The Love of Adrian Beauchamp
A Dramatic Incident in the Life of a British Minister
J. de la MARE ROWLEY
THE PRIME Minister sat at his desk, dictating the outline of a speech he was shortly to deliver on the subject of the Reform of the Divorce Laws.
“The moral and intellectual vitality of a nation is based, to a very large extent, on the character of its women, inasmuch as it is they who breed, train and educate Young England, and—
“Er—well, put a line there, Jenkins, and write down this.
“Let me see—yes: Procrastination in moral reform means a kind of negative progress to the devil of Before-Reform, nothing more nor less than a falling away from political and social ideals, and an establishment of inferior, unreformed actualities. Admitting that our women—we do admit—you all admit—are inwardly as moral as humanity can be, there is one further step necessary, and that is to crown their morality, so as to render it of monumental social height and prominence at the very gateway of society, in comparison with the degradation of vice necessary for admittance to the underworld.”
“Now put this: Convention is the backbone of action, that is to say, it is the moving power, the impelling force of action done in the face of the world. We govern because it is conventional to govern. We sleep because it is conventional to sleep. We go to war because it is conventional to go to war, and in rightful cause because it is conventional to make war for a right cause. If we go to war for a bad cause we are unconventional and we are treated as outcasts. In fact, to sin against convention is in the eyes of the world a worse sin that any against morality. If we bolster up a bad act so as to give it a conventional appearance, we are pardoned; but if we are unconventionally good we are never forgiven. Consequently, we, the government of the Empire, must render social immorality the most terrible sin against convention, the fundamental, necessary constituent of convention. And to enforce the conventionality of high morals, we, the enforcers, the Government, the representatives of morality, must be incorruptible and without moral stain.”
“I will enforce my point by illustration, although it is painful for me to do so. It is, however, necessary, as the justification of a recent action of the Government for which it has been severely criticised during the past month. I refer to the forced resignation of and the subsequent divorce suit
Editor’s note.—A particularly strong story, with, the hero a prime minister and the heroine the wife of the leader of the Opposition! The interest in the dramatic situation that develops and threatens to overturn a Government is maintained throughout. It is one of the cleverest bits of fiction that has appeared this year.
brought against a former member of the Cabinet, Sir Montague Williams.” /
The Prime Minister stopped for a moment to light his pipe. Daniel Henderson always smoked when working, and it was a known fact, an important anecdote of the great; the Opposition made fun of it, saying that tobacco tinged all the Premier’s speeches and actions, rendering them airy and fleeting as smoke. How cruel Oppositions are! Yet Daniel Henderson still smoked on, and scorned such witticisms.
“You have a cutting, haven’t you?” said he to his secretary, “in connection with that case?”
“Yes, sir, from yesterday’s Post. One of the leaders, sir.”
“That’s the one. Just attach it to your typewritten notes. Perhaps you had better read it through to me.”
The secretary fetched from a file, a newspaper cutting, and having fastened it to his note book, read it aloud to the Minister:
THE MONTAGUE WILLIAMS DIVOECE CASE
“This astonishing case has now terminated, judgment being given in favor of the petitioner. Every right-thinking Englishman will be honestly proud of the perfectly sane and dignified manner adopted by the Government during the procedure of a case, which, incidentally, threatened at one time to dismember the Cabinet. The country was made aware of the opinion of the Prime Minister relative to the conduct of Sir Montague Williams in his eloquent speech delivered before the House last night. Mr. Henderson pointed out how exceedingly painful such an affair was to him, but at the same time showed by his former action of some weeks ago, when he requested the immediate resignation of Sir Montague Williams, his sense of the position of the Prime Minister as the representative of the people, the social morality and progress of the country. We recollect how star-
tled London and the whole of England were exactly a month ago at the speech of the Premier, in which he publicly asked Sir Montague Williams to resign his position in the Cabinet. As we all know, Sir Montague did so, and the Prime Minister was attacked from all sides for his apparently most unjustifiable procedure. lie declined to give any reason for the public disgrace of a fellow statesman. He merely stated that the justification would be visible to the whole world before long. And how complete is that justification now! The divorce suit brought against Sir Montague Williams by his wife during the last three weeks, has revealed that the former Cabinet Minister, a man entrusted with the cares of government, and with the welfare of many millions of taxpayers, a man openly defying the reform movements in public morals inaugurated by his own party, is a disolute and debauched decadent of the vilest description. The revelations of the divorce court during the past three weeks have been nauseous in the extreme, but form an ample and splendid justification of an action almost unparalleled in the constitutional history of this country.
“Mr. Henderson nobly remarked in his able speech yesterday, how deeply grieved he had been many weeks ago to hear by accident of a rumor of the real character of his colleague, how careful he had been in his investigations as to its truth, how thunderstruck he had been on finding overwhelming proof of the veracity of his informers, and how his public request for the minister’s resignation had only been necessitated by the failure of many private appeals. Sir Montague Williams determined to brazen it out, and even after his dismissal received the sympathy of a vast section of the public. He hoped that his wife would not have the courage to begin proceedings against him. But he has met with his punishment. We only wish to express our gratefulness to Mr. Henderson for his exceptional behavior in this matter. His honorable conduct will go far in convincing the vast majority of voters that by the Government now in power, their moral and social welfare is ably and sincerely upheld.”
The Prime Minister listened silently, while his secretary read the above in a slow sing-song voice and puffed the smoke from his big Dutch pipe. He made no remark at the finish, but signified that he wished to be alone. The
secretary went out closing the door quietly behind him.
The Premier took up a visiting card which lay on his desk. He looked at it for awhile, turning it over and over once or twice in his fingers. It was a little habit of his.
He pressed the bell-knob.
“Show in this Mr. Ferguson,” he said to the official who answered.
Mr. Official bowed, and a minute later returned with “Mr. Cyril Ferguson, City Club, Cornhill, E.C.”
Mr. Cyril Ferguson, a remarkably tall man, had not a very prepossessing appearance. He was sandy in color, and being a hairy man, had a kind of ginger-colored moss all over him, especially abundant in his ears and nostrils, and on the back of his hands. Where hair ought to have been, however, there was a decided lack, for a sandy baldness crowned his cone-shaped head, although he seemed scarcely more than thirty. His pale, colorless eyes tilted upwards from nose to ears, and were half shaded by sandy, gingery lashes, as if some moldy spider had spun a web over them. His nose was long and twisted, sailing over at the end towards the right-about, and the tip was of a deeper hue of ruddy ginger than the rest of his irritating complexion. He had no chin to speak of, although his mouth was distinctly large, upwards turned at each end, so as to run parallel with his eyes. He wore a low collar, spotlessly clean, and very large so that his throat, skinny and red, could work comfortably. A neat frock coat, nicely brushed, was suspended from his bony shoulders, falling in many folds down his mingy back. His trousers were creased but baggy. Heavy boots, square-toed yet polished, adorned his monstrous feet, and he shuffled them along as he walked as though they were weighted with lead.
“Well, sir?” said the Prime Minister, somewhat sternly.
“Cyril Ferguson, sir, Cyril Ferguson, of the City Club, Cornhill, E.C., sir,” answered that gentleman, in a halfoily, half-husky tone of voice. Labials and sibilants were oily, gutturals husky.
“So I see. What is your business? Why did you request a private interview?” answered the Minister, shortly-
“Do you object to me sitting down, sir?” asked the gingery individual, shifting towards a chair. Daniel Henderson made a curt sign of acquiescence, and began impatiently to tap the table with a ruler. This man annoyed him.
Mr. Ferguson heaved a heavy sigh, like the squelch of sea through a mass of sand, and packed his many feet of bones and acres of skin into a large arm chair.
“I belong to the City Club—offices and clubrooms in Cornhill, E.C.—good
smoking-room—founded for the benefit of our civic laws and commerce, and for—
“Well, well, well, sir—well!” interrupted the Minister, rapping out each “well” with a sharp tap behind it that sent it right into Mr. Ferguson’s head.
—“The nation,” quietly added Mr. Ferguson, “and I might inform you also sir, that it recently numbered amongst its members that unfortunate guardian of trade, Sir Montague Williams, our late vice-president.”
The Minister frowned angrily.
“I have no interest whatever in Sir Montague Williams, or his affairs, and I can spare you not a minute more of my time. I must request your departure, sir. I understood you wished to see me with reference to a question of commercial law.”
Mr. Ferguson smiled.
“Well, no, not exactly. That was a little ruse, my dear sir, a knowing little trick of the trade, you understand. A feint, as it were.”
The Minister arose briskly from his chair, and walked quickly to open the door.
“One moment, one single moment,” ejaculated Mr. Ferguson, rising also, and stretching out his bony claws. “I
have a message from Sir Peter Mathewson.”
Daniel Henderson turned round with a start. Sir Peter Mathewson was the leader of the Opposition, or rather its nominal leader only, for all England, the whole world, knew that the policy of the Opposition was directed by the wonderful brain and talent of Sir Peter’s beautiful and distinguished wife.
. The Minister looked more closely at this strange messenger, this young man grown prematurely old, with a light of cunning idiocy in his eyes, a constant grin on his heavy lips. He was grotesque, absurd. The Minister felt that he loathed the look on those eyes : he felt a sickening feeling as he looked at him. He seemed a creature let loose from a nightmare that long time ago he had dreamed.
“What message have you from him?”
“Concise and to the point,” said the member of the City Club, with a suggestive stretching of his perpetual grin, if it could be called such, for the biggest smile was but suggestion, as the lips seemed perpetually lengthened to the limits of laughter—of the grim, ugly kind, not humorsome.
“I bave the honor to be Sir Peter Mathewson’s lawyer, my dear Mr. Henderson, he continued, with odious familiarity, “and he has entrusted me with what I consider a rather important commission. In fact, sir—” leaning forward and leering with his half-shut eyes right into the Minister’s handsome open ones— I am asked by him to request your immediate resignation.”
The Minister lost all patience, angered by this idiotic and obnoxious intruder.
Get out of this, sir, and take your impertinent messages to the devil,” he fairly roared, with arm outstretched towards the door.
“I think I have taken it there,” replied the unperturbed Ferguson, caressing his lower lip—loose and blubbery— with his hairy fingers. “And here, Mr. Daniel Henderson, if you want them, are my credentials.”
So saying, he handed the Minister a sealed letter.
The Premier snatched it from his hand,_ and tore open the envelope. It contained the following:
76 Chandos Street W. To the Right Honorable Daniel Henderson:
I shall be obliged if you wall give due credence to the bearer of this, my lawyer, Mr. Cyril Ferguson, who has undertaken to convey to you an urgent and peremptory request from myself, in the interests of my party and of the country. Mr. Ferguson is my personal and accredited representative in this matter. For the sake of all concerned,
and the honor of the country, I send this message CQnfidentially, and I might add, for your peace of mind, that the facts are known to myself, Lady Mathewson, and Mr. Ferguson alone.
I have the honor to be,
Your Obedient Servant, Peter Mathewson.
The Minister crumpled up the paper between fingers, glaring at the lawyer with contemptuous anger mingled with profound astonishment.
“Explain this tomfoolery at once, sir,” he shouted, “or—” He tapped the table beside which he was standing, vigorously with his knuckles.
Mr. Ferguson readjusted his coattails and bones in the arm-chair, and stretched his mouth a millimetre or so each side with fine complacence.
“It’s like this, my dear sir,” he said slowly, while the Minister stood before him glowering with suppressed wrath at this insolent note and this abominable messenger. “It’s like this. My employer, Sir Peter, an admirable man always desirous of learning and benefiting by and from the knowledge and capacity of his antagonists and opponents was delighted with your speech recently delivered or recited relative to this sad and deplorable affair of Sir Montague Williams, and appertaining to his dismissal. Indeed, most shocking!”
The Minister made a movement towards him. Mr. Ferguson looked shifty, and continued a little more hurriedly:
“Admired it tremendously, sir, oh, tremendously, examined every sentence. Especially those—splendidly conceived —in which you touched on the absolute necessary for straightdiving Ministers, their heavy responsibility as guardians and guiders of the public morals, their duty towards the virtuous woman and the honest man, the necessity for the elimination of corrupt hypocrites, and other principles equally healthy and edifying. In fact, my dear sir, Sir Peter, and more especially, my lady, were so remarkably interested in the magnificent moral vision portrayed that they both desired to see more closely the virtuous harmony of this wonderful Cabinet, from which Sir Montague Williams was so righteously expelled. Moreover they so much admired the distant prospect of you, sir, you, as the fountainhead of this unsullied stream of virtue, that they desired closer acquaintanceship, if not in the future, why, then, in the past.”
The sandy-haired lawyer leered atrociously and sucked his underlip with relish.
The Minister sat down in his chair, and took up his pipe. He was perfectly cool and collected.
“Be quick, please. I am in a hurry,”
said he, in an even voice, without a trace of his former temper showing in it.
“I shall not detain you much longer, my dear sir,” replied Ferguson, “I will only say that Sir Peter in his honest and earnest endeavor to better his own moral condition by a study of the clean and holy youth led by that paragon of goodness, the present leader of the Government, the eloquent speaker on the necessity for the morality of Ministers, the destroyer of that unfortunate but dissolute Sir Montague Williams, came across some surprising little adventures, highly spiced with charming yet somewhat shocking details, which were once encountered by a terribly naughty and gay young gentleman who bore the romantic name of Adrian Beauchamp— such an obvious ‘nom d’amour’!— during that young gentleman’s residence in Paris some thirty years ago or more. Adventures, both daring and delightful, with many pretty ladies of light behavior, more especially, with a Mile. Mathurin, of the Opera Comique. And Adrian Beauchamp, it appears, afterwards went into politics, under another name, his right name, sir, and became very great and moral indeed, most incorruptible, with all sorts of impolite names for such misses as the lady of the Opera Comique. Dear me, dear me, how wonderful it has all been! How tremendous must the swerve round have been !”
And the lawyer again sighed his sand-slushy sigh, rocking his bones backwards and forwards as he spoke.
The Minister’s face was pale, and his strong mouth slightly quivered. He was gazing intently at the fingernails of his right hand. The other hand jesting on the table, played nervously with a penholder.
As the lawyer did not immediately continue, the Minister looked up.
“Is that all you have to say?” he said quietly.
“Quite all,” said the lawyer, lifting himself up, like a Gargantuan skeleton arising from the grave, “but I would repeat that Sir Peter and his party would be most exceedingly obliged if this gay young Adrian Beauchamp would resign his arduous political work and return to champagne and the ladies. Sir Peter thinks, my Lady thinks, we all think, that Mr. Beauchamp should return to a more happy and fruitful field, more suited to his peculiar genius.”
The Minister’s voice trembled with passion as he answered. But one could not tell whether it was from anger or emotion.
“Tell your master that if he desires to discuss any subject in connection with the country, or of political interest, with me, that I will see him personally. To you I have nothing to say. Go !”
He pointed to the door, and so majes-
tic was the tone of his voice, so flaming the fire in his eye, so noble the command of his gesture, that even Mr. Lawyer Ferguson moved towards the door abashed and cowered. He turned, however, before he opened it
“And that’s your answer, Mr. Adrian Beauchamp?”
The Minister touched the bell. The official appeared with the rapidity of lightning.
“Show this person out,” said the Minister, and the door closed on the obnoxious lawyer.
He would have been gratified had he seen Daniel Henderson then. No sooner was the premier alone than a dreadful pallor stole over his features. His brow—broad and splendid—creased into knots and lines of agony, and his teeth bit fiercely at his trembling lips. His hands gripped the arms of his chair terribly, as though he had been drowning and they clasped but a feeble plank, the last barrier before death. And his chest seemed torn by a raging storm, pent up, unable to escape.
But for a moment, though. Daniel Henderson was a strong man, accustomed to action. His breath came in jerky gasps, he almost choked, but he jumped to his feet, and paced to and fro, to and fro, across the room, thinking with all the power of his brain, examining, calculating, foreseeing, thinking, thinking!
He seized the telephone and was connected with a Mr. Guy Lestrange Arranged a dinner appointment. Most important. Be sure to be on time. And quite private.
The Prime Minister locked the door, and sitting in his arm chair, his head buried in his hands and bowed over the table, he thought and thought and thought, till twilight darkened into night with a last faint flush on the ceiling, and the winter moon shone on the Minister’s silvered head.
Mr. Guy Lestrange sat in the lounge
at the Parliament Club, St. James’. He was a noticeable man. Well-made, masculine figure, with something of immaculate finish in every limb. Yet the features of his face were not strictly regular, in fact, his face would not definitely be described as handsome. His mouth, that keynote of character, was strong yet sensitive, closing firmly over excellently white teeth. But about his eyes there was something almost suggestive of furtiveness. When he was thinking they were narrowed into mere slits and one could barely see the light of the eyes shining through. There was something sinister about him when he was serious,, but at will he could adopt a look of boyish openness and
serenity, and then one remarked on the fullness of his eyes. He apparently had the power of sinking them deep into his head, and it was this muscular action that gave to his face a certain indescribable interest, yet which at the same time, subtracted from its natural charm. His smile was extremely pleasant ; his voice full, deep and melodious. He had a nervous little habit when talking, of seeming to play an invisible piano with his right hand, while his left hand often stroked his underlip. He dressed exceedingly well, in the very best of taste, becoming in consequence a standard model of clubland and stageland fashion.
Of his antecedents we know nothing. Sufficient here to say that sometime or other he had apparently been to Oxford, as his most intimate friends were Oxford men But when, or how old he was, no one appeared to know. He looked about 35.
He was certainly a power in London, a power behind a great many scenes, political, social and dramatic. By profession he was a dramatic critic, writing witty and often caustic reviews in the Dramatic and Literary Review. Other means he seemed not to possess, although from his appearance he would have been considered a rich man. He borrowed a good deal from his friends,
and they were always willing to lend, for one never knew how useful Lestrange could be in a crisis. He knew such a great many people, and was familiar with the apparatus in the sidescenes. He was secret as the grave, too —even more so, for he weighed down all ghosts with lead and never wrote memoirs. He was a universal trustee of state mysteries and intrigues. He had such an acute mental power, narrowing the most voluminous matters into a finite point—or rather, an infinite to all but himself—on which he concentrated his mind, and evolved it into The Solution, tangible and possible.
He was the first man the minister thought of when faced with perhaps the most difficult and disastrous situation of his whole public career.
Daniel Henderson arrived at the club at seven o’clock sharp a hale man to see, upright, strongly made, fine features, stern, age about 56. He found Lestrange reading the Sportsman. Guy was a frequenter of Newmarket and Doncaster.
“How d’ye do, Lestrange?” said the Minister flapping that gentleman on the shoulder, and sitting down in the chair opposite him. “Iíow are you?”
“Fit as a fiddle,” replied Lestrange, smiling his delightfulest, “and yourself, sir?”
“Fairly, fairly, my boy, but—”
Lestrange looked at him. The Minister’s face was drawn and white, and his eyes were bloodshot.
“Anything wrong?” queried Guy.
“It’s what I want to see you so much about, Guy,” replied the Minister, shading his eyes with his hand. And then his voice sank almost to a whisper. “I’ve found this afternoon that there’s an avenger somewhere in this world with a very strict account of all that’s due to us.”
Lestrange hated this kind of talk about avengers. He rose to his feet.
“Suppose we go and have a bit of dinner,” he said, looking at his watch. ‘It’s gone seven.”
The Minister followed him into the dining room, and the two sat down at a table in the far corner ,where they could be unobserved and undisturbed.
“Tell the man to bring in whatever you want, Lestrange—a little fish is enough for me—and then stay away I want a long talk with you.”
“Right you are ,sir,” said Guy, surveying the menu. Not the greatest power on earth could prevent Lestrange from having a good dinner. Dinner was the vital principle of his brain, wine the arouser, hot strong tea the sedative.
As soon as the waiter had placed an appetizing little dinner on the cloth and disappeared the minister plunged at once into the subject.
“Lestrange, this afternoon, I received this note from Mathewson.” He handed Lestrange the letter presented by the sandy lawyer.
Guy read it in silence, but his eyes sank deeply into his head as he did so, and he no longer seemed a boyish man when he passed it back to the Minister.
“And the message? ” he asked, looking keenly at the Premier.
“ A request for my immediate resignation,” answered the Minister, in a low voice, and his teeth began to bite into his lips.
Lestrange whistled softly, and took a drink.
“ What the deuce for ? ” said he, after a moment.
The Minister replied at once, without hesitation, in an even voice.
“ Somehow or other he has obtained knowledge of certain incidents in my early career in direct antagonism to the sentiments I have expressed, and sincerely expressed, in my speeches recently, specially with reference to the case of Montague Williams.”
He stopped and gave an awkward little cough.
Lestrange leaned back in his chair. His face was in the shadow, thrown by the shade of the lamp standing in the centre of the table.
“ May I ask if these-er-these incidents are facts, sir? ” he said, slowly, and somewhat nervously.
“ Absolutely true,” replied the Minister, “ and the disclosure of them will lead to the public disgrace of myself and the fall of my party. I shall be branded as a vile hypocrite, although Heaven knows I am not so. And worse, the reforms that I have effected will be laughed and sneered at, and my life’s work will be a failure. This can only be saved by my immediate resignation. And, Guy, my boy, I haven’t long to live.”
The voice of the Minister shook with emotion, and his breath came thick and fast.
“ When must you answer him? ”
“ I angrily dismissed this vile messenger of his, and told him I should be pleased to see Sir Peter personally if he wished to discuss anything with me. That’s all I’ve done.”
Lestrange leapt up from the table and ran to the telephone. He returned in about five minutes.
“ I’ve just been talking to Sir Peter,” he said, “ and I’ve taken the liberty of asking him round to see you to-morrow. He is coming. So we have till then.”
The Minister nodded his approval. He seemed too dazed to act for himself.
He had thought years of suffering, of work, were heaped over those events of his early manhood, years of repentance and better deeds. Yet no! Here they were, grim as ever, inexorable 1 Guy sat down again. His every motion was prompt.
“ Now, sir, if you don’t mind, I’d like to hear all the facts. What is this knowledge he possesses? You know I will do my best for you, sir.”
“ I know it, Guy; I know it. I’ll tell you all.”
He settled himself in his chair and bent forward, speaking quickly and with great earnestness.
“ When I was twenty or so, Guy, 1 ran away from home. My father was a stern man, had no sympathy with youthful wildness. He was right, Guy ; he was right. I got into debt, and he threatened me with all sorts of disgrace. I ran away from my debts and left him to pay them, which he did, faithfully. I went to live in Paris under the name of Adrian Beauchamp. I earned my living by miscellaneous writing and reviewing, and fell in with a fast set connected with the Parisian papers and the stage. I gambled a good deal, lost a lot of money, and borrowed from moneylenders. Made friends with them in order to pay them, especially with one Dubourg, a thoroughly dissipated man, but to whom I owed somewhere around a couple of thousand francs. I believe he was really fond of me, as I could never find any other reason why he should wish to go about with me. He introduced me to other gamblers and men of the under world of Paris, and to innumerable fast women. This low, degrading life fascinated me, fool that I was, probably because I had been so strictly brought up. Finally, I met Dubourg’s sister, an angel of purity then, and Dubourg worshipped her. She was his only Heaven. Her name was—was Julie. And she was on the stage, at the Opera Comique, under the name of Mlle. Mathurin.” The Minister paused, and drained his wineglass. Lestrange did not move.
“She was beautiful and young, innocent then, too; but I was mad and a villain. I flattered her with words and gifts. Yet it was not false. I—I did love her. Yes, I loved her. But—I was a villain. And she became my mistress, without Dubourg’s knowledge. I betrayed him and ruined her under the roof of the house that had befriended me.”
The Minister drew his breath with a quick gasp.
“ And he loved his sister, poor fellow,” he went on, “ loved her as a lily, white and fair on this dark and vile earth. And later—he finds out the truth; finds me out! ”
The Minister was in Paris, thirty
years back. Lestrange stared full into the eyes that saw him not.
“ He frowns, a terrible black frown! And he flies at my throat, clutches here, and I choke. I protect myself. I am strong and young, and I knock him down. And on the morrow we meet and fight. There’s the wall, and the rain cloud behind, blacker and blacker towards the west. And the orangebound horizon. We stare into each other’s eyes. And he is proud and furious, and I am afraid, deadly afraid. I tremble. I pull the trigger with a frightened finger. And the bullet splits his heart in twain. I have killed him, killed him. And his sister? Ah, his sister! Her name was Julie. And she had blue eyes once, pure once, now—”
The voice of the Minister sank so low that Lestrange scarce could hear him as he spoke. His hand clutched at the tablecloth.
The waiter entered.
“ Shall I bring in the other bottle, sir ? ”
The Minister started, and jerked back into his chair. He gazed wildly at Lestrange.
“Yes, yes; put it here. That’ll do. Thank you,” said Lestrange, quickly. And the waiter departed.
“And then?” said Lestrange, gently.
The Minister pulled himself together. He was terribly nervous.
“She loved her brother far better than she loved me. And she loathed me for my crime. So she went away. And a month later she gave birth to my child. Mine, Guy, mine!”
The Minister’s hands tremble and he seemed afraid to raise his eyes to meet the look of his hearer.
“For a whole year I sought to find them. I sent them money. I do not know whether it was received or not. I loved her passionately, and my child —I dreamed of it, with—I thought—I imagined its eyes might be like mine, and I called it by name, Adrian, Adrian! But I had never seen it. I only played with myself, Guy. I could do no more.”
He spoke in firmer, stronger tone now.
“And two years afterwards I returned to England. She, apparently, was dead. I only found the slightest trace of this, scarcely evidence at all, but I accepted it and have ever believed that! she threw herself and her child into the Seine. Forever gone too, with her, was Adrian Beauchamp, and I became Daniel Henderson once again. And a politician. And I forgot all, buried' all, even her. Only sometimes, when I cannot sleep—often now—I find myself calling to my little man Adrian, and then I suffer—terribly, terribly 1 And thought that was atonement.” *
He gave a sigh of relief as he finished his story. His face seemed seared by emotion, anger and pain and passion, one after another, sweeping across his face during the progress of his story. Lestrange scarcely recognized the astute Prime Minister, the courageous, conscientious, highly-respected, and sternly moral statesman, in this wild-eyed old man, a bundle of shattered nerves.
“Come, sir, come,” he said suddenly, “this is not so bad. We’ve all had our fling.”
“Don’t speak like that, Lestrange,” interrupted the Minister, and he spoke fiercely, as though he stood in St. Stephen’s Hall, his voice steady and ringing. “There is no excuse. Fashion and convention gild these gigantic sins and call them, smilingly, follies of youth, wild oats. And every man may have his harlot if he dresses her well and pays her money, and flaunts her not too openly, until he says that he will settle down. Then he must dismiss her, and offer himself to a virgin as a fit mate. And a boy may kill his father and his mother, may send them to early graves because of his shamelessness, and there they can find rest and peace, there only. And there can they hide the pain of their broken hearts, and salve the honor of their family. And freely may men corrupt innocence, and fling out on the world a polluted and branded offspring. This fashion and convention winks at, with a smile on its lips, and a murmured apology, an obliging discreet veil. Wild oats, wild oats Forget and! forgive! Can she forget? Can she forget? Can the —”
“Stop!” And the voice of Lestrange sounded hard. “Are you the right man to say all this?”
“Guy,” said the Minister, and once more he spoke with quietness, “I am justified. All my life has been an atonement. From that day when I left France, I have devoted myself to my country. Ask it, Guy, ask' it? It will tell you what I have done, what I am doing. I have had no pleasure. I am a lonely man. I live alone. And too, I have an internal complaint that at times, tortures me till I almost die with the pain. This it is that foreshadows my death very soon, and 1 know that it is coming. I must lose no time. I must complete what I have begun. And yet I do not complain of all this. I deserve it. But in my beliefs I am sincere. I have learned my lesson. Do you think I wish others'to do as I have done? And undergo my penance? My very desire to purify Society, to tear aside the veil that hides its sores and foulness, to wash away this pollution, is proof of my sincerity.
I had buried my wrongdoings, and I hid my punishment. Was I then to stop there? merely because I feared to be hypocritical, when I was not so? No man can be more sincere than I, Lestrange. And my sincerity has driven me to—to this, for my attack on Williams, my speeches on the subject have—how I cannot guess or imagine —have led to this disaster.”
“And why were you so bitter against Williams? said Lestrange in a low tone, “when he, too, had sinned, as you had? Was he not suffering as well the atonement you speak of?” “No, ten thousand times, no” almost shrieked the Minister, banging his clenched fist down on the table, so that the glasses shook and tinkled, “Williams was radically corrupt. WThat had he reformed? What was his lifework? What repentance had he? I recognized his remarkable cleverness before I knew his character, and therein I was a fool. I entrusted him with the working-out of my attempts at social reform. And then I heard a rumor of the scandal of his private life, viler many times than the vilest thing I have ever done. And that disgusting privacy was his secret Paradise, he found pleasure there and nowhere else. And yet this was the man whom I had blindly chosen as my colleague, who, while with me, endeavored to frustrate my every plan! He was an eyesore to God and man, and could I, governing this kingdom for my King and for my
people, allow this man to continue as a Minister merely because I had sinned in my youth? Can you dare say, Lestrange, that my action in revealing and disgracing him was unjustifiable? Do you dare compare him, sir, with me? Hè, living a secret life of devilish pleasure, me a secret life of devilish torment?”
He spoke angrily, his voice deep and wrathful.
Yet Lestrange kept perfectly cool.
“I do not, sir, most decisively. You have every justification. But I wished to hear it. There’s just one other point if I may mention it, and I hope you will pardon me for doing so. Why do you not regard this threatened disgrace as the crown of that atonement of which you speak, the death-stroke, as it were?”
He looked straight into the eyes of the Minister, and the Minister iooked squarely back.
“Lestrange, my work is incomplete. I have gone a long way, and now on the horizon, there are signs of the success that eventually awaits me. By hard work, its realization is possible even before my death, which is near. As you mean to say, I have earned this disgrace—yes, I have from my selfconfession, although you may not personally think so, but I know, and I have earned it. Yet such an end would kill my work. It would kill all the good I have done, and leave only the evil, flourishing with renewed vigor.
What would people think of the reforms and principles of a dissolute wretch like Adrian Beauchamp? All my work would die, ended forever, yes, forever! . . . But it must not be, must not be. Is England to suffer because I have done wrong? I can escape; I can resign. But what of England? What of my work?”
Lestrange lit a cigarette, and puffed out blue spirals into the air.
“I am sorry I asked you that question,” he said, “you must pardon me.” And then added, with a quick change of tone, “Thank you, sir. I’m au fait with the whole case, and perfectly satisfied that you must win through. Have you any idea how?”
Lestrange was always ready to gather in other men’s ideas, if they had any. But the Minister, afire when he was eloquent with anger or emotion, had sunk back into his nervous and dejected condition.
“Nothing, nothing,” was all he said. “You have no idea how they got hold of this knowledge? By-the-way, you are certain they have it, and are not bluffing you? asked Lestrange.
“Absolutely,” replied the Minister, “this man Ferguson mentioned—her name, and my Parisian name too. They must know all.”
“And you have no idea how they know? Sir Peter is a good-natured nonentity, so put him aside. Who is Ferguson?”
“Mathewson’s lawyer. Has been so for the last ten years, ever since his marriage with the present Lady Clara. She introduced him to her husband, I have heard, and induced him to give the fellow regular work.”
“You have never met him before?” “Not to my knowledge. In fact, when he came to-day, I did not even connect his name with Mathewson.” Lestrange smoked thoughtfully for a while. A piano-organ was playing “Let’s Be Gay, Let’s Be Gay, Let’s# Be Gay” outside, and the sound was faintly heard from the distance.
“See, here, sir,” he said at last, “you know as well as I do that this move has e by Lady Matheson. She directs the Opposition, as you are aware, and Sir Peter definitely says in this letter that she knows about the business, she and Ferguson only.”
“True,” replied the Minister, “I believe with you that she is my biggest enemy in this case.”
“Ferguson is merely a tool of hers. I have heard mention of him. A year ago he was in a lunatic asylum, but he recovered, or at any rate was harmless, and Lady Matheson insisted that her husband should take him into service again. Then the remedy must be found with the lady. Has she ever been connected with Williams in any way?”
“I couldn’t say. But I believe she is of unblemished reputation.”
“Do you know her?” asked Lestrange.
“Not personally. She has been pointed out to me several times, from a distance, but I have never met her face to face. I should not recognize her if I saw her in the street.”
“She is a wonderful woman,” said Lestrange, who knew every one, “beautiful too, and with a scathing wit. Yet strangely emotional. I have only spoken to her a few times, but we got on very well together.”
He stood up. Guy Lestrange was essentially a man of action.
“Well, sir, I will do my utmost, I tell you. I will see Lady Mathewson tonight, and try to argue her out of this move. I have confidence enough in myself to know that I have at least a sporting chance of success. If I fail, then you will have to resign, and take up the fight again as Opposition. I’ll et her word of honor that nothing shall e revealed if this last step is necessary. I promise you.”
“God bless you, my boy,” whispered the Minister, taking Lestrange^ hand, “and Heavembe your aid. You, if anyone, can win for me. I have only a little longer to live, and should the Opposition get in my life work will be incomplete.”
Lestrange wrung the old man’s hand. The Minister was old now, in this hour of conflict.
“Hang it all, sir,” said Guy, with a delightfully light-hearted laugh, “of course I shall get you through safe all right. Trust me for that. What lady could ever refuse me a favor? And it’s a pleasure to me, too, the healing of these little wounds in intrigues of state, I can tell you. Cheer up, sir, cheer up.”
He took the Minister’s arm in his strong, firm hand, and led him to the automobile waiting outside.
It was a fine clear night, stars shining overhead, and the clocks were just striking eight.
Lestrange whistled a Viennese waltz as he stepped back into the club.
But as he put on his boots, his face had a worried expression on it, and as he stood outside on the pavement, waiting for a taxi, he endeavored to relieve his feelings.
“Devil take the damned wenches,” said he. And whistled the last bars of the Viennese waltz.
Mr. Lestrange was shown into my Lady’s boudoir. She had a slight headache, he was informed, and could not r-ome downstairs, but would be delighted to see him.
Of course. Everyone was delighted to see Mr. Lestrange because everyone was half afraid of him. People were
never quite sure what he knew and what he didn’t know about them. So trusted to friendly expression, and were always polite in the extreme. Besides he was such an amusing man.
Lestrange was sorry to hear about the headache, not merely politely so, but heartily so. A woman is bad enough—but a woman with a headache ! Lestrange banished the thought as likely to unnerve him.
Lady Mathewson was in evening neglige, reclining on a sofa-armchair. She could well adopt this delicious costume, because although certainly not far short of fifty, she was, in the words of the world, “admirably preserved”— as though women were a kind of sticky jam.
She gave her hand to the handsome Lestrange, who bowed his head, and softly touched her fingers with his lips. He had many such pretty Continental ways, especially pleasing to matured ladies, who passionately love homage to person. Generally, the young girl gives homage to the elderly man, who doesn’t want it—unless he is conceited absurdity —while the elderly ladies expects it from the young man, who doesn’t give it, unless he is politic, and she exceedingly tactful. Such is the way of the world !
But Lestrange was polite, and sat down by my Lady and asked with chivalric tenderness after her health, even with a touch of gentle pathos in his eloquent voice. He gave her the news, political and fashionable, speckled here and there with the politescandalous, in a charming, anecdotal way, mildly witty, and listened carefully to every word the lady had to say, willing to be the prompter of the conversation, not the monopolizer or even the major constituent.
My Lady was an admirable conversationalist, and very clever. At first she wondered why Lestrange called at this hour. For some purpose, evidently, she thought, as she knew his character. But so deterously did he banish away an idle hour that her suspicions fled away like stars before the sun, and she felt quite easy—so much so that she didn’t self-confess it—that Mr. Lestrange had come only to see a lady whom he admired, and in whose society he found pleasure. Perhaps, too, to get a grain or two of Opposition news, although it was generally known that Lestrange was no partisan in politics and did not openly concern himself with them.
Which was exactly the effect Mr. Guy Lestrange wished to produce. “Make a friend of your enemy,” was his statesmancraft, “and knife him then if he will not listen to reason.” Crude but sure !
Lady Clara was talking about the dislike of the masculine clergyman to so( Continued on page 49.)
(Continued from page 16.)
cial duties such as tea parties and mothers’ meetings. Somehow or other the conversation had led to this interesting topic.
“Sir Peter’s brother is a clergyman, Mr. Lestrange,” she said. Her voice was low and soft.
“He fairly detests mothers and meetings, and is about to employ a sweet young parson with a retreating chin and pale blue eyes to do all that kind of work. I entirely agree with him. How a man can be a fiery and convincing reacher, and at the same time interest imself in teething babies and slate clubs, I’m sure I don’t know. Did Savonarola pay afternoon calls, and eat home-made seed cake, till the dryness made him cough, Mr. Lestrange? Did Bishop Latimer sit in the best parlor on a hard chair, and talk about the weather with a lisp, a set smile, and an aching heart?”
Lestrange laughed. He heard nine o’clock strike, and thought it high time he begun to steer his way to port.
“Well, you know, Lady Clara, I think —with all due deference to your brother-in-law—that most clergymen like seed cake and those teething babies, much better than fasting during Lent and rising early for a morning service. Don’t you think they enjoy to the full the flesh-pots of Egypt?”
“Don’t be sweeping in your statements,” retorted the lady, smiling brilliantly. “Perhaps some do, but they are nothing but hypocrites, unworthy of the name of clergymen. A clergyman to me means a man who lives a pblime life of self-sacrifice, and is doing his best, slaving from morn to night, to make everything comfortable for the idle rest-of-the-world.”
“I hate hypocrites as much as you do,” said Lestrange, seeing an opening, and at once taking it, like a good general. “Hypocritical clergymen, politicians and profligates should all be mixed together into a nice red-hot cauldron, and then put on a slow fire to simmer a little.”
“Are you naturally of a bloodthirsty nature, Mr. Lestrange?” said Lady Clara, with an affected start of horror. “What a terrible man you are!”
“Only as far as hypocrites are concerned, Madame, but of their blood I’ve no taste I assure you. Merely wish to see it evaporate. But the worst hypocrite, to my mind, is not the clerical hypocrite, but the political hypocrite.” “Why?” asked my lady, with a curious look in her eyes, which Guy thought he understood.
“Because politicians have in their hands the temporal welfare of kingdoms
and republics, and kingdoms and republics consist of the bodies of men and their appurtenances. The clergy have in their hands the souls of men, and in the souls of men there is a selfacting power, a conscious force which can be directed at will. Yet if this will begins to direct temporal worldly matters, and does not concern itself with spiritual affairs, the thinker is branded as a rebel if the direction soars outside the prescribed bounds, or execrated as an anarchist or some such kindred, and hurled out of the country. It is not permissible to set yourself against the will of the governors, for they make the laws, and the laws are permanencies, supposed to be created by the majority of voters. Whereas the cíergy can make as many laws as they like, and a man may keep them or not as he pleases. A person shapes his own religion, the govern ment of his thoughts, but ministers shape the government of his actions, and he has to obey them, willy nilly.
“A man has his vote,” rather stupidly interjected my lady.
“One in many millions,” answered Lestrange, and then, with a slight wave of the hand, apparently tossed away the subject.
But Lady Clara was interested, as he wished her to be. To shape the “z” of a conversation with a lady is always the sign for her to begin again at “a.”
“Of course, I certainly agree with you,” she said, “hypocritical ministers and statesmen are the destroyers of their country, and I shall—I shall do everything in my power, everything, everything, to unveil such men before the public.”
She raised her arm as she spoke, and her beautiful eyes—stone-grey in color, but lit with blue—gleamed with a furious enthusiasm. Then with splendid grace, with the gesture of a Queen, she let her hand fall on the arm of her chair. And then the swell of her bosom rose and fell, tremulous and fair, showing this momentary exertion had been too much for the frail strength of her.
Lestrange knew of whom she was thinkingas she spoke. He looked at her admiringly. She was sincere, he was certain, sincere as the Minister whose downfall she was plotting. Yet Sir Peter’s party was unstable and weak, while that of the Government was strong and popular, tremendously so after the recent divorce suit, and the Prime Minister’s action in the matter. Lestrange knew, and he knew she knew, that the social reform movement of the Government was certain of success, provided it was piloted by the skilful and unsullied hands of Daniel Henderson.
There was silence for a second or so, and then Lestrange started the battle.
“A fine thing, too, Lady Clara, that unveiling of hypocrites. And I think the Government has made a magnificent beginning by publicly disgracing this ruffian Williams.”
He dwelt on the last word ; it was the trumpet-sound of the onset.
Lady Clara’s suspicions were not aroused by the mention of this name. She had no idea of the intimacy between Lestrange and the Prime Minister.
She laughed, rather bitterly, thought Lestrange, and clenched her little hand.
“Indeed they did well there. And let us hope it will not end with him.”
“Why? How do you mean? Not end?”
“I mean that I hope—and the whole country must hope—that the Government will not be contented with making one example only, but will prosecute its enquiries throughout the Cabinet, and see that all ministers have clean records.”
“Why, surely yes,’’ said Lestrange, affecting surprise at this statement, “but do you really believe there is the slightest suspicion of anything wrong attached to any one of the members of the Cabinet? Basset, for instance? Hurlingham, Jamieson?”
“Not the slightest,” replied my lady, dryly.
“Lord Morton has always had a good record.”
“Perfect,” said my lady.
“Fotheringham and Hamblehurst have unblemished reputations,” continued Lestrange.
“Stainless,” agreed my lady.
“Sir Stanley Grahame is virtue incarnate,” went on Lestrange.
“A heavenly angel,” sneered my lady, who disliked Grahame for private reasons.
“Why, really^ Lady Clara, you haven’t got anything to say against the members of the present Cabinet. And you must remember that outside his own party, Williams was always a suspected man.”
“His party can be conveniently blind to universal knowledge when such blindness is beneficial to them,” retorted Lady Clara, fidgeting with her fan. And then : “But perhaps soon the Opposition will lend them spectacles.”
She spoke triumphantly, as though she already had her hand on the announcement of the Prime Minister’s resignation or disgrace.
With that, Lestrange resolved on a bold course. It was getting late, and this must be ended quickly.
“They’ve pretty strong glasses of their own, I believe, Lady Clara, although, of course, I’m no politician, and only speak from hearsay. I was introduced not long ago, however, to
Daniel Henderson by a friend of mine, and had a most interesting conversation with him.”
Lestrange stopped for a moment, to see the effect.
My lady was breathing heavily.
“Well?” she said.
“He told me what a blow this Williams business was to him. How it had upset all his plans, and momentarily paralyzed his party. Rut at the same time, he said he recognized its value as an eye-opener to the Ministers themselves. Such a public disgrace is a distinct warning to all. He said if he found a single insincere man in the Government, a single man with the slightest tinge of hypocrisy in him, that he would have him out of the House, if he had to follow hounds himself.”
“He must be a wonderful saint himself,” remarked my lady, looking sharply at Lestrange, who seemed to be idly examining a miniature on the table near him.
“Not at all, my lady, but absolutely and thoroughly sincere to the core. In fact, after I became more intimate with him, he told me himself, and it is common knowledge round the town, that he led a very gay and wild life in Paris some thirty years ago under the name of Adrian Beauchamp, but even then he was sincere, and didn’t pretend to be any better than most other young men stampeded in Paris at the fascinating age of 25. And he does not conceal the sad story of his life, except, of course, the name of the woman. In fact, her he still loves, I believe.”
My lady sat bolt upright in her chair, and glared like a startled lioness. The blue veins stood out, swollen and taut, on her forehead. Her nostrils quivered as she spoke.
“He told you that? The whole town knows it?”
“Why, yes,” replied Lestrange, almost drawling, “and everybody I know —myself included—admires the magnificent way in which Henderson has atoned for any youthful profligacy. Why, My Lady, for thirty years or more he has been a desolate and lonely man, working and striving towards the reform of that social fabric that seemed so torn to him in his youth, so full of holes to catch young fellows such as he then was. He learnt his lesson, however, and the world is profiting by it.”
Lestrange almost became enthusiastic as he went on, Lady Clara looking at him with eyes that were terrible yet beautiful to see. This the end of her great scheme? All the world knew? And admired?
“His has been a noble life,” went on Lestrange, quickly, not allowing the lady time to speak. “I suppose you know all he has suffered. It’s been common gossip for the last twenty years or more, but of course, it has died out
now. He loved a girl, and there was a fight with the brother. The brother was shot, and the girl deserted him with the child. He sought for them for two years, and then returned to England and devoted himself to his country. Yet he has never forgotten the girl he loved. He never blamed her. He knew he deserved everything, poor fellow. Yet he loved her, loved her and that little boy of his. Think of those years of loneliness!”
Lestrange made an effective pause, also to hide his interest, he took up the miniature again.
Lady Clara wiped her lips with her lace handkerchief, and Lestrange noticed that it was spotted with blood. Her face looked woeful and haggard, and oh! so old! Dolorous pain lay in her eyes like a burning fire.
Lestrange was a gentleman. He hated to see a woman in agony, it was a wound to him. Yet could he have suspected this effect, because a woman saw herself defeated in a political stratagem? Was power so dear to her? Was ambition emotional in her, not in the mind but in the heart? He wondered.
At last my lady spoke. Lestrange could scarcely hear her, so softly she said her words, but acrid they were, bitter as gall.
“Is this Minister so pure at heart now?”
It was an exclamation rather than a question, but Lestrange answered it in another way.
“Is there one of us so pure at heart who dare to cast a stone at another?”
“How dare you insult me! How dare you ! cried my lady, her gray eyes fiery with rage, and even madness. Instead of the coldness of stone Lestrange saw the molten glow of lava.
He was visibly surprised. Insult? What did she mean?
“Madame—” and then he stopped.
All the fire had died away, only a fear now in those expressive eyes.
“You know?” she said, faintly.
“Yes, I know,” he answered gently. Tie thought it better to discontinue tÉe acting, and let her see that he knew of her plot against the Minister. He had frustrated it, he knew, so why continue? She was sobbing.
This role of moralist was strange to the debonair Lestrange, but he was a versatile man and a wonderful actor.
“Who told you?” she said, bending towards him. touching his arm with her tiny hand, fragile as a broken flower.
“He did. I am his great friend.”
“And how did he come to know?”
“Why—” Lestrange was too
astonished to say more. But my lady continued, talking as though in a trance.
“I loved him, yes. But not now. He killed my brother. And I fled. I hated him for it. Yet now—no, I do not hate him, because you say he—he has suffered then? He is suffering now? I thought he—I did not know he loved me so ! I will do no more then. No revenge! No revenge! Oh, God!”
Lestrange felt dazed; he could not think. He seemed to dream as he heard that self-accusation. She had thought he knew that? That was how she knew then. She—Julie—
He fanned her aching head, and loosened her silken scarf twined around her neck. So this was the love of Adrian Beauchamp? She! Sir Peter’s wife!
She started from her trance, as Lestrange rang the bell for assistance.
“Call my son, my son,” she whispered, “I must have my pretty son near me. My son—his son ! My little Adrian!”
And through the doorway, as she spoke, came the tall, grotesque figure of the lawyer Ferguson, asking if my lady wanted him.
Lestrange stood at the telephone in the Parliament Club, St. James’.
He was speaking.
“Hullo, Henderson, is that you? Well, never you worry about Sir Peter to-morrow. In fact I don’t think he’ll trouble you at all. And don’t worry at all. What? No, not the slightest fear. Not a word to anyone. They won’t. Eh? Pooh! Don’t mention it, sir. Glad to be of service. Good-bye.”
He hung up the receiver, and threw himself down in his favorite arm-chair, taking out his beloved old pipe.
“Whiskey-and-soda,” he said to the waiter, and closed his eyes. He was tired.