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- The Holiday Round - 40/53 -
A lesser man might have been embarrassed, but Rupert's iron nerve did not fail him.
"Exactly!" he said. "And was that or was that not on the night when you were turned out of the Hampstead Parliament for intoxication?"
"I never was."
"Indeed? Will you cast your mind back to the night of April 24th, 1897? What were you doing on that night?"
"I have no idea," said Jobson, after casting his mind back and waiting in vain for some result.
"In that case you cannot swear that you were not being turned out of the Hampstead Parliament--"
"But I never belonged to it."
Rupert leaped at the damaging admission.
"What? You told the Court that you lived at Hampstead, and yet you say that you never belonged to the Hampstead Parliament? Is THAT your idea of patriotism?"
"I said I lived at Hackney."
"To the Hackney Parliament, I should say. I am suggesting that you were turned out of the Hackney Parliament for--"
"I don't belong to that either."
"Exactly!" said Rupert triumphantly. "Having been turned out for intoxication?"
"And never did belong."
"Indeed? May I take it then that you prefer to spend your evenings in the public-house?"
"If you want to know," said Jobson angrily, "I belong to the Hackney Chess Circle, and that takes up most of my evenings."
Rupert gave a sigh of satisfaction and turned to the jury.
"At LAST, gentlemen, we have got it. I thought we should arrive at the truth in the end, in spite of Mr Jobson's prevarications." He turned to the witness. "Now, sir," he said sternly, "you have already told the Court that you have no idea what you were doing on the night of April 24th, 1897. I put it to you once more that this blankness of memory is due to the fact that you were in a state of intoxication on the premises of the Hackney Chess Circle. Can you swear on your oath that this is not so?"
A murmur of admiration for the relentless way in which the truth had been tracked down ran through the court. Rupert drew himself up and put on both pairs of pince-nez at once.
"Come, sir!" he said, "the jury is waiting." But it was not Albert Jobson who answered. It was the counsel for the prosecution. "My lord," he said, getting up slowly, "this has come as a complete surprise to me. In the circumstances, I must advise my clients to withdraw from the case."
"A very proper decision," said his lordship. "The prisoner is discharged without a stain on her character."
. . . . . . .
Briefs poured in upon Rupert next day, and he was engaged for all the big Chancery cases. Within a week his six plays were accepted, and within a fortnight he had entered Parliament as the miners' Member for Coalville. His marriage took place at the end of a month. The wedding presents were even more numerous and costly than usual, and included thirty-five yards of book muslin, ten pairs of gloves, a sponge, two gimlets, five jars of cold cream, a copy of the Clergy List, three hat-guards, a mariner's compass, a box of drawing-pins, an egg-breaker, six blouses, and a cabman's whistle. They were marked quite simply, "From a Grateful Friend."
THE CIVIL SERVANT
It was three o'clock, and the afternoon sun reddened the western windows of one of the busiest of Government offices. In an airy room on the third floor Richard Dale was batting. Standing in front of the coal-box with the fire-shovel in his hands, he was a model of the strenuous young Englishman; and as for the third time he turned the Government india-rubber neatly in the direction of square-leg, and so completed his fifty, the bowler could hardly repress a sigh of envious admiration. Even the reserved Matthews, who was too old for cricket, looked up a moment from his putting, and said, "Well played, Dick!"
The fourth occupant of the room was busy at his desk, as if to give the lie to the thoughtless accusation that the Civil Service cultivates the body at the expense of the mind. The eager shouts of the players seemed to annoy him, for he frowned and bit his pen, or else passed his fingers restlessly through his hair.
"How the dickens you expect any one to think in this confounded noise," he cried suddenly.
"What's the matter, Ashby?"
"You're the matter. How am I going to get these verses done for The Evening Surprise if you make such a row? Why don't you go out to tea?"
"Good idea. Come on, Dale. You coming, Matthews?" They went out, leaving the room to Ashby.
In his youth Harold Ashby had often been told by his relations that he had a literary bent. His letters home from school were generally pronounced to be good enough for Punch, and some of them, together with a certificate of character from his Vicar, were actually sent to that paper. But as he grew up he realized that his genius was better fitted for work of a more solid character. His post in the Civil Service gave him full leisure for his Adam: A Fragment, his History of the Microscope, and his Studies in Rural Campanology, and yet left him ample time in which to contribute to the journalism of the day.
The poem he was now finishing for The Evening Surprise was his first contribution to that paper, but he had little doubt that it would be accepted. It was called quite simply, "Love and Death," and it began like this:
"Love! O love! (All other things above).--Why, O why, Am I afraid to die?"
There were six more lines which I have forgotten, but I suppose they gave the reason for this absurd diffidence.
Having written the poem out neatly, Harold put it in an envelope and took it round to The Evening Surprise. The strain of composition had left him rather weak, and he decided to give his brain a rest for the next few days. So it happened that he was at the wickets on the following Wednesday afternoon when the commissionaire brought him in the historic letter. He opened it hastily, the shovel under his arm.
"DEAR SIR," wrote the editor of The Surprise, "will you come round and see me as soon as convenient?"
Harold lost no time. Explaining that he would finish his innings later, he put his coat on, took his hat and stick, and dashed out.
"How do you do?" said the editor. "I wanted to talk to you about your work. We all liked your little poem very much. It will be coming out to-morrow."
"Thursday," said Harold helpfully.
"I was wondering whether we couldn't get you to join our staff. Does the idea of doing 'Aunt Miriam's Cosy Corner' in our afternoon edition appeal to you at all?"
"No," said Harold, "not a bit."
"Ah, that's a pity." He tapped his desk thoughtfully. "Well then, how would you like to be a war correspondent?"
"Very much," said Harold. "I was considered to write rather good letters home from school."
"Splendid! There's this little war in Mexico. When can you start? All expenses and fifty pounds a week. You're not very busy at the office, I suppose, just now?"
"I could get sick leave easily enough," said Harold, "if it wasn't for more than eight or nine months."
"Do; that will be excellent. Here's a blank cheque for your outfit. Can you get off to-morrow? But I suppose you'll have one or two things to finish up at the office first?"
"Well," said Harold cautiously, "I WAS in, and I'd made ninety-six. But if I go back and finish my innings now, and then have to-morrow for buying things, I could get off on Friday."
"Good," said the editor. "Well, here's luck. Come back alive if you can, and if you do we shan't forget you."
Harold spent the next day buying a war correspondent's outfit:--the camel, the travelling bath, the putties, the pith helmet, the quinine, the sleeping-bag, and the thousand-and-one other necessities of active service. On the Friday his colleagues at the office came down in a body to Southampton to see him off. Little did they think that nearly a year would elapse before he again set foot upon England.
I shall not describe all his famous coups in Mexico. Sufficient to say that experience taught him quickly all that he had need to
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