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- Our Friend the Charlatan - 50/81 -


unpractical? Nay, I notice that he is already throwing off the hypocrisy hitherto thought decent. I read newspaper articles which sneer and scoff at those who venture to remind the world that, after all, it nominally owes allegiance to a Christian ideal. Our prophets begin openly to proclaim that self-interest and the hardest materialism are our only safe guides. Now and then such passages amaze, appal me--but I am getting used to them. So I am to the same kind of declaration in everyday talk. Men in most respectable coats, sitting at most orderly tables, hold the language of pure barbarism. If you drew one of them aside, and said to him, 'But what about the fruits of the spirit?'--what sort of look would he give you?"

"I agree entirely," exclaimed Dyce. "And for that very reason I want to work for a new civilising principle."

"If you get into the House, shall you talk there about bio-sociology?"

"Why no," answered Dyce, with a chuckle. "If I were capable of that, I should have very little chance of getting into the House at all, or of doing anything useful anywhere."

"In other words," said his father, still eyeing an unlit pipe, "one must be practical--eh, Dyce?"

"In the right way."

"Yes, yes: one must be practical, practical. If you know which _is_ the right way, I am very glad, I congratulate you. For my own part, I seek it vainly; I seek it these forty years and more; and it grows clear to me that I should have done much better not to heed that question at all. 'Blessed are the merciful--blessed are the pure in heart--blessed are the peacemakers.' It is all strikingly unpractical, Dyce, my boy; you can't, again in to-day's sweet language, 'run' the world on those principles. They are utterly incompatible with business; and business is life."

"But they are not at all incompatible with the civilisation I have in view," Dyce exclaimed.

"I am glad to hear it; very glad. You don't, however, see your way to that civilisation by teaching such axioms."

"Unfortunately not."

"No. You have to teach 'Blessed are the civic-minded, for they shall profit by their civism.' It has to be profit, Dyce, profit, profit. Live thus, and you'll get a good deal out of life; live otherwise, and you _may_ get more, but with an unpleasant chance of getting a good deal less."

"But isn't it unfortunately true that Christianity spoke also of rewards?"

"Yes, it is true. The promise was sometimes adapted to the poorer understanding. More often, it was nobler, and by that I take my stand. 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.' The words, you know, had then a meaning. Now they have none. To see God was not a little thing, I imagine, but the vision, probably, brought with it neither purple nor fine linen.--For curiosity's sake, Dyce, read Matthew v. to vii. before you go to sleep. You'll find the old Bible in your bedroom."

The door was thrown open, and Mrs. Lashmar's voice broke upon the still air of the study.

"Dyce, have you seen to-day's _Times_? There's a most interesting article on the probable duration of Parliament. Take it up to your room with you, and read it before you sleep."

CHAPTER XIX

"There's a letter for you, Dyce; forwarded from Rivenoak, I see."

It lay beside his plate on the breakfast table, and Dyce eyed it with curiosity. The backward-sloping hand was quite unknown to him. He tapped at an egg, and still scrutinised the writing on the envelope; it was Constance who had crossed out the Rivenoak address, and had written beside it "The Vicarage, Alverholme."

"Have you slept well?" asked his mother, who treated him with much more consideration than at his last visit.

"Very well indeed," he replied mechanically, taking up his letter and cutting it open with a table-knife.

"HAVE MORE COURAGE. AIM HIGHER. IT IS NOT TOO LATE."

Dyce stared at the oracular message, written in capitals on a sheet of paper which contained nothing else. He again examined the envelope, but the post-mark in no way helped him. He glanced at his mother, and, finding her eye upon him, folded the sheet carelessly. He glanced at his father, who had just laid down a letter which evidently worried him. The meal passed with very little conversation. Dyce puzzled over the anonymous counsel so mysteriously conveyed to him, and presently went apart to muse unobserved.

He thought of Iris Woolstan. Of course a woman had done this thing, and Iris he could well believe capable of it. But what did she mean? Did she really imagine that, but for lack of courage, he would have made suit to _her_? Did she really regard herself as socially his superior? There was no telling. Women had the oddest notions on such subjects, and perhaps the fact of his engaging himself to Constance Bride, a mere secretary, struck her as deplorable. "Aim higher." The exhortation was amusing enough. One would have supposed it came at least from some great heiress--

He stopped in his pacing about the garden. An heiress?--May Tomalin?

Shaking of the head dismissed this fancy. Miss Tomalin was a matter-of-fact young person; he could not see her doing such a thing as this. And yet--and yet--when he remembered their last talk, was it not conceivable that he had made a deeper impression upon her than, in his modesty, he allowed himself to suppose? Had she not spoken, with a certain enthusiasm, of working on his behalf at Hollingford? The disturbing event which. immediately followed had put Miss Tomalin into the distance; his mind had busied itself continuously with surmises as to the nature of the benefit he might expect if he married Constance. After all, Lady Ogram's niece _might_ have had recourse to this expedient. She, at all events, knew that he was staying at Rivenoak, and might easily not have heard on what day he would leave. Or, perhaps, knowing that he left yesterday, she had calculated that the letter would reach him before his departure; it had possibly been delivered at Rivenoak by the mid-day post.

Amusing, the thought that Constance had herself re-addressed this communication!

Another possibility occurred to him. What if the writer were indeed Iris Woolstan, and her motive quite disinterested? What if she did not allude to herself at all, but was really pained at the thought of his making an insignificant marriage, when, by waiting a little, he was sure to win a wife suitable to his ambition? Of this, too, Iris might well be capable. Her last letter to him had had some dignity, and, all things considered, she had always shown herself a devoted, unexacting friend. It seemed more likely, it seemed much more likely, than the other conjecture.

Nevertheless, suppose Miss Tomalin _had_ taken this romantic step? The supposition involved such weighty issues that he liked to harbour it, to play with it. He pictured himself calling in Pont Street; he entered the drawing-room, and his eyes fell at once upon Miss Tomalin, in whose manner he remarked something unusual a constraint, a nervousness. Saluting, he looked her fixedly in the face; she could not meet his regard; she blushed a little--

Why, it was very easy to determine whether or not she had sent that letter. In the case of Iris Woolstan, observation would have no certain results, for she must needs meet him with embarrassment. But Miss Tomalin would be superhuman if she did not somehow betray a nervous conscience.

Dyce strode into the house. His father and mother stood talking at the foot of the stairs, the vicar ready to go out.

"I must leave you at once," he exclaimed, looking at his watch. "Something I had forgotten--an engagement absurdly dropt out of mind. I must catch the next train--10.14, isn't it?"

Mrs. Lashmar sang out protest, but, on being assured that the engagement was political, urged him to make haste. The vicar all but silently pressed his hand, and with head bent, walked away.

He just caught the train. It would bring him to town by mid-day, in comfortable time to lunch and adorn himself before the permissible hour of calling in Pont Street. Rapid movement excited his imagination; he clung now to the hypothesis which at first seemed untenable; he built hopes upon it. Could he win a confession from May Tomalin, why should it be hopeless to sway the mind of Lady Ogram? If that were deemed impossible, they had but to wait. Lady Ogram would not live till the autumn. To be sure, she looked better since her return to Rivenoak, but she was frail, oh very frail, and sure to go off at a moment's notice. As for Constance--oh, Constance!

At his lodgings he found unimportant letters. Every letter would have seemed unimportant, compared with that he carried in his pocket. Roach, M. P., invited him to dine. The man at the Home Office wanted him to go to a smoking concert. Lady Susan Harrop sent a beggarly card for an evening ten days hence. Like the woman's impudence! And yet, as it had been posted since her receipt of his mother's recent letter, it proved that Lady Susan had a sense of his growing dignity, which was good in its way. He smiled at a recollection of the time when a seat at those people's table had seemed a desirable and agitating thing.

Before half-past three he found himself walking in Sloane Street. After consulting his watch several times in the course of a few


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