortunately persuaded to retire permanently to a cottage in the
country, and left her son in sole possession of the house in Grosvenor
Square and of Bellinger Hall, my father, John Albert Bellinger, was a
simple, if extremely wealthy, commoner--a Justice of the Peace,
certainly, and a Knight Harbinger of the Primrose League, but nothing
more.

My dear father had for some years maintained an unavailing siege upon the
heart of the Hon. Ermyntrude Blomynge (which, as everybody knows, is
pronounced 'Bling'). On the demise of Sir Percy Bellinger, this charming
lady at length realised the true worth of her importunate suitor, and
accepted him, much against the wishes of her parents, Lord and Lady
Bulkinghorne (pronounced Bolquhoun), proud old-fashioned aristocrats of a
type that is fortunately becoming rare.

John Bellinger and his bride were married at St. John's, Knightsbridge,
by the Bishop of Bray and seven minor dignitaries of the Church. The
service was fully choral; the guests (numbering among others the Crown
Princess of Herzegovina and the Servian Ambassador) were fashionable and
select; the presents numerous and costly. A special detachment of police
had to be employed to control the crowds of complete strangers who
congested the approaches to the sacred edifice. There was, indeed,
scarcely a dry eye in the gallery (filled with domestic servants in a
condition bordering upon hysteria) when the choir sang "Fight the good
fight!" while the register was being signed in the vestry by the happy
couple's most affluent relatives and the Prime Minister of the day, who
fortunately happened to be a distant connection of the bride's.

One daughter and three sons were the ultimate result of this alliance;
Victoria, who died comparatively young, William Albert Edward, Hugo
Claud, and, lastly, Richard de la Poer Tracy, my humble self.

From the moment of his marriage Fortune seemed to smile upon my father.
With a strong-minded and aristocratic wife, related (however distantly)
to the Prime Minister, he might well consider himself safely started
along the high road to success. He could indeed be certain of obtaining
advancement in whatever direction he chose to turn his footsteps, and it
merely remained for him to decide upon the particular career to which he
should devote his wealth and talents.

For some time, however, it looked as though the name of Bellinger was not
likely to be enrolled in the immortal annals of fame. During the first
fifteen years of his married life my father took no very active part in
public affairs. He was by nature inclined to be somewhat indolent, and
would have been content to end his days as a country squire, or as the
husband of one of "London's leading hostesses," as my mother was
generally referred to in the Social columns of the Press. She, however,
was an ambitious woman, as I have already explained, and had long ago
decided that her husband should make an indelible mark upon the pages of
his national history. It was to her, therefore, that he owed his final
determination to shake off the natural lethargy which had long been his
stumbling block, and stand for Parliament. As a Candidate for
Parliamentary honours my father was eminently successful, being elected
member for the Kentish division of Paddlehurst by a large Conservative
majority. Later on, when in his new capacity as legislator he proceeded
to Westminster to take his place upon the green benches of the House of
Commons, no one attended the debates with greater regularity than he. Nor
did any leave the precincts of Parliament when the long day's work was
over, with a more sublime consciousness of duty nobly done, and what his
classical education once tempted him to refer to as a _mens sana in
corpore vili_.

He asked for no reward. But even in this world, where injustice is so
rampant and so universal; in this England of ours, where the fog veils
the just and the unjust alike, true merit must always be sure of eventual
if tardy recognition. It was so in the case of my father, and he was
gratified but not altogether surprised to read, one fine morning, in the
Queen's Birthday Honours List, that Her Majesty had been graciously
pleased to confer upon him the dignity of a peerage of the United
Kingdom.

A month later, when he took his seat in the House of Lords, with all the
customary ceremonial, as 1st Baron Bellinger, of Bellinger in the County
of Kent, he was supported by two old college friends, Lord Pembridge
(better known perhaps as the husband of Miss Elsie Toller of the Gaiety
Theatre) and Lord Clanworth, the hero of the great Clanworth Divorce Case
in which his cross-examination by Sir Simeon Tozer provided the readers
of the Sunday newspapers with such excellent value for their money during
a Lenten period peculiarly barren of incident.

My dear father was anything but a snob; quite the reverse. But it took
him some weeks of constant practice to control the very natural emotion
with which his bosom thrilled each time his butler called him "My Lord";
and the second coachman who addressed him incorrectly as "sir," twice in
one morning, was very rightly given a month's wages and sent about his
business without a character.

Like his father before him, Lord Bellinger was a man of simple tastes.
Save for remaining the family residence in Grosvenor Square "Bellinger
House, Mayfair," he did not deem it necessary to effect any drastic
alterations in his mode of life. He attended the debates in the Lords as
faithfully as he had those in the Commons, would be in his place
punctually at half past four every afternoon, and was one of the last to
leave the Chamber, at a quarter to five, when the day's sitting came to
an end. Thus for some time he continued his political career,
conscientiously if silently, and, though he scarcely ever opened his lips
in debate, was never known to miss a division. Such zeal could not
altogether escape the notice of the party leaders, and it soon became
evident that Lord Bellinger was a man deservedly marked out for
promotion.

Opportunity makes the statesman, as has often been said, and my dear
father's elevation to the House of Lords as Baron Bellinger was shortly
followed by the offer of a Cabinet appointment. This he accepted with but
little hesitation, for though at first inclined to depreciate his own
capacity or experience, he was soon persuaded to recognise that neither
was in any way necessary to success.

For many years, therefore, he sacrificed himself devotedly to the service
of his country, and placed all his energies at the disposal of those who
had the future of the British Isles at heart. Later on, when the Empire
was in danger, when the cause of Right and Property was in need of
support, when every landowner's pheasants were threatened by the ruthless
hand of Socialism, and every brewer saw his profits disappearing beneath
a wave of national temperance which the Government of the day seemed
powerless to stem, the appearance of such a man as Lord Bellinger in the
political arena did much to restore public confidence.

On the subject of my father's later political career there is little need
to expatiate. May it not be studied at length in the immemorial
chronicles of Hansard? Is it not writ large across the pages of English
History?

Lord Bellinger was not perhaps what people would call a clever man, in
the narrow sense implied by that much-misused expression. That is to say,
he was not gifted with any peculiar qualities of intellect calculated to
raise him above his fellows as far as manners were concerned, however,
it would have been impossible to find his equal throughout the entire
British dominions.

Manners, as a great thinker once said, come before all morality; they are
the perfect virtues. Without them a man may be a Senior Wrangler, blest
with unusual powers of cerebral agility, and yet fail to make his mark in
the world. With their assistance, he may lack the faintest gleams of
intelligence, and yet live to become a Prime Minster, a Company Promoter,
or even a permanent official at the War Office.

Tact, self-control, what is technically known as "an eye to the main
chance," often lead a man to giddier heights than does the mere
possession of an abnormal supply of brain matter. Many an English
statesman in the past, gifted though he may have been with unusual
oratorical powers, with quickness of perception and a genius for
Departmental control, has failed to retain his Ministerial position
through lack of the very qualities above mentioned. Many a dull,
self-confident individual, with a plausible manner and a general air of
suavity and _savoir faire_, has fought his way to the throne of a
Colonial Governor, to a seat on the Judicial Bench, to a high military
Staff appointment or a Parliamentary Under-secretaryship, entirely owning
to his regard for what are known as the niceties of private life.

My father was appointed Minister of Agriculture in Queen Victoria's
Government at a time when he did not possess the most rudimentary
knowledge upon such subjects as the rotation of crops or the proper
treatment of glanders. He always remained in blissful ignorance of the
difference between a mangle and a wurzel, and the habits of the siol were
every a mystery to him. Later on, when he became President of the Board
of Education, his spelling was not his strongest point. Such words as
"unparalleled," "Tuesday," "ipecacuanhar," etc., would have presented
insurmountable difficulties to his otherwise facile pen, had not their
occurrence in Blue-books been fortunately rare.

Lord Bellinger, in fact, owed his parliamentary success almost entirely
to his unfailing urbanity, to a strong sense of propriety, to the
atmosphere of good breeding with which he had contrived to surround
himself.

At the Board of Agriculture there were many officials who could discuss
at great length the effect of the wire-worm upon hops; there was only
one--and that one Lord Bellinger--who could tell (without consulting a
book of reference) the relative precedence of a Viscount's younger son
and the prospective heir to a Barony.

At the Education Department there were few of the junior clerks who had
not solved to their own satisfaction thte intricate problem of
Denominational Religious Teaching; there was none who at the daily
luncheon interval could bring to the consumption of asparagus an air of
such consummate grace as his chief. Their knowledge was limited,
parochial, departmental; his was universal, cosmopolitan, deportmental,
if one may coin the word. Small wonder then that Lord Bellinger was
beloved and respected by the Whole British public. He was a man who never
shirked responsibilities; nor did he permit this official duties to
devolve upon the shoulders of anybody else--except, of course, his
private secretary. It was always his principle, however, to avoid
interfering with the work of his subordinates. He allowed the permanent
officials to run the department upon their own lines, merely keeping a
tactful hand upon the machine, ready to deal with any emergency that
might--but fortunately never did--arise.

He would sit in his office in Whitehall for hours at a time, reading the
weekly illustrated papers, waiting for his secretaries to bring him the
various documents to which it was necessary that his signature should be
appended before the business of Empire could proceed, and never grudged
the valuable time spent upon so thankless a task.

My illustrious father consequently became a very popular and prominent
figure upon the political stage of Great Britain. And it was not until
the English people had been startled into momentary surprise by the great
Saltingborough Soap Scandal (as it was afterwards called), and learnt
that Lord Bellinger was in some measure responsible for the very
unfortunate state of affairs that existed in the Contract Department,
that a revulsion of public feeling took place against this favorite
Minister, and he was forced to resign office, bringing down the whole
Government in his fall.

In that admirable monograph but lately contributed to the "EMPIRE
BUILDERS" series by that prolific and brilliant writer, Mr. G. K.
Blusterton, the public services of the first Lord Bellinger have been
ably epitomised in a fascinating chapter from which it may be permitted
to make the following extract:*

* EMPIRE BUILDERS. No. XLIV. LORD BELLINGER
(Green Wood, Spink, Hawtrey and Neuman. London and Hastings. 7/6 net)

   Lord Bellinger was essentially a
   great man. And he was essentially
   a great man because he was essentially
   a small one. There is an idea
   abroad to the effect that a meticulous
   grasp of details is the sign of a petty
   and a narrow mind. Never did a
   more hopeless fallacy prevail. It is
   the large mind that is alone capable
   of appreciating the full importance
   of facts that are in themselves trivial,
   while some minor matter which
   by reason of its very insignificance
   eludes notice, is more often than not
   the very nucleus and hub around
   which the most vital issues revolve.
   For, after all, the trifling things are
   of much greater importance than are
   the vast, tragic, elemental affairs
   which loom so disproportionately
   large on the mental horizon. The
   choice of a wife has to be made but
   once or twice in a lifetime; the
   choice of a breakfast-dish is a matter
   of daily recurrence. Courage,
   self-control and purity are very noble
   and very necessary; but there are
   many things as noble and even more
   necessary--bread, and beer, and a
   mackintosh cape. The sacred heat
   of the passion that flames in the heart
   of a lover is beyond human control;
   but the fire in one's bedroom needs
   hourly tending. The tragedy of ten
   thousand Chinamen who are swallowed
   up in an earthquake evokes
   our deepest sympathy; but we can
   not conscientiously pretend to
   compare our personal sorrow on
   such an occasion with the more
   poignant grief that we experience
   over the loss of a favourite umbrella...

   It had been said of Lord Bellinger
   that he was not ambitious; that,
   having been induced by the force of
   public opinion to resign his Cabinet
   appointment at a period of great
   national stress, he modestly elected
   to retire into the comparative
   obscurity of private life, rather than
   battle with the adverse tide of
   circumstance. Who knows but that
   this very instinct of self-effacement
   was an expression of that soaring
   ambition which ever remained,
   as I maintain, one of the leading
   characteristics of his nature?
   What is ambition? Is there no
   element of ambition in the statesman's
   desire to shine within the circle of
   his own family, to illumine the dark
   corners of his own domestic hearth,
   to dazzle his own butler with
   the epigrams that have long gained
   applause upon the political platform?
   Is the ambition of a pawnbroker
   to become a peer more dignified,
   more admirable, than that of a peer
   who yearns to become an honest pawnbroker?
   The ambition to renounce is no less
   praiseworthy than the ambition to succeed;
   its rewards are no less hardly won.
   To triumph is undoubtedly a glorious
   thing, like the dawn, or a good square
   meal. But to fail, as thoroughly as
   Lord Bellinger failed, resolutely,
   with fearless, open eyes, may be
   as glorious a thing, and even more
   blessed. For failure lies at the
   root of all success, and in the
   very heart of success the worm of
   failure builds its nest...It has been
   said, again, that Lord Bellinger was
   a man of complex character. If he
   was tortuous, it was the very
   simplicity of his nature that made him
   so. For in this world we find complexity
   in the very simplest of created things,
   and the homely but mysterious sausage
   stands for all time as the perfect type
   of our complicated human nature....

After his political _débâcle_ Lord Bellinger retired into the country,
and devoted the evening of his life to the science of apiculture. He was
much interested in the breeding of honey-bees, and, being of a somewhat
careful disposition, was accused by a waggish friend of crossing his bees
with glow-worms, in order to enable the industrious little creatures to
work by night as well as day. I should like, however, to take this
opportunity of stating that there is not a word of truth in such an
accusation. His book, "Bees; Their Treatment in Sickness and in Health,"
would doubtless have become the recognised handbook on the subject, had
not some busybody discovered that the greater part of it was borrowed
word for word (but without acknowledgment) from a volume published in
1845 by the French naturalist Génieu. This discovery caused my father so
much annoyance that he angrily withdrew his book from circulation and
wrote an extremely ingenious if not very convincing letter to _The Times_
in defence of unconscious plagiarism.

If Lord Bellinger was destined to disappointment in his career as an
administrative politician and as an author (or translator), in his family
life he was fated to be no less unfortunate. His two eldest sons were a
source of profound anxiety to him.

My eldest brother, William Bellinger, had always been a strange creature,
very bad at games, and inclined to read serious books when he should have
been healthily employed shooting rabbits. At the age of five-and-twenty
he became afflicted with acute religious mania, and insisted upon what he
called "entering the Church." In vain did my father point out to him that
he had "entered the Church" many years ago, when his godparents had
surrounded the font at St. Peter's and undertaken on his behalf (but
without consulting him) a number of serious pledges by which he was
afterwards to be considered permanently bound. The silvergilt mug and the
combined knife-fork-and-spoon with which Sir Claud Ventriform and Lady
Maud Holdenham, the two chief sponsors, had commemorated this sacred
occasion, long survived in the plate-chest at Bellinger Hall as outward
and visible signs of this solemn event.

My father could not be expected to view without misgiving his eldest
son's decision to take Holy Orders. Lord Bellinger was not in any way
prejudiced against the clergy, for whom he always entertained the
greatest admiration. They were in his opinion, a most worthy body of men,
and how we should get along without them on Sunday, as he was never tired
of saying, he really didn't know. He invariably asked the Vicar of the
parish to dine with him once a year, without his wife, and a certain
number of the local clergy were always invited to Bellinger Hall on the
occasion of the annual village schooltreat, when the four footmen already
had as much work as they could manage.

But the idea of a Bellinger, and especially of the heir to the tile,
joining the priesthood was quite out of the question, and when William
attempted to entangle my father in a theological discussion on the
subject, the latter was very properly shocked. He had often been a good
deal scandalised by his son's outspokenness on the subject of a personal
Providence, having been brought up to deem it in the worst possible taste
to mention the Deity at all--except, of course, on Sundays--and William's
familiarity with such matters offended him deeply.

Lord Bellinger was an earnest churchman--that is to say he attended
divine service regularly every Sunday, twice if in London, once in the
country--but he rightly considered religion to be too sacred a thing for
discussion on weekdays or by mere laymen. In fact, if he had had his way,
the subject would never have been discussed at all by anybody, but would
have been allowed to remain a sublime and noble mystery, to which one
could turn for comfort in times of stress, when everything else had
failed.

In vain, however, was my brother William implored to be sensible and go
into the Guards. In vain was it pointed out to him that the position of a
country curate was an undignified one for the future Lord Bellinger to
adopt, and that the salary was quite disproportionate to the work.
William stubbornly declined to listen to arguments or entreaties. He had
received a "call," as he considered, and even my dear mother's remark
that he could not have been taking his tonic regularly or he would never
have experienced anything so unhealthy, produced no change in his views.

What was the result of William's obstinacy? For ten years my misguided
brother laboured in one of the very poorest parishes of East Ham, living
a hand-to-mouth existence--for though Lord Bellinger was only too anxious
to help him financially, principle naturally forbade his doing so--always
on the verge of bankruptcy, spending all his private means on the local
charitable institutions which, despite his efforts, were never out of
debt.

At length, when his health gave way, and he was ordered abroad, William
elected to go as a missionary to Central China, where, it may be
remarked, his services were not in any way required. He selected China as
the field of his missionary effort, the problem of that country's
conversion having always appealed alike to English hearts and pockets.
Enlightened Londoners shudder at the thought of Chinese heathendom; it
cuts our merchant princes to the quick to contemplate the odious Opium
Traffic from which the British Empire reaps so vast a revenue. We are
naturally a tender-hearted people, and cannot bear the thought of our
neighbours jeopardising their prospects of future happiness by holding
beliefs which we know little about and have neither the time nor the
inclination to study.

In China William married the daughter of a British vice-consul named
Atkins, and devoted himself heart and soul to the task of proselytising
the benighted heathen. His efforts were not altogether unsuccessful.
After eight and a half years' hard missionary work, he contrived to
induce three small native children to forsake the gods which their
ancestors had worshipped for many centuries with comparatively harmless
results, and perverted a few venal coolies from the religion in which
they had been brought up by pious parents.

Finally, during one of the earlier Boxer risings, William was captured
and put to death by those of his potential parishioners who were as
fanatical on the subject of their faith as he was on his. He died a
painful but glorious death by decapitation, with his last breath reciting
snatches from his favorite "Hymns for Those of Riper Years at Sea." His
loss was universally mourned. He had been lovely and pleasant in his
life, as his epitaph declared, but in his death he was undoubtedly
divided. This, as Mr. Bernard Shaw would have said, and as Lord Bellinger
could not help affirming, was a heavy price to pay for the privilege of
buttoning one's collar at the back instead of in front.

William being a clergyman, it might well have been assumed that the
continuance of the title was secured. His wife, however, insisted upon
presenting him with a monotonous sequence of daughters, thought it was
evident that her conduct was eminently distasteful to him, and Lord
Bellinger himself had spoken to her very seriously more than once upon
the subject. His daughter-in-law's failure to do her duty by the family
was, in deed, one of the things my dear father could never forgive. After
William's death she was never admitted to the family circle, though an
allowance of eighty pounds a year was generously made to her (by my
mother, who was always inclined to be softhearted), on condition that she
and her seven daughters resided permanently abroad.

The case of Hugo Bellinger, my only remaining brother, was but a
trifleless deplorable than that of poor William. Hugo figured for so many
years and with such embarrassing frequency and prominence in the more
interesting portion of those columns of the press which are devoted to
the decisions of the Admiralty and Divorce Courts, that even when he
settled down into comparative respectability with his third (or fourth)
wife at Monte Carlo, he cannot be said to have added very largely to the
family reputation.

During the latter part of his life, Hugo eked out a precarious existence
in the Sunny South, shooting one kind of pigeon and plucking another. He
was not, indeed, without talent. Persons who played cards with him
declared that he had altogether mistaken his profession; he should have
been a conjuror. They could not withhold their admiration of his methods,
but seldom offered (or even consented) to play with him again.

Having given this brief outline of the lives and characters of my two
elder brothers I may perhaps say, without unduly boasting, that I was the
only male member of my father's family who never caused him a moment's
uneasiness. It is not therefore to be wondered at that he should always
have bestowed upon me a measure of that affection and confidence which he
denied to his elder sons, but of which I trust I have not proved myself
altogether unworthy. On this point, however, I am perfectly content to
allow posterity to judge, and it is with this object in view that I
propose to supply my descendants with the autobiographical memoirs of a
not altogether uneventful life.



CHAPTER II - EARLY YEARS


Of my infancy and childhood it is unnecessary to write at length. My life
in the nursery closely resembled that of any other normal child of good
family. My parents, kindly old-fashioned people, as I have explained,
brought me up in the good old-fashioned manner. I was taught that
children should be "seen but not heard," that I must efface myself
whenever my elders were present, must never display the natural curiosity
of youth by asking intelligent questions, nor develop my critical
faculties by making personal remarks. I was bidden to sit quiet and
silent at meals, to ask for mutton when my whole soul longed for chicken,
for tapioca pudding (with lumps in it) when I yearned for apple-tart. I
was repeatedly assured that Virtue is its own reward, and was mercifully
left to discover by experience what sort of a reward that is.

My mother was a very orthodox and devout woman, and read herself to sleep
regularly every night with a chapter from the Old Testament. My father,
as I have said, made a point of attending church every Sunday, both as an
example to the weaker brethren--among whom he included the servants--and
as a protest against that lack of Sabbath observance which is the growing
tendency of an irreligious age. It is always a delightful sight, as some
philanthropist once pointed out, to watch the British citizen in his
front pew, singing

  "Were the whole realm of Nature mine,
  That were an offering far too small!"

while he fumbles in his pocket for the threepenny-bit with which he
intends to encourage the propagation of the Gospel in foreign parts. It
is always pleasant to hear him declare in a loud and unctuous voice that

  "Whatever, Lord, we lend to thee
  Repaid a thousandfold shall be,"

while making a mental calculation by which he becomes in anticipation the
possessor of some L12.10.0 in heavenly currency.

Lord Bellinger was most particular in the exercise of his religious
duties, and frequently provided his fellows with this admirable
spectacle. In the home circle, too, my father's devotion was no less
marked. He said "grace" himself in excellent Lain (unless a clergyman
happened to be present) both before and after every meal. For some
ceremonial reason or other, however, the grace that concluded the evening
dinner always preceded dessert--it being apparently considered that there
was little necessity for expressing thankfulness for oranges, grapes and
bananas. Personally speaking, the after-dinner glass of port, the
cigarette, coffee and liqueur, have always seemed to me to be the
pleasantest incidents of the meal, and the most evocative of gratitude.
But I may be wrong.

Family Prayers were an important part of the daily routine of the
Bellinger household. Punctually at nine o'clock each morning the servants
trooped into the dining room, led by the junior scullery-maid--the van
being brought up by the butler--and took their places upon two rows of
chairs facing one another. The sexes were sternly divided, the men
sitting on one side of the room, the women on the other, while Lady
Bellinger and we children occupied a commanding position by the
fireplace, and the master of the house officiated at one end of the
dining-room table. The service was brief, but appropriate, consisting of
the lesson for the day, a psalm (intoned in alternate verses by my father
and his congregation) and a few prayers.

As a child the procedure of the household during family prayers puzzled
almost as much as it interested me. I would gaze in admiration at the
stout old butler when that worthy, in a stentorian voice which could be
heard far above the shrill treble of the second-housemaid, proclaimed
himself to be a sparrow on the housetop and a pelican in the wilderness.
I found it every hard at first to believe Mrs. Potts, the robust
housekeeper, when that good lady remarked that she could "tell all her
bones," and was much alarmed on another occasion at hearing the family
coachman state without any apparent emotion that all his were out of
joint. Finally, when at a preconcerted signal, the whole household fell
upon its knees, exposing heavenwards a row of backs of every conceivable
shape, I thought it odd that any request to Providence should be rendered
more effective by being addressed to the seats of the dining-room chairs.

During the latter part of his life my dear father sometimes sacrificed
his strict Sabbatarian views, and, in accordance with the wishes of his
family, escorted us to afternoon concerts at the Queen's Hall. Here,
after a copious luncheon, he would evince his interest in classical music
by snoring contrapuntally throughout the entire performance of
Tchaikowski's "1812," awaking with a loud exclamation of terror when the
realistic bombardment by the orchestra's instruments of percussion
precluded any further idea of slumber.

I was thus brought up in an atmosphere of sincere Christianity, and my
religious education was never in any danger of being neglected. My mother
had given me, one Christmas, an illuminated text to hang over the nursery
mantelpiece. This stated in florid letters of blue and gold that
Providence was "an Uninvited Guest at Every Meal, an Unseen Listener to
Every Conversation." Until I grew accustomed to this terrible idea, and
realised that one should never believe half of what one reads in texts,
this caused me much mental discomfort, adding a fresh terror to meals and
making conversation almost impossible.

The unavoidable presence of the Deity was, indeed, so firmly impressed
upon my childish mind that I would sometimes lie awake half the night
trembling in terror. Providence was always held up to me as a sort of
beneficent bogy, invested with every human attribute (except, of course,
a sense of humour), suffering from an almost morbid curiosity as to the
doings of at least one little boy, and ever--as I put it, without any
intentional disrespect--"about my bath and about my bed, and spying out
all my ways."

My unnatural flippancy, as my parents deemed it, caused the family much
needless anxiety, as I now remember with sorrow. When I read the account
of the fiery serpents with which the Israelites were punished for
worshipping a golden calf, I could not conceal my surprise that
Providence should have taken the offence so seriously. "Anybody else
would have laughed," I remarked to my much-scandalised mother.

My childhood was in many ways a bright one, but, like other children, I
had my moments of unhappiness. My father was not a bad-tempered man,
though at times, especially during those years in which he held high
office, inclined to be a trifle irritable. On several occasions he
displayed towards his family in general and myself in particular some
symptoms of that nerve-tension which was the result of many anxious hours
spent in a Department of State. One especial instance stamped itself
indelibly upon my callow memory. At the age of seven I was sitting on the
nursery floor, I remember, persistently beating a drum which some
tactless relative had given me on my birthday. My father's study was
situated exactly below the nursery, and he was at that very moment
endeavouring to compose a thoughtful article for the _Nineteenth Century_
on "The Better Treatment of the Half-witted," a subject upon which he was
supposed to have expert knowledge. The constant repercussion of my
tireless instrument eventually drove my father into a condition of mind
bordering upon that of the unfortunates on whose behalf he was advancing
so noble a plea for justice. He threw aside his unfinished essay, rushed
upstairs, entered the nursery with great violence, and proceeded to
puncture my drum in several places with the toe of his boot. At the same
time he made use of expressions which I was too young to appreciate, but
which nevertheless caused my mother to exclaim "Oh! John! Not before the
child!" My father then left the room without further comment, and sent
for the house-carpenter to release my mother and myself by replacing the
nursery door-handle which he had accidentally carried away in his hand.

Again, when I was only ten years old, and my father took away the
Shetland pony he had presented to me at Christmas, because he rightly
considered that the animal might be better employed in mowing the tennis
lawn, I incurred his just wrath by questioning the parental authority to
confiscate what I was so misguided as to term _my_ property. Such family
quarrels were, however, rare, and the harmony of the home circle was
seldom disturbed by wrangles or differences of opinion.

I was not, I fancy, a stupid child. At an early age I had mastered the
intricacies of an instructional work euphemistically entitled "Reading
Without Tears." Over this volume my mother and I used to weep together in
lugubrious unison, while doubtless gathering much valuable information on
such subjects as the presence of the Cat on the Mat in a Hat, or of a Hen
in a Den with a Pen. My subsequent studies in the schoolroom grounded me
upon a firm basis of elementary knowledge, having French and Latin for
its foundation. Mademoiselle Alloncourt, my governess, was an
accomplished lay of Swiss extraction. Though closely related to the
Vicomte de Finesherbes, she had been compelled by circumstances to adopt
teaching as a means of livelihood, and continued for (p56) many years a
member of the Bellinger household. Here she was treated more as one of
the family than as an inferior--except, of course, by the servants--and
afterwards (through the kindness of my mother) became a permanent inmate
of the Home for Inebriate Gentlewomen at Hythe. Under her kindly tuition
I made rapid strides in French grammar and conversation. With her
assistance I accompanied Ollendorf in his patient and indefatigable
research after pens, ink and paper, and shared that author's passionate
anxiety to discover the exact whereabouts of the Gardener's Mother, the
Baker's Aunt, and the equally elusive relatives of numerous other
tradesmen.

At the age of nine I was sent to school at Dr. Busby's Academy for
Backward Boys at Broadmoor, where a supply of plain coarse food was
supplemented by the bracing ozone of a London suburb. The inmates of this
seminary enjoyed a beautiful view of Broadmoor Convict Prison and the
local Criminal Lunatic Asylum from their dormitory windows, and could
hear the bell tolling in Brookwood cemetery while they were at play.

Amid such cheerful surroundings I grew up strong and healthy.

Four years later I went to Eton, and took my place with the "heirs of all
the ages"--and the heirs to most of the peerages--in that famous
institution which has long been rightly regarded as the most perfect
training-ground for those who will presently be called upon to undertake
the responsibilities of a life of leisure.

The young Englishman of my day was not sent to Eton to learn how to keep
his accounts; he could not expect to be taught to carry on a business
correspondence, nor indeed to write an intelligible letter to his family.
He was not told anything of the time-honoured traditions of his
Fatherland, nor the history of his own national literature. But there are
more important things than a knowledge of English or European history,
there are lessons more vital to a young man's welfare than those which
merely ensure that he shall spell his mother-tongue correctly, and enjoin
him not to too frequently split his infinitives. At a public school I
learnt to be a man of the world; I was taught to be a gentleman; I laid
the foundations of successful life as a country squire, and above all a
sportsman.

Eton also provided me with a classical education which was of the
greatest possible service in later life.

My tutor, the worthy Mr. Murton, better known subsequently as that
exquisite stylist whose numerous volumes of essays--"Deep Waters,"
"Monthly Musings," "The Long Road," etc.--suggest that he has turned on
some literary tap and is unable to turn it off again, taught me the
rudiments of Latin and Greek, and I have always looked back with
gratitude to these early lessons which I was afterwards destined to find
of such inestimable value. When I joined the army I would often entertain
my brother officers by reciting to them, after "mess," that long list of
Latin prepositions which govern the subjunctive--_a, ab, absque, coram,
dam_, etc.--and there was scarcely a man in the Household Brigade who
could conjugate the Greek verb ????? (Greek small letter "Tau, Upsilon
with Tonos, Pi, Tau, Omega") so correctly as I.

At Eton I was trained to recite many of the Odes of Horace from memory in
a plaintive nasal monotone; my mind was richly stored with Bowdlerised
selections from the least amorous portions of Ovid's verse. My brain
became a treasure-house of classic lore. I learnt all that there was to
be known about the Roman she-wolf who (as my mother once remarked, with
an apology for referring to anything so indelicate) was famous for
nursing Romeo and Juliet, and whose timely barking saved the Roman
Capitol. I had at my fingers' ends the story of how Marius was foolish
enough to leap fully-armed into a crevasse, how Cincinnatus put his hand
to the plough and never looked back, and so on. In these and kindred
subjects I was well versed. I even acquired some facility in the art of
turning charming English lyrics into indifferent Greek iambics, and could
give a literal translation of the _Iliad_ which doubtless made Homer and
Pope revolve in their respective graves. Arithmetic was my particular
_forte_, and at an early age I had acquired a sufficient knowledge of
mathematics to enable me to add up a bridgescore correctly. I also knew
most of the first book of Euclid by heart, and was able to explain to
admiring friends that the whole of anything was greater than half of it,
and that things that were equal to one another were equal to themselves.
This kind of knowledge always comes in useful, and I had little cause to
regret the fact that it was not until many years after leaving Eton that
I discovered the beauties of English literature which had been so
carefully concealed from my gaze during the impressionable period of my
non-age.

At a public school I also imbibed that spirit of patriotism which makes
the English what they are--if, indeed, they need any excuse of this sort.
The pure French ascent of Zurich, which I had absorbed from Mademoiselle
Alloncourt in the nursery, gave place to a sturdier British breadth of
tone. I soon realised that among Englishmen an accurate knowledge
of any foreign language is considered a distinctly effeminate
accomplishment--did not Bismarck declare that all Englishmen who speak
French correctly are, with one exception, scoundrels?--And as I had no
desire that other little boys should kick my shins and call me a muff,
hastened to acquire the habit of talking French with an insular emphasis
which left no doubt as to my nationality.

The other and most important lessons which I learnt at a public school
were taught me out of school hours. In my lengthy intervals of leisure I
was instructed to "play the game," to pity foreigners, to despise the
Liberal Government, and to be polite to all those who were older than
myself, or bigger.

There was, however, one lesson which Eton could not teach me. This was
the necessity of cultivating the society of those whom Providence had
especially blessed in the mater of birth or wealth. Eton boys are, of
course, bad judges of character. They take a friend as they find him,
without troubling to ask themselves whether he is fitted by birth or
fortune to be included in the sacred circle of friendship. I remember,
for instance, making great friends with a boy named Gregson _minor_, the
youngest of the thirteen sons of Canon Gregson, an impecunious provincial
divine. This impetuous act was fraught with disagreeable consequences,
which I was no doubt too young to foresee. The Reverend Canon caused much
annoyance to my father by presuming upon his son's friendship for myself
to request the loan of Bellinger House, Mayfair, for a missionary
meeting. He even went so far as to solicit a subscription towards funds
for lighting and heating his parish church, and for providing poor
children with country holidays--for supplying, in fact, hot air for his
congregation and fresh air for their families. This considerably
irritated Lord Bellinger, who had long been forced to cut off all
contributions to charity, not for reasons of economy but as a protest
which he felt it to be his duty as a man of principle to make against a
recent increase in the Income Tax.

Again, I remember resolutely withholding my friendship from a youth
called Cowan, whom indeed I used to kick regularly every morning, on the
plea that the boy was a lair and invariably omitted to wash himself. Many
years afterwards I happened to meet my former schoolfellow in the train,
and was surprised to find in my companion no less a personage than the
son of Sir Simeon Cowan, senior partner of the great firm of Cowan,
Eickstein and Co. of Birmingham. As the head of this company of wellknown
small-arm manufacturers, who supply rifles and ammunition to nearly all
the savage tribes with whom England is from time to time engaged in
guerilla warfare, Sir Simeon is a man of some importance, and worth about
a million and a quarter. His son and heir was not therefore a person whom
it was safe to ignore, much less to kick. All this, however, is by the
way.

It must not be imagined that my early life was altogether untouched by
sadness. I have determined not to dwell more than is absolutely necessary
in these pages up on the tragic side of things, and will devote but
little space to the first real sorrow that came to mar the peace of my
home life.

When I was about sixteen years old my little sister Victoria was suddenly
stricken down by a severe illness from which she never really recovered.
Being an only daughter she was cherished by her parents with a very deep
devotion, and this unexpected seizure came as a great shock to us all.
Though I was eight years her senior, I had always loved Victoria very
dearly, and was her favourite brother; my anxiety was consequently as
deep as that of any of the family. This was my first experience of
sorrow, and made a profound impression on my youthful mind.

Victoria's illness gradually gave way to treatment, as the doctors said,
but was succeeded by many years of convalescence which made it necessary
for her to live entirely abroad. How well I remember the day she left
England with her governess, Miss Purcell! What a terrible farewell scene
we had at the station, when my mother broke down and even my father blew
his nose with unusual frequency and resonance. Victoria had possessed a
little black spaniel, "Prince" by name, and after she had gone away he
used to wander about the deserted nursery seeking his mistress in a most
disconsolate fashion. He eventually attached himself to me, and I was
glad to have the opportunity of proving my love for Victoria by taking
every care of her little pet.

On the day of her departure, when we all returned to Bellinger from the
station, I felt that I could no longer restrain those tears which in my
boyish heart I deemed unmanly. I hastened upstairs to my bedroom and
locked myself in. _"Partir c'est mourir un peu,"_ as I was then for the
first time to discover. Overcome by emotion, I flung myself down upon the
bed and buried my face in my hands.

"Prince" had followed me upstairs. On reaching the bedroom he hurried
across as usual to the water-jug and slaked his thirst. He then looked
around to see what I was doing, was (I suppose) astonished to find me
lying motionless on the bed, and decided that steps must at once be taken
to rouse me from this incomprehensible position. He probably remembered
the curious fondness of human beings for throwing sticks and stones about
and then expecting their four-legged friends to retrieve them. By some
strange oversight, however, there was neither stick nor stone to be found
in my bedroom. At length a brilliant inspiration occurred to him.
Selecting a small piece of coal from the scuttle in the fender, he
carried it to my bedside, laid it carefully on the floor, and began
jumping about all round it like a Jack-in-the-Box, dumbly inviting me to
try and take it from him. I was not in a mood for play, and remained
motionless. After this failure "Prince" seemed to realise that more
strenuous measure must be adopted to attract my attention. The bed was
for him a forbidden place, as he knew well. This was no time, however,
for slavish obedience to convention, and, taking his courage in both
paws, he leapt lightly up onto the counterpane by my side, and awaited
results. It was doubtless a pleasant surprise not to be ordered off
peremptorily, and, much encouraged, he snuggled up close to me, as though
desirous of seeing my face and learning my trouble. When he had with
difficulty wormed his way within a few inches of my pillow, he suddenly
felt two large raindrops descend upon his little damp nose. On licking
these off he found them to be warm and salt, and realised that something
must indeed be wrong. With feverish paws he scratched away the hands that
hid my face, and began to kiss my nose and chin with impartial devotion.
For some time I took no notice, and then all of a sudden the though of
this warm little friend trying to comfort me stirred something in my
heart, and I seized him in my arms and squeezed him so tightly to my
breast that he would probably have squeaked had he not understood that
this was not the moment for squeaking. The weight of my sorrow seemed to
grow lighter from that instant, and I was able to appear at luncheon with
the rest of the family.

Poor little "Prince!" I am sure he understood all that was passing in my
mind that day, and though at the time his efforts at consolation only
made my tears flow faster, his silent sympathy was of very real comfort
to me. He died a year or two later--of over-eating, I fear--and was
succeeded, first by "Pacchiarotto," a pug who succumbed to distemper, and
then by "Bramble," a little Aberdeen terrier whose indoor manners left so
much to be desired that I eventually gave him to my mother.

Years have passed since then, but to this day, whenever I am asked to
subscribe to some society for the promotion of scientific research by
means of experiments upon live animals, the thought of "Prince" seeking
to share my childish sorrow holds me back.

Three years later, at the age of nineteen, I bade farewell to Eton, and
to some extent began to realise the serious responsibilities of life. My
father, like so many other patriotic Englishmen, had always destined his
youngest son for the army, and I was fully determined to carve out a
great career for myself with the sword. I failed, however, to pass the
necessary examination on three successive occasions, but finally, after
spending some years at a crammer's establishment in Norfolk, qualified
(by service in the Militia) for a commission in Her Majesty's army.
Before I reached my twenty-third birthday, therefore, I was taking my
place on the barrack-square and in London society as a full-fledged
ensign of the Guards, and it is from this moment that I date the
commencement of my real life.



CHAPTER III - FAMILY LIFE AND FRIENDS


Like my father Lord Bellinger, I was naturally disinclined to anything
approaching effort, but never at any period of my life could I have been
accused of being a loafer. On attaining manhood the temptation to lead a
life of idleness was often strong, but I suppressed it with a firm hand.
For nearly twelve years I served in a regiment of Footguards, performing
my military duties cheerfully, and I hope thoroughly, during the whole
period of my service.

Military life in those days was not so irksome and laborious as it has
since become; the army had not yet degenerated into a profession, but was
still looked upon as a pleasant temporary refuge for young men of good
family, like myself, upon whose hands the time hung somewhat heavily.
Even so, the strict discipline attaching to barrack life was occasionally
tiresome to a man of independent nature, but I can truthfully boast that
during the whole term of my soldiering I scarcely ever uttered a
complaint. If I grumbled at all it was with good reason and in accordance
with the best traditions of the service. While actually "doing duty" (as
it was called) I would often rise as early as 8 a.m., and my days' work
was seldom over before breakfast--sometimes not until ten or eleven
o'clock in the morning. Nor did I ever get more than eight (or at the
outside nine) months' leave in the year. In spite of this, however, I
must confess that no period of my existence was pleasanter than that
which I spent upon the barrack-square, and I always look back with
feelings of delight and gratitude to those happy years of soldiering.

At this time I lived at home, at Bellinger House, with my family, going
to and from my work every day in one of my father's broughams. On fine
summer mornings, when the labours of the day were accomplished, I should
sometimes have preferred to return from barracks to Grosvenor Square on
foot. It was, however, obviously impossible for an English officer to be
seen walking in uniform in a West-end street after breakfast without
evoking the unwelcome curiosity if not the actual ridicule of the
passer-by, and I was forced to relinquish the idea.

During my term of military service I made many excellent friends, and
always found the company of my brother-officers congenial and agreeable.
Perhaps the comrade whose society is most valued at this time was Herbert
Hazelton, generally known as "Ginger," who afterwards distinguished
himself in the South African War, and finally, on the death of his uncle,
Lord Garlick, succeeded to the title.

When we first became acquainted Hazelton was a young man of my own age,
about three or four and twenty, clean-shaven and pleasant-looking, with
rather long fair hair which he swept back from his brow, and a good
figure. He was in many ways a most versatile and accomplished person. No
one could make an apple-pie bed or balance a sponge upon a door better
than he; his imitations of celebrated actors were most amusing and could
often be recognized at once; and the juggling tricks which he performed
at mealtimes with the aid of a fork and two oranges were as graceful as
they were entertaining. He was, in fact, the _beau ideal_ of a soldier,
and, taking him all round, a man whose society well repaid cultivation.
Perhaps his _forte_ was the singing of comic songs. These he rendered in
so exquisitely humorous a manner that people who were playing bridge in
the next room would often stop in the middle of an exciting spade hand to
declare that they couldn't remember a single card that had been played
while that noise was going on. Unlike so many amateurs who accompany
themselves upon the piano, Hazelton never gave one the impression of
being so busy playing that he couldn't sing, or so busy singing that he
couldn't play. His repertoire was varied and extensive, ranging from what
he called "Boudoir Ballads" such as "Step lightly, there's crape upon the
door!" or "Don't throw the lighted lamp at Mother!" to more obviously
comic songs relating chiefly to the dubious humours of connubial
infelicity, intoxication and the disadvantage of possessing a red nose or
a mother-in-law. Of these my favourite perhaps were "Her sweetheart had
been in the sun," "Father's in the pig-stye; you can tell him by his
hat," and "He was really more a monkey than a friend." My dear mother was
always very fond of the latter, and would beg Hazelton to sing it
whenever he came to call.

I used often to bring my friend home to dine quietly with my family, and
he soon became one of the intimates of Bellinger House. How well I
remember the simple domestic scenes in which he so frequently took part,
when we all assembled in the drawing room after dinner! My father would
be reading--a blue-book very probably--in his armchair by the fire; my
two brothers--William had not yet become religious, nor Hugo
irreligious--and myself occupied the sofa near the piano, ready to join
in any chorus at a moment's notice; while my sainted mother played
"Demon" patience in another corner of the room. The refrain of one of
Hazelton's songs still sticks in my memory:

  "He ain't dead yet, but he hasn't got long to live,
  There's a lump as big as a brick behind his ear,
  If I grow to be a hundred I never can forgive
  The man who put his whiskers in my beer!"

I have only to close my eyes even now to hear Hazelton singing this to
us, and to recall the faint flute-like tones in which my dear mother
declared that she _never_ could forgive the man who put his whiskers in
her beer.

We were a very musical family, and often spent the hours between tea and
dinner singing those old-world glees and part-songs which are very rarely
heard today, save perhaps in suburban homes. The fashion for such songs
has long ago died out, but in my young days much harmless amusement was
to be derived from so simple a source. My eldest brother William had a
fine tenor voice (which he afterwards ruined in the pulpit); Hugo
provided a fairly creditable baritone (which he subsequently drowned); I
sang bass; and when Hazelton happened to be of the party he would
obligingly take the soprano parts in a high falsetto which made up in
volume what it lacked in tone. The result of our combined efforts caused
us a great deal of pleasure, and, though it may have been painful to the
listener, my mother seldom if ever complained.

"O, who will o'er the downs so free!" and "Oh, Hush thee, my baby!" were
our favourites, though occasionally we would soar higher and attempt some
old-world part-song of Elizabethan date. It is strange how fragments of
ancient ballads cling to the memory long after the power or the wish to
sing them has ceased to exist. I can still remember bits of an old glee
we used to sing together with remarkable success in those early days of
which I speak. It went somehow as follows, unless my memory is at fault:

_Hazelton (falsetto)_: "Have you sipped the bag of the bee?"

_Myself (basso profundo)_: "Have you felt the wool of the beaver?"

_William (not to be outdone)_: "Or swan's down ever?"

_Tutti_: "Oh, so soft, oh, so fair, oh so sweet is she!"

_Hazelton_: Oh, so soft!

_Hugo_: Oh, so fair!

_Myself_: Oh, so sweet!

_Tutti_: Is she--hee-hee!

etc., etc.

(After singing this song, I remember Hazelton justly remarking that he
had no intention of sampling the bag of the bee or patting the beaver on
the back; the odds being distinctly in favour of his being badly stung or
bitten if he were to attempt either. Well, well, those were mad and merry
days, gone alas! never to return!)

Of the other friends of my early manhood perhaps the most noticeable was
Algernon Wynne. I was really more a friend of his than he was of mine,
and if I saw a great deal of him in those days it was chiefly because he
attached himself to me with a malignant fidelity which it was impossible
to elude.

Wynne was a clerk in the Foreign Office, and both in character and manner
the very antithesis of Ginger Hazelton. Dark and cadaverous in
appearance, and wearing an habitually melancholy expression, he looked as
though he were concealing a secret and lifelong sorrow on his bosom. He
posed as being the "strong silent man" of whom one reads in novels (but
fortunately rarely meets), and by the simple means of never saying a word
and looking unspeakably wise, had acquired a reputation for mental acumen
which never ceased to surprise his friends. He himself had grown so
accustomed to it that he almost ended by believing himself to possess
more than the average amount of intelligence, an illusion which was
fostered by the flattery of foolish women, and added considerably to his
already inordinate conceit.

Wynne had no sense of humour, and for this reasons perhaps his society
was much cultivated by the fair and more matter-of-fact sex. He would
lean against the mantelpiece in a romantic attitude, for hours at a time,
gazing into the eyes of some fortunate woman with a sublime air of
self-conscious nobility which went straight to her heart.

A friend had once told him that he reminded her of Lord Byron--her entire
knowledge of that poet having been gathered from a cursory and
surreptitious perusal of _Don Juan_--and he spent his whole time trying
to live up to the part assigned to him. He allowed his hair to grow long,
affected an expression in which pathos, egoism, sensuality and mystery
were equally blended, and always wore a velvet collar to his evening
coat. If one can imagine a priggish and depressed Lothario with a Spartan
fox gnawing ceaselessly at his vitals, some idea of Wynne's personality
may be conceived.

His extraordinary affection for myself tempted him to cling to my society
with a limpet-like constancy that was at times overwhelming. But I think
he always felt rather out of place at Bellinger House. In his own home he
was accustomed to being surrounded by people who were, or at any rate
fancied themselves to be, more intellectual than the majority of mankind.
Most of his men friends belonged to a select clique of young University
undergraduates who posed as being excessively clever. Many of them
affected the fashion then in vogue which ordained that carelessness of
one's dress and appearance should be considered a sign of
intellectuality. They seemed to fancy that a person's grey brain matter
varied in inverse proportion to the amount of soap he used. They
therefore allowed their hair to grow over their collars, never "dressed
for dinner" if they could avoid doing so, and were scornfully intolerant
of the incomprehensible cleanliness and stupidity of their fellowmen.
These youthful geniuses read Schopenhauer and quoted him to their girl
friends, collected unfinished drawings by unknown artist, played
so-called "paper games" in the evening, and would scarcely condescend to
associate with any one who might by a stretch of the imagination be
termed an intellectual inferior. In such a circle Wynne shone brightly
enough. At "letter games" he particularly excelled, knowing the names of
more poets beginning with a B than any other player, and otherwise
suitably distinguishing himself.

It was always very amusing to me to watch Wynne and Hazelton together.
Each cordially disliked the other. In one another's company their mutual
characteristics became unusually marked, Wynne growing more
self-consciously gloomy and Hazelton more frivolous than ever. The latter
always made a point of greeting Wynne with a smart blow on the back which
he knew well to be irritating.

"Hullo, Algy!" he would say, in a loud voice. "Come to cheer us up, eh?
How's the Little Lump of Fun? Pretty bobbish?"

The Little Lump of Fun would regard the speaker with a look of silent
disdain.

"Buck up, old cock!" continued Hazelton. "Merry and bright! Don't keep it
all to yourself, you ray of summer sunshine!"

The Ray of Summer Sunshine suffered his friend's witticisms with the same
dumb and sorrowful patience with which he endured his violent caresses.
He seemed ever on the verge of a scathing reply, but the brilliant
repartee which may have been hatching in his brain never reached
fruition. Wynne always reminded me of a parrot that had not learnt to
talk; the latent wisdom of his unuttered thought was so eloquently
suggested by the profound air of reflection that his face habitually
wore.

It was to Wynne, however, that I owed my first introduction to English
literature of a really serious kind. As a young man I was naturally fond
of literature, and before the age of thirty had read most of the
"Badminton Library" and was intimately acquainted with many of our
English classics, from "The Sentimental Journey" to "Mr. Sponge's
Sporting Tour." I was always a great admirer of Shakespeare, but have
never had time to study his works since I left school. I could have
passed an examination in any of Whyte-Melville's novels, and had read
"Handy Andy" right through no less than four times. But it was not until
Wynne drew my attention to them that I fully appreciated the gems
enshrined in the works of many great writers of whom I had never before
heard. At his instigation I began to keep a Commonplace Book, in which I
copied out with great pains fragments that appealed to me from the works
of Marcus Aurelius, Victor Hugo and Sir John Lubbock (now Lord Avebury).
Even now, busy man though I am, I often look through that old book of
mine and study those "jewels five words long" which I transferred so
carefully to its pages: "It is not what we do, but how we do it, that
counts in the eternal verities of Life." _"Tout ce qui est sera; tout ce
qui sera a été."_ "Never brood; you are a man, remember, not a hen,"--how
such epigrams stimulated and heartened me in those far-off days!

It was Wynne too, who inspired me with a love of poetry and taught me to
discover the beauties of Adam Lindsay Gordon and (later on) of our two
greatest living poets, Kiping and Ella Wheeler Wilcox. I could never face
Tennyson or Keats or those other obscure bards, though I liked bits of
Wordsworth about Lucy and Mary and so forth. I also delighted in
Macaulays' "Lays of Ancient Rome" and was particularly fond of that poem
of Burns' about a man being only a guinea stamp and all that.

Wynne pretended to be so cultured that he liked reading Meredith and
Henry James, but of course this was only a pose, and he usually fell back
upon R. L. Stevenson and Wilkie Collins. With a view to educating himself
he even began to work his way through "Everybody's Encyclopedia of
Literature," but mercifully struck in the middle of Vol. XXIX (UNGF--YPSL).

He was a genuine admirer of Sir Walter Scott's novels, and tried in vain
to make me share his affection for that writer. I liked Scott well enough
as a poet, but could not stand him as a novelist. Indeed, one of the few
real quarrels Wynne and I ever had was the result of my inability to keep
awake while he read Sir Walter's works aloud for my especial benefit. It
was a very hot day, I remember, and I was sitting in an easy chair with
my feet on the mantelpiece. As my friend's monotonous voice droned on I
felt my attention gradually slipping away and my eyes closing. To this
day I have no notion as to what he was reading, but I know what it
sounded like:

'"A fig for the idle lozel!" said the reeve. "Shall I be told to my beard
by such an howlet that I cannot crack a fool's costard before May-day be
done? Algates, borrel churl that thou art, I agreed thee, withouten let,
to recant thy selcouth leasings. Certes these cherisaunces are not devoid
of advisement in antick glee-games. Pardie!"

"Holy-dam," replied his companion ruefully, "Thou hast said sooth for the
nonce. He must have been the devil to yshent the juggler so
reproachfully."

"That same borrel knight," quoth Hugh, "benemp him how ye may, was a
sorry priscant knave."

"A sorry troll," cried Hob, "the foul fiend afray him! He is a carle, a
prin-cox! With his gay train as crank as peacocks, never to hansling a
single cross with me!"

"Paravaunt," exclaimed the other, "the lurdane arraught him full
couthly."

As the reeve uttered these words the Lady Egbertha entered. She wore a
mantle of sendal and a surcoat of min--ever over a watchet-coloured tunic
and a white linen rochet. On her head was a wimple of samite surmounted
by a volupure of fine purfled satin and a gambason of coarse stammel. A
gipsire depended from a baldrick of light blue tarentine at her side, and
her orange-coloured kirtle and white courtpie were circled with a girdle
of silver baudekin...

By the time Wynne reached the baudekin I was fast asleep. He looked up,
about four chapters further on, to find me snoring, and it was with the
greatest difficulty that I prevailed upon him to forgive this
unintentional insult to his favourite author.

Nowadays, alas! I scarcely ever have time to read anything but the
newspapers but I still belong to a circulating library, which sends me
periodical parcels of books at which I glance, if I have time, after
dinner, and I generally contrive to peruse the weekly literary reviews of
the _Daily Mail_, and thus keep in touch with the great world of letters.



CHAPTER IV - A DIGRESSION


The next few years passed by happily but uneventfully. I was now fully
grown up--though perhaps my mental powers had scarcely reached
maturity--and was gradually gaining that ripe experience of things which
can only be obtained by close contact with the world of men and women. On
looking back at this peaceful period of my existence I can find little
that may be considered worthy of being placed on record. Indeed, the only
incident that stands out at all clearly in my memory is of so trivial a
nature that it seems almost an impertinence to commit it to paper. As,
however, at the time, it made upon my mind a very strong impression,
which the passage of years has not been able to efface, I may conclude
that it was not without its value in the formation of my character. It
may therefore be of some interest to those of my readers who have so
patiently watched the unfolding and development of my faculties, and for
that reason I have decided to include some brief account of it in these
memoirs.

Like most young men of under thirty, I had never given very much thought
to those social questions which in after life were destined to interest
me so deeply. The eternal problem of Unemployment, the perpetual
existence of grinding poverty within the very gates of the richest city
in the world, did not touch me closely enough to divert my attention from
those harmless but no doubt selfish pursuits in which I was then engaged.
But I fully believed that it was due to the trifling events which I
propose to narrate that my eyes were first opened to the inequalities of
life, causing me to look down with sympathy and, I hope, with
understanding upon those of my fellows whose lines were cast in less
pleasant places than my own.

I have told the story of the downfall and dismissal of my father's
trusted servant, Alfred Carter, so often, that my relatives and friends
are earnestly enjoined to skip this chapter altogether. I need not,
however, offer an apology to the stranger, for a tale which is not
entirely without point or moral. I may add that the hero of my story--if
a man of that class and with so low a standard of morality can be called
a hero--is no longer alive; he died in the workhouse infirmary many years
ago. But I am glad to say that I was able to be of service to him at the
end, to cheer his last hours, and to fulfil his dying request by
promising to send his son to a training-ship. (The lad subsequently
emerged from that institution to enter the Marines and has already, so I
understand, attained the rank of corporal, and hopes before he reaches
the age of sixty to earn a military pension of nearly three shillings a
week.)

I should explain perhaps that as a boy I was always a favourite with the
servants at Bellinger House. I suppose it was the recollection of some
early kindness on my part that induced Alfred Carter to send for me when
he was dying, to beg me to look after his little son. It was at this
final interview, which took place in the infirmary, that I heard the
incidents which I have here pieced together into the shape of a story. I
only wish I were able to describe them in the simple phraseology of the
dying man, but that I will not attempt. A literary friend of mine to whom
I related this account of Alfred Carter's Christmas Dinner (as I always
call it) used it as the basis of a short magazine sketch. From this I
have taken the liberty of quoting, with his kind permission, in the
ensuing pages.

Three years before the date of which I am writing there was no more
prominent feature of Grosvenor Square than the rotund and comfortable
figure of Alfred Carter, hallporter at Bellinger House. It was impossible
to pass my father's town residence, which (as everybody knows) is
situated on the North side of the square, without catching sight of the
familiar form of the sleek hallporter as he sat in his high old-fashioned
chair at the broad bow-window that overlooked the front door, ready at a
moment's notice to answer the bell or admit visitors.

For thirteen years, summer and winter, week in week out, had Carter
occupied that leather-lined high-backed seat, which was a cross between a
Sedan chair and a sentry-box, and, but for one unpardonable act of folly,
he might in all probability have continued to fill the same eminently
respectable position in Lord Bellinger's service for a still longer
period.

Carter's duties were of a sedentary character, and far from arduous. For
some ten or eleven hours a day, at the most, he was required to sit in
the front hall, watching the traffic as it passed the window, or
occasionally reading some sporting paper which he would hastily conceal
at the approach of a visitor. Except on evenings when my father was
attending a party or ball, which only occurred two or three times a
week--when it was, of course, the hallporter's privilege to wait up until
Lord Bellinger returned--Carter generally managed to get his day's work
done by eight o'clock, and was free for the rest of the evening. It is
therefore impossible to frame a reasonable excuse for the inexplicable
moral lapse of which he was guilty at the very height of the London
'seasons'--a time when, if his duties were perhaps more onerous than
usual, his responsibilities were all the greater and his need for
vigilance all the more pressing; nor, indeed, did Carter himself ever
make any serious attempt to palliate the heinousness of his offence.

It was the night of Lady Bluffshire's memorable ball at Leominster House,
and my father, who had thoroughly enjoyed himself, was later than usual
in bidding farewell to his hostess and summoning the carriage which had
been waiting in the rain for the last two hours. It must have been nearly
three o'clock in the morning before his brougham drew up at the front
door of Bellinger House, Mayfair, and the diminutive groom, who had long
been slumbering fitfully against the coachman's shoulder, sprang from the
box and pealed the "visitors" bell. Strange to say, the summons was
unanswered, and although the boy made several more attempts to attract
the porter's attention, and the bell could be distinctly heard ringing in
the front hall within, the door remained obstinately closed. By this time
my father had grown impatient, and remembering that the latchkey which he
seldom had occasion to use still hung upon his watch-chain, he stepped
out of his carriage, unlocked the door himself, and in another moment was
standing in his own front hall. Here a terrible spectacle met his
outraged eye. Carter, the irreproachable Carter, the pattern family
servant, the peerless hallporter, whose vigilance and sobriety had long
been a matter of common knowledge in domestic circles, was lying curled
up in a singularly ungraceful attitude in his chair, fast asleep! Not
only was the man asleep; he was also snoring stertorously, and a faint
aroma of alcohol which pervaded the front-hall lent a final touch of
depravity to this unedifying picture of a faithless servant's perfidy.

No good object can be gained by dwelling upon this painful scene. It is
enough--though hardly necessary--to add that Carter lost his situation
and was forced to leave Lord Bellinger's service at an early hour the
next morning, without a "character" or the usual month's wages. As my
father said to Lord Orpington, a frequent guest at Grosvenor Square, who
remarked upon the absence of Carter's familiar figure from its accustomed
place at the front door, "The man drank; I had to get rid of him."

Fond though I had always been of Carter, it was, of course, difficult for
me to cherish any feelings of pity for a menial who had brought
misfortune upon his head by his own criminal deviation from the path of
moral rectitude. But, for his wife and child, who were thereby reduced to
a condition bordering upon destitution it was impossible to repress a
certain measure of sympathy. Mrs. Carter had been lady's-maid to Lady
Emily Wotherspoon, a situation which she unwisely renounced in order to
marry Carter. She was a quiet, shy little woman of a colourless kind,
foolishly fond of her husband, and sharing with him a pathetic devotion
for their little son Bobby, a boy of five, for whom she was shortly
expecting to provide a playmate. Carter's sudden dismissal provided a
very severe shock to his wife, and as winter approached and the chances
of his finding another situation grew more and more remote, the poor
woman, whose condition was in any case a delicate one, became more
colourless and fragile than ever, and was a source of ceaseless anxiety
to her husband. The doctor whom he consulted ordered the invalid a
liberal diet of beef-tea and port wine, but, as neither of these luxuries
was within the reach of Carter's means, and both he and his wife were
unable to overcome that foolish aversion to the work-house which is still
prevalent even among the respectable poor, no one was much surprised when
Mrs. Carter shortly afterwards left her husband a widower and her son
motherless, taking with her a little baby girl the period of whose
earthly existence could be expressed in minutes.

For some months, I believed, Carter continued to haunt the various
domestic servants' registry offices of the metropolis, but without
success. There was, very rightly, little hope of employment for a
servant, no longer young, who could produce no 'character' save one with
"Drink" writ large across it. From the "Butler's Agency," near Curzon
Street, he obtained a brief situation as waiter at a public exhibition;
at Mrs. Dunt's wellknown establishment in Baker Street he was less
successful, though here he met an old friend--Lord Orpington's valet, in
fact--who insisted upon his acceptance of a few shillings with which to
buy clothes for little Bobby. Carter was, however, a reserved man, and
when misfortune seized him in her ruthless grip, he made a point of
keeping out of the way of any old friends who could possibly have helped
him--though I believed he once wrote my father a letter which was never
answered. He might have saved himself the trouble, for by the beginning
of December they would certainly never have recognised in the
broken-down, emaciated, seedy-looking individual who slouched along the
shady side of the street, the unctuous, beliveried hallporter who once
figured so prominently in Lord Bellinger's magnificent household.

Bobby, too, was looking thinner than usual, although I have been told
that his father denied himself the very necessaries of life in order that
the little chap should not suffer. It was bad enough, though Carter, to
have killed his wife; it would be unbearable that his one irredeemable
crime should have the result of hurting this innocent child as well. So
he walked the streets, day after day, in search of employment; wearing
himself to a shadow, and occasionally picking up an odd job or two which
helped him to pay for the one squalid room, off the Euston Road, which he
and Bobby shared.

Work was very scarce that Christmas, and Carter suffered more cruelly in
the general lack of employment than did many of his fellows, since he had
never been accustomed to hard manual labour, and the little pride that
hunger had not driven out of his soul revolted against the idea of
seeking food at Salvation Army Shelters or similar institutions of a
charitable nature. By Christmas Eve Carter's total assets, after paying
the exiguous rent of his room, amounted to tenpence. Eightpence of this
was all that remained of half-a-sovereign he had earned a fortnight
before by temporarily filling the place of a German waiter at a cheap
restaurant in the City. The remaining twopence had been given him by a
benevolent old lady whose horse-hair American trunk he had carried from
Portland Place to Victoria Station. Tenpence is not a large sum, and
Carter had no difficulty in making up his mind as to the most profitable
way in which it should be spent. Two-thirds at least would buy a real
Christmas dinner for Bobby, who had been talking of nothing else for the
past ten days; the rest of the money Carter intended to devote--as he
himself confessed--to the purchase of gin, a beverage which he knew by
bitter experience to be a cheap if not altogether satisfying substitute
for the Christmas meal which, as far as he was concerned, it must
represent.

Gin, as we have all learnt from sermons, medical treatises, lectures,
good books and other sources of inspired information, is the very
hallmark of the Devil. The road to Hell is paved with empty bottles of
"London Dry." It cannot be mentioned in polite society--except perhaps in
conjunction with ginger-beer--and is the cause of half the poverty and
suffering of which we read so much in the public press. Carter would
undoubtedly have done better in every way if he had made up his mind to
spend those two precious pennies upon, say, a cup of cocoa or two penny
buns. But he had already given way, as we have seen, to the temptation
which alcohol presents to the weak-minded, and it was perhaps
characteristic that his last coin should be wasted upon the accursed
habit that held him in its thrall.

It was Christmas Eve, then, and Bobby's patience, like his father's
purse, was well nigh exhausted; so much so that Carter determined to
anticipate the date of universal festivity by a day, in order to make
quite certain that nothing should prevent the boy from enjoying his long
promised Christmas dinner. Hand in hand the two marched off at midday to
a small restaurant (which shall be nameless) situated at the back of
Shaftesbury Avenue, where for eightpence it is possible to get a "cut
from the joint and two vegetables," where Bobby was presently to be
observed tucking in to a meal the like of which he had not tasted for
many a long day. His father assured him that he himself had no appetite,
a pious lie which the boy swallowed as readily as he did his Yorkshire
pudding. But when the banquet was over, and Carter, who for the lash
half-hour had been suffering the tortures of Tantalus, suggested that
they should return home--the thought of waiting any longer for that
warming draught of gin was beginning to be unbearable--Bobby begged so
hard to be taken for a short walk along Regent Street, to look at the
shop windows which at this season of the year present such a delightful
spectacle, that his father found it impossible to refuse so harmless a
request. Alfred Carter was loth to postpone his potations, but he had
never yet taken Bobby into a public-house, and this was certainly not the
day to begin such a practice; nor was it an occasion for thwarting the
boy's wishes. So he strenuously pushed aside the deplorable thoughts of
gin which were uppermost in his mind, lifted his little son on to his
shoulder, and set off westwards with a resolute step.

Regent Street looked particularly attractive on this gloomy December
afternoon. The slight fog served as an excellent background for the high
lights which flamed out from every shopwindow, casting their brilliant
reflection upon the damp pavements and the still damper streets. The
jewellers' shops scintillated with the brilliance of a thousand gems; the
window-displays of imitation diamonds glittered with a resplendent if
meretricious glamour. But the window that seemed to attract more public
attention than any other was that of a large toyshop, filled to the brim
with all that the heart of the most exacting and fastidious child could
desire, through the door of which emporium a constant stream of customers
ebbed and flowed.

Bobby had not appeared to be very deeply interested in Parisian diamonds,
mauve dressing-cases, silver inkstands, Liberty enamels. Even the
photographs of the Stereoscopic Company left him comparatively cold. But
at the sight of this amazing collection of toys his eyes grew as round
and as large as plums, and he imperiously commanded his father to stop.

"Look, daddy, look!" exclaimed the boy, with a joyous cry, as he sprang
down from his father's shoulder and forced his way unceremoniously
through the crowd that blocked the pavement outside this blazing window.
Alfred Carter looked, and saw a sight which for the moment almost made
him forget his gin. The shop-window was aflame with colour. Dolls of
every shape and size hung suspended from the ceiling, gazing straight in
front of them with a far-away look in their glassy eyes. Woolly bears,
monkeys, elephants, golliwogs, white rabbits, poodles--every conceivable
variety of animals--were ranged on shelves round the wall. Pop-guns,
trumpets, soldiers' helmets, toy-locomotives, boxes containing every kind
of indoor and outdoor game, lay in bountiful profusion on the floor.
While in the very centre of all this galaxy stood a tall Christmas tree,
lighted by electricity, its branches loaded with silver globes, crackers,
stockings filled with chocolate, air-balloons, small dolls, and a hundred
other toys likely to appeal to the wishes of younger children. No wonder
Bobby gasped with delight as he feasted his eyes upon so brilliant a
scene!

Suddenly a shadow crossed the child's happy face; the corners of his
mouth began to turn down in an ominous manner. Had it occurred to him,
perhaps, that all this display of wonderful things was not really
intended for him at all, that it was meant for some little boy whose
father wore a thick astrachan overcoat, not for one whose father had no
overcoat at all; for some little boy whose mother drove about in a fine
big carriage, not for one whose mother drove (as he recalled the only
occasion upon which he could remember her driving at all) in a hearse?

Carter, who had been an interested spectator at the toyshop window, felt
his sleeve gripped by a fierce little hand.

"Wot's up, Sonny?" he asked.

"Let's go 'ome, daddy," said the boy, trying to draw his father away.

Carter looked down at the diminutive figure by his side, and was
astonished to notice a large tear rolling solemnly down the little
fellow's nose.

"Wot's the matter, Bobby? Anything wrong?" he enquired again. "Come,
come," he added. "Men like you and me don't cry, men don't; 'specially
not on Christmas Eve. Think wot mother would 'a' said!"

"Muvver promised me--" Bobby hid his face in his father's knee, and
whatever his mother had promised was lost in the loud sob which he was
unable to suppress.

"Wot did mother promise you, Bobby? A Christmas present?"

Bobby nodded through his tears. He was, as has already been remarked, a
spoilt child, and his fond mother had always made a point of celebrating
anniversaries--birthdays, Christmas and the like--by some small gift in
commemoration of such festal occasions. Christmas was therefore
associated in Bobby's mind with the receiving of presents. On one famous
occasion, two years ago, he had been the recipient of a wonderful scarlet
tie with magenta spots, given him by no less a person than Lady Emily
Wotherspoon, who had not altogether forgotten her old maid. The value of
this gift--not perhaps a very appropriate one for a boy of four--was in
no way lessened in his eyes by the fact, of which he was, of course,
ignorant, that Lady Emily had originally knitted the tie for her husband,
Colonel Wotherspoon, who had rejected it with scorn, declaring that it
was quite impossible for a man of his hectic complexion to don an article
which combined such vivid colouring with such execrable taste.

Alfred Carter read his son's thoughts and was not long in arriving at a
decision. At all hazards the little boy's Christmas must not be spoilt.

"Just you wait a minute, sonny," he exclaimed, as he disengaged the boy's
hand from his sleeve. Then, with a forced smile, he pushed Bobby back
into his original position at the window, and turning away, walked into
the shop alone.

Once inside, Carter found himself surrounded by motley crowed of
well-dressed persons, all bent upon a similar errand. There were devoted
mothers helping rosy-cheeked little boys to make up their minds as to the
respective advantages of a toy train or a box of soldiers; kindly uncles
self-consciously choosing nude flaxenhaired dolls for nieces in the
country; proud fathers with their arms full of elephants, golliwogs and
drums. The shop assistants were harassed, worried and overworked, and
paid no attention to the seedy-looking man who stood shyly in one corner
of the shop. At length, however, a smart young shop-walker noticed him.

"Are you being attended to?" he enquired urbanely.

"No, sir," stammered Carter.

"What can I show you, sir? Something for a little boy? Yes, sir,
certainly. This way, if you please." He led the blushing ex-hallporter
round the shop, taking him, no doubt, for an eccentric millionaire.

"These trains are very popular just now, sirs. Only one pound eleven. May
I wind it up for you, sir? No? Thank you, sir. Here is a box of soldiers,
sir. Seventeen shillings. The uniforms are all correct, sir. Too
expensive? What do you say to this little rabbit? You press the spring
and it hops along. Very life-like, sir. Only six and fourpence."

"The fact is," said poor Carter, "the fact is, sir, I didn't want to
spend more than tuppence."

"Two-pence!" exclaimed the scandalised shopwalker. "I'm afraid you've
come to the wrong shop."

Carter turned to leave, almost glad of this loophole of escape from a
spot in which he felt so thoroughly out of place. But the shopwalker's
scorn suddenly turned to pity, and he stopped him. Perhaps the young
man's heart was softened by the evident signs of privation upon Carter's
face; perhaps his thoughts turned to his own poor lodging in Pimlico and
to the little consumptive girl who was so anxiously awaiting his return
with the promised gift from Santa Claus.

"Miss Bickers!" he called, to a young lady seated at a desk at the back
of the shop, "Where are those damaged articles returned to us by Lady
Galthorpe after her ladyship's schoolfeast?"

Miss Bickers pointed to a box in the corner.

The shopwalker crossed over and picked out a few of the broken toys.
There was a drum which had been badly punctured, a golliwog that had lost
its head, and a small Union Jack over which some careless person had
evidently upset a cup of coffee.

"You can have this if you care to," he said, not ungraciously, pointing
to the last named article.

Carter felt in his pocket for the two cherished pennies. It is not true
to say that he had forgotten the "tot" of gin which they represented, but
as his eye turned to the window and he saw there a little white mushroom
which he recognised as Bobby's nose pressed persistently against the
pane, the importance of alcoholic stimulant faded into insignificance
beside that of his son's happiness, and he gratefully handed over the
coins and received in return the battered flag which the shopwalker had
by this time foldered neatly in a large piece of paper.

Bobby's excitement during the remainder of the homeward walk was intense.
He made many unsuccessful attempts to discover the exact nature of the
contents of Carter's parcel; but his father kept the secret well.

"I know!" exclaimed Bobby, for about the twentieth time, as they reached
the miserable little lodging and were climbing the rickety stair. "It's a
effluent with _real_ tusks!"

"Wrong again," said his father, wishing that the boy's imagination did
not always tend to such expensive subjects as elephants with real tusks.

At last the cheerless little attic was reached, the door carefully
closed, and the precious parcel delivered into Bobby's feverish hands.
With flaming cheeks he undid the string, unrolled the paper, and drew out
the flag.

"Oh, daddy!" he exclaimed, with such a shout of pleasure that there could
be no mistaking his genuine delight at the poor little gift.

Carter picked him up, flag and all, and drew him close, till he could
feel the small warm lips touching the thin cheek that was so badly in
need of a razor. There were tears in the man's eyes.

"Oh, daddy!" said the boy again, as with a sudden outburst of gratitude
he flung his arms round his father's neck and kissed him rapturously.

That, after all, was Alfred Carter's Christmas dinner.

I have ventured to describe this episode at some considerable length
because, as I have already stated, it made a very deep impression upon my
mind. Indeed, I was so moved by this glimpsed into the lives of the lower
classes that at one moment I had serious thoughts of trying to do good
works in the East End of London, either for the Church Army or the
Salvationists. I found, however, on looking into the matter, that this
would entail the sacrifice of more time than I could possibly spare--I
was playing polo four days a week at Ranelagh and had just bought six new
ponies--and was consequently forced to relinquish the idea. Instead, I
sent a small cheque to a Fund for the Relief of the Starving Poor of
Lambeth, and as the result of this thoughtless act of charity was
bothered for many years to renew my subscription.

The memory of Alfred Carter and his domestic troubles was soon to pale
into insignificance beside that deeper tragedy which came to ruffle the
calm of my hitherto placid existence. I refer, of course, to the
destruction by fire of my ancestral home, Bellinger Hall.



CHAPTER V - BELLINGER HALL


If Bellinger Hall was probably the ugliest countryhouse in Kent, if not
in the whole of England, it was certainly one of the most comfortable.

Originally built by my grandfather, Sir Percy Bellinger, in the early
part of the late Queen Victoria's reign, it stood on the site of a little
old redbrick Elizabethan farm-house which he had bought for a
ridiculously small sum from a struggling farmer who did not appreciate
its value.

My grandfather had a great deal of taste, and, as has been said of
another more notable Englishman, it was all bad. With the assistance of
one of the foremost craftsmen of his time and of a reputable firm of
local builders, he replaced the original Elizabethan structure by a vast
palace which was as unique a specimen of Victorian architecture as the
most uncompromising of modern Philistines could desire. Even my deep
affection for the old place could not altogether blind me to its
ugliness.

The house was built of yellow brick, faced with plaster, in a style that
was perhaps intended to be Gothic but only succeeded in being grotesque.
It combined the most deplorable qualities of the Crystal Palace and the
Imperial Institute, South Kensington. There was a touch of the austere
but grimy dignity of Buckingham Palace about the front of the building,
while the roof resembled nothing so much as that of a second-rate Turkish
mosque. Ginger Hazelton used always to say that the outside of Bellinger
Hall suggested a pompous Asylum for Eastern Potentates, relieved by a
suspicion of Hydropathic Cathedral and a slight dash of Albert Memorial.
Inside it was no better.

The interior of the house was decorated in a fashion to match the facade.
The big hall, surrounded by galleries, which was the main feature of the
internal scheme, provided a very fair example of that style of decoration
which Ruskin once referred to as "a cross between early Pullman and late
North German Lloyd." Plush settees filled every available corner. The
roof was upheld by heavy carved pillars of imitation marble which would
not have deceived a fly. An eminent British artist had adorned the
ceiling with a scene representing "The Banquet of the Gods," the latter
being depicted as stout, décolleté, improper-looking individuals,
apparently attempting to stay the pangs of divine hunger with ambrosial
food of a particularly unappetising kind. The full beauty of this
masterpiece could only be appreciated by lying on one's back on the
floor, an attitude which few of my grandfather's guests cared to adopt.

The rest of the house was in keeping with the hall, though here and there
some conspicuously audacious efforts had been made to introduce foreign
novelties. Of these my grandmother's French sitting-room supplied a good
example, of which she and my grandfather were extremely proud until an
old friend administered a severe shock to their vanity. One day, when old
Sir Percy Bellinger was showing the Duchess of Bognor round the building,
he flung open the door of this boudoir with pardonable vanity. "This," he
replied, "is our Louis Quinze room!" The Duchess gazed thoughtfully at it
for a moment. "What makes you think so?" she enquired pleasantly enough.

My grandfather almost ruined himself over the building operations and
altogether ruined the reputation of his architect. On his death, when the
property passed into my father's hand, Bellinger Hall was not only a
hideous house, as I have described, but also an extremely uncomfortable
one. My father, however, soon altered all this. He began by installing
electric light; added an indoor tennis-court, a swimming bath, three new
wings, an elevator and an Aeolian self-playing organ, and turned the
private chapel into a billiard-room. The improvements thus effected were
remarkable. Tourists who were admitted on Thursday afternoons (at a
shilling a head) to inspect the old oak-panelled reception-rooms, crowded
with priceless furniture of every possible period which my father's
agents had picked up for him at various sales all over the world, could
not help declaring that here at any rate auctions spoke louder than
words.

When my parents had been definitely settled for some years in Bellinger
Hall they set about more seriously than ever to make their new home as
habitable as possible. Hot-water pipes were laid along passages that had
been hitherto unendurably cold in winter; the reproductions of Landseer's
masterpieces which adorned the dining-room were replaced by valuable old
prints; the cases of stuffed birds that had long been the chief
decoration of the big hall were consigned to the lumber-room, together
with the late Sir Percy Bellinger's collection of rare sea-shells and
guillemots' eggs. Paraffin lamps gave place, as I have already said,
to electric light; bathrooms sprang up like magic all over the
house; the relics long associated with the memory of my sainted
grandmother--including a number of milking-stools and tambourines,
hand-painted with designs of blackberries and autumn leaves, and a varied
assortment of china dogs of the most depressing breeds--were sent to the
Vicar's parish jumble sale; and in due course Bellinger Hall, though
still externally hideous, became as luxurious and comfortable a residence
as the heart of the most fastidious could desire.

It was for many years one of the most popular country houses in England,
and Royalty itself on more than one occasion condescended to honour my
father by accepting his hospitality, shooting his pheasants and tasting
his famous old Madeira. On such occasions no expense was spared in the
entertainment of the party, and, after a long day's covert shooting, the
guests would spend a happy evening playing Bridge or some other less
intellectual card-game while they listened to the band which had been
especially ordered from London for their delectation. My mother was, as I
have explained, very musical, and usually insisted upon the engagement of
Herr Bassano's well-known Pink Viennese Band. For less important parties,
however, when only our close personal friends were present and there were
no Royalties, an excellent but much less expensive orchestra from
Maidstone was rightly considered to be more suitable. My mother's taste
in music was eminently catholic; she believed in encouraging all forms of
melody. Directly the band had finished playing the _Liebestod_ from
_Tristan_ she would look up from her card-table, and say, with that
charming smile of hers: "That was delightful, Herr Bassano. Now do you
think you could give us 'Uncle Jonah's Teddy Bears?'" The appreciation of
good music is infectious, and when a party of our guests at Bellinger has
been engaged in playing "Animal Grab," "Cheating," "Demon Pounce," or
some other rather noisy game, within a few yards of the orchestra, I have
often known them to lower their voices perceptibly during the performance
of the _Preislied_ from Wagner's _Meistersingers_. Sometimes even, when
the band's rendering of a composition by _Dvorak_ was particularly
moving, the cardplayers would cease shouting altogether for a few moments
in order to listen to the music. Their thoughtfulness was well rewarded
by a slight of the look of pleasure and astonishment upon Herr Bassano's
expressive face. Though he had no desire, as he often assured me, to
interrupt their conversation, it was nevertheless very gratifying for him
to feel that some of the audience occasionally realised that his band was
playing.

Bellinger Hall could at a pinch hold twenty-five guests, with their
retainers and, as my parents were both hospitably inclined, the house was
generally crowded with friends from Saturday evening to Monday morning
throughout the summer. These weekend parties at Bellinger were always a
great success. As the last guest drove away to the station on Monday
morning, my dear mother would turn to her husband with a smile of relief
and say, "Thank goodness _that's_ over! But I think they enjoyed
themselves, John, don't you?" To which my father could conscientiously
reply in the affirmative.

My twenty-ninth birthday happened to occur upon a Sunday in July during
one of those lovely summers which we so rarely enjoy in England. Out of
regard for my wishes the usual weekend party at Bellinger Hall had been
abandoned, in order that I might spend the anniversary of my birth
quietly with my family. I had, however, invited my two best friends,
Wynne and Ginger Hazelton, to help me celebrate the occasion.

They arranged to catch the 6:45 from Charing Cross, arriving just in time
to dress for dinner, while I was to come down earlier in the afternoon.

I arrived at Charing Cross station at about three o'clock on the
Saturday, and strolled down the departure platform to a first-class
smoking compartment. Here my man Gregson was waiting to hand me that
sheaf of sporting papers with which it is my habit to relieve the tedium
of a railway journey.

Having ensconced myself comfortably in the far corner of the carriage,
and exchanged my hard billycock hat for a soft cloth cap, I selected the
_Sporting Times_ from my literary store and prepared to while away in as
profitable as fashion as possible the hour that must elapse before I
reached my destination. I was congratulating myself upon the good fortune
which had secured for me an empty compartment, when, just as the train
was starting, the door was violently flung open and my privacy was
invaded by a fellow-traveller. I was naturally much annoyed at this
unwelcome intrusion, more especially when I realised that the newcomer
was a member of the fairer sex and that my hopes of smoking a cigar were
consequently doomed to disappointment.

Furtively glancing at my companion round the corner of my paper, I was
somewhat relieved to find that she was an extremely good-looking girl,
young, well-dressed and attractive. I buried myself once more in the
_Pink 'Un_ and became so absorbed in a culinary article by the "Dwarf of
Blood" that the train was half-way through the first tunnel before I
realised that my fellow-traveller was vainly wrestling with a window
which obstinately withstood all her efforts to close it. Shocked at my
own negligence, I sprang to her assistance, and together we managed to
shut the window. As we did so the girl uttered an exclamation of dismay.

"Is anything the matter?" I enquired politely, with the natural
diffidence of one who addresses a stranger of the opposite sex.

"A dreadful ting has happened," she explained, holding out an empty hand,
"I've dropped my ticket down inside the door!"

I expressed my sympathy in suitable terms, and spent the next ten minutes
in adding my own to my companions' attempts to retrieve the lost ticket.
All our efforts proved abortive, however, and, short of turning the
carriage upside down, there seemed to be no possible means of regaining
the precious piece of cardboard.

"Please don't bother any more," said the girl at last. "It doesn't matter
a bit. I'm so sorry. Thank you very much."

I murmured something incoherent to the effect that it was no trouble at
all, and returned to my corner of the carriage. The paper had, however,
lost all interest for me, and for the next half hour I found myself
reading the same paragraph over and over again without understanding a
word of it, while my eyes showed an uncontrollable tendency to stray in
the direction of my fellow-traveller. She happened to look up once to
find my gaze concentrated upon her; whereupon we both blushed furiously
and resumed the perusal of our papers with redoubled energy.

At Paddock Green a harassed railway official appeared upon the scene and
asked for the traveller's ticket. I produced mine at once, but for
obvious reasons my companion was unable to follow my example. She
explained her inability at some length to the ticket collector, and
begged him to peer down into the recesses of the carriage-door and verify
her statements. That official, however, was blessed with but little
imagination and still less patience, and, after listening to an elaborate
account of the accident, insisted that the ticket must be produced or, in
default, the fare paid in full. The train was already ten minutes late,
he observed, and he had no time to argue the case. The price of the
ticket would no doubt be refunded by the Company on receipt of a
plausible explanation of its loss.

"I do hope I've got enough money to pay," said the girl, as she extracted
a gold chain purse from her dressing-bag and, after much fumbling,
proceeded to empty its contents upon one of the seats of the carriage.
The ticket collector and I watched the appearance of a varied assortments
of articles with the interested eyes of spectators at an exhibition of
conjuring. The purse seemed indeed to possess many of the qualities to a
wizard's magic bag. It disgorged its contents in as generous a fashion as
that tall hat which the conjuror borrows from a member of the audience,
which is invariably found to contain a colony of rabbits, a bowl of
gold-fish, half a dozen pigeons and yard upon yard of coloured ribbon.
From the recesses of this diminutive purse there first of all appeared a
small powder-puff, two lace handkerchiefs and a packet of pins. These
were speedily followed by a bundle of letters, a list of books to be
ordered from the library (which, we may assume, had not been ordered),
and a long jewelled chain to which were attached half a dozen charms and
a gold pencil with no lead in it. To the help that was now rising on the
carriage-seat were gradually added a box of chocolates, three patterns of
silk which their owner had spent the morning vainly trying to match at
Starr and Garter's, and an unused Kodak-film. Last of all came a
two-shilling piece, four coppers, and a rather dingy halfpenny stamp.

"Six and eightpence is the fare, miss," said the ticket collector, as the
girl looked up enquiringly into his face with these coins in her hand.
She counted them over slowly.

"Two and fourpence halfpenny?" she enquired tentatively.

"Six and eight," sternly repeated the man. He gazed without emotion at
the pathetic treasures which were strewn upon the cushions, and was
apparently unmoved by their silent appeal.

The girl's face fell as she suddenly realised that there was no prospect
of her being able to pay the required fare. Perhaps in imagination she
saw herself being arrested for attempting to defraud the Railway Company,
haled back to Charing Cross in the guard's van, and thence, like Eugene
Aram, setting forth to Bow Street between two stern-faced men, with gyves
upon her wrists.

I had been watching with deep but silent sympathy the conflicting
emotions which were only too visible upon my companion's expressive
countenance.

"If you will allow me--" I began.

"Oh, I couldn't dream of it, really," she replied, brushing me politely
aside. The idea of accepting money from a complete stranger was, I
suppose, naturally repugnant to her.

"Six and eightpence," demanded the inexorable ticket collector, weary
with waiting.

"You really _must_," I insisted.

"If you don't think--"

"Of course not!"

Without heeding her further expostulations I drew forth a sovereign from
my trouser's pocket, paid the impatient official, and accepted my change
and a written receipt for the money.

The train resumed its interrupted journey, and passengers who had thrust
their heads out of the carriage windows ceased cursing the stationmaster
or facetiously extolling the extraordinary speed and punctuality of South
Eastern expresses, and returned to the perusal of their papers.

During the remaining twenty minutes that elapsed before reaching the
wayside Kentish station for which we were bound, my new acquaintance and
I conversed freely on the subject of the lost ticket. From this the
conversation took a more personal turn, and we were glad to discover that
Thorley was our mutual destination. I was going to Bellinger, as I have
already explained, while my companion told me that she was also on her
way to spend Sunday with her father, whose name she did not however
divulge.

When the train reached Thorley I found myself singularly loth to leave my
new friend. With a cunning of which I believe her to have been entirely
unsuspicious I insisted that she must be feeling faint, after such a
trying experience, and led her across to the refreshment-room in search
of tea. Here a sharp-featured lady angrily served us with two cups of a
dark-coloured fluid that had evidently been stewing on the counter for
some hours, dealt out two stale buns with her fingers onto two damp and
rather greasy-looking plates, dumped down a bowl of dusty sugar and a jug
of bilious milk in front of us, charged us a shilling for the meal, and
eyed us suspiciously while we consumed it.

We spent a happy quarter-of-an-hour discussing the buns, while my
father's horses and the girl's family coachman snorted with impatience at
the door. It was finally with much regret that we said goodbye and
departed in our separate conveyances to our respective goals.

I reached Bellinger in time for a second tea, and my friends Hazelton and
Wynne arrived later. The next morning, as we sat round the billiard-room
after breakfast, discussing the weather, I recounted my romantic
adventure, much to the amusement of my guests. Wynne took the gloomiest
view of the affair, and declared that I should never see my money again.
In this he was entirely wrong, for the very next morning I received a
postal order for 6s 8d, wrapped in a sheet of paper inscribed with the
simple words "Many thanks." This delighted me so much that I made up my
mind to leave no stone unturned to discover the identity of my fair
travelling companion. Circumstances, however, arose which drove the idea
temporarily from my mind, and I am ashamed to say that it was not for
over a year that I gave more than a passing thought to the lady whom I
had met so romantically in the train.

The billiard-room at Bellinger was one of the few rooms in the house that
had never been touched since the days of my grandfather. It still bore
abundant evidence of his peculiar taste. A stuffed penguin gazed
superciliously down from the mantelpiece, and one corner of the room was
completely filled by a huge glass case in which a moth-eaten otter might
be observed engaged in dissecting a salmon, while in the background a
snipe was mournfully contemplating her young. The walls were decorated
with a curious profusion of various trophies of the chase, ranging from
the head of a mountain-goat to the fin of a tarpon. The coalscuttle was
fashioned from an elephant's hoof; a stuffed ourang-outang stood by the
door, holding out a tray for drinks; and a large tiger-skin hearthrug,
fitted with the most alarming set of real teeth, formed a natural
booby-trap over which each unsuspecting guest stumbled in turn.

Hazelton was in the middle of a rather humorous anecdote (which he had
been told by a friend in the city) when my father entered the room. The
story came to an abrupt conclusion as Lord Bellinger appeared.

"If anybody cares about sea-shells," remarked the latter, addressing
himself particularly to Wynne, "you ought to see my poor father's
collection upstairs. He got hold of some very rare sea-birds too, in Asia
Minor."

Wynne greeted the suggestion with a polite non-committal smile, but
Hazelton was in a more than usually frivolous mood.

"Do I care about sea-shells?" he said. "Care's is not the word! I love
periwinkles with a devotion that mocks the power of words! Rare sea
birds, too, affect me profoundly. As for penguins, I have a perfect
passion for them! I'd willingly walk twelve miles to gaze into the face
of a defunct cormorant, or commune with an embalmed puffin. I simply
worship the ground that seamews tread on! In fact, I often go the Zoo on
purpose to pat them."

"My poor father left a good many of his finest specimens to the South
Kensington Museum," continued Lord Bellinger, who was too well accustomed
to Hazelton's foolishness to take any notice of it.

"Indeed?" said Wynne, but without much enthusiasm.

"He shot a remarkable beast off the coast of the Hebrides, when he was a
young man. Something of a dotterell in appearance. I forget what name he
gave it."

"Dotterellonthecrumpet, I expect," suggested the irrepressible Hazelton.
"Answers to the name of Willie. The only animal that habitually flies
backwards to keep the dust out of its eyes!"

Wynne regarded the speaker with obvious disapproval, which the latter did
not seem to notice.

"When I hear the plaintive voice of the curlew," he continued, "my
bosom--"

At this moment the door opened and my mother appeared upon the scene.

"Are you coming to church, Captain Ginger?" she enquired. "You don't look
as though you were dressed for the part."

Hazelton was wearing a very lightcoloured flannel suit with a red and
blue "Guards" tie and white tennis-shoes.

"Ah," he retorted, "there's many a devout heart beats beneath a loud
check suit! But I think I shall struggle to keep away from church this
Sunday. I went last Christmas, and I don't want to become a slave to a
habit of any kind. But I shall certainly hold an open-air service of my
own on the golfcourse. All are welcome, and there will be a collection
afterwards for the deserving poor--by which I mean myself."

"The golfcourse doesn't seem a very suitable place," said my father, who
was fond of a joke, "judging from the language one usually associates
with the game."

"On the contrary," pursued Hazelton. "It's just the spot for a sermon.
Who knows? I might convert one or two confirmed golfers, if I were only
eloquent enough."

He assumed an unctuous manner and a melancholy voice which he doubtless
intended to be typically clerical.

"The world, my brethren, is one long Links of woe," he intoned. "Life is
a game of golf. The caddy, Conscience, is ever at our elbow! Let us then
keep our eyes fixed upon the ball! Let us look forward to the 'green'
where we would be! So that when Bogey--"

"I think this is very flippant," said my mother interrupting him.

--"Let us arm ourselves with the 'driver' of Devotion, with the 'mashie'
of Mercy, with the 'putter' of Purity! Then, my friends, when we fall
into the yawning bunker of Temptation, we may lay hold with both hands of
the niblick of--"

"I don't care about this sort of joke at all," once more my mother
interposed.

"I'm sorry, Lady Bellinger," said Hazelton. "I've always thought golf
such a peculiarly sacred subject. I should wish nothing better than for
my epitaph to read: 'He lay dead in two!'"

"Nonsense! I don't believe you know anything about the game either."

"Not know anything about golf? Why, Lady Bellinger, I never do anything
else, day or night! I always go to bed with a 'putter' under my pillow,
in case I wake up early. So useful; I can putt myself to sleep again in a
moment."

"What's your handicap?" asked my father.

"I haven't got one, but if I had it would be about _minus_ scratch. Why,
I did the short hole at Biarritz in one, last year, and would have done
it in less but for the high wind."

"Really? I didn't know you were a golfer."

"And this is fame!" groaned Hazelton. "Why, I'm the man who invented the
notorious golfball that simply _can't_ be lost! Even if you send it into
the 'rough' it tees itself up on the nearest tuft of grass and squeaks
loudly for help until it's found. You can hear it calling for master a
long way off."

"So you're an inventor too," said Lady Bellinger.

"You've only to listen to his conversation--" put in Algy Wynne _sotto
voce_.

"Yes," replied Ginger. "I taught Edison everything. What he knows and
I've forgotten would fill a fattish book."

"What's your latest discovery?"

"I'm trying to patent a peculiar golf-club, a 'driver,' particularly
suitable for beginners. The beauty of it is that there's a little
trapdoor in the face of it. When you drive off the tee the door opens
automatically and admits the ball into a secret chamber in the head of
the club. The ball disappears, of course, and everybody thinks that
you've made a wonderful drive."

"Well?"

"Well, then you shade your eyes, gazing away across the illimitable veldt
to the distant horizon, as though following the flight of your ball
towards the hole, and start walking to the green. By pressing a button in
the handle of the club the trapdoor opens and the ball may be
surreptitiously dropped wherever you like as you approach the flag."

"But wouldn't that be cheating?" asked my mother.

"I believe some straitlaced old-fashioned persons might so style it," he
admitted. "But after all, there must be disadvantages to every new
discovery. And I really believe that the introduction of such a weapon as
mine will revolutionise the game of golf, if indeed it doesn't put a stop
to it altogether."

"It's a quarter to eleven," said my father suddenly, looking at his
watch. "We mustn't talk any more nonsense."

"Bellinger and I are going to church," added my mother, "but nobody need
come who doesn't want to."

"I have to read the lessons," explained my father apologetically.

"I shall certainly come," said Wynne. "The choir sing so well, and Mr.
Silsoe never preaches for more than a quarter of an hour."

"Almost thou persuadest me--" Hazelton began.

"Now then, Captain Ginger," said my mother, "you had better come too."

"What have I done to deserve this?" he asked with a groan.

"It's what you _haven't_ done. You haven't been to church for ages, and
you know it."

"Aren't I too old to begin?" he pleaded.

"Certainly not!" My mother became inexorable.

"Go upstairs at once and put on some respectable clothes, and be ready to
start in five minutes."

"Truly the way of the ungodly is hard!" said Hazelton as he retired to
obey the commands of his hostess.

I did not go to church myself that Sunday, having a great deal of
important correspondence to deal with. I was therefore still sitting in
the billiard-room when the rest of the party returned from service.

"Was it nice?" I asked. "Did I miss much?"

"You missed the Litany," said my mother.

"From all sick persons and young children, Good Lord, deliver us!"
murmured Hazelton.

"And we had a harvest Thanksgiving," said Wynne gloomily.

"Rather early in the season," added my mother. "They haven't carried the
crops yet, but Mr. Silsoe likes to have it while we're still here, and,
as you know, Dick, we go to Scotland next week."

"The pews were beautifully decorated," said Wynne, "and we had good
hymns."

"Yes," Hazelton remarked,

  "Little drops of water,
  Little grains of sand,
  Make the milkman wealthy,
  And the grocer grand!"

"There was a melon in the font," he pursued, "that fairly made my mouth
water, and I thought the hops round the pulpit most appropriate. But we
were halfway through the extremely proper Psalms for this morning's
service before I discovered that I had been kneeling on a tomato. I can't
help thinking it a mistake to decorate the chancel with bananas, first of
all because they can hardly be termed a homegrown fruit, and secondly
because its putting temptation in the way of the choirboys.

"Who's coming to see the horses?" asked my father, suddenly changing the
subject.

"I'm not," replied Hazelton at once with determination.

"Aren't you fond of animals?"

"Certainly. But I don't like them enough to spend an hour on a fine
Sunday morning examining twenty-five carriage horses, one at a time, and
making intelligent remarks about their legs to a coachman who sees
through me from the start. I belong to a League," he continued, "whose
members are bound by the most sacred oath to stay away from the stables
after church. Our crest is very pretty--two crossed carrots _rampant_
surmounted by a lump of sugar _gules_. I believe everybody would like to
join us, if they had the pluck."

"I certainly shouldn't," said my mother. "I love the dear things, with
their soft velvet noses and their satin coats."

"Then you'd love the members of my League," replied Hazelton. "We all
have satin coats, and waistcoats too, and our noses are more like velvet
that any noses you ever met. We have them ironed with our top hats every
morning. Look at _my_ nose, all of you! Isn't it a dream? The maiden's
plush!"

I have ventured to give this trivial glimpse into our simple life at
Bellinger Hall for the purpose of showing how happy we all were at this
time, and how utterly unprepared for the catastrophe that was so soon to
overwhelm us. This I propose to describe in another chapter.



CHAPTER VI - THE FIRE


It was our habit at Bellinger to retire to bed earlier than usual on
Sunday evenings. We spent a pleasant hour or two after dinner singing
hymns and sacred glees, and at about half-past ten the butler announced
the arrival of barley water and bedroom-candlestocks, and we trooped off
to our rooms.

My bedroom was an apartment of the kind ordinarily assigned to bachelors,
small and cheerless, overlooking the back porch. It was the room I had
always occupied as a boy, and for the sake of old associations I loved it
and had often refused to move into a larger one. A writing-table stood by
the window, furnished with paper and pens and ink, a printed noticed
showing the hours of meals and of the arrival and departure of the daily
post, and a card containing a short _résumé_ of the local railway
timetable. A small gilt clock, whose hands pointed mendaciously to a
quarter past six, ticked furiously on the mantelpiece, as though trying
to make up for lost time. An engraving of "The Soul's Awakening" on one
wall was balanced by a copy of "The Gambler's Wife" on the other, while
over the bed hung a few cheap sporting prints and a photograph of a
Botticelli Madonna.

The habit of labelling things was strong in my father's household. All
the matchboxes were labelled "Matches," and the cakes of soap had "Soap"
written across them, so that there could be no possible excuse for
mistaking one for the other. A small drinking-trough in the hall was
carefully marked "Dog," presumably with the object of preventing
absentminded visitors from making use of it; and outside my bedroom were
three scarlet pails of water inscribed with the legend "Fire Only," as
though to warn off (or assist) the thoughtless guest who might be tempted
to slake his thirst during the night.

For a long time I could not get to sleep. My room seemed unaccountably
hot and stuffy, and though I opened the window as wide as possible and
held the door ajar with a book, I was conscious of an atmosphere of
airlessness and oppression which kept me wide awake for more than half
the night.

I lay listening to the stable clock chiming the hours, one and two and
three o'clock, with that hideous interval between each stroke whose
terror only the victim of habitual insomnia can fully appreciate, and
began to think that sleep was to be for ever denied me. I pictured myself
coming down to breakfast with a haggard face, telling everybody that I
hadn't slept a wink all night, a statement which they would not believe,
or, if they did, would probably take not the slightest interest in.

It was nearly four o'clock when I finally dosed off, and I was justly
aggrieved at being awakened half an hour later by an extraordinary noise
which proceeded from the adjoining room which was occupied by Algernon
Wynne.

I sat up in bed and listened. From the scuffling sounds which I could
hear faintly through the intervening wall it seemed to me that my
neighbour must be engaged in a rat hunt. Furniture appeared to be
overturned, and there was the occasional crash of broken crockery.

 I was about to get out of bed to investigate the matter when my door was
 pushed open and Wynne appeared on the threshold with a pale and startled
 face.

"Have you got any salt?" he demanded abruptly.

"Salt? No, of course not. What on earth do you mean? Is there a bird in
your bedroom?"

"My beastly chimney's caught fire," he answered, "and I can't put it out.
I've poured about a ton of water on to it, but it's still alight and
burning like blazes."

I hurriedly put on a dressing gown and accompanied my friend to his room.
The fire had been raked out into the fender, and the smouldering embers
were spluttering in a pool of water in the rapidly rusting grate. A dull
roaring sound and a lurid gleam of light from the chimney proclaimed
without doubt that the flue was well alight.

"There's a trap door at the end of the passage," I said. "It probably
leads on to the tiles. We'd better go up there and sluice the chimney
from above."

Wynne and I ran along the landing, found a small ladder hooked up to the
wall, propped it against the trap door in the ceiling and passed through
on to the roof. Smoke and flames were issuing from the chimney in great
quantities.

"By Jove, it's burning! Eh?" exclaimed Wynne in some alarm.

"You bet it is!" I said. "You stay here," I added. "There's a row of
buckets in the passage. I'll hand them up to you."

The contents of the three pails marked "Fire Only" were poured down the
flaring chimney, but had as little effect as the liquid (suspected by
some of being petroleum) with which Elijah encouraged the combustion of
his altar pyre. The water only seemed to stimulate the conflagration, and
it was evident that more drastic measures must be taken to subdue it.

"Feel the roof," said Wynne suddenly. "It's quite hot. It's burning
through my slippers."

"So it is. This is a bigger job than we thought. We'd better get
assistance. What on earth did you want with a fire in your bedroom on a
hot night like this?" I asked indignantly.

"I thought it rather cold when I dressed for dinner, so I lit it. Is
there a fire brigade near?"

"Yes," I answered. "I'll go downstairs and telephone to Thorley for the
engine."

I ran back to my room and quickly donned some of my evening clothes which
were lying in a confused heap on a chair by the bed. As I hurriedly
caught up my gold watch and chain from the dressing table a piece of
plaster fell upon my head from the corner of the ceiling. Looking out of
the window I saw that the whole front of the house was brightly illumined
by the fire on the roof.

There was no time to lose. I jammed the back of a chair against the
button of the electric bell beside the fireplace, in such a way that it
would ring continuously in the basement and thus arouse the servants.
Having done this I ran along the corridor, descended the main staircase
and so reached the "business room" where the telephone was kept. I
managed with some difficulty to establish communication with the Thorley
post-office and explained the situation. I then hastened to the servants'
quarters, and in a short time had aroused the whole household, including
the night watchman whom I discovered asleep in the pantry.

Mean while the flames had spread with startling rapidity, and the clouds
of smoke issuing from the bachelors' wing rendered it impossible for
anyone to approach the actual seat of the conflagration.

My mother was one of the fists to appear upon the scene, clad in a short
dressing-jacket and petticoat, and armed with a water bottle which she
had picked up from a neighbouring wash handstand. Her contribution
towards the general endeavour to arrest the progress of the fire
consisted in vaguely hurling the water bottle, glass and all, in the
direction of the flames. Had her aim been as excellent as her intention
it is doubtful whether this pint of water could have stemmed the course
of the fire. As it was, the water-bottle spent itself comparatively
harmlessly upon the head of the second-footman who was gallantly
attempting to manipulate a "patent fire extinguisher" which long disuse
had rendered impotent.

In the meantime my father hurriedly despatched a servant to the stable to
summon the private fire engine, an old-fashioned affair, worked by hand,
which had not been in use for over half a century.

The head coachman had, of course, mislaid the key of the shed in which
the engine was kept, and by the time the doors had been broken open and
the ramshackle old machine dragged by many willing hands to the front of
the house, half the roof was on fire, and there seemed no reason to
suppose that the other half would not shortly follow suit.

With some difficulty a length of hose was attached to the main, and
panting stablemen began to work the pumps with less skill than goodwill.
But either because the water-supply was inadequate, or the hose leaked in
a hundred different places, or the fire-engine was so primitive as to be
useless, their labours only resulted in a thin jet of water which rose
like a toy fountain to an altitude of about ten feet and then fell
harmlessly on the outer walls of Bellinger Hall. As a means of watering
the plants in the garden our private fire engine might possibly have been
effectual, but for the purpose of extinguishing a fire it was altogether
futile.

Hazelton had by this time turned up and on his suggestion a different
plan was adopted. He arranged all the available menservants in a long
line from the foundation to the house, and buckets were passed from one
to the other as rapidly as possible. This human chain, by which it was
supposed to supplement, or rather replace, the useless hose, would have
been more effectual but for the spasmodic anxiety of its links to hasten
the course of the replenished pails. Their zeal defeated its own object.
Each bucket would leave the fountain filled to the brim, and then
gradually empty itself over the boots of all who handled it, until by the
time it reached the burning edifice there was only a teaspoonful or so of
water left to testify to the energy and devotion of the volunteer fire
brigade. The butler, whose duty it was, as the final link of the chain,
to cast the contents of the bucket upon the flames, was so overcome by
the responsibility of his position that on three separate occasions he
added fuel to the fire by casting the bucket in as well.

We soon realised that this system of spraying the scorching house with a
light sprinkling of water was as useless as the private fire apparatus.

"I'm afraid we must wait for the Thorley engine," said my father at last.
"We can do nothing but salvage work until it arrives."

"It ought to be here shortly," I put in. "I telephoned an hour ago."

"In the meantime we had better turn to and fetch out all the valuables.
We can pile them here on the lawn. It's a fine morning and they won't be
hurt."

Servants, gardeners, stablemen, helpers and the night-watchman (by this
time wide awake) set to work upon the task of removing the pictures and
furniture to a safe place, and presently a large heap of the more
precious of my father's household gods was raised about forty yards away
on the tennis-lawn. The two Vandycks from the dining room were carefully
swathed in blankets and placed in a summerhouse, together with the huge
square of tapestry in the hall representing Aeneas taking a lachrymose
farewell of Dido.

Hazelton came struggling out of the door bearing a huge stuffed bird in
his arms.

"I've saved Percy the penguin, at the risk of my life!" he exclaimed
joyfully. "What price the Victoria cross?"

He was followed by the second-coachman, dragging out a large armchair of
no earthly value. The man touched his hat to me as he passed, just as
though nothing unusual were happening, and nearly collided with the
hall-boy who was carrying the bust of Charles James Fox which had stood
for so long at the top of the stairs.

Mr. Minting, my father's agent, bicycled up at this moment, and after a
few words of condolence hastened to the "business room" to save such of
the estate papers, receipts and other documents, as were stored in the
pigeon-holes of that gloomy apartment.

At any other time our appearance would have evoked merriment. Wynne had
hurriedly encased his legs in white flannel trousers, borrowing a sable
coat from the front hall on his way out, to complete his attire. Hazelton
was the only member of the house party who might be called properly
dressed. He had arrayed himself in full evening garb, with white
waistcoat, diamond solitaire and patent leather pumps, though the wall of
his room had actually cracked as he was tying his "butterfly" tie. His
immaculate appearance did not however prevent him from dong his share in
the work, and he entered into the spirit of the thing completely, making
the salvage of my late grandfather's museum his especial care. It is
indeed unlikely that in the annals of our domestic history there is any
record of a man having saved so many stuffed birds from destruction.

My moth's little Aberdeen terrier, Bramble, too, was working as hard as
anybody. To Bramble the whole affair appeared in the light of a rat-hunt
on a gigantic scale, and he consequently enjoyed himself thoroughly. Each
time a piece of furniture was moved Bramble would make a dart behind it,
in the hope of securing the rodent in search of which his human friends
were evidently determined to turn the whole place upside down. He had a
particularly good time in the "business-room." Here he discovered a
pigeonhole full of documents which no one else had touched. In imitation
of Mr. Minting he dragged these out on to the door, and then (unlike Mr.
Minting) proceeded to worry them to pieces. One large bundle he brought
out on to the lawn and laid at this mistress's feet, awaiting the prise
which his efforts undoubtedly deserved. My mother picked up the parcel
and saw that it appeared to contain a number of plans and maps. She
handed it to my father who happened to be passing at the moment.

"Where did you find these?" he asked, examining the papers with care.

"Bramble brought them out," she explained.

"This is a most valuable find," replied my father. "Most valuable indeed.
There is nothing I would not sooner have lost. Good little dog!" He
stopped to pat Bramble, but the dog scorned his thanks and rushed off
after Wynne who was just re-entering the drawing-room window.

The butler came running up at the same moment.

"The engine's arrived, m'lord," he exclaimed.

"I'm afraid it's too late to do much good," said my father resignedly,
with true prophetic instinct.

It was indeed nearly seven o'clock before the engine from Thorley came
lurching up the avenue, too late to be of any practical use.

The Thorley fire brigade was an amateur affair, and had seldom been
called upon to extinguish anything more important than a stack of some
local farmer's straw. When I had telephoned to summon the engine to
Bellinger there had been a great commotion in the village. A good three
quarters of an hour had elapsed before the members of the brigade could
be collected, and it took another twenty minutes to borrow a pair of
horses suited to the task of dragging the engine.

The firemen took the precaution of fortifying themselves with several
glasses of whiskey and water at the "Bull" Inn before starting. Two miles
from Bellinger, as they were galloping round a sharp corner, one of the
horses slipped up on the side of the road and the engine was precipitated
headlong into the ditch. No one was hurt (except the horse)--Providence
being notoriously watchful of deciduous inebriates--but this accident
added considerably to the delay.

It was only with the assistance of a number of yokels, who were setting
out to their morning's work, that the engine was righted, and the injured
animal replaced by a sound one. The firemen meanwhile partook freely from
a bottle of spirits with which the captain of the brigade had wisely
provided himself, in case of accidents. When, therefore, they eventually
arrived at Bellinger, it was obvious to the meanest capacity that half
their numbers were as Hazelton observed "blind to the world" and the
other half well on the road towards intoxication.

As there was now no hope of saving the house from being gutted, my father
felt much inclined to dispense altogether with their services. The roof
had fallen in at several points, the first floor was unapproachable, and
of all the downstairs rooms the drawing-room alone remained intact. But
under the butler's direction the Thorley firemen managed to pull
themselves together sufficiently to concentrate their attention upon
saving this portion of the building. Two of them, however, were so
obviously incapable of any sober work that they were ordered away, and
shuffled off in a tearful condition to a safe distance, where they sat
down on the lawn and proceeded to fall fast asleep.

As there was considerable danger from falling beams, Hazelton and I
borrowed the helmets of these two drunkards, and the work of salvage
continued.

Once a man gets an axe into his hands the temptation to chop down
anything within reach is almost irresistible, and ten minutes after the
Thorley firemen had been turned loose into the drawing room of Bellinger
Hall the few remaining contents of that room had been reduced to
firewood. Insensate destruction is a vice common to all firemen. For
whereas the ordinary individual desirous of saving a picture will lift it
carefully from the wall, the man with the hatchet chops it down with a
fierce blow, and the odds are a thousand to one that both frame and glass
are broken to pieces. In the history of conflagrations it is a well-known
fact that firemen have always done far more damage than the flames
themselves, seeming to delight in a senseless demolition of whatever the
fire has left untouched.

The ceiling of the drawing room was beginning to bulge in several places
as I issued from the window for about the twentieth time, carrying a
small bookcase on my head. With my face as black as pitch, and my eyes
red and streaming, I looked more like a dissolute chimney sweep than
anything else, a suit of torn evening clothes surmounted by a fire-man's
helmet adding considerably to the peculiarity of my appearance.

"Is there nothing that _I_ can do?" my dear mother asked, as she stood
and watched us at work. "I want to be useful too."

"I'll tell you what, mother," I suggested. "You might see if you can
collect some food. All those good people will be as hungry as ravens when
this show is over."

"Of course I will," she answered eagerly. "The dairy's close by. I'll go
and see if they've got anything there."

At eight o'clock, after a brief consultation with the butler, my father
gave orders that no more attempts should be made to enter the burning
building. Ten minutes later, the drawing-room ceiling fell in with a loud
crash.

The whole household, by this time thoroughly exhausted, now collected
upon the lawn and silently watched the demolition of their home, while
the Thorley brigade continued to pour a stream of water upon the
blackened walls.

"It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good," I remarked to Hazelton in
a quiet aside. "The house is heavily insured, I known, and we've managed
to get out nearly everything of value. Nobody could every have possibly
admired the architecture of Bellinger, and now my father will be able to
rebuild it and make a really beautiful place of it."

Lord Bellinger was standing a few yards off, out of earshot. My mother
came up and laid her hand on his arm.

"Well, old girl," said my father with an attempt at gaiety. "The old
place has gone this time, eh?"

"We must only be thankful that no one has been hurt," she replied with
her usual unselfishness. "And now," she added, "everybody must come and
have some food. The maids and I have been busy for the last half hour
scraping up a meal of some kind."

"By Jove, that's thoughtful of you," said Hazelton, "I could eat my hat,
I'm so hungry."

A general adjournment was made to the dairy, where most of the women
servants were already assembled and two long tables had been prepared for
breakfast.

The meal consisted of large bowls of "Scrambled eggs," which the
dairymaids had hastily cooked, hunks of bread and bowls of fresh milk.

"Sit down everybody," ordered my father, "and fall to! Come along,
Preston," he added, turning to the head coachman. "Tell all the servants
that there's breakfast of a kind waiting for them here.

"I want to thank you all very much for your help," he continued, as the
whole household sat down to the table and prepared to enjoy this
improvised meal. "You've all worked like Trojans, and if we couldn't save
the old place, it isn't anybody's fault but my own.

"I know you will be glad to hear," he went on, "that among the many
papers saved are the original designs made by my poor father's
architect." Bramble wagged his tail self-consciously underneath the
table. "It will therefore be possible to rebuild Bellinger Hall upon
exactly the old lines."

This announcement was greeted in respectful silence, though Hazelton
could hardly help exclaiming "Good God!" under his breath, and I heard
Wynne give vent to an audible groan.

"And while I must apologise to everybody," continued my father, turning
to Wynne and Hazelton, "for having caused so much inconvenience, I hope
that before very long you will be present at another house-warming--of a
pleasanter description--at Bellinger Hall!"

"Three cheers for Lord Bellinger!" cried the agent hysterically.

"'Ip, 'ip, 'ip, 'ooray," shouted the butler, and the cry was taken up by
all the servants, and repeated until the rafters of the dairy rang with
their cheers.

A boy on a bicycle rode up at this moment and handed a telegram to Lord
Bellinger. He passed it across to my mother who read it out.

"So distressed to hear of your calamity," it ran. "Hope you and all your
friends will come as my guests to Mimsey to-day. Am sending motors to
fetch you. Shall expect you to luncheon. Stay as long as you like. LOUISE
PENTLAND."

"Devilish kind of the old Duchess," was my father's comment. "It
certainly solves the situation. I can arrange for the servants to move in
to the Bull Hotel in the village to-night."

"I shall have to go to London anyhow," said Hazelton, "I've got a Court
Martial, though I shall be several hours late for it."

"I'm afraid I must be off too," added Wynne. "I've got to be at the
Foreign Office soon after twelve."

"I'm sorry," said my father. "But we can easily send you to the station.
The carriages and horses are all we have left in the way of hospitality
to offer our guests."

"That reminds me," I said. "I could do with a wash. Perhaps Preston could
supply us with a bucket and a bit of soap."

"By all means," answered my father. He called to the coachman. "Preston,
take these gentlemen to your house, will you? And give them everything
they want."

"Very good, m'lord."

"Personally I shall require a curry-comb and a bran mash," said Hazelton.

"And some carrots?" suggested Wynne.

My two friends and I moved way to the stables, where the coachman
supplied us with soap and towels and also lent us various garments from
his own wardrobe to supplement our somewhat scanty attire. Wynne borrowed
a livery coat with brass buttons and a cockaded hat in which he looked
particularly comic, and Hazelton attired himself in a complete suit of
Sunday clothes lent him by one of the stablemen.

I washed the dirt from my hands and face in a bucket, got Mrs. Preston to
sew up a rent in my evening trousers and was thus able to put in a fairly
presentable appearance on my return to the garden.

As there seemed to be little need for my presence beside the smouldering
ashes of my home, I decided to travel up to London with Wynne and
Hazelton. In half an hour we had taken a last look at the ruins of
Bellinger Hall, and were on our way to the station.

It was a blazing hot morning when Hazelton and I stepped into an empty
first-class compartment of the London train. Wynne, still wearing his
livery coat, elected to travel third-class as being more in keeping with
his get-up. Our attire had provoked some natural curiosity in the
booking-office, and we were glad to escape into the seclusion of our
respective railway carriages. My evening dress, much bedraggled, was
covered but not concealed by a thin overcoat, while one of my father's
old black slouch hats of immense proportions, rescued from the front
hall, reposed on Hazelton's narrow head and threatened at any moment to
engulph it.

At Paddock Green my companion hurriedly withdrew his patent-leather shoes
from the cushions of the seat on which, contrary to the regulations, they
were resting, as an elderly gentleman climbed into our carriage. Our
fellow-passenger was a stout, middle-aged individual, wearing a long
black frock-coat, shepherd's plaid trousers and a grey waistcoat. Across
the broad expanse of the last-named garment a heavy length of thick gold
watch-chain sought in vain to restrain the ripe contours of his ample
figure. He looked quickly across at us as he entered, attracted no doubt
by the peculiarities of our attire, and then gazed long and intently at
me, as though my appearance had struck some chord in his memory.

"I hope, sir, you have no objection to my smoking a cigar," he said,
bowing with an oldfashioned courtesy in my direction.

"None at all," I replied, "I should like it."

"So should I," added Hazelton ubiquitously.

"Very hot weather we are having," our companion pursued, turning to the
last speaker.

"Very," answered Hazelton. "The closer you get to London the closer it
gets."

"I hope you will forgive my impertinence," said the other, subjecting me
to a further scrutiny; "I did not at once recognise you. Now that I see
who you are I should like to take this opportunity of thanking you for
the many hearty laughs you have so often given me in the past."

I remained silent. I could not remember ever having seen this old
gentleman before, far less could I recollect any occasion on which I had
made him laugh heartily. I shot an enquiring glance at Hazelton, who
merely tapped his forehead with his finger, delicately hinting that our
fellow-traveller was a harmless lunatic.

"Bats in the belfry!" he said in an undertone. "Off his trolley! Balmy on
the crumpet! We must humour him."

"Many a time have you puzzled me with your card tricks," continued the
old gentleman with much urbanity.

"Indeed?" I answered rather coldly, while Hazelton could scarcely conceal
a smile.

"Yes. I have a little boy at home who thinks the whole world of you. I
took him to London on purpose to see you last Christmas, and he's been
practising your sleight-of-hand ever since."

"Card tricks? Sleight-of-hand?": I repeated, thinking that the
conversation appeared to be taking an unpleasant turn. "There must be
some mistake, I fail to understand."

"Excuse me," replied the other. "Am I not addressing Lieutenant King, the
world famed ventriloquist and conjuror? Surely I cannot be mistaken. I
have seen you so often at the Palace Theatre, and once, I remember, at a
children's party given by Lady Jennings in Berkeley Square. I shall never
forget how I roared at your farmyard imitations. When you brought that
bowl of goldfish out of the Admiral's pocket I thought I should have
died, he looked so surprised. Your imitation of a dog being run over by a
motor is, if I may be allowed to say so, quite admirable. As for the way
you mimic the opening of a soda-water bottle--perfect, my dear sir,
perfect! How you can think of all those amusing things, I'm sure I don't
know."

"I'm sorry to disappoint you," I replied, not I hope impolitely, "but I'm
afraid you are labouring under a grave misapprehension. I couldn't
produce a bowl of goldfish out of an admiral's pocket, not for a thousand
pounds. If you were to lend me your watch and a couple of eggs in the
hope that I should make an omelet in your opera-hat, you'd be terribly
disappointed at the result. I'm no conjuror, I'm sorry to say. I've often
longed to be able to juggle, but I can't do it without breaking the
crockery. I'm ashamed to have to admit it, but I'm just a plain man who
never gave an imitation of a soda-water bottle in the whole course of my
life."

"I'm sure I beg then thousand pardons," said our companion, with some
confusion. "You must think me very rude. I fancied that I recognised
Lieutenant King. I imagined from your--if I may say so--rather unusual
attire that you were probably on your way to attend a children's party. I
thought this--er--gentleman"--he glanced at Hazelton--"was your
assistant. I hope you will forgive my stupidity."

"Pray don't mention it," I replied. "There's no reason for apologising,
Mr.--er--er--"

"Warlingham's my name--Lord Warlingham."

"I'm delighted to have the pleasure of making your acquaintance," I
answered. "I have so often heard my father Lord Bellinger speaks of you."

"So you're Bellinger's boy, are you?" said Lord Warlingham. "Your father
and I are old friends. I can't apologise enough for my idiotic mistake. I
should have seen at once that you were no conjuror."

"I'm sure I look more like a waiter than anything else in these clothes,"
I assured him, as I proceeded to give a brief account of our recent
adventures, at the end of which I took the opportunity of introducing
Hazelton. Lord Warlingham was still much upset, and continued to
apologise profusely.

"It is dreadful of me to have taken you for a conjuror's assistant," he
declared.

"Not at all," said Hazelton. "I only wish I were in any way connected
with so hardworking a profession. The nearest I can get to it is that a
cousin of mine knows the man who writes the music for the Performing Dogs
at the Hippodrome."

"Indeed?"

"Yes. Very difficult music to compose, so I'm told. Just a little more
classical than the tunes for acrobats, but not quite so good as the
cinematograph compositions."

By this time we had reached Charing Cross station, and after further
mutual protestations of friendship, Hazelton and I bade farewell to our
new friend and proceeded to our several destinations.

This adventure, though slight in itself, was destined to have
far-reaching consequences. Indeed, it would not be untrue to say that
upon it to some extent depended not only my own future fate, but also
that of the whole race of Bellingers.



CHAPTER VII - TWO CAMPAIGNS


The next event of any real importance in my life was the South African
War. As, however, so many books have been written upon the subject, and
the campaign itself has by this time become nothing more than a painful
memory to most of us, I propose to deal as briefly as possible with my
own connection with it.

My father, as is well known, was one of the first as well as one of the
greatest Imperialists of his time. If he were alive to-day he would most
certainly be in favour of Tariff Reform and Colonial Preference; he would
insist that British taxes should all be paid by the foreigner. As it is,
he was fated to live in an age when Free Trade was still the national
policy beneath which England struggled and, I must admit, prospered.

When the war broke out my father had long ceased to take any active part
in politics, but his interest in the affairs of the nation was as keen as
ever; advancing years had not in any way diminished his enthusiasm for
Imperial concerns. Lord Bellinger was no armchair critic; his loyalty was
not merely confined to lip-service. On one occasion, indeed, while
travelling upon the Underground Railway, he went so far as to assault an
old gentleman who happened to remark that upon some portion of the
British Empire the sun was always setting--a statement which my father
rightly considered to be unpatriotic, if not actually disloyal. Later
on, on Mafeking Night, he distinguished himself by utterly ruining two
silk hats and losing his watch and chain, in an attempt to join
wholeheartedly in the glorious scenes of public Thanksgiving in which
Londoners took so active a part. Again, although his doctor had forbidden
him to expose himself to the night air, he insisted upon being present in
a box at a West End music hall when a well-known actress recited a
patriotic poem in which Britain was urged to contribute to a fund on
behalf of the relatives of those heroes, whether the offspring of dukes
or cooks, who were fighting their country's battles on the veldt. When a
shower of copper bullion rained upon the stage at the conclusion of this
performance, Lord Bellinger was so carried away by emotion that he not
only emptied his pockets of all his loose pennies, but even added to this
generous financial bombardment an expensive gold matchbox. This caused
some confusion by striking the Chef d'orchestre on the head and
afterwards exploding among the bassoons.

My regiment was ordered to the front at the very commencement of
hostilities, and it was with a joyful heart that Hazelton and I hastened
to our tailors in Conduit Street to order the new uniforms in which it
was to be our privilege to defend our country. My father was almost as
pleased as I was to think that at last I should have an opportunity of
proving my worth in an arena wider than that afforded by the
barrack-square. He looked forward with pride to welcoming me home in
three months' time, when we should have taught our presumptuous foes the
lesson they so badly needed. My mother, on the other hand, after the
manner of her sex, was inclined to be pessimistic and fearful of
consequences. She could not bear to think that I was exposing myself to
danger, and, with a view to minimising the risk as much as possible,
managed through her influence with the authorities at the War Office to
obtain employment for me on the staff of that famous British officer,
Colonel--afterwards General Sir Claud--Garvell.

General Garvell (as he soon became), a man of whom all his
fellow-countrymen spoke in terms of the most eloquent eulogy, before he
landed at Capetown, was a soldier of the old fashioned type. It was ever
his implicit belief that Providence fought on the side of the best-fed
battalions, and the talent he displayed in the management of commissariat
almost amounted to genius. The troops under his command, as he often
observed with very pardonable pride, never suffered from hunger or
thirst. Such mobility as they may have lacked was amply compensated for
by the presence of that well-equipped canteen with which, by his express
orders, each corps was invariably provided. He was consequently one of
the most popular officers in the British Army, and the rank and file
would have followed him anywhere, confident that, whatever else might
happen, the transport waggons containing the day's rations would never be
left behind.

At the famous battle of Sluitfontein, however, he had the misfortune to
make a slight strategical error which cost him the loss of a brigade of
infantry and eight guns, and was the subject of one of those masterly
despatches (afterwards published in book form) which usually began with
the words "I regret to report." *

*From Capetown to Stellenstein; the Record of a Three Months' Trek, by
Major General Sir Claud Gravell, K.C.V.O., C.B., D.S.O. (Drake & Jessop,
London)

General Garvell was immediately promoted to a high position of trust at
Stellenstein, where his talents for organisation found full scope and
gained him the respect and devotion of either member of that Military
Staff which he there controlled so ably. This would not perhaps be an
inopportune moment to give an example of my chief's scrupulous
conscientiousness in the exercise of his duty. I therefore take the
liberty of quoting, by permission, the letter he wrote to the officer
commanding the District, on the assumption of his new post at
Stellenstein. It is, I think, not only expressive of the man himself, but
also typical of the workings of a certain very prevalent type of military
mind.


   From the Commandant, Stellenstein,

   To the G.O.C. Western District.

   Sir:

  Sept. 24th
  Commandt.
  Stellenst.

   As I have already had the honour
   to report by telegraph (K. 348),
   I have this day taken over
   the duties of my command, as per margin,
   as per your letter 17/7/00.
   Prior to my arrival here
   the condition of things appears
   to have been far from satisfactory.
   I found that no regular system of
   routine had been established, and
   that neither "Reveille" nor "Retreat"
   were sounded at the hours laid down
   in the Regulations.

   The working of the railway here is
   most casual. On my suggesting to
   the Railway Staff Officer that
   trains could be run at five-minute
   intervals, as they are upon the
   District Railway at home, and
   transport thereby much accelerated,
   he appeared to be amused, and
   made some irrelevant remark
   to the effect that he had worked
   on the Soudan Railway for three years.
   I am at a loss to understand how discipline,
   the bedrock of military efficiency, is
   to be preserved if junior officers adopt
   such an attitude towards their superiors,
   merely on the grounds of a certain
   purely technical knowledge of
   locomotives and luggate-trains.
   As Napoleon observed: "The Man is
   everything; men"--and he would now
   no doubt have added "and trains"--
   "are nothing."

   On my arrival I at once proceeded
   to the railway depot, where I observed
   a passenger-train standing stationary
   beside the departure platform. I sent
   for the Railway Staff Officer, whom
   I found to be improperly dressed,
   as per margin. I asked him
   why he was not wearing spurs,
   in accordance with the regulations,
   and he answered most impertinently
   that the engines were not particularly
   restive this morning. I reprimanded him
   severely, warning him that
   I should most certainly have placed him
   under arrest, in accordance
   with Section 5, Sub. Section 3 of
   the army Act, but for the fact that
   he was not wearing a sword, and that
   since I could not therefore deprive him
   of that weapon, nobody would know
   whether he were under arrest or not.
   Also because in his absence
   there would be no one able to control
   the working of the railway.

   I enquired further of the Railway Staff
   Officer as to why the train standing
   in the station was not immediately
   despatched, without more waste of time,
   upon its journey. He replied that
   the line was not clear. All I can say
   is that he took no steps to clear it.

     I have the honour to be,
          Sir,
     Your obedient servant,

     CLAUD GARVELL, Gen.;
     Commdt., Stellenstein.

I shared the honourable exile--if it may be so called--of my chief, but
soon found the peaceful Stellenstein existence even more monotonous than
my former life "on trek."

My duties as aide-de-camp had never been very responsible or arduous,
consisting for the most part in keeping the General well supplied with
ice and mineral wasters, a task of which I had long grown weary. Indeed,
the only occasion on which I felt that I was doing something of real use
to the Empire was just before the battle of Sluitfontein, when General
Garvell made me the bearer of an important despatch which delayed the
advance of the troops for several hours. This communication took the form
of a stinging memorandum, addressed to the officer commanding the Queen's
Own Border Fusiliers, in which the General pointed out that several of
the noncommissioned officers of that famous regiment had omitted to
polish the buttons of their tunics before going into action, and called
attention to the unsoldierly manner in which the men's boots were in many
instances fastened with string, instead of with the porpoise-hide
boot-laces laid down by regulation. The reply which I brought back to my
chief from the Commanding Officer of the Fusiliers was very rightly
returned unread, being improperly written on white (instead of blue)
paper, and, moreover, lacking that two-inch margin without which no
military document is acceptable to those in authority.

I confess that I had soon tired of my position on the General Staff, and
was anxiously seeking an opportunity for escape, when Providence
thoughtfully supplied me with the necessary excuse. Two years before the
close of the war, therefore, when General Garvell was invalided home with
an enlarged liver, I was fortunate in being the victim of a slight attack
of malaria which supplied me with a suitable reason for accompanying my
chief to England.

I attended the great function at Dover at which the General was presented
by the Mayor with a "sword of honour" and an illuminated address, and
shared in his triumphal entry into London. A year later I stood in the
window of the flat in the Edgware Road, where my chief resided with his
mother, when the entire north end of that thoroughfare was decorated in
General Garvell's honour on "Sluitfontein night," as the anniversary was
called. I was also present on the following Sunday afternoon, when Mrs.
Garvell appeared in a box at the Albert Hall and the whole audience rose
and cheered for several minutes. It was I who enjoyed the privilege of
supporting the tottering form of the dear old lady, who had long reached
and passed the grand climacteric, when she acknowledged this public
tribute to her son's fame with becoming modesty, and there were tears in
my eyes as I sank back into a red plush seat and prepared to listen to
the unique concert at which Madame Patti was bidding farewell to the
public for the twenty-seventh time.

In due course General Garvell received the knighthood which he so
thoroughly deserved, and at the same time the services of his humble
aide-de-camp were not left unrewarded by a grateful country. In one of
the earliest Gazettes I found myself decorated for "distinguished service
in the field," and the South African medal (with one clasp) and the
Jubilee Medal already upon my chest were supplemented by yet a third.
Later on, when I earned a Coronation medal, and, after a royal function
at the Imperial Institute, was made a Member of the Victorian Order
(Fourth Class), my breast became absolutely congested with decorations
and my cup of happiness was, as may be imagined, well-nigh full.

As I look back upon the time spent in South Africa I see very clearly
what a great deal of grossly inaccurate nonsense has been written, by
poets and other irresponsible persons, on the subject of War. Of pride
and pomp and circumstance I saw little or nothing during my sojourn on
the veldt, and I cannot help agreeing with my friend Hazelton who pithily
defined active service as "many months of extreme boredom, punctuated by
occasional moments of intense fear."

From one point of view, however, I never had cause to regret the South
African War. The hardships of campaigning gave me reason to appreciate
more fully than ever the comforts of civilisation and the joys of living
at home and in England. I had not hitherto been much of a "society man,"
preferring to spend my evenings at Bellinger House with my family, or
perhaps in a stall at the Gaiety with Hazelton. But the warmth of the
welcome awaiting the returning soldier forced me to take an entirely new
view of those social functions which form so large a part of the
Londoner's life, and I gradually found myself becoming one of the most
fashionable young men about town. My ignorance of the ways of smart
society was not, however, without its drawbacks, and on two occasions
during the period of my social début I was guilty of solecisms which I
still recall with a shudder.

One evening, the old Duchess of Dulchester was advertised to give a ball
which the King and Queen intended honouring by their presence. I was duly
invited, and, seeing that the hour given on my card was 10.15 ("Small and
Late"), determined that my first appearance in royal circles should not
be marred by unpunctuality. At twenty minutes past ten I accordingly
walked up the steps of Dulchester House, crossed the slip of red carpet
that proclaimed the presence of Royalty, and rang the bell.

I was surprised that the door should not be immediately flung open, and
wondered if by chance I had come to the wrong house. After a brief delay,
however, I was admitted by a panting menial, and presently three or four
more domestics hastily appeared upon the scene and relieved me of my hat
and coat, at the same time giving me a ticket bearing the number 32. I
welcomed this as a sign that at least thirty-one men had arrived before
me, but could not help feeling that there was something wrong from the
more than usually patronising expression upon the butler's face. With
some natural diffidence I politely enquired of this personage whether I
were not right in supposing that the Duchess was giving a dance that
night. The butler smiled in rather a superior manner and answered that my
surmise was perfectly correct. He added, however, that Her Grace was also
entertaining some sixty guests at dinner, and that the gentlemen had not
yet left the dining-room. I hastily resumed my coat and hat and went for
a walk. After sauntering twelve times round the square until I felt that
I had roused the worst suspicions in the breast of the policeman at the
corner, I returned to Dulchester House.

I was now glad to find a long string of carriages at the door disgorging
their occupants as fast as possible under the patient superintendence of
an Inspector of police. I struggled up the front stairs in the midst of a
horde of fashionable people, and was just wondering whether I should put
on my new pair of white gloves before or after I had shaken hands with my
hostess, when the problem was solved by my reaching the top of the stairs
and being informed by a servant that the Duchess was at that moment
engaged in taking part in a Royal quadrille.

I wormed my way into the ballroom and was happily engaged in watching the
edifying spectacle of a number of elderly persons walking solemnly about
to music holding each other's hands in a stately but rather anxious
manner, when I suddenly realised that I was the only person present in
trousers, all the other men being clad in knee-breeches. Alas! I had not
been warned of the etiquette which makes it customary for all loyal
subjects of the male sex to expose their calves to the gaze of their
Sovereign. With a guilty sinking of the heart I stole downstairs and made
my way home.

The very next night I had been bidden to an evening party (10:30 "French
Play") given by the Zeltingers in Portland Place. This time I was
determined not to arrive too early. I also looked carefully through the
papers in the morning, and in one of them discovered a paragraph which
distinctly stated that His Majesty had expressed his intention of
attending Lady Zeltinger's soirée, at which a clever troupe of Parisian
actors, specially imported for the occasion, would give a representation
of that celebrated farce "Occupe-toi d'Amélie," followed by a brief
_revue_ which the Censor had declined to licence elsewhere.

At eleven o'clock, clad in brand-new knee-breeches, I mounted the
staircase in Portland Place and was ushered into the drawing-room. I
found a large company already assembled there, sitting tightly-packed on
small gold chairs listening to as much as they could understand (which
was luckily but little) of the French play.

My entrance caused a slight interruption, and a few people turned
irritably round and said "Sh-sh!", making me feel more than ever
conscious of the undraped condition of my legs. My bashfulness was not
mitigated by the appalling discovery that my morning paper had been
misinformed, and that no member of the Royal Family was present. Once
more I found myself conspicuous, this time among a host of trousered
fellow-men.

In an agony of self-consciousness I made my way out of the Zeltingers'
drawing room, and silently crept down the front stairs. On my way down I
met two guests, even more belated than myself, who mistook me for the
butler (doubtless on account of my legs) and insisted on whispering their
names into my reluctant ear. They were much astonished when I brusquely
declined to "announce" them.

It was a pity that I had to go home before the _revue_ came off, for that
was undoubtedly the _clou_ of the evening's entertainment. Indeed, the
remarks uttered by the heroine, a well-known artiste from the _Folies
Bergéres_, were more than once of a nature to cause a ripple to cross
that sea of phlegmatic British faces which composed her audience. It was
curious, as I was afterwards told, to watch the guests gazing anxiously
at one another in a wild endeavour to find out whether it were safe to
laugh at jokes which would not have been tolerated in English in any
decent smoking room.

Although my existence for the next two years may be said to have been
nothing more nor less than a constant round of pleasure and social
gaiety, it must not be imagined that the serious issues of life were
altogether neglected or forgotten. After the experience of freedom and
interest acquired on active service in South Africa, soldiering at home
seemed more than usually dull and futile. With the consent, therefore, of
my father, I decided to resign my commission in the army and seek for
fame in that wider political sphere in which his influence was still to
be felt.

With this laudable end in view, I approached the official agents of that
political party with which I was least in disagreement, and was fortunate
enough to obtain permission to contest the old Northamptonshire division
of Slasham which had long been considered a stronghold of the
Conservative party.

This safe Tory seat, as it was then considered, had become vacant on the
death of that staunch old British squire Sir Isaac Goldman. Sir Isaac had
spent many thousands upon the constituency, and his well-known opposition
to anything in the nature of "grandmotherly legislation" ensured for his
posters a prominent position in the windows of every public-house in
Slasham.

In my effort to continue the good work so ably initiated by my
predecessor, I spared neither myself nor my father's purse. There was not
a slate club nor a Christmas goose-fund within a radius of ten miles of
Slasham to which I did not contribute liberally. I even attended the
local football matches, at one of which I was good-natured enough to
allow myself to be persuaded to "kick off." On this occasion I
unfortunately missed the ball altogether, and suddenly became the centre
of a dense scrum of human beings from which I only managed to extricate
myself at the cost of a ruined hat and some considerable loss of dignity.

At the annual Farmers' Dinner I made a great point of "taking the chair."
I had been told that the favourite song of the late Member was a
patriotic ditty entitled "Soldiers of the Queen," the chorus of which Sir
Isaac Goldman rendered, in a voice choked by Imperialistic sentiments and
old port, somewhat as follows:

  "Zey're zoldiers off der Qveen, mein poys,
  'Oo've zeen, mein poys,
  'Oo've peen, mein poys," etc.

Following so worthy a precedent, I had lessons from a well-known
professor of singing, who taught me to breathe with that part of my
anatomy which I had hitherto used solely for purposes of digestion. I was
thus enabled to sing "Boys of the Bulldog Breed!" and other national
ballads in a manner which gave universal satisfaction. Indeed, one old
farmer, who had lost all his teeth--a fact which added to the
difficulties of verbal intercourse, since, as Hazelton remarked, one
might as well have attempted to converse with a pair of muffled
nut-crackers--declared that he had inhabited the parish of Slasham for
ninety years, man and boy, come Michaelmas, but had never heard anything
to compare with my singing. Such a testimonial was well worth having, the
memory of this critic carrying him easily back to the date of Queen
Victoria's coronation, an occasion which was fitly celebrated in loyal
Slasham by the oiling and repairing of the village pump.

My electioneering campaign proved a lengthy and arduous undertaking, and,
I regret to say, ended disastrously both for myself and my party. I was,
of course, a political tiro, and had little or no experience of platform
oratory. When, for instance, at my first meeting, an ill-mannered person
heckled me as to my views upon the Education question, I could only reply
that I myself had been educated at Eton and that I thought this a good
enough education for anybody. This answered did not seem to satisfy my
interrogator, nor indeed any member of my audience. My opponent, on the
other hand, whose name was Ezra Huish, was a dissenting lawyer with a
large practice at the bar and a gift of eloquence which enabled him to
speak with fluency upon any subject at a moment's notice. It ill befits
me to say anything derogatory of a political adversary, but I am not
divulging a secret when I state that Mr. Huish had no pretensions to
being a gentleman. He was, I am ashamed to state, the son of a cash
chemist who lived at Northampton. I give him credit for the fact that he
made no attempt to conceal the truth about his birth. It is therefore all
the more remarkable that this fact should not have prejudiced him more
than it did in the eyes of those of his constituents who, like myself,
desired that the destinies of Empire should be controlled exclusively by
gentlemen. I am not in any way bigoted, and I know that a man cannot be
held responsible for the accident of his birth. I realise, too, that many
great businesses, railways, banks and other commercial concerns have on
occasion been successfully managed by men who sprang from the people. But
I feel sure that I am only voicing the unanimous opinion of my class when
I say that it is essential for the maintenance of the Constitution that
the affairs of Empire should be conducted by _gentlemen_ who are prepared
to consider the questions of the day with open minds, unbiased by any
kind of commercial or business experience whatsoever.

I endeavoured to carry on my campaign in an upright and straightforward
manner, thereby disappointing many of the humbler electors who had been
accustomed to the somewhat hazardous financial methods of Sir Isaac
Goldman. My opponent, however, though luckily not rich enough to resort
to actual bribery, adopted a more dubious course. Indeed, he did not
hesitate to flatter the ignorant electors with promises of Old Age
Pensions, Small Holdings, schemes for the Better Housing of the Poor and
other social reforms of those various impractical kinds which only
Radical governments attempt to impose upon the inhabitants of a free
country.

Mr. Huish was what we should nowadays term a Socialist; that is to say he
thought it an anomaly that a small section of the population of England
should be living in luxury and plenty while millions of their poorer
brethren starved in the slums. Such views seem, of course, ridiculous to
men of birth and wealth who have studied the rudiments of political
economy and realise how greatly to the people's advantage is the
existence of multi-millionaires. But to the poor and uneducated arguments
of a revolutionary kind must ever appeal, and I have no doubt that a
large number of the unemployed artisans of Slasham, who were always on
the verge of starvation, were tempted by the inflammatory speeches of my
opponent to grudge the splendour in which most of their wealthier
neighbours dwelt.

Mr. Ezra Huish pandered to the lowest passions of the mob. He aired his
socialistic opinions freely at the expense of the aristocracy, accusing
them not only of indolence but even of intellectual incompetence. (How
misinformed was my opponent I pointed out in a letter to the _Tylesworth
Herald_ in which I published a list of the peers and other titled
personages who figured with prominence upon the prospectuses of various
City Companies. Many of these men, though quite unknown to the general
public or even to their fellows in the House of Lords, were nevertheless
doing their work silently and laboriously at monthly Board Meetings,
earning their guineas and the respect of all those financiers who had
induced them to lend their names and talents to the promotion of those
great business concerns upon whose directorate they sat.) Not only, as I
say, did Mr. Huish level the most gross personal attacks against myself
and my family and class, but in his passion to display me as unworthy to
represent the electors of Slasham, he even made use of weapons which I
can only describe as dishonourable and un-English. Not content with
raking up the old Saltingborough Scandal of which my poor father had been
the innocent victim, he descended so low in his campaign of bitterness
and vituperation as to recount upon a public platform one of the few
unfortunate incidents of my own otherwise blameless past--an incident
which all decentminded persons had long forgotten. The facts of the case
were as follows: Soon after I entered the army I was unlucky enough to
become entangled with a young person who, although (as she assured me)
the daughter of a country clergyman, added to her parent's precarious
income by earning a small salary in he second row of the chorus of a
Musical Comedy. To cut a long story short, my dear father eventually paid
this lady a large sum of money to stay those proceedings for Breach of
Promise by which I was threatened, and I was thus not compelled to
contract the unsuitable matrimonial alliance which at one time seemed to
be the only honourable solution of the difficulty. An accident of this
sort may happen to any young man who is by nature warmhearted and
sentimental, and my friends in society never, I am sure, thought any the
worse of me on that account. But at Slasham, where views upon morality
were provincial and bigoted, the exaggerated reports of my early romance
caused me the loss of a large number of votes, not only among the
Nonconformists, which I should not have minded so much, but actually
among voters of my own religious persuasion. This naturally helped to
turn the scale in the favour of my opponent and added to the difficulties
of my campaign.

When I started out upon a parliamentary career I confess that my
knowledge of political questions was somewhat vague. I had of course been
brought up in a decent Conservative household, and was aware that the
Conservative party enjoyed a monopoly of patriotism, of religion, of
morality and good taste. I knew too that Radicals were mostly individuals
of a kind that one was never likely to meet in society--second-class
persons, working men, even dissenters--whom one pities rather than
despise. I had been taught during the South African War that a vote given
to any Liberal Candidate meant a vote given to the Boers, but I had not
yet discovered--what we have all learnt to-day--that a vote given to the
Radicals is a vote given to the German Emperor. The Liberals were not
then, as of course they now are actively in league with Germany, and
anxious to hand themselves and the Empire over to the Kaiser.

I had never been able to devote much time to the study of Imperial
concerns, being generally too busy to attend to any but my own private
affairs, though from time to time I had glanced at the brief daily
summary of parliamentary proceedings furnished by the halfpenny papers.
My grandfather and father before me had both been Conservatives, and I
rightly felt that whatever satisfied them was more than good enough for
me. Lord Bellinger was a particularly staunch partisan. I remember once,
in my youth, praising in his presence a man named Williams whom I had met
casually at a London dinner party. In conversation, appearance and
manner, Williams seemed to me a most charming and intellectual person,
and I told my father that I hoped to make his closer acquaintance.

"Williams?" replied my father. "Williams? Isn't he that Radical fellow?"

His voice trembled with very natural scorn and indignation, and I could
only hang my head in silence at the reproof implied by his tone. I
borrowed a copy of "Who's Who," later on, and discovered that my father
had been right: the man was a Radical. I blush even now with shame to
think how nearly I came to being led by a plausible manner into believing
Williams to have been a gentleman. It was an unpardonable mistake, but
one that I have never repeated. A little care should always enable one to
tell a man's politics by his appearance. Since I studied the question I
have noticed that Conservatives adopt an air of honest, easy, complacent
self-assurance which, combined with wellfitting clothes, may be said to
be the mark of the true gentleman. Radicals, on the other hand, do not
seem to care how badly they dress--I have actually seen one at a theatre
in evening clothes and a _black_ tie!--and though occasionally some of
them patronise decent tailors and thereby pose as being better than they
are, the cloven hoof and the hairy heel are generally visible, and I at
any rate am never taken in by their pseudo-gentility.

Once or twice foreigners or other ignorant persons have enquired of me
whether I was a Conservative or a Liberal. My answer has invariably been
the same. "Sir," I have said, "I am an English gentleman who has the
welfare of his country at heart. I do not desire to witness the upheaval
of the Constitution, the downfall of the Throne, the ruin of England's
industries, the disbanding of her army, the breakup of her Poor Law. I
am, in my humble way, a patriot. I leave it to you to conjecture what my
politics must be." In nine cases out of ten my interrogator has guessed
correctly that I am a Conservative, content to live up to the family
traditions and if possible plant my steps in the footprints which my
father has marked so deeply in the sands of the parliamentary seashore.

At the time of which I write the great Fiscal controversy was in its
infancy, and although my great-grandfather had been a Lancashire man and
a Free Trader, my father, as I have already stated, became converted to
Tariff Reform in his dotage, and was never tired of clamouring for a high
protective duty upon everything except hops. My mother, on the other
hand, who frequently disagreed with her husband upon minor matters, was a
disciple of Richard Cobden. I remember her assuring me with tears in her
eyes that it was infinitely preferable that, under Free Trade, food
should be cheap and the working man have no money wherewith to buy it,
than that he should possess wages with which, under Protection, it would
be impossible for him to purchase expensive food.

I considered the question carefully for nearly a whole week and finally
came to the conclusion that I should be acting not only wisely but also
in accordance with my principles if I followed the example of my father
and advocated the cause of Protection. I had always shared my parent's
hatred of taxation. I agreed and still agree with those famous words of
his which occur in the celebrated speech he delivered at Basingstoke more
than half a century ago: "All taxes are bad," he said, "but if they must
be paid at all, it seems to me to be imperative, nay essential, that they
should be paid by the foreigner and not by Englishmen!"

A great many solutions of the Fiscal Question have been suggested at
different times. To me the whole affair seems simple in the extreme. My
idea has always been to erect round the coasts of Great Britain a tariff
wall high enough to keep out all foreign commercial rivals--thus
providing Britons with more employment and higher wages--and yet not so
high as to prevent the entry of sufficient imports to give the country
the necessary revenue and thus relieve the native of the burden of
taxation. This sounds a reasonable plan, I should have thought, and yet I
have found the greatest difficulty in impressing its beauties and
benefits upon my Free Trade constituents.

As though to confirm my own Protectionist views and assist me in the
prosecution of my political campaign, an admirable example of the
disadvantages attendant upon Free Trade arose within the very limits of
my Northamptonshire constituency. I need hardly say that I lost no
opportunity of making good use of this in my election speeches.

Two miles from the town of Slasham stands the huge Reformatory for
Youthful Criminals known as the Swableigh Institute. Here some five or
six hundred boys and youths, convicted of theft, arson, petty larceny or
incorrigible truancy, are trained to become decent citizens, soldiers,
sailors, and even (in four cases) members of Parliament. That the
education they receive is all that can be desired may be gathered from
the fact that among "old Swableigh boys" may be numbered no less than two
peers and fifteen Company Promoters, one of whom has recently attained
the dignity of a Privy Councilor.

For many years the Swableigh Institute was famous for the manufacture of
tables and chairs, and, as a result of this industry, the Reformatory was
a thriving concern, paying over six per cent to the shareholders. A short
time before my campaign at Slasham, however, the sudden importation of
machine-made furniture from Norway gave rise to such keen competition
that Swableigh was compelled to cut its prices and eventually to
capitulate before the local furniture dealers. For some reason or other,
which I have never been able to discover, the Norwegian merchant was able
to manufacture rough machine-made sections of chairs and tables and place
them upon the English market at a price lower than the actual cost of the
Englishman's raw materials. The result was, of course, fatal to British
trade. The working classes of this country, whose sense of patriotism is
but latent, if it exists at all, declined to emulate the methods of their
foreign confréres by accepting smaller wages and living largely upon
horseflesh,--which, though perhaps an unpleasant form of food, is by no
means uneatable--and black bread which (as I gather from a Conservative
newspaper) is considered a luxury by members of our Royal family--nor
were they willing to pay more than was absolutely necessary for any
article. They consequently bought nothing but cheap chairs and tables
made by the English dealers from the rough-shaped Norwegian sections, and
the once thriving industry of Swableigh waned and finally expired
altogether.

It used to make me very sad, when I went over the Reformatory on the
occasion of the annual Visitors' Inspection--I was one of the original
Directors of the concern--to see that crowd of healthy happy little
criminals drilling on the parade-ground or playing in the recreation
field, and realise that, but for the fatuous and burdensome policy of
Free Trade under which we groan and suffer, each one of those six hundred
lads might easily have been provided with at least two hours more work a
day. It was indeed shocking to contemplate the amount of time wasted upon
physical drill or hockey which might otherwise have been devoted to
honest industry of the kind which would provide the shareholders with a
satisfactory dividend.

When, however, I tried to point out the grievous injustice of all this to
my electors I was chilled by their total lack of sympathy. Though I
explained at some length how, by putting a thumping tax on Norwegian
imports, the Swableigh Institute would once more become a humming hive of
industry, supplying its directors with a suitable salary, instead of
being, as it now is, a mere training-ground and school, my constituents
listened to my appeal respectfully but without apparent emotion. It was
not until the election had been fought and lost that I discovered the
cause of their apathy. It was then too late to feel anything but acute
disappointment in my countrymen.

The selfishness of the labouring man--of which I have already had
occasion to complain--is only one degree less lamentable than that fatal
disinclination for work which he perpetually evinces. I have sometimes
stood for more than an hour at a stretch at my library window watching
the gardeners at work, and wondering why great strong men were not
ashamed to spend the precious time so unprofitably. The leisurely way in
which they plant bulbs or tickle the paths with a rake makes me despair
for the future of England. I believe the working man would sooner do
nothing at all than dig in a flower bed or cart manure. He has no
conception of the dignity of labour; he takes no interest in work for
work's sake. It is not only in the country that we find this apathy. Even
in London I remember, when the road was being re-paved outside Bellinger
House, I used to be amazed at the laziness of the workmen--I could see
them from my room as I breakfasted in bed--and I even wrote to the
Country Council to complain, but without much result.

The selfishness of the working man--to repeat myself--who prefers to buy
his goods in the cheapest market rather than benefit the Empire by living
less well and more expensively, is symptomatic not only of the lower
classes but also I regret to say, of the lower middle-class. Slasham has
always been the centre of a large section of the furniture trade, each
dealer in the town employing a great many hands in the conduct of his
business. At one time, when the Swableigh Institute was at the zenith of
its fame, these dealers found themselves unable to compete with the
output of the Reformatory, where labour was, of course, exceptionally
cheap. Their profits had accordingly showed signs of diminution, if not
of complete disappearance, when the first cargo of Norwegian woodwork
reached these shores. The advent of the foreigner's material caused a
startling and unexpected change. The Slasham dealers were now able to
import the half-made articles for themselves--in some cases making a few
unimportant alterations or additions, so as to render them more suitable
for home consumption--and after assembling the various pieces, retail the
furniture at an enhanced price to the simple countryfolk of England. In
this way they were able to compete as middlemen with the Reformatory and
make a substantial profit.

The lack of public spirit shown in such a transaction is almost
unbelievable. I should not myself have given the most bankrupt dealer
credit for such a display of unpatriotism, had I not been supplied with
ample evidence to prove the truth of my assertions. After this it was but
a mild shock to hear the small farmer declare that he could see no
possible advantage to himself in any policy of Colonial Preference. If
the vote of the elector is to depend upon personal or financial
considerations, the future outlook of England is indeed a gloomy one and
the disruption of the Empire cannot long be deferred.

The Slasham by-election came to a close on a Friday evening in June.
Owing partly to the fact that Mr. Huish had been nursing the constituency
for years, and partly, as I have explained, to the extraordinary
wrong-headedness of the electors, the poll resulted in a majority of over
1,200 votes in favour of my opponent. As the seat had been held by
Conservatives ever since 1832, this was a severe blow both to my pride
and to the cause for which I laboured. To say that I suffered
disappointment would be to express in too mild terms the exact state of
my feelings. After the way I have lavished time and money upon the
electors of Slasham, the small measure of support afforded to me was
little short of a personal affront. I have, however, long ceased to
expect gratitude from the lower classes, and if they preferred to be
represented in Parliament by a man who, however able, was the son of a
cash chemist, it was no business of mine to question their right of
selection, though I might and did doubt the wisdom of their choice.

I did not, however, allow myself to be too greatly overwhelmed by my
defeat. I determined to look only upon the bright side, and put away all
despairing thoughts as to the pigheadedness of the electors. Hazelton
cheered me up a good deal by his sympathy and counsel. "Let the silly
beggars stew in their own juice!" he observed very wisely on the evening
of the declaration of the poll.

This political defeat, coming as it did at a critical moment in the life
of my party, evoked an outburst of offensive triumph in the Radical
Press, and proved a severe shock to the Conservative leaders. One of
them, indeed, was so tactless as to show his petty irritation by cutting
me in St. James's Street on the day following the by-election. The fact
that all Conservatives were not so narrow-minded as to attribute my
defeat to personal causes was shortly made clear by my election to the
Carlton Club, and, sore though I was at my failure, it was pleasant to
realise that I was not to be held entirely responsible for the turning
tide of Radicalism which was so soon to swamp and demoralise the country.



CHAPTER VIII - FOREIGN TRAVEL


The electoral campaign proved, as might have been expected, a severe
strain upon my constitution, and it was some time before I recovered my
usual spirits. The family doctor whom I prudently consulted prescribed
complete rest and change, and suggested that a sea voyage (combined with
a strong tonic) might set me on my legs again. Acting on this advice I
decided to travel abroad for some months and thus recuperate my exhausted
body and at the same time, if possible, still further enlarge my mind.

My father had always been very anxious that I should become better
acquainted with Greater Britain, and, as he kindly volunteered to pay all
my travelling expenses, I was only too ready to fall in which his ideas.
I had long desired an opportunity of visiting our Colonies--those vast
territories beyond the seas which we are so proud to possess, whose
inhabitants we regard with such affectionate superiority, and who look
upon the Motherland with a contempt which is too kindly to prevent them
from allowing her the privilege of defraying the cost of their maritime
defence.

It was at this period of his life that my friend Ginger Hazelton became
foolishly entangled with a married woman named Mrs. Carter-Pickford, and
attempted to extricate himself in a fashion that could only end in
disaster. The feeling against him in society was so strong that he
thought it wise to leave the country for a time until the scandal had
blown over. I was thus fortunate enough to be able to inspire him with an
interest in the Empire, and had little difficulty in inducing him to
accompany me upon my journey.

Before giving an account of our foreign tour I may as well say something
on the subject of the affair which caused Hazelton to leave England so
readily.

Mrs. Carter-Pickford, the lady who was at once the cause and the victim
of this unfortunate scandal, was a fluffy little person with large blue
eyes and small white hands. She had married George Carter-Pickford, a
wealthy but tiresome stockbroker, for the reasons that so many girls
marry such men. He was extremely rich, and she was terribly tired of her
mother's society. The latter, Mrs. Rossiter by name, was the widow of an
Indian judge and lived at Camberley--a region that is much infested by
retired Civil servants in every stage of senile decay--in a small stucco
villa called "Mayview Lodge," with a semicircular carriage-drive lined by
a dozen rather grimy laurel bushes. Amid such depressing surroundings
Grace Rossiter led a dull existence, and it was with feelings of relief
rather than joy that she accepted the proposal of George Carter-Pickford
that she should share his name and fortune.

Soon after marriage Grace found that her husband's wealth did not bring
her all the happiness she deserved, and, as her mother insisted upon
using the Carter-Pickford house in Eaton Square as an hotel, and spent
the greater part of the year as her guest, it sometimes occurred to Grace
that she might just as well have remained a spinster at Camberley for all
the fun that she was deriving from matrimony. She was consequently in a
very dissatisfied frame of mind and what is called "looking for trouble"
when she chanced to meet Ginger Hazelton at a concert held at Romford
House in aid of Woman's Suffrage. Carter-Pickford was Ginger's
stockbroker, and had advised him to invest large sums in South African
securities in which he had lost a considerable sum of money. Hazelton,
therefore, felt naturally drawn towards Grace, and found a common bond of
sympathy in their mutual dislike of Carter-Pickford. They spent a happy
half-hour together at Romford House over a loud and prolonged discussion
of a recent novel (written by a woman) which was considered so improper
that everybody declared it to be unfit to read and the two first editions
were sold out on the day of publication. So earnest did their argument
become that they were quite unaware of the fact that a professional
singer, who had kindly volunteered his services in the sacred cause of
Woman's Rights, was ploughing his way through a cycle of twenty-seven
songs by Brahms. It was only when a lady of title, who had thoughtfully
divested herself of most of her garments, gave a dance which the
programme euphemistically referred to as "classical" that they began to
take an interest in the entertainment. Indeed, their conversation was
brought to a sudden close when the distinguished dancer began hurling
flowers among the audience with grace and vigour, and a peculiarly fine
specimen of the tulip variety caught Ginger a shrewd blow between the
eyes. When order had once more been restored they were able to continue
their chat, though occasionally interrupted by another strong-minded
woman who was describing with extraordinary eloquence how she had proved
her fitness for the Franchise by biting two wardresses in Holloway Prison
where she had been brutally incarcerated in accordance with the man-made
law which forbids one to throw an empty bottle at a Cabinet Minister.

That evening, when Grace returned to Eaton Square, she knew that she
loved Ginger Hazelton passionately. She at once set to work to win the
young soldier's heart, and soon succeeded in stimulating it to an
unaccustomed celerity which caused its owner a good deal of pleasurable
perturbation. She literally threw herself, in fact, at the head of this
susceptible young man and effectually contrived to turn it without much
difficulty. Being of an unreserved and garrulous disposition Grace
managed to let the state of her feelings become generally known. And
Society, which is instinctively kind to lovers--even though they may be
concealing the most amorous of indiscretions behind the burly form of the
philosopher Plato--aided and abetted her in every possible way. Wherever
Ginger went he was always sure of finding Grace Carter-Pickford. At every
country house in which he stayed she was included in the list of guests.
At London dinner-parties thoughtful hostesses placed them side by side,
shaking their heads after they had gone and saying that they really
didn't know what the world was coming to.

Ginger was naturally flatted at receiving such marked attention from a
decidedly pretty woman, and behaved with less discretion than was perhaps
wise. At a ball at Carlton House he sat out five consecutive dances with
Grace in the garden, and when they returned to the ballroom it was
observed that he had forgotten to brush his shoulder. Again, at a
water-party at Taplow, Grace and he got lost in the woods together, and
did not return home until long after midnight, when they had to be left
in by the night-watchman. The explanation with which they subsequently
furnished an indignant hostess, to the effect that they had mislaid their
punt-pole and been forced to walk home from Pangbourne, was received with
the icy and incredulous silence which it deserved.

On Grace's twenty-sixth birthday Ginger, with that originality of mind
for which soldiers have long been famous, presented her with a copy of
Fitzgerald's translation of the _Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám_. On the
flyleaf of this book he was inspired to write a few lines stating that if
only she were singing at his side and he were allowed a little light
refreshment, a wilderness would be enough for him. Grace had no ear for
music and was never allowed to sing at home. Any vocal exercises which
she might have performed in a wilderness or elsewhere would probably have
proved more than enough for most men. She was, however, much touched by
the kindly if inappropriate quotation, but would have been less flattered
had she realised that Ginger had already inscribed the very same words on
two former occasions in giftbooks which were now reposing on the shelves
of other women.

Grace Carter-Pickford was what is known as a "sweet woman." In her
efforts to please Ginger she became more saccharine than ever, until even
he, sweettooth though he was, grew conscious of a rising feeling of
mental nausea which her archness only served to accentuate. Her sweetness
expressed itself in various forms, some of which Ginger, who was a
self-conscious young man, found far from palatable. She displayed her
affection for him openly in front of his friends and would address him in
endearing terms in public places in a fashion that made him painfully
shy. She hated letting him out of her sight, would question him
rigorously as to his movements, and made him account to her for every
moment of the day spent away from her side. Finally, she acquired the
habit of tenderly ruffling his hair--a thing that he particularly
loathed. The climax was reached, however, when she appeared in his rooms
in Jermyn Street one evening and implored him to elope with her to Paris.
Ginger was a very obliging young man, but the prospect did not appeal to
him. He was already heavily in debt to various tradesmen; he had dinner
engagements which would make it inconvenient to leave London until the
end of July; and he knew that L600 a year was scarcely a sufficient
income upon which to support another man's wife in Paris.

His obvious reluctance proved a serious shock to Mrs. Carter-Pickford,
and when she had economically suggested Switzerland as a compromise and
he still seemed disinclined to fall in with her views or let her make
what is called an honest man of him, she was cut to the quick. She told
him angrily that he was just like every other man, and was very much
annoyed when he replied that he had never considered himself a freak. She
even threatened to take the veil and retire permanently into a convent
near Strathpeffer which she had heard of as being comfortable, with an
excellent cuisine, but Ginger was able to dissuade her from taking so
extreme a step. Instead, she returned to Eaton Square and confessed to
her husband, who was almost as angry with Ginger as she had been, saying
that he had certainly not behaved like a gentleman, and refusing to
undertake any more of his financial transactions in the City.

Hazelton, thus deprived at one fell swoop of both love and stockbroker,
retired from active society life for a time and agreed to join me on my
Colonial tour.

In the short time at our disposal it was impracticable to contemplate a
visit to more than one of Great Britain's Oversea possession. We
determined therefore to confine our attention to "Our Lady of the Snows,"
as the Dominion of Canada has been somewhat erroneously termed by our
greatest living English poet. Hazelton and I were both good sailors, as
we had often proved while crossing the Channel on our way to spend a few
days together at Ostend or in Paris. We consequently made up our minds to
travel in a leisurely fashion across the Atlantic, and on a fine
afternoon in July left Liverpool on board the Hudson Transport Company's
_S.S. Elysian_, which was not timed to arrive in Quebec for at least ten
days.

Our sea-voyage was quite uneventful, but not uninteresting. My experience
of ocean travelling had, as I have said, hitherto been confined to
numerous passages of the Channel, and I spent part of the first day on
the _Elysian_ discussing the science of navigation with a uniformed
official whom I took to be the captain but afterwards discovered to be
the deck-steward. We had a concert in the first class saloon one night,
when Hazelton distinguished himself by singing "Grandma's teeth are
plugged with zinc" and other humorous songs, notably perhaps two parodies
entitled "The Devout Plover" and "Oh, dry those ears!" A Presbyterian
minister who chanced to be on board insisted on giving what he called a
"Reading from Charles Dickens" which lasted for over forty minutes and
was quite inaudible. He also conducted a still lengthier service on the
Sunday, at which however I found myself unable to be present.

Our fellow-passengers were a deplorably dull collection of human beings,
and experience has since taught me that persons who cross the ocean are
as a rule exceedingly second-rate and tiresome. I have indeed sometimes
gone so far as to wonder, on reading the account of a passenger steamer
being lost with all on board, whether such a tragedy were not a merciful
dispensation of Providence whereby the world is occasionally
disembarrassed of some of its least agreeable inhabitants.

For the sake of economy Hazelton and I travelled without our servants,
thereby suffering all the inconveniences consequent upon such a
sacrifice. When the moment came for packing our trunks we found ourselves
particularly handicapped by the absence of domestics. My man Gregson was
one of those excellent valets to whom packing is more of an art than a
duty. My own attempts to emulate his example, though much less
complicated in their method, were not nearly so successful in their
results. My plan, indeed, consisted of thrusting all my clothes pell-mell
into their boxes, and relying upon Providence to find room for them
there. In this, as I fear in many other matters, Providence often failed
to justify my confidence. "If you want a thing well done, do it
yourself," is an adage I have often heard extolled, unjustifiably, I
think, since it is nowadays generally admitted that if you want a thing
well done it is far better to employ an expert to do it for you. Before I
left England my two portmanteaux had been so neatly and dexterously
filled by my valet that there was room and to spare for all my clothes.
After ten days on board ship, when I attempted to repack, my wardrobe
seemed to have expanded to such an extent that I had the greatest
difficulty in getting it into my trunks at all. By dint of jumping up and
down for some time on the lid of my second portmanteau I managed at last
to turn the key in the lock, and it was not until I had strapped it up
that I found I had forgotten to include my pyjamas and slippers. My
dressing-case had been comparatively empty when I started, but its
contents swelled so during the voyage that I could find no room for my
hair-brushes, and in trying to shut the bag I broke a bottle of
Brilliantine over my sponge. The problem of making the less contain the
greater, which had puzzled Euclid many years ago, occupied my thoughts
very frequently during the last hours spent on the _Elysian_, and it was
in a hectic condition of mind and body that I joined Hazelton on deck as
the steamer came to anchor in the harbour at Quebec.

This volume makes no pretensions to being in any way a guide-book. I do
not therefore propose to give any vivid descriptions of the scenery of
Canada or the customs of its inhabitants. I shall leave that to abler
pens than mine, merely contenting myself with a few personal impressions
gathered in the course of a journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific
across that broad Dominion which is by no means the most insignificant
part of our Imperial heritage.

Hazelton and I only stayed two days at Quebec. During that brief time,
however, we were able to leave our cards upon the Governor-General, who
happened to be in residence at the Citadel but for some unexplained
reason neglected to invite us to enjoy his renowned hospitality. We also
visited the famous Montmorenci Falls, a romantic torrent across which an
acrobat was engaged in walking on a tightrope as an advertisement for
somebody's pills. We also spent a pleasant afternoon on the Heights of
Abraham, and gazed with reverence at the spot where, within a few yards
of the new convict prison and in sight of the new small-arms factory, the
hero Wolfe "fell victorious."

We left Quebec on a Sunday evening, reaching Ottawa, the capital of the
Dominion, on the following day, and at once resumed our journey in that
comfortable Canadian Pacific Railway train which was destined to carry us
as far West as Vancouver.

The scenery at which Hazelton and I gazed from the window of our
"drawing-room"--as the section containing two sleeping-berths is
called--during the first day of our journey West, was picturesque but
monotonous. Mile after mile of well-wooded, wellwatered country,
reminiscent of the south of Ireland, with no sign of animal life to vary
the dead level of similarity, passed before our eyes. Hazelton and I were
in a merry mood, however, which no scenic monotony could dispel. Towards
five o'clock my companion declared jocosely that he had seen a bird. He
refused to disclose any further information upon the subject but, on
being pressed, stated that, as a matter of fact, he had also noticed,
about an hour ago, what appeared to him to be the footprints of a bear in
the sand at the edge of the railway line. In that humorous fashion for
which I may confess without boasting that I have always been noted, I
warned him that anything he might say would be taken down, altered, and
used in evidence against him. The following amusing cross-examination,
which perhaps shows what a delightfully frivolous frame of mind we were
in, ensued:

I. What did you do on seeing the bear-tracks?

H. Nothing.

I. Had you been drinking?

H. No.

I. Why Not?

H. Because at that time I hadn't seen the bear-tracks.

How funny we were, and how we laughed!

The only things of interest that I myself observed were large numbers of
lily-pads growing along the line. Lilypads, as I explained to Hazelton,
form the favourite if not the staple food of the moose. My friend denied
this, however, saying that it was well known that moose subsisted
exclusively upon the bark of trees. Hence the Canadian sport of
"moose-calling" in which the Indians are so skilled. The sportsman
(Hazelton assured me) conceals himself in a wood and gives vent to a
peculiar cry towards which the moose, mistaking it for the bark upon
which it loves to browse, hastens with an expectant air. On arriving
within a few yards of the hunter the confiding animal is blown up with a
shot-gun, and the day's sport comes to an end. The mysteries of Nature
are indeed strange.

The train bore us smoothly along, day and night, hour after hour, past
Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary, until at last we traversed the widespread
Rocky Mountains, and finally reached the little town of Vancouver. The
contrast between the bare and desolate prairie round Regina and the rich
undulating landscape which gladdened our eye directly we crossed the Bow
River was very startling. Still more startling was the sudden appearance
of that stupendous range of hills beneath whose shadow Calgary nestles.
Looking at those great stretches of Canadian prairie one is almost
tempted to think that at the Creation of the World Providence suffered
from some sort of temporary mental aphasia while this part of the country
was in process of being manufactured. After five or six hundred miles of
Providential inaction a twinge of conscience seems to have supervened,
and the creation of that wonderful country which surrounds the Rockies
has all the appearance of a tardy attempt to make amends.

It was soon after leaving Regina that we came upon our first prairie
fire, and I must admit that as a spectacle it was most disappointing. The
common idea of such a conflagration, as Hazelton justly remarked, is a
living mass of flames extending for a thousand miles in every direction,
and about a hundred yards high. When the settler sees it approaching his
homestead he mounts his fleet mustang, puts his wife on the pummel in
front of him, his baby in one pocket and his dog in the other, and
gallops day and night across the plains, hotly pursued by the fiery
elements. As the flames gradually gain upon him he sacrifices his wife,
dog and child, in whatever order his affection or the exigencies of the
moment demand, and at last escapes himself by plunging headlong into the
foaming rapids of an adjacent torrent. _Our_ prairie fire did not answer
in any particular to this description. It was indeed a ridiculously
inadequate affair, and could only have prompted the settler to walk up to
it and blow it out.

Within a week of leaving Quebec we arrived in Vancouver. Here we proposed
to spend at least ten days and see something of the country. Our plans
were, however, sadly frustrated by a tragic occurrence which at once put
an end to our brief holiday and (as far as I was concerned) completely
spoilt the enjoyment of the trip.

My first thought on settling down in the hotel at Vancouver had been to
write an account of my travels to my parents at home. Ever since I was a
boy I had always made a point of corresponding regularly with my family
whenever we were separated for more than ten days. The composition of my
weekly letter was, however, a domestic duty which habit had not yet
succeeded in robbing of its tedium. On this particular occasion
circumstances conspired to make it a peculiarly disagreeable task. The
implements with which the well-meaning Vancouver hotel management
supplied its guests for the purposes of calligraphy could hardly be
termed pens, save by a severe stretch of the imagination. They were,
indeed, as little adapted to the uses of correspondence as are those
captive blunt-nosed stubs of wood which telegraph-offices all over the
world are in the habit of providing for their long-suffering customers.
Three of them were irretrievably cross-nibbed, and the only remaining
sound one had a point like a pin. As though to add to my difficulties,
the ink was practically useless, the ink-pot being nearly empty, and such
liquid as it contained of the constituency of treacle. Hazelton suggested
that it had been made by mixing soot and glue and adding a few hairs just
to give the stuff a character of its own; whatever the process of its
manufacture, the result was deplorably unsuccessful.

Writing letters to the dear ones at home is a tiresome business at the
best of times; on this occasion I found it more than usually so. But I am
not the sort of man to be baffled by trifles--barriers, as Meredith said,
are meant to be surmounted--and though inwardly cursing the Management
for their neglect, I continued to carve my way laboriously across page
after page of the hotel notepaper. I was encouraged and upheld in the
accomplishment of this feat by the knowledge that the completion of my
self-imposed tasks would set me free for at least another week; that
until the following Sunday I need give no further thought to the dear but
distant relatives of whom I had taken farewell with such cheerful
fortitude a fortnight ago at Liverpool. I was, in fact, beginning to
experience that delightful feeling of ease and independence, so aptly
described by the hymnologist as "peace, perfect peace, with loved ones
far away," when a telegram was handed to me by one of the hotel servants
which put an altogether different complexion upon life. I read it
hurriedly through and handed it to Hazelton with a frown.

"We must go home at once, I suppose," he said as he gave it back.

"I'm afraid so," I replied.

The cable, which came from my mother, stated that my poor father had been
suddenly taken ill and that it was essential that I should return
forthwith. This, as may be imagined, was extremely inconvenient. I had
already unpacked my clothes, and it would take a long time to pack them
up again. Also I had set my heart on spending at least a month or six
weeks in Canada, so as to be in a position to write a book upon the
country on my return to England. There could be no question, however, of
my disobeying so urgent a summons, and Hazelton and I reappeared to
resume our places in the first east-bound C.P.R. train and hasten home as
quickly as possible. In the circumstances, a speedy journey was
imperative; we therefore decided to sacrifice our return tickets on the
Hudson line and take ship on some swifter American steamer.

Hurriedly packing our trunks as best we might, we hastened back to
Ottawa, and thence proceeded to New York. Here we found that we need only
spend twenty-four hours before embarking upon the SS. _Sardonic_ which
sailed for Liverpool on the following afternoon.

It has always been a matter of intense regret to me that my stay in
Canada was not sufficiently long to enable me to "get behind the native
mind," so to speak. My friends have often expressed a wish that I should
publish my views on Colonial affairs, but I have always felt a slight
hesitation in doing so without some further experience of the Colonies.
No doubt I am unique in this respect, a fortnight spent in any part of
the world being generally considered a sufficient excuse for a volume of
criticism. But in spite of its unfortunate conclusion my visit to Canada
was not, I hope, without benefit. My temporary presence in their midst
may possibly have shown our cousins across the sea that the Englishman's
interest in the Colonies is not exclusively confined to entertaining
Colonial visitors at garden-parties in London, where they are privileged
to meet a crowd of their own kinsmen, leavened by a few good-natured
members of Society haled in to give an air of distinction to what might
otherwise develop into a very suburban sort of entertainment. It also
enabled me to realise the vastness and fertility of the Empire in a way
that nothing short of personal inspection could have done. A leading
Canadian statesman whom I met in the train on the way home asked me what
I thought of the Dominion. "I shall be glad," I replied, "to tell my
friends in England that, so far from being but a few million acres of
snow and ice, Canada is a thriving land of promise, a land flowing with
milk and honey. They will be no less pleased and astonished to hear that
during the whole fortnight I have spent here I have never had occasion to
wear the fur-coat and snow-boots which my dear mother insisted upon my
bringing. On the contrary, I have seldom suffered so severely from the
heat as I have during the last week." The eminent Canadian smiled
politely at my remarks, but did not enthuse over my fulsome compliments
to the extent which they perhaps deserved. I dare say I was equally
unenthusiastic when he was good enough to explain to me--what most of his
own fellow-countrymen and but few of mine appreciate--how, as he said,
"Canada saved the Empire" at the time of the Boer War. It appears from
his account, that the thousand or so partially trained Canadians who
gallantly volunteered for active service in South Africa, being naturally
equipped with all those military qualities which make for success upon
the field of battle and which the professional soldier entirely lacks
were enabled so thoroughly to instruct our English regulars in the art
and science of war as to ensure a victory for the British arms. It is
strange that a fact like this, which is so patent to every loyal
Canadian, should somehow have escaped notice in England. I cannot account
for it at all.



CHAPTER IX - THE RETURN


I spent most of our only day in New York in what is called the Rotunda of
the Russell House, the hotel where we had made our headquarters. It was
at least a week since I had seen a daily newspaper, and I was anxious to
learn the news of the world. I therefore found a comfortable chair in the
Rotunda and settle down to enjoy a copy of the _New York Newsletter and
Brooklyn Bugle_ which a waiter had recommend to me as being one of the
"livest" papers in the City.

I may have been especially fortunate or the reverse, but the particular
copy of the paper that I got hold of contained sixty-seven pages of
reading matter, as well as half-a-dozen profusely illustrated Special
Supplements, and, life being short, I scarcely felt able to cope with
such a vast mass. The Fashion Supplement appeared to be composed
exclusively of advertisements of feminine underwear, illustrated by
portraits of eminently respectable but sparsely clad ladies, looking like
so many denuded governesses. The Comic Supplement, I admit, was
altogether beyond me. "The adventures of Uncle Pike" left me cold. I
found little to laugh at in the practical jokes of "Buster Brown." The
wiles of "Weary Willie" and the senile cunning of "Foxy Grandpa" did not
appeal to me, nor could I understand why every individual character in
these illustrations should be depicted as though in the act of exhaling
an air-balloon inscribed with humorous ejaculations. Even after
deciphering the latter I remained singularly unmoved.

Vainly did I search this amorphous mass of journalistic matter for news
of the great outer world for some account of the General Election, or the
Peace Conference, which were then taking place in England and at The
Hague. I was finally forced to the mournful conclusion that the American
public cared for none of these things, that they were not interested in
anything that happened without the limits of their own narrow experience.
I was not, I suppose, sufficiently conversant with the methods of
American journalism to know in what obscure corners of the paper I must
seek for foreign intelligence, and, after scanning column after column of
sensational news, my eye continually repelled by such headlines as
"Society Belle Suicides from Sky-scraper," "Met death in an Automobile,"
"Trolley-car Turns Turtle," I gave up the search in despair.

The _New York Newsletter and Brooklyn Bugle_, as I afterwards learnt from
an American acquaintance, is a paper which everybody abuses and everybody
reads. It aims at supplying its patrons with what they want, instead of
attempting--like its more sober English contemporaries--the difficult
task of educating the popular taste to appreciate something better.
Frankly sensational news, served up in a frankly sensational manner, must
always appeal to the baser side of human nature, and it is by pandering
to the most brutal and primitive instincts of its readers that the
_Bugle_ relies upon an ever-increasing circulation.

There is no doubt that when the average man opens his evening paper to
find himself confronted with two parallel columns of print, the one
headed "Bimetallism as a Factor in the State" and the other "Babes
Butchered by Baltimore Bride," his eye unconsciously selects the latter.
He may deplore the publication of revolting details, but that will not
prevent him from studying them.

The proprietor of the _Bugle_ realised the existence of that love of the
squalid which is one of the essential weaknesses of frail humanity, and
made of it the solid foundation of a unique journalistic success. The
staff of his paper had strict orders to confine their literary talents
within certain narrow limits; they were enjoined to refrain from
subtlety, to shun paradox, to avoid writing anything which might not at
first sight appear intelligible to the meanest mind. The news of the day
was thus conveyed to the groundlings in a direct, blunt and forcible
fashion, which left nothing to the imagination and did not in any way tax
the brain. No tragedy, however squalid, was hidden from public view; and
foreign correspondents vied with one another in ransacking the police
news of their various capitals for deeds of shame and cruelty
sufficiently hideous to fill the place of honour upon the front page of
the _Bugle_.

This page was entirely devoted to murders, suicides and sudden deaths; it
was embellished with portraits of criminals and their victims, and
printed in two, and sometimes three, colours--the more bloody the news
the more crimson being the ink employed in its dissemination. The reader
in search of horrors could thus tell at a glance exactly where to find
the tragedies his soul desired, and glut himself to his heart's content
without any undue waste of time. So long as he confined his attention to
the red ink, he need have no fear of being entrapped into reading a
political article or a book review.

Much of the remainder of the paper was given up to column advertisements
of patent "pick-me-ups," quack medicines, liniments, emulsions,
hair-restorers and so-called "lung tonics." Grateful patients who had
been cured of skin diseases of a peculiarly revolting character described
their symptoms with that total lack of reticence which distinguishes the
confidences of such individuals. The photographs accompanying these
testimonials were little calculated to add to the comfort or gaiety of
readers who were fortunate enough not to suffer from any aggressive form
of cuticular irritation. Other columns, again, were occupied by puffs of
patent breakfast-foods, which no doubt contained a sufficient percentage
of alcohol to render them popular with the temperate and abstemious, and
brought them within the legitimate reach of all total abstainers.

But the _Bugle_ did not appeal exclusively to lovers of sensation,
sufferers from eczema, and the advocates of temperance and the Simple
Life. It made a speciality of those "personal paragraphs" which figure so
conspicuously in modern journalism and give such pleasure to the curious
and the busybody. Descriptions of the orgies indulged in by New York's
"Four Hundred" were always acceptable to readers who did not happen to be
included within that select circle, or who enjoyed imaginative fiction
under any guise. And the _Bugle_ saw to it that the accounts of society
entertainments were composed in a suitably lurid style and with that
total disregard of truth which alone makes such "copy" readable.

The law of libel is, it appears, seldom carried into effect in the United
States--if indeed it exists--and no one would think it worth the trouble
(or expense) to ask a freeborn American judge and jury to convict a man
upon so trifling a charge as that of traducing the honour of a friend.
This fact does much to lighten the burden of responsibility under which
an American editor works, and, in any case, most of the misstatements
published by the _Bugle_ were of a comparatively harmless nature. It
arranged matrimonial alliances between New York girls and titled
foreigners who had never met one another--prematurely announcing, for
example, the forthcoming nuptials of the Grand Duke Isidor and Mrs.
Hosmer Vanfarden, before that lady have even attempted to divorce her
third husband. In this way it won a well-merited repute as the recognised
purveyor of scandal, the circulator of gossip, the revealer of society
secrets. No wonder, then, that it was widely read in the drawing-room as
well as on the trolley-car, and that its proprietor was so universally
respected that his name figured prominently among those of the candidates
to be nominated for the Presidency of the Republic.

Occasionally, it must be admitted, the society reporter of the _Bugle_
overstepped the bounds fixed by decency and good taste. For instance,
when he maligned the beautiful Miss Ivy Vansittart--a lady of
unimpeachable character and charming disposition, who had probably broken
more hearts than any other girl in New York--by suggesting that she was
no better than she should be, the insult raised a storm of indignation in
the bosoms of her many beaux. Several of the most chivalrous young men of
Newport society even went so far as to declare that they would certainly
have gone down to the office of the _Bugle_ and punched the proprietor's
head, if that gentleman had not been a comparatively elderly man, and so
extremely rich.

All this I learnt, as I say, from a chance American acquaintance whom
Hazelton had once met at the American Embassy in London and whom we were
now fortunate enough to run across in the Rotunda of the Russell House. I
was explaining to Mr. Howard P. Kimball, as he was called, that
sensational journalism was practically unknown in England, when Hazelton
drew my attention to an elderly gentleman who was just entering the
Rotunda. In the newcomer I was delighted to recognise Lord Warlingham,
whom I had not seen since that day in the train when he had mistaken me
for a ventriloquist.

The eminent peer did not notice us at once. Bearing a large bundle of
letters in his hand he crossed hurriedly to the fireplace and rang the
bell. As he did so one of the bell-boys of the hotel passed through the
room. Lord Warlingham turned to him rather irritably.

"Here, you page!" he said, "Bring me a Bradshaw!"

"Hi! Buttons!" he continued, as the boy prepared to pass on.

Thus addressed, the youth winced perceptibly. He had never been called
"Buttons" in the whole course of his life, and, though he did not
understand the allusion, probably suspected a veiled insult of some sort
against which his proud Republican spirit revolted. Then, seeing that the
remark proceeded from one whose side-whiskers proclaimed him to be an
Englishman, and who could not therefore be expected to know any better,
he decided to treat the remark with the contempt that he no doubt felt it
deserved. He gazed scornfully at Lord Warlingham for a moment and then
went calmly on his way, leaving the old gentleman a prey to the most
profound irritation.

"Confound his impudence!" exclaimed Lord Warlingham, as he rang the bell
again with a violence which but feebly expressed his indignation.

In a few moments another bell-boy appeared upon the scene bearing a large
pitcher of water which he proceeded to place upon the table at Lord
Warlingham's side.

"Here! What's this?" asked the latter.

"Ice-water, I guess."

"Take it away! I never ordered it. I wouldn't touch it for the world!
What on earth should I want with iced water? Do you think I have no
regard for my digestion?"

The bell-boy smiled impudently "Guess I never studied your digestion
any," he remarked.

"Then why do you bring me this ridiculous drink?" asked Lord Warlingham.

"You rang for it, mister, that's why."

"I did not ring for it, you cheeky young scoundrel!" Lord Warlingham was
rapidly becoming hectic.

"No need to get mad, anyway," suggested the youth. "You rang twice,
didn't you?"

"Well, and what if I did?"

"That means ice-water."

"Oh, indeed!" replied the peer, assuming his most satirical tone. "Do you
pretend to have reduced the science of telepathy to such a point that you
can ascertain the requirements of your guests by the manner in which they
press the bells?"

"I don't know anything about all that," said the bewildered boy.

"And suppose," continued the other sarcastically, "suppose I happened to
have a craving for--what shall we say?--ham or bananas or--"

"Ham and bananners," echoed the boy, scenting an opportunity of escape.
"Guess I'd better send a waiter." And in another moment he was gone.

Lord Warlingham gazed helplessly round. He realised no doubt that he was
a stranger in a strange and perhaps hostile land, ignorant of the
customs, even to a great extent of the language, of the country. He was
about to ring the bell for the third time when his attention was
attracted to the antics of a waiter who had brought a small table to his
side and was deftly covering it with a white cloth and a few plates.

"What's all this?" asked Lord Warlingham petulantly, pointing to a large
ham and a bunch of bananas which the man was laying reverently before
him.

"Your order, sir."

"My order?"

The waiter had no doubt been warned by the bell-boy, and was determined
to be patient with the distinguished lunatic.

"Will you take any crackers with the ham?" he enquired politely.

"Crackers! Do you think it's the fifth of November?" Lord Warlingham's
thoughts possibly reverted to the days of his extreme youth. What on
earth should he want with crackers at his age, he asked himself. Did the
man suppose that he was in his second childhood?

The waiter smiled tolerantly at this remarkable specimen of English
humour, and calmly continued making out the bill in duplicate.

"Will you need the whole ham?" he asked.

Lord Warlingham boiled over. "I don't _need_ ham at all!" he almost
shouted. He certainly did not look like a man who had a yearning for ham,
though his face was rapidly assuming the colour of that favourite dish.

"That'll be two dollars twenty-five," said the other, quite unmoved, as
he handed the bill.

"But I tell you, I don't _want_ these things!" Lord Warlingham tore the
paper up into small fragments and flung them on the floor. "I never
ordered them! Can't you understand? Am I the sort of man who would eat
bananas and ham just before lunch?"

He looked round once more in a hopeless search for some means of ridding
himself of this waiter and his intolerable bananas, when his eye fell
upon Hazelton and Mr. Kimball and myself who had hitherto been amused
spectators of the scene.

There was something so tragic in Lord Warlingham's mute appeal for help
that we all three crossed the room together. The old gentleman's face
lighted up at the sight of his own countrymen, and after shaking hands
warmly with Hazelton and myself and bowing to Mr. Kimball, whom we
presented to him, briefly explained the situation.

"Don't you see that the gentleman has no use for bananners?" said Mr.
Kimball, addressing the waiter in a peremptory tone.

"But the gentleman--"

"Say, Adolph, are you looking for trouble, or what? Quit being so fresh,
or I'll have you fired!"

The waiter shrugged his shoulders and prepared to retire as gracefully as
possible.

"I am extremely grateful, I assure you," Lord Warlingham began, turning
to Mr. Kimball with a relieved look, when the waiter had gone.

"Not at all," said the other, "I saw at once you were a foreigner in
distress."

"A foreigner?" Lord Warlingham smiled a superior smile. "Oh no, excuse
me, I am an Englishman."

"Same thing over here."

Lord Warlingham gasped. He suddenly saw himself in a quite new and
undignified light. To him as to all Englishmen the word "foreigner" had
always hitherto implied something un-English and therefore pitiable. It
was a shock to realise that anyone should be so misguided as to class him
in such a category, and he prepared to deny the imputation. But on second
thoughts it occurred to him that perhaps it would be impolite to disagree
with a total stranger on a mere matter of taste.

"I suppose you can always tell an Englishman when you see one," he
remarked with some natural pride.

"That's so," assented Mr. Kimball, "but I can't tell him much."

Lord Warlingham looked puzzled for a moment, but determined to pursue the
subject no further.

"It is very delightful to meet one's fellow countrymen in a strange place
like this," he said turning with a smile to Hazelton and myself. "Quite a
chance," he continued, "as I leave for England tomorrow on the
_Sardonic_."

"What a coincidence," I replied. "Hazelton and I are sailing on the same
boat."

"This is indeed good news. My daughter Aline will be delighted. Ah, here
she is," he added, as a good-looking girl came tripping down the main
staircase.

I am not superstitious as a rule, but when I looked up and recognised the
girl whom I had met in the train at Paddock Green, I realised that this
was something more than mere coincidence. This was Fate.

Her father introduced us formally, and we neither of us thought it
advisable to make any allusion to our previous acquaintanceship.

Lord Warlingham then proceeded to explain his reasons for being in
America in August. He had been sent, so he said, as the representative of
an influential British Corporation, to confer with fellow delegates from
all parts of the world at a commercial congress which was being held in
New York. The conference was at an end, and he was returning to England
as quickly as possible. The storm and stress of New York life was as
little to his fancy as the airless overheated atmosphere of the hotel. He
had for so long been accustomed to be treated with deference by those
whom he rightly considered his social inferiors that it was a shock to
find himself among a people who seemed to know little or nothing of the
respect due to an English nobleman. The behaviour of the hotel servants
especially, left much to be desired. It was not, as he assured me, that
they were rude, so much as indifferent, and then again, they talked a
strange language which jarred upon his sensitive ear.

One of them approached at this moment and asked him for the keys of his
room.

"Is your baggage all fixed?" the man enquired.

"My luggage is not yet packed," corrected Lord Warlingham. "But I shall
have it ready this afternoon, after tea. Two portmanteaux, remember, a
large cabin box, and a dressing-case, marked 'Viscount Warlingham'."

The porter ticked them off on his fingers.

"'Warlingham.' Two trunks, a valise and a small grip."

"And mind, they are to be at the station in good time, so you had better
send them down in a van."

"That'll be all right," replied the other, in a reassuring voice. "I'll
have them expressed to the depot in one of the hotel's delivery waggons."

"And there are my daughter's boxes, Miss Carruther's, too," added Lord
Warlingham apologetically.

"That'll not trouble me any," said the man good-naturedly.

"Oh, by the by," Lord Warlingham called him back rather nervously.
"Here's something for your trouble." He pressed a bill into the man's
hand.

The latter did not appear to share any of the donor's confusion.

"That'll be all right," he said again, as he pocketed the tip.

As the porter moved away a bell-boy ran hurriedly across the Rotunda with
a cablegram in his hand.

"Lord Bellinger!" he called in a loud nasal monotone. "Lord Bellinger!"

I stopped him as he was about to pass through the room and took the
envelope from his hand.

Alas! As I read its contents I realised that my homecoming would be too
late. I had indeed become Lord Bellinger.

(Editorial Note. The first Lord Bellinger died, as will no doubt be
remembered, in the full vigour of his manhood, at the age of eighty-five,
and would have been buried in Westminster Abbey if that edifice had not
already been congested with a mixed crowd of celebrities and nonentities,
or if the memory of the Saltingborough Soap Scandal had not rankled in
the public mind. His demise had been preceded, but a year before, by that
of his second son Hugo Bellinger, who perished in his prime, pleasantly
enough, of drink, at Monte Carlo. The title thus devolved upon the third
son. So it was that at the age of five and thirty, while endeavouring to
enjoy a brief holiday in the West, Richard de la Poer Bellinger suddenly
succeeded to his father's title, and became the second Baron Bellinger of
Thorley in the County of Kent.)



CHAPTER X - THE RETURN (Continued)


Considering the circumstances in which it was undertaken, the sea journey
from New York to Liverpool proved far more enjoyable than I could
possibly have anticipated. Calm weather and the society of congenial
companions combined to make the trip unusually delightful, and helped me
momentarily to forget the sad loss I had so recently sustained.

Before starting, owning to the crowded condition of the ship, I had only
been able to secure a small cabin on the lower deck. My sudden accession
to the peerage, however, seems to have had a stimulating effect upon the
officials of the line, and when I arrived on board I found myself almost
immediately transferred to a large state-room on the main deck. Its
original occupant, an elderly lady who was travelling round the world for
the sake of her health, expressed some annoyance at being moved below to
my "inside" cabin; but, as I explained to her, my grief at being the
unwilling cause of her discomfort did not justify me in taking it upon
myself to instruct the Chief Steward in the duties of his office. I bowed
to the inevitable, accepted without protest whatever accommodation was
assigned to me, and recommended the old lady to follow my example.

During the course of the following week on board the _Sardonic_ I got to
know Lord Warlingham and his charming daughter more intimately than would
ever have been the case on dry land, and the more I saw of them the more
I liked them. I admit, of course, that it was the companionship of Miss
Aline Carruthers that chiefly attracted me, but Lord Warlingham was
himself a person whom it was impossible not to admire. He was a thorough
man of the world, cheerful, good-natured and generous. A Tory of the old
school, with plenty of money, an excellent digestion, an admirable taste
in wine, and but few cares, he lived happily and contentedly at his
Yorkshire seat, surrounded by faithful dependents who defrauded him with
impunity, and with an adoring daughter whom he worshipped. He was a
thorough optimist to whom the world appeared an altogether delightful
place. He found no fault at all with the scheme of things, cordially
agreeing that "whatever is, is best," and adding a private rider to the
effect that whatever was _his_ was necessarily best of all. His daughter,
his horses, his property, his port, were all perfect in his eyes, since
they belonged to him, and the ingenuous manner in which he habitually
extolled his own possessions was quite charming if only by reason of its
essential simplicity.

His illustrious ancestor, the first Lord Warlingham, had been a son of
perhaps the largest-hearted of medieval English monarchs, who, following
the curious custom of his time, omitted to register any official record
of his union with that charming ancestress to whom the Warlinghams of
to-day are so chary of alluding. He himself, the direct lineal descendant
of this amorous sovereign, spent much of his time in the bow-window of
that famous Pall Mall Club which seemed to have been fashioned by kindly
Nature to fit his well-known figure. But although one of the most
prominent personages in the exclusive inner circle of what is technical
known as London Society, Lord Warlingham was no drone. His name was given
a prominent position upon the prospectus of many a commercial enterprise,
and there was scarcely any new company floated in the City that did not
appeal--and seldom in vain--for the honour of his distinguished
patronage. Moreover, such was his natural business acumen that certainly
more than half the companies of which he was a director were perfectly
solvent, if they did not actually pay a dividend. Lord Warlingham
attended Board Meetings and pocketed his fees with commendable
regularity, but his time was so fully occupied with more important
matters--notably golf--that he was rarely able to allow himself the
luxury of taking any active part in the management of those concerns on
whose directorate he sat.

When I first met Lord Warlingham he was a widower. His wife, well known
in London society as one of the most hospitable of Lenten hostesses, had
died when Miss Aline was quite a girl--the youngest of a family of six,
of whom four were daughters.

The eldest son and heir met with a tragic end before he reached the age
of thirty. He was a King's Messenger, and will be remembered as one of
the victims of a terrible French railway accident, being killed while
undertaking the perilous errand of carrying plovers' eggs to His Majesty
at Biarritz. The second son had just left Oxford at the time of his
mother's death, and was then engaged in eating his way to the Bar. Miss
Aline's three elder sisters were all married. She herself was a girl of
some two and twenty summers when we first become acquainted. Fair-haired
and pretty, she possessed a fund of high spirits and an infectious laugh
which was particularly charming. She had been "out" three or four
seasons, and was already one of the most popular young women in society.
As an amateur actress, so her father assured me, she was much in demand
in country houses, and in the sacred cause of charity would frequently
take a prominent part in those dramatic entertainments which are given at
provincial Town Halls, when the takings seldom cover the incidental
expenses. As an artists she also excelled, and would make clever charcoal
drawings of her friends which their relations declared to be life-like
portraits, but which they themselves referred to somewhat bitterly as
caricatures.

Miss Carruthers took life easily and was of a very peaceful and serene
disposition. There was, indeed, an air of sublime content about her which
I found singularly delightful. This graceful quality of
serenity--"vagueness" her father called it--surrounded her with an
atmosphere of feminine helplessness which proved most attractive to the
sterner and less absent-minded sex. Just as women wish to find in those
they love, as Matthew Arnold says, a soul which never sways with the
blind gusts that shake their own, so do most men seek a certain timidity
and indecision of purpose in the women for whom they propose to provide
shelter and protection.

Miss Aline's natural vagueness had its drawbacks, certainly. Lord
Warlingham declared that she was incorrigibly unpunctual, unbusinesslike,
unpractical; that she could never remember where she had put things, and
that when she did remember, they were never to be found in that
particular spot. She daily mislaid her purse, her pencil, her bracelets,
and left a trail of pocket-handkerchiefs behind her wherever she went. If
she was given a letter to post (as she herself admitted), she would put
it in her pocket--_poche restante_, she called it--and there it would
remain indefinitely. Once a week in London she regularly visited the Lost
Property Office at Scotland Yard to retrieve the umbrella or muff that
she had left in a cab the day before, and would generally leave it in
another cab on the way home.

It seemed as though such matters as catching trains or retaining property
were too mundane to affect her with any idea of their importance. Indeed,
she lived very much in the clouds. When, however, she descended to earth
for a moment, as she did now and then, to listen to some remark addressed
to her by a companion, there was a celestial smile upon her face which at
once asked and obtained pardon for the irrelevancy of her reply.

Young men who made her acquaintance on deck, and who (being young and
men) wished to talk exclusively about themselves, found her an attentive
listener, but were often shocked to discover from the tenour of her
subsequent remarks that she had not heard a single word of what they had
been saying. To tell the truth, they were rather afraid of her, for she
had a keen sense of the ridiculous, and they could never be quite sure
whether she was laughing with them or at them. When the second officer
began to make love to her one evening she smiled at him in so mysterious
a manner, half maternal, half quizzical, that he at once became
self-conscious and started talking feverishly about the weather. She thus
lost many lovers, but made many friends.

It was, I believe, a great disappointment to her father that she had
remained unmarried. Lord Warlingham had always hoped that she would marry
well--that is to say that she would choose some titled personage as a
husband. And though he was too rich to be mercenary, and much too fond of
his youngest daughter to wish to get rid of her, it was, I fancy, to him
a matter of regret that she should elect to remain a spinster after her
three sisters had fulfilled the destiny of womankind by providing
themselves with husbands, homes and children. All his other daughters had
married well, with the single exception of the eldest, Constance, who ran
away with a Colonial Bishop, and it seemed rather curious that Miss
Aline, by far the best looking of the four, should be the last unplucked
leaf upon the family branch.

In the saloon Hazelton and I joined Lord Warlingham and his daughter at
the Captain's table. Ginger kept the ball of conversation perpetually
rolling, and, while he monopolised the aged peer, I found opportunities
for many a quiet tete-a-tete with Miss Carruthers. Hazelton's garrulity
sometimes threatened to get him into serious trouble, more especially as
he entertained the dubious theory that it was perfectly justifiable to be
untruthful, if by so doing conversation could be stimulated or vivified.
He would, for instance, frequently pretend to be intimately acquainted
with friends of Lord Warlingham's, of whom he had never even heard, in
order, as he said, to save trouble. This habit of claiming friendship
with complete strangers occasionally involved him in situations from
which it required all my tact to extricate him. Let me give an example.

"You known old Lady Matilda Biddulph," Lord Warlingham remarked, one
morning at breakfast, as a preface to some anecdote on the subject of
that estimable woman's eccentricities.

"Know her?" said Ginger with more enthusiasm than regard for truth.
"She's my aunt!"

"Is that so?" replied the peer. "Then no doubt you can tell me how she is
getting on."

"Oh--er--she's getting along splendidly," replied Hazelton nervously.
"She's as gay as ever."

"Gay? Why, I thought she had only recently lost her husband."

"Oh yes, of course. Whey I said 'gay,' I didn't mean 'gay'; I meant gay
considering everything. She bears up wonderfully."

"I have always wondered what became of her brother-in-law, old
Colonel--Colonel--let me see, what was the name?" asked Lord Warlingham.

"Oh, him," said Ginger. "You mean Colonel--Colonel--er--dear me--"

"It's on the tip of my tongue," remarked the peer.

"So it is on mine."

"Colonel--er--Parkins, no; Park-hurst--"

"Parkwell, Parkington, Parkford," suggested Ginger hopefully,
"Parkborough, Parkstone, Park--"

"No, no," Lord Warlingham interrupted testily, "I remember now. Colonel
Brown."

"Oh, of course," said Hazelton, much relieved. "Dear old Colonel Brown."

"I'm afraid he must be dead by this time," continued the peer.

"Oh yes," said Hazelton, "quite dead."

"Alas! We're none of us as young as we were," sighed Lord Warlingham.
"Times flies!"

"Don't say that," replied Ginger gallantly. "Not in _your_ society at any
rate."

Lord Warlingham seemed somewhat astonished, but resumed.

"It's years since I visited Colonel Brown's place in Aberdeenshire. What
was the name of it? I know quite well. Aber--something. Not
Abergeldie."

"Aberladdie, Abernethy," said Ginger, "Aberfeldie, Aberlochie, Aber--"

"No, no." Lord Warlingham stopped him again. "I remember now, it begins
with a B."

"Oh, that place," replied the other airily, drawing the long bow at a
venture. "That was sold long ago."

"Sold!"

"Yes. After it was--er--burnt down."

"How odd that we should never have read about it in the papers. I thought
the Browns were still living there. Young George Brown was a delightful
boy. He can't be dead too."

"Oh yes," said Ginger, who was growing tired of the Brown family and had
no desire for further discussion on the subject, "dead, quite dead. Found
drowned. Didn't know it was loaded, and all that sort of thing!"

"Dead!" exclaimed Lord Warlingham and Miss Aline simultaneously.

Ginger realised that he had made a blunder. "Not really dead," he
corrected himself. "We all thought he was dead. In fact--er--he thought
so himself. But of course the report was untrue. We'd all given up hope.
I'd even ordered a black hatband. He was at death's door, but the doctor
pulled him through--I mean back. A sad case."

"What was the matter with him?" asked Miss Aline.

"Oh, only--er--smallpox, that's all."

"Smallpox!"

"At least we thought it was. He thought so himself. But of course it
wasn't really. It was merely a chill."

"How very odd. You must have been terribly anxious."

"Oh yes, fearfully," Hazelton assented. "Of course you'll understand," he
explained, "I didn't feel what I might have felt--er--if the--er--if
I'd--er--felt differently." He broke off suddenly. "Perhaps," he added,
"perhaps I'm not putting things very clearly."

"I think I follow you," said Lord Warlingham encouragingly.

"I'm afraid it's a long story," Ginger remarked, "but of course if you
wish--"

"Never mind," interposed Miss Aline. "If you know the Browns so well, no
doubt you can tell us the truth about poor Evelyn."

"Poor Evelyn," Ginger replied in a melancholy tone, wishing he had never
heard that person's name before. "He and I were boys together!"

"But surely Evelyn was a girl?"

"Oh, ah, yes; we were girls together, I mean. That's to say, I was a boy
together, and she was a girl--altogether."

"It was a sad accident, if I remember right," said Lord Warlingham. "I
forget which arm she lost."

"Both," said Ginger firmly, anxious to be on the safe side.

"Both?"

"Yes, and both legs."

"But we never heard--" Miss Aline began.

"Ah no," he interrupted. "She keeps it dark. Won't let anyone find out."

"But how on earth can she help--"

"Ha!" replied Ginger mysteriously, "that's her secret!"

At this point, in response to an appealing glance, I came hurriedly to my
friend's rescue.

"Let's go on deck and see if there are any icebergs," I said to Miss
Aline.

"Oh, do let's," was her reply.

Lord Warlingham and Ginger joined us later, and as they approached I
heard the former ask Hazelton if he was well acquainted with America. As
I knew that this was Ginger's first visit to that continent I was
surprised when he replied that he had known it from childhood.

"I'm half American myself," he explained. "I was practically born on a
ranch in Jonesville, Mo., or Me. or Ma.--I forget which."

"Indeed?" said Lord Warlingham. "I've always longed to visit the West. I
suppose you spent most of your time there in the saddle?"

"Always in it. Never left it. From ten to four ever day, with half an
hour for luncheon; except of course on Sundays, or when there was an
avalanche."

"What a wonderful life," said Miss Carruthers. "I expect you're a regular
cowboy at heart."

"I am, oh, I am! I simply _love_ cows--I mean, lassoing cows
and--er--making Bovril and all that sort of thing."

"Did you ever have any terrifying adventures with desperadoes?" asked the
girl.

"Fearfully terrifying."

"Do tell me, have you ever shot a man?"

"Oh, once, or twice," he answered airily.

"I remember you peppered me at Bellinger when we were out after rabbits,"
I began.

"What had the man done?" pursued Miss Aline, ignoring my interruption.

"I forget," said Ginger. "I expect he'd annoyed me. They're very
annoying, some of them. I've had to speak to them rather sharply about it
more than once."

"Well," said Lord Warlingham, "you must be glad to be getting back to
civilization again; for I don't suppose you had much society out in the
West."

"Nothing to speak of."

"Weren't there any women?" asked Miss Carruthers. "One always reads in
Bret Harte--"

"Oh, a few, of course--" I could see Ginger ransacking his memory for any
recollection of the heroines of backwoods fiction. "There was--let me
see--Rosalie, the Prairie Flower, and--er--some Indian squaws. But Dick
knows more about squaws than I do."

"I don't know anything at all about them," I answered indignantly.

"Dick's so unconventional," he continued. "He snaps his fingers at the
world. Show them how you snap your fingers, Dick."

"I won't," I said angrily. "I can't snap my fingers."

"Oh yes you can. Miss Carruthers, do ask him to snap his fingers. It's
such fun."

"What a delightful life you must have led," said Miss Aline, disregarding
his foolishness. "I can picture it all clearly. The bluff but honest
miners, armed to the teeth, and you in the middle, the cow-puncher--"

"Ah yes, ah yes," exclaimed Ginger fervently, "quite a hobby of
mine--cow-punching was. I just didn't care what sort of a cow it was; I'd
give it _such_ a punch! There was one in particular, her name was
Margaret, an Alderney with one white stocking--but perhaps I ought not to
tell you that story. Ah," he added, "those nights on the bounding
prairie, with nothing but the howling of the coyote and the singing of
the bullfrogs to hush one to sleep! However, I've shaken them off my feet
now, thank goodness!"

"If you say you're half American," remarked Miss Carruthers, "I think
it's rather unpatriotic of you to be so glad to get away from the land of
your birth."

"Oh, but I'm frightfully loyal really. I love the Swanne River and Bill
Bailey and the Old Folks at Home, and doughnuts and peanuts, and terrapin
and seraphim, and canvas-backed clams and the Star-bangled spanner! I
always take my hat off and stand bareheaded in the street for hours
whenever the band plays 'Yankee Doodle.'"

"Does the band ever play it?" Lord Warlingham enquired with interest.

"I don't think so," replied Ginger. "In fact, I hope not. But there's a
band on board the boat, and we might ask it to. I haven't got a hat or
you'd see how fearfully patriotic I am."

During our all too short journey across the Atlantic I found much to
delight me in Lord Warlingham and his daughter, especially in the
friendship which the latter and I gradually formed for one another. The
incipient stages of an intimacy between two kindred souls are nothing
less than sheer delight. The half timid confidences, the joyful surprise
at the discovery of common tastes and interests, all the delicate
subtleties of mutual intercourse, which bloom from the seed of a
friendship newly sown, how sweet they are to the heart that is young
enough to anticipate no disenchantment, and still hopes much and fears
not at all! To youth each budding acquaintance affords a fresh source of
enjoyment, a strange territory to be explored, hidden depths to be
plumbed; each new friend is a potential lover. The soul that seeks its
mate may find it in the most unexpected places and amid the most
unpromising surroundings. Even the saloon of an Atlantic steamer holds an
element of romance for those who have the grace to search for it and the
good fortune to find it. With thoughts such as these in my mind I was
dozing in my cabin one morning after breakfast when Hazelton brought me
rather disturbing news.

It was about eleven o'clock on the last day of our voyage when he entered
my cabin without knocking. I was still in bed and resented his intrusion,
and so took no notice of my visitor.

"Hullo, Dick!" he cried heartily. "Good morning!"

I looked up for a moment out of the corner of my eye, and then once more
closed that optic, nestled down among the bedclothes and commenced to
snore.

"Wake up!" he shouted. "It's time to get up!"

"Hush!" I replied, still keeping my eyes tightly shut. "Don't disturb me.
Can't you see that I'm saying my prayers?"

"Don't be an ass!" Ginger poked me in the ribs with his foot.

"Since nothing is sacred to you," I said, turning round in bed, "take a
chair."

Thus invited, he sat down on the sofa without observing that my clothes
had been laid out there ready to be put on. On finding himself sitting
upon the front of a white shirt he apologised profusely.

"Don't mention it," I replied, though I was rather vexed at his
carelessness. "I prefer a spatchcocked shirt to the ordinary kind!"

"I hope I'm not disturbing you," he said.

"You are, but no matter. What can I do for you?"

"The fact is, Dick, old boy, I'm in trouble."

"How much do you want?" I asked.

"No, no," he replied indignantly, "This is no mere matter of money."

"What's the lady's name?"

"How did you guess?"

"Look here," I said, "before we proceed any more with the moving tale of
your amours, let's settle one thing definitely. You want my advice, don't
you? But do you really wish for my candid opinion? That's what I want to
know."

"Oh, well," he answered hesitatingly, "if you put it like that--"

"Exactly," I interrupted. "I thought as much. Now, when you've finished
your story, wake me up and tell me what you want me to advise, and I'll
advise it. It'll be easier for me, pleasanter for you, and altogether
more satisfactory in every way."

"Wake up!" he said firmly, as I prepared to resume my interrupted
slumbers. "Wake up and listen. You see, Dick, it's like this. I'm most
awfully in love."

"Really, Ginger, you're quite incorrigible."

"What on earth do you mean?"

"You're always in love."

"How can you say such a thing?"

"My dear Ginger, I've seen you through the illness a score of times."

"Oh, rot; besides, this time it's the real thing."

"It always is," I said. "Do you remember how desperately you cared for
Lady Mildred Burling?"

"Hang it all, I was only a boy of nineteen."

"You carried her photograph about in the back of your watch."

"I was only an infant, I tell you."

"What about Elsie Stair?" I pursued inexorably. "Was that calf-love too?"

"Oh, Elsie," he admitted, "Well, after all, I was still very young. I own
that I did think that I was in love with her, but of course I wasn't
really. And I don't see why you should rake up these old affairs."

"I suppose you've forgotten all about that girl at the Gaiety?"

"Really, Dick, you know quite well that was altogether a different thing.
Do be decent."

"All the same, you'd have married her, I believe, if it hadn't been for
the war."

"Well, at any rate," he said, "you won't accuse me of being in love with
anybody during the South African campaign."

"For the best of reasons," I replied. "You didn't have the chance."

"That's where you're jolly well mistaken," he replied. "When I was in
hospital at De Aar there was a ripping nurse--a lady too--who used to
come and sit by my bedside for hours at a time. I've got her photograph
somewhere."

"Has she got yours?"

"Yes--no--I don't know."

"Oh, Ginger, Ginger!"

"Anyhow, I've given up all that sort of thing long ago."

"Have you?" I replied. "There was a dizzy blonde from Chicago whom we met
on the boat coming out."

"Nonsense," said Ginger angrily. "I was only ordinarily civil to her,
that's all."

"If being ordinarily civil implies sitting on the bridgedeck at midnight
holding a lady's hand--"

"Really, Dick! That one occasion you refer to was a pure accident."

"I suppose you've already forgotten all about poor Mrs. Carter-Pickford,"
I added unkindly.

"No, I haven't. I'm awfully fond of her still. I really believe I'd have
married her if she hadn't been married already."

"I'm glad you share the popular prejudice against bigamy. But we're
wandering from the point. How do you want me to help you?"

"You see it's like this," said Ginger. "I'm awfully in love with Miss
Carruthers."

I sat up in bed.

"Really, Ginger, you _are_ incorrigible," I repeated. "If you were in
your grave and there was another coffin within range I verily believe
you'd tap on it and try to start a flirtation."

"This isn't a flirtation," he assured me. "I proposed to her last night."

"Good heavens! And I suppose she refused you."

"Yes, but I don't know why you should suppose anything of the sort. She
told me she wasn't free."

"Not free?"

"It appears that she's partly engaged to her cousin Lord Banchory."

"What! Isn't he half-witted?"

"Yes, and the other half I don't like. But I believe he's really quite a
good fellow, and Lord Warlingham is very keen on the alliance. Miss
Carruthers hasn't made up her mind. In fact I rather think she came
abroad partly for the purpose of getting a little time to herself to
think the matter over. Banchory's devilish rich, and as his father owns a
huge property in the North of England it's about a thousand to one that
he'll be offered an Undersecretaryship in the next Conservative
Government."

"This is bad news," I replied.

"Dashed bad news--for me."

"And for me," I said.

"Why?"

"Because _I'm_ in love with her too."

"Hang it all!" he exclaimed, "that isn't fair! You weren't in love ten
minutes ago."

"Yes I was, and what's more I'm going to propose to her to-day."

"I'll never ask you for your advice again as long as I live," said
Hazelton furiously.

"That's right," I retorted brutally, "and shut the door after you."

He bounced out of the cabin, leaving the door wide open.

Left to myself I began to see that there was some element of truth in
Ginger's accusation. Not to realise the value of anything until one is in
danger of losing it is, I imagine, a common experience. As soon as I
heard that Miss Carruthers was likely to be engaged to another man I
became aware of the fact that I myself was badly in need of her.

I am not a man who cares to beat about the bush, and after dinner that
evening I managed to lure Miss Aline to a deck-chair in a sheltered
corner of the upper deck, and determined that she should not escape until
I had heard from her own lips whether or not she was really pledged to
Lord Banchory. She seemed to be conscious that I had something particular
to say to her, and showed a strong disinclination to remain alone in my
society. With some difficulty however, I contrived to shake off Lord
Warlingham and Ginger Hazelton, and sat down beside her in the growing
darkness.

We were both silent for a few moments. "What have you got on your mind?"
I asked at length.

"Lots of things."

"Happy things?"

"Oh yes," she replied rather wistfully.

"Then why do you look so grave?"

"I don't know. Life is not very easy sometimes."

"Tell me."

She looked up at me with a smile. "I can't very well," she said. "You
see, there are some things one has to settle all alone. No one can help."

"I somehow feel that a friend can help almost every time, don't you?"

"The fact is," she continued, "I've got to make up my mind about
something. And that's never an easy matter."

I made no reply to this, being wise enough to say nothing that might stem
the current of her speech. Silence so often extracts confidences where
importunity only suggests caution and secrecy.

"I--a great friend of mine," she went on, "a woman of my own age, has
asked me for advice."

"Yes?"

She hesitated. "You see, she's not a girl any longer, and the years are
passing by--and everybody tells her--"

"That she ought to get married?"

"Yes. How did you know?"

"I guessed. Is she happy?" I asked.

"Oh, in a sort of way. But sometimes she's--lonely, and--and her family
want her to marry too."

"Just marry vaguely, d'you mean? Or is there someone--"

"Oh yes, there's someone. And of course--at least I suppose--_he_ wants
to marry her."

"Naturally. And what does _she_ want?"

"She doesn't know what she does want, quite."

"Does she care about him?"

"She's fond of him, but not in that sort of way. He's her cousin, and
very nice, I think, and she has told him that perhaps if he will
wait--she has given him to understand that perhaps--Oh, it's hard to
explain," she broke off.

"And she has to give him an answer soon?" I said.

"Very soon," she answered. "You see, she doesn't think it fair to keep
him hanging on. And yet," she mused, "I wonder whether she wouldn't be
wiser to marry a man she is good friends with, whom she believes to be
straight and true, rather than wait until--"

"Until she meets someone who can fall in love with."

"That's impossible!" she laughed. "'Mr. Right," as the nurses say, will
never 'come along.'"

"Isn't there any other friend--a man, say--whom she could consult?" I
asked.

"No. I don't think so. No friend, that is, who wouldn't perhaps be
prejudiced one way or the other."

"I expect you're right," I said, after a moment's thought. "No man
willingly advises a girl to get married. The responsibility is too great,
in the first place; in the second, it means the loss of a friend."

Miss Carruthers looked up at me enquiringly.

"I've always found it so," I went on. "I've made a few good friends in my
life, of unmarried women and men. But directly they married, a sort of a
barrier seemed to rise between us. We were both of us aware of it, and
sorry about it too, I think. But it couldn't be helped. There's just as
great a gulf fixed between the married and the single as there is between
the sexes, and nothing can ever bridge it."

"But surely you have many real friends who are married?" she asked.

"I have a few. But they were already married when we made friends. What I
mean is--"

"Yes, I see what you mean," said Miss Aline, "you mean that if _I_ were
to get married, for instance, you and I would case to be friends in the
same sort of way."

"Exactly. So you see I'm 'prejudiced,' to quote your words."

"And you won't advise me about my friend?"

"I won't advise you about yourself."

"Miss Aline," I added, in answer to her look of surprise, "I've known all
along who your friend is, and perhaps you knew that I knew--"

"I didn't, I didn't!" she insisted.

"Then will you listen to me?"

With woman's instinct of self-defense she seemed inclined to resist.

"Isn't it rather damp sitting here?" she said weakly.

"No," I replied firmly.

"You ask me whether I mind your marrying," I continued. "I can only
answer that there's nothing in the world I should mind so much."

She looked anxiously into my face as though to read my thoughts, and held
up her hand, intuitively divining what was coming.

"You won't say anything to spoil our friendship, will you?" she cried
hastily.

For answer I took her hand in mine. When she attempted to draw her
fingers away my grasp only tightened.

"I must risk that," I said. "I know I've no right to say anything of this
kind. But I just want you to know that I love you. I have loved you, I
think, ever since that day we met in the train, do you remember?"

"Stop, stop! I beg of you. And let go of my hand, please. Fancy if anyone
were to see us!"

"There's nobody on deck."

"One of the stewards."

"I don't care for a thousand stewards."

"Very likely not. But I do. Oh, Lord Bellinger, you've spoilt everything.
I thought we were always going to be such good friends, and now--but you
don't know me at all," she added with an indignation which seemed to be
struggling with her sense of the ridiculousness of the situation.

"I know myself pretty well by this time. And I know that I love you and
that's enough."

"Really, Lord Bellinger--"

"I didn't mean to tell you about it just yet awhile, Miss Aline, but what
you have told me about yourself--"

"What on earth have I told you about myself?"

"That you had an idea of getting married. And I hate the thought of it."

"Do you want me to remain a spinster all my days?" she asked, trying to
turn the thing off as a joke.

"I want you to marry me."

She laughed softly.

"If you didn't look so serious," she declared, "I should think you were
jesting."

"I'm in earnest, dead earnest. Oh, of course, I know it must surprise
you--"

"What? That anyone should want to marry me?"

"No. But that I should propose so unexpectedly. Miss Aline, I want you to
promise me not to do anything in a hurry."

"I really don't see why I should promise you anything at all."

"I've no right to ask it, and you've every right to be angry with me, but
I'm so much in love with you that I'll risk your anger. It would be
foolish of me to say that I'm not the sort of man you ought to have for a
husband, because no man in the world can be good enough for that. But I
love you, and I mean to marry you--"

"Mean to marry me?" she repeated indignantly. "Really, I--"

"Please don't say it," I interrupted her. "I know you haven't thought of
me at all, except as a friend, and I'm not asking you to give me an
answer. I too can wait till the end of Time if necessary, and I'm hopeful
enough to think that if I love you hard enough and long enough you may
some day--"

"I ought to be very grateful to you, Lord Bellinger," she broke in, "but
really I'm terribly sorry this has happened. I had no idea--"

"I didn't mean that you should. I wouldn't have said a word, only
circumstances hurried things on."

Miss Aline rose from her chair.

"We must be getting back to the saloon," she added. "It's nearly twelve
o'clock."

"Will you think over what I've said,"

I asked earnestly, "and remember that I am willing to wait?"

"If you like. But I can tell you now that it's not very mush use. Don't
be angry with me. You know I like you very much, and I want us two to be
good friends."

"But--"

"Please, Lord Bellinger," she implored, as we descended to the companion,
"don't let us talk about it any more."

"As you will," I replied.

The journey came to an end on the following morning. We all travelled up
to London from Liverpool together, and at Euston Station we said goodbye
with many expressions of friendship and regret. I had no opportunity for
any further conversation with Miss Aline, but as I shook her hand at the
station, while Lord Warlingham was busy saying farewell to Hazelton, she
looked up at me with a curiously sympathetic light in her eyes.

"Did you really mean what you said last night?" she asked. "Will you
really wait?"

"Till the end of time," I replied.

"Please wait," she said gently, as she turned away.



CHAPTER XI - HOME AGAIN


From Euston station I drove straight to Bellinger House to see my mother.

"Is Lady Bellinger at home?" I asked the butler.

"Yes, m'lord," he replied.

It was not until I heard these last unaccustomed words that I fully
realised the complete change that had come over my life, and understood
the heavy responsibilities that Time had laid upon my shoulders.
Providence moves in a mysterious way its wonders to perform, but I have
gradually come to recognise the fundamental justice that controls the
world, and I think I understand why it is that Fate chose me from many
millions of others--even from my own immediate family--to take my place
in the highest council chamber of the land, side by side with all those
who, like myself, have been Providentially selected to control the
destinies of the Empire.

My advent in London, as I discovered to my cost, had been heralded by
long articles in the halfpenny press, which gave fanciful descriptions of
my appearance and habits, and romantic accounts of my sudden accession to
the title. According to one of the most imaginative of these papers, the
"Prairie Peer," as I was called--for no ostensible reason except that I
had recently returned from Vancouver--had been branding bronchos on his
ranch in the wild and woolly West when the news of his good fortune was
brought to him by a breathless despatch-rider. Without a moment's
hesitation he flung his leg across the back of his favourite buckjumper,
and rode day and night over the plains until he finally reached the
coast. Here he either charactered a special steamer, or else worked his
passage in the stokehole of a liner (the _Daily Reflector_ was not quite
certain up on this point), and eventually landed at Liverpool attired in
fringed buckskin trousers and a sombrero hat. "It was a strange
homecoming for the son of one of England's greatest statesmen," said the
journal in question, "and we are fortunate in being able to supply our
readers with a portrait of this noble scion of a noble house who, after
so many years of wandering in the backwoods, has come into his own at
last." The accompanying photograph represented a most villainous-looking
bushranger, backed by an inset of a log-cabin in which I had never dreamt
of being born.

From the moment of my arrival in London communications poured in upon me
by every post. By far the larger portion of this correspondence consisted
of begging letters, dealing with every conceivable form of mortal woe and
describing every phase of human tragedy. I was amazed at the number of
apparently respectable persons (with huge families) who had lost one or
more of their limbs, and relied upon my bounty for that small sum which
should provide them with permanent employment and keep their children
from the workhouse. I was naturally inclined towards indiscriminate
charity, but had been taught by Christian parents that philanthropy of
this kind is merely selfish, and that it is better that ten deserving
persons should starve than that one fraud should be encouraged. I
therefore referred a selection of the most plausible cases to the Charity
Organisation Society, with the inevitable results.

For the first two months in England my time was fully occupied with
domestic affairs--notably the payment of heavy death-duties and the
transference of my dear mother to the Dower House whither she was
somewhat reluctant to move. In some slight measure to console her for so
distasteful a change I presented her with my grandfather's entire
collection of stuffed birds--I had offered them to South Kensington
Museum but they had been politely declined--and for some months the front
hall of the Dower House was congested with moulting puffins.

Bellinger Hall had but recently been rebuilt and refurnished, and I spent
many hours there in consultation with Mr. Minting, my agent, discussing
matters affecting the management of the estate.

I think I may truthfully say that my tenants and employés have always
found me a just landlord and a kindly master. If during the last few
years I have been forced to discharge a good many of the older men on the
estate, it is only because a scoundrelly Radical government has imposed a
rascally super-tax which has forced me to cut down my establishment, to
curtail my charities, and generally to economise ta the expense of
others. Ignorant persons who read in the lower-class papers that my
income is about L40,000 a year, very possibly assume that I am therefore
a very wealthy man. They do not realise the expense of living in the
style to which I have always been accustomed, which I cannot reduce
without grave injury to my dependants. My _chef_, for instance, draws a
salary of L450 a year. The upkeep of Bellinger House, Mayfair--Bellinger
Hall and the estate are, I am glad to say, self-supporting--forms no
inconsiderable item of my expenditure. The rearing of pheasants costs me
another L2,000 a year. The cost of maintaining four motors, as well as
stable full of horses, is a very heavy one. And when I have paid for all
this and for my box at the Opera, and have sent my annual subscriptions
to the dozen or so of clubs to which I belong, to the King's Hospital
Fund, the Central Conservative Organisation, the Land Defence Association
and the Tariff Reform League, and have set aside an annual L3,000 or
L4,000 to enable my heirs to pay the iniquitous death-duties, I don't
suppose I have more than at the outside L8,000 a year left for current
expenses. Indeed, I am often tempted to envy poorer men with, say, four
or five thousand a year, who have no position to keep up and can spend
their entire income upon themselves.

I have always regarded the money I inherited from my father as a trust of
the most sacred kind, and have tried to use my wealth to the best of my
ability for the furtherance of the public weal. Only last year I
presented the village of Thorley with a pump and drinking trough, much to
the delight of the inhabitants who up till then had watered their cattle
in the river Chouse, thereby muddying the stream and doing much damage to
my trout-fishing. My hospitality has always been of a lavish nature. At
Bellinger Hall I entertain those of my tenants who pay their rents
regularly at an annual luncheon where they enjoy cucumber sandwiches,
cider-cup and other luxuries which they cannot obtain at home. The only
return for my hospitality which I demand on such occasions is the polite
attention of my guests for a few moments after luncheon while I take the
opportunity of making them a nonpartisan speech intended to foster that
spirit of patriotism which shows signs of dying out in the country
districts. My agent, Mr. Minting, who is a true Imperialist at heart--and
by Imperialist I mean a man who realises that England is on its last legs
and will shortly become a fifth-rate power unless some alteration is made
in our present fiscal system--usually writes this speech for me.

Once a year, too, I give a big garden-party at Bellinger, to which I
invite all "the neighbours," those tiresome people on whose behalf it has
been deemed necessary to frame a special commandment urging us to the
impossible task of loving them as ourselves.

As Colonel of the local Yeomanry many demands are made upon my purse. The
corps which I have the honour to command is certainly, from the point of
view of its uniform and general appearance on parade, the smartest of all
the Territorial units. I spare no expense to ensure efficiency. When we
go to camp for a brief summer training, every tent is lighted with
electricity and the officer's mess-hut is decorated with the rarest
hot-house plants from the gardens of Bellinger. Need I say that my
recruiting sergeants have no difficulty in inducing the gallant men of
Thorley, of Burlingford and the whole Tilwood country, to show their
public spirit by sacrificing a week of their employers' time amid the
luxurious surroundings with which I seek to repay their patriotism?

Persons who know little or nothing of the myriad duties of a country
squire may often fancy the life of a landowner to be a leisurely and
altogether agreeable existence. They think, perhaps, that he does but
little hard work, forgetting that his responsibilities are many and
onerous, especially in these socialistic days when everything is being
done to make it impossible for a man to enjoy the ownership of property
without paying for it. I may possibly show that the wealthy are not
relived of that labour which is the common lot of humanity if I give a
brief account of a typical day of my life at Bellinger.

I usually rise early and have breakfast at about half-past nine, or at
ten o'clock in the winter. The morning, up till nearly noon, is devoted
to a perusal of the papers and the answering of my correspondence by Mr.
Minting. I may then perhaps stroll down to the ornamental water in the
park to feed the swans, or proceed to the keeper's cottage where I
probably learn that the recent drought (or the heavy rain) has killed the
young partridges or that the retriever puppies have died of distemper.
After giving the necessary orders that more birds or dogs be obtained
from London I return to luncheon, looking in at the stables on my way. In
the afternoon I very likely order a motor out to take me down to the Home
Farm to superintend the erection of a new pigsty. On my way home I often
drop in at the Dower House to see my mother, or at the cottage of one of
my tenants to ask after the children. I believe in keeping in the closest
possible personal touch with my dependants, and Mr. Minting has often
assured me how much their wives look forward to these little surprise
visits of mine, unless they happen to coincide with washing-day. I get
back home to tea at about five o'clock, pleasantly tired, and the rest of
the day is given up to recreation, reading (of which I am very fond) or
billiards.

A great deal of nonsense was talked at the last General Election on the
subject of the intimidation alleged to be practiced by landlords. I for
one have made an especial point of allowing my tenants and employés
perfect freedom of thought, as long as they do not take too great an
advantage of my tolerance. I should be the last person in the world to
interfere with their political views or opinions, except by an occasional
timely word of warning or advice. At the same time, as a man of principle
I feel it my bounden duty to make it quite plain to them that the return
to power of a Radical government means a reduction of my staff and a
consequent loss of employment to may, to say nothing of the inevitable
raising of rents to meet the additional expense entailed in the payment
of those spoliatory taxes which are now levied on all landed property.

Of my personal popularity with my household and employés there is, I am
glad to say, no doubt. At Christmas I generally give an umbrella to each
of the footmen, and a Russia-leather purse to the housekeeper, and make
suitable gifts of a similar nature to the other servants. Every labourer
on the estate who has reached the age of ninety without receiving "parish
relief" is presented with a brace of rabbits. After a big day's pheasant
shooting at Bellinger I send to the local hospitals all the birds that
are too badly damaged to be marketable, and at the New Year I generally
despatch a couple of pheasants or a hare to the vicar of Thorley as well
as to the stationmaster.

Though a Conservative in politics I have always been intensely interested
in social problems, and should like to see something definite done to
better the condition of the poor. I remember once discussing the whole
question with my cousin, Lord Burfield, one evening, before going on to
the Empire to see a new ballet. We dined at a cheap little place near
Piccadilly Circus where one can get an excellent meal for under a
sovereign, not including wine. I told Burfield that I had sometimes been
rather worried by the thought of the number of people poorer than myself,
of the vast amount of starvation and poverty that still existed in the
world. He cheered me a good deal, however, by saying that social
inequalities had always existed and always would exist, and that it was a
great mistake to think too much about things which nothing could possibly
remedy. It was an immutable decree of Providence that there should be
rich and poor, he said, and the position must be accepted. I remember
remarking that I had often wondered how poor labourers on my own estate
could keep their wives and children on wages which often amounted to a
bare eighteen shillings a week. Burfield assured me that living was very
cheap in the country, and food ridiculously inexpensive, and that the
poor were a thriftless lot whom it was a crime to pamper. If you raised
their wages, he said, they only spent the advance on drink. A labourer
with an eighteen shilling wage and a clever wife could easily manage to
put by sixpence a week, if he were economical and did not eat meat; and
at the end of the year he would be the possessor of more than a pound,
with which he might subscribe to some fund that should provide him with a
pension when overwork and lack of proper sustenance had rendered him no
longer able to earn his living. Burfield himself owns a large property in
one of the poorest districts in London--it is managed for him, ably (I
believe) but somewhat rigorously, by a man called Eckstein. He therefore
knows what he is talking about, and I was much interested in his views.
Any further discussion of the subject was put a stop to by the discovery
that our second bottle of champagne was slightly corked. It was a good
wine--costing seventeen shillings the bottle--and we were half way
through it before we found out that something was wrong with it. By the
time we had rebuked the waiter and finished the new bottle with which the
bad one was replaced, it was time to go on to the Empire, and we had to
postpone the discussion of social problems to some more suitable
occasion.

It must not be imagined that my whole time was given up to the
consideration of domestic affairs which, however important to myself and
my dependants, cannot be regarded as of vital moment to my country. My
duties as hereditary legislator soon called me to the House of Lords, and
when I had once taken my seat in that august assembly I became a regular
attendant at debate.

Proud as I am of that Upper Chamber which so conscientiously carries out
the will of the people whenever a Conservative government is in power,
or, when the Radicals are in office, saves the nation from the
consequences of its own folly, I must truthfully admit that there is
about it an atmosphere which is anything but stimulating to a speaker. I
delivered my maiden speech to an audience composed of the Lord
Chancellor, the Clerks at the Table and seven peers--two of whom left
abruptly after I had been speaking but a short half hour--and this rather
dreary experience did not tempt me to any further flights of oratory. I
found, in deed, that my party Whips were seldom anxious for any of the
younger men to speak; we had too many orators on our side already, they
told me, and it has never been the policy of the Lords to prolong debate
unduly or to extend it beyond the dinner hour. In this respect the Upper
House presents a singular contrast to the Commons, where time is freely
wasted in futile eloquence which has no effect whatsoever on the result
of divisions. We Lords are a businesslike body, and often take less than
a week to throw out some Radical Bill which the Commons have debated for
several months. Again, when the Conservatives are in power, an important
and complicated piece of legislation is sometimes passed by the Upper
House without amendment, in a single day. Nothing, in fact, is so marked
as the practical manner in which the Lords--so often wrongly accused of
lethargy--will, so to speak, wake up at the end of a session, when the
holidays are approaching, and either pass Conservative measures or reject
Liberal measures with a celerity and unanimity that are altogether
admirable.

It must not be thought from what I have said that the debates in the
Lords are always distinguished by sparse attendance and a lack of
oratory. On great occasions, as for instance when some important Radical
Bill which has passed the Commons by a huge majority is sent up to be
thrown out, the Gilded Chamber is filled to overflowing with those peers
who are ready to sacrifice comfort and convenience, at least once a year,
in the cause of Empire.

The first occasion of this kind when I attended the debate was made
peculiarly interesting to me, not only by the sight of all those eminent
men unselfishly gathered together for Imperial purposes, but by the
opportunity it afforded me of renewing the acquaintance of many whom I
had not seen since I left Eton. It was then that I met Lord Whitechurch,
who had been my fag at school and was still more famous afterwards for
having run through three immense fortunes in less than three years. His
third term of bankruptcy was, I am glad to say, at an end, and he was
thus once more able to take his place among his fellow legislators. Lord
Byfleet, too, I was pleased to see, for his eccentricities of conduct
have caused him to spend too much of his life in retirement in a Home.
Though a Court of Law has adjudged him unfit to manage his own affairs,
Byfleet is a very good fellow at heat, and it was pleasant to know that
an occasional release from that restraint imposed upon him by his
relations would allow him to record his vote in the Imperial Legislature.
I could not but regret the fact, however, that he insisted upon occupying
a prominent place on the front Opposition bench, as his habit of sitting
with his eyes shut and his tongue hanging out of his mouth adds little to
the dignity of his appearance.

Among those with whom I could not claim acquaintanceship but was
nevertheless interested to see were many celebrities of whom I had often
read. Among these were the leaders on both sides, able, brilliant,
painstaking men, inspired by a strong sense of duty to themselves--the
solid backbone upon which the House and the nation can always depend--to
say nothing of other less able but more notorious peers. Here, for
instance, was Lord Slaugham, with whom divorce has become more of a habit
than an event--his marriage with his fourth wife was quite one of the
most interesting of last year's society functions; Lord Thrapstone, who
was found guilty of writing a friend's name upon a cheque, and bound over
to come up for judgment if called upon, it being rightly considered that
the shame of committing such a crime was a sufficient punishment for a
man of his social standing; Lord Blisworth, who, on the strength of
possessing an acre of land and two gum-trees in the West Idies, floated
the Yumata Rubber Company whose collapse ruined so many domestic
servants. Here too, was Lord Lythe and Saythe (formerly Sir Benjamin
Salmon), who so generously offered to subscribe L50,000 to the scheme for
a National Opera House, on condition that a thousand other people would
do the same; old Lord Bletchley, who, though eighty-nine years of age and
mentally deficient, is still able to touch his toes with his fingers
without bending his knees; the eccentric Lord Meopham who shot his
coachman in the back with a revolver because that domestic happened to
take a wrong turning in Park Lane; Lord Swaffield, who as Sir Moses
Hamilton earned a worldwide reputation by walking down the Duke of York's
steps on his hands for a wager; Lord Dunbridge, famous as the husband of
Lady Dunbridge whose enthusiasm for the cause of Woman's Suffrage has
caused her to cut her hair off, and to take her meals in a liquid form
and exclusively through the nose; Lord Brancaster, who as Sir Thomas
Tilling failed seven times to get into parliament--though he stood
impartially on both sides--but who on the death of his uncle at last
earned the reward of patriotism and became a true representative of the
people; and a host of others.

I felt it a great privilege to be included in an assemblage so
representative of every class of thought and adorned by such an
interesting and varied collection of persons. Though I was not fated to
see most of them again until quite recently when they rallied once more
to withstand the machinations of a socialistic government, I have always
cherished an affectionate memory of the unique experience which, coming
as it did at the very outset of my political career, provided me with an
admirable opportunity of appreciating the full grandeur and perfection of
our great Constitutional system.



CHAPTER XII - THE END


I spent the next twelves months of my life quietly but enjoyable at home.
It did not take me very long to grow accustomed to my newly acquire
honours, to the respect with which I was treated by social inferiors and
the deference which my title evoked from shop-assistants. Owning to my
recent bereavement I was naturally disinclined to join in the gaieties of
the London season, and religiously kept away from theatres, dances and
other social gatherings. I saw little harm, however, in joining with a
few familiar friends in an occasional party to the Earl's Court
Exhibition, whither I was more than once privileged to escort Miss
Carruthers and her father.

The latter had conceived a passionate fancy for a pastime, then much in
vogue among elderly persons, which was known as "Wiggling the Woggle."
This consisted in being rolled down a steep incline in a barrel, and
proved most amusing to the onlookers. I encouraged the aged peer in this
harmless predilection, and with Miss Aline would often sit on a bench at
the Exhibition for an hour or so after dinner while her father fought his
way through the surging crowd that was struggling to pay its sixpences
for the privilege of being severely woggled. Lord Warlingham spent as
much as four shillings one evening upon this engaging but rather violent
form of amusement, and returned to us in a most dishevelled but elated
condition after his eighth journey in the barrel.

I was also fortunate enough to be alone with Miss Carruthers in a car on
the "Great Wheel" on one of the occasions when by a merciful dispensation
of Providence something went wrong with the machinery. The seven hours we
spent together, at an altitude so great that the remarks of Lord
Warlingham on the ground below failed to reach us, did much to cement our
friendship.

Lord Warlingham was an enthusiastic but indifferent golfer, and would
often insist upon taking me down to some course near London to spend a
happy day on the links. Besides being a bad player who only brought off
an occasionally good stroke by accident, he was also an extraordinarily
slow one. He took several minutes "addressing" the ball, having
previously rehearsed his stroke on an adjacent tuft of grass, while the
whole course waited. Another cause of delay was his habitual vacillation.
He could never decide which club to use until he had changed his mind on
the subject at least three times, much to the annoyance of his caddy. On
the "Green" he would practise over and over again the "putt" he had just
missed, regardless of the fury of the players behind him, whose game was
thus indefinitely prolonged. Playing with him was consequently a somewhat
doubtful pleasure which only my devotion for his daughter rendered
tolerable.

After a day's golf with Lord Warlingham I sometimes dined at his house,
and thus had further opportunities of meeting Miss Carruthers. I was also
enabled to make the acquaintance of Lady Frederick Hungerton, her aunt,
who afterwards proved a very useful ally.

Ever since the death of Lady Warlingham, her widowed sister, Lady
Frederick Hungerton, had kept house for the bereaved husband and been a
nominal mother to Miss Aline. The passing of the Deceased Wife's Sister
Act had caused some consternation in the Warlingham household, but left
its master quite unmoved. Prudish friends assured him that he could no
longer dream of living under the same roof as Lady Frederick, now that
the law had rendered it possible for him to make her his wife. But Lord
Warlingham only laughed, and declined to make any change in his mode of
life. One had only, he said, to look at Lady Frederick, who certainly
possessed but few physical attractions, to realise the absurdity of
imagining that anybody would ever be likely to insult her, least of all
her own brother-in-law. She would be just as safe now from his advances
as she had been at any time during the last four years, and that was
saying a good deal.

Lady Frederick herself was rather upset, but a consultation with the Rev.
Theobald Gudgeon, the High Church clergyman to whom she occasionally
confessed, reassured her. Father Gudgeon would not admit the possibility
of any marriage with a deceased wife's sister. Was she not, in the eyes
of the Church, flesh of her brother-in-law's flesh and bone of his bone?
He took the opportunity of denouncing in no measured terms those
unfortunate persons, in the Colonies and elsewhere, who were misguided
enough to contravert such a statement. He knew Lady Frederick too well,
he said, to suspect her of harbouring any leanings towards matrimony; she
would certainly never be attracted by any relationship of which the
Church disapproved so strongly.

Lady Frederick Hungerton was one of those timid, retiring women who are
intended by Nature to remain spinsters. Married life had never agreed
with her, and at her husband's death she had assumed a widow's cap with a
feeling of distinct relief.

Lord Frederick Hungerton had been a large and rather brusque individual,
who smoked his pipe all over the house, and shouted at the servants. His
wife on the other hand was a delicate piece of Dresden ware, and trembled
at the very sound of the heavy (and often muddy) tread of her husband's
boots upon the drawing room carpet. The alliance of this ill-matched pair
was about as appropriate as that of a bull and a china-shop, and when
Lord Frederick succumbed to gout at the age of sixty-eight he left his
wife a confirmed widow. He did not leave her much else, however, and on
the death of her sister, Lady Warlingham, she gladly availed herself of
her brother-in-law's kindly offer that she should come and live with him
and manage his domestic affairs.

Lady Frederick might truthfully have been styled the Queen of
Commonplace. She was never at a loss for an unoriginal remark, uttered
with smile of quiet triumph which raised the dreariest truism to the
level of an epigram, without robbing it of its natural dignity as a
platitude. She had, indeed, reduced conversation of the fluent obvious
type to an exact science, so that all who knew her well could anticipate
her criticisms with absolute correctness. She never wearied of declaring
that there was nothing so cheerful as a wood fire, that the poor were
always with us, that the carrying of an umbrella was sufficient to
prevent rain, that it was impossible to shake off a summer cold or to
obtain good coffee in England, and was continually expressing surprise at
the smallness of the world. "This soup" she would say at the beginning of
dinner, "is a meal in itself"; or "The only way to get workmen out of the
house is to move in oneself"; or "I suppose we shall all be flying soon."

She was the victim of frequent bouts of devotion, and would periodically
retire into a "Home" kept by a worthy Protestant sisterhood, under the
superintendence of Father Gudgeon, where she underwent a refreshing
course of religious rest cure.

Lady Frederick and I soon became fast friends. I often called at tea-time
to discuss the Education Bill with her, and was easily persuaded that
Nonconformist rate-payers deserved neither pity for themselves nor
instruction for their children.

When I suggested taking Miss Aline to a concert or a picture gallery,
Lady Frederick very nobly undertook the duties of chaperone, though
neither form of entertainment appealed to her. One morning, indeed, she
was much shocked at being dragged to a small gallery in Bond Street where
a number of paintings of the impressionist school of thought were being
exhibited by a French artist whose sole claim to recognition lay in his
persistent inability to obtain any kind of encouragement at the hands of
the hanging committee of the Paris Salon. His pictures for the most part
represented atmospheric effects of sunset and dawn--the main results of
the artist's efforts suggesting tomato salads or sections of a peculiarly
unhealthy brand of cheese--and were extremely popular among all true
lovers of art. One in particular that attracted an unusual amount of
attention was the portrait of a woman of uncertain years and character
who appeared to be suffering from some species of acute mind trouble, and
was represented as seated at a small table contemplating a glass
containing a bilious green fluid of which she had apparently been
partaking by suction with the aid of a straw. This was a clever picture,
but Lady Frederick could hardly bear to stay in the same room with it.

One Sunday morning in June, about a year after my succession to the
title, I happened to take up the newspaper after breakfast. My eye was at
once arrested by a head-line which was not then as common as it has since
become.

     PEER TO WED ACTRESS

were the words that attracted my attention and force me to read on. "Many
congratulations (I read) are being showered upon Miss Peril Berkeley of
the Minerva Theatre whose romantic engagement to the Earl of Banchory has
just been announced. Miss Berkeley is well known to the public as a
talented member of the Minerva Musical Comedy Company which, under the
able direction of Mr. John Williams, has recently achieved so notable a
success with 'The Girl from Over the Sea." During the run of this piece,
now in its fourth year, she has understudied Miss Gertrude Hamilton in
the part of Therése on two occasions, and by her rendering of those
deservedly popular songs "Snow-drops" and "Kiss me and I'll kiss you,"
has evinced great dramatic promise. We understand, however, that on her
marriage Miss Berkeley (who in private life is known to her friends as
Miss Ada Wilkins) intends to bid farewell to the footlights. Her fiancé,
the Earl of Banchory, who is the eldest son of the Marquis of Cantire is
a keen chessplayer and big-game hunter, and his collection of
picture-postcards is generally considered to be the finest in the world.
He was for two years a second-lieutenant in the 5th (Militia) Battalion
of the Loyal East Hunts Fusiliers, but resigned his Commission just
before the South African War. Lord Banchory's family is one of the oldest
in the Kingdom, and he will eventually inherit Drumcleugh Castle, Perth;
Hamley Place, Lincoln; Claverton Hall, Surrey; Drumwhistle Lodge, Oban;
Ravenscourt, Glos; Stourton Abbey, Lancs; Castle Larney, Co. Mayo,
Ireland; and Rhiywgollen, Wales.

I threw the paper down with a cry of joy. At last I could be certain that
Miss Carruthers had rejected her cousin, that the marriage between them
would never take place, and that she was free. I felt as though a heavy
load had been lifted from my breast.

Since our transatlantic journey, Miss Aline and I had never discussed the
question of her quasi-engagement. I had been on the point of broaching
the subject once or twice, but had felt instinctively that she did not
wish to talk about it, and that I should be wiser to remain silent.
Hazelton, however, had met Lord Banchory at a dance given at the Savoy by
a number of ladies of the Musical Comedy stage, and told me that, as far
as he could judge, the young peer showed no signs of allowing his love
for Miss Aline, if it existed, to absorb his whole attention. I was
therefore inclined to hope that by a patient and persistent display of
devotion I might yet win the reward which I sought so diligently.

On the afternoon of this same Sunday I had promised to take Miss Aline
and her aunt Lady Frederick Hungerton to the Zoological Gardens to
inspect a new chimpanzee which was being much talked about in society. I
had been invited to luncheon at Lord Warlingham's house, and during that
meal I noticed that his daughter seemed to be unusually silent and
depressed. In the afternoon Lady Frederick motored us down to Regent's
Park.

We arrived there soon after three o'clock and shortly afterwards Miss
Carruthers and I managed very cleverly to lose our chaperone in the Sloth
House, where I regret to say she spent most of the afternoon with no
other sustenance than that which could be derived from a bag of nuts
which I had pressed into her hand at parting.

Miss Aline and I meanwhile found a quiet bench near the large mammals,
and were so engrossed in conversation that we did not become aware of the
passage of time until a neighbouring clock chimed seven. We then hastily
made our way to the North Entrance where we found poor Lady Frederick in
a state of utter collapse. She had reached her last nut, and, after
searching for us high and low for four hours, was beginning to think that
we must have fallen victims to some anthropophagous creature, and that
she would have to return alone to break the news to the family. We
cheered her up as best we could, and though at first inclined to repel
our apologies, she quickly relented when we told her the good tidings
which we had originally intended to keep secret until we had obtained
Lord Warlingham's consent.

There are some things too sacred to be put on paper, and I have no
intention of describing the final stages of my courtship, culminating in
the sublime moment when I proposed once more to Aline and was accepted.
What I said on that occasion is known to two individuals only--if we
except the hippopotamus which appeared to regard the proceedings with
unusual interest from the corner of its grated paddock--and will ever be
divulged to a wider circle. It is enough for the reader to be told that
Aline and I became engaged that afternoon at the Zoo, that the engagement
was announced the next day in the _Morning Post_, and that two months
later we were made man and wife, when Ginger Hazelton, although he never
quite forgave me for cutting him out, consented to be my "best man."

The marriage ceremony was performed three times; first of all at the
Brompton Oratory, to satisfy the claims of Lord Warlingham's family, who
were Roman Catholics; secondly at St. Margaret's, Westminster, to please
my Aunty, Lady Preston, who was a devout Protestant and very wealthy; and
lastly at a Registry Office, to make things quite safe.

"Well, my boy," said my uncle, Sir Claud Ventrigorm, greeting me with a
slap on the back as, with Aline and Hazelton, I descended the steps of
the last-named institution, "How's the world treating you, eh? One
doesn't get married every day of one's life, eh what?"

"Bellinger seems to!" replied Ginger somewhat humorously, as he helped
Aline into the motor.

That afternoon my wife and I left for Paris en route for Fontainebleau
where the first week of our married life was to be spent. When at length
we reached the bright little sitting-room in the Hotel des Princes and
found ourselves alone, with the door tightly shut upon us, Aline turned
to me and held out her arms. I bent down and kissed her, and then put my
arms around her and kissed her again.

"Isn't it perfectly wonderful?" I asked.

"It's the most wonderful thing in the world" said Lady Bellinger.



THE END.



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