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'The result of your work was very satisfactory.'
'Wasn't it! Fifteen hundred majority! Then we drove all about the borough, and I had to bow nicely to people who waved their hats and shouted. It was a new sensation; I think I never enjoyed anything so much in my life. He is enormously popular, my husband. And everybody says he is doing an enormous lot of good. You know, Bell, it was a mere chance that he isn't in the Ministry! His name was mentioned; we know it for a fact. There's no doubt whatever he'll be in next time, if the Liberal Government keeps up. It is so annoying that Parliaments generally last so long! Think what that will be, when he is a Minister! I shouldn't wonder if you come to see me some day in Downing Street, Bell.'
'I should be afraid, Paula.'
'Nonsense! Your husband will bring you. Don't you think Mr. Dalmaine's looking remarkably well? I'm so sorry I haven't got my little boy here for you to see. We've decided that _he's_ to be Prime Minister! I hope you read Mr. Dalmaine's speeches, Bell?'
'That's good of you! He's thinking of publishing a volume of those that deal with factory legislation. You should have heard what they said about him, at the election time!'
Paula was still charming, but it must be confessed a trifle vulgarised. Formerly she had not been vulgar at all; at present one discerned unmistakably the influence of her husband, and of the world in which she lived. In person, she showed the matron somewhat prematurely; one saw that in another ten years she would be portly; her round fair face would become too round and too pinky. Mentally, she was at length formed, and to Mr. Dalmaine was due the credit of having formed her.
This gentleman did his kinsfolk the honour of calling upon them. He had grown a little stouter; he bore himself with conscious dignity; you saw that he had not much time, nor much attention, to bestow upon unpolitical people. He was suave and abrupt by turns; he used his hands freely in conversing. Mr. Newthorpe smiled much during the interview with him, and, a few hours later, when alone with Annabel, he suddenly exclaimed:
'What an ignorant pretentious numskull that fellow is!'
'Of whom do you speak?'
'Why, of Dalmaine, of course.'
'My dear father!--A philanthropist! One of the forces of the time!'
Mr. Newthorpe leaned back and laughed.
'Perfectly true,' he said presently. 'Whence we may arrive at certain conclusions with regard to mankind at large and our time in particular. That poor pretty girl! It's too bad.'
'She is happy.'
'True again. And it would be foolish to wish her miserable. Bell, let us join hands and go to the old ferryman's boat together.'
'It would cost me no pang, father. Still we will walk a little longer on the sea-shore.'
And whilst this conversation was going on, Mr. and Mrs. Dalmaine sat after dinner on the balcony of their hotel, talking occasionally. Dalmaine smoked a cigar: his eyes betrayed the pleasures of digestion and thought on high matters of State.
He said all at once:
'By-the-by, Lady Wigger is at the Queen's Hotel, I see. You will call to-morrow.'
'Lady Wigger? But really I don't think I can, dear,' Paula replied, timidly.
'Why, you know she was so shockingly rude to me at the Huntleys' ball. You said it was abominable, yourself.'
'So it was, but you'd better call.'
'I'd much rather not.'
Dalmaine looked at her with Olympian surprise.
'But, my dear,' he said with suave firmness, 'I said that you had better call. The people must not be neglected; they will be useful. Do you understand me?'
Paula was quiet for a few moments, then talked as brightly as ever. . . .
One day close upon the end of September, Mrs. Ormonde had to pay a visit to the little village of West Dean, which is some four miles distant from Eastbourne, inland and westward. Business of a domestic nature took her thither; she wished to visit a cottage for the purpose of seeing a girl whom she thought of engaging as a servant. The day was very beautiful; she asked the Newthorpes to accompany her on the drive. Mr. Newthorpe preferred to remain at home; Annabel accepted the invitation.
The road was uphill, until the level of the Downs was reached; then it went winding along, with fair stretches of scenery on either hand, between fields fragrant of Autumn, overhead the broad soft purple sky. First East Dean was passed, a few rustic houses nestling, as the name implies, in its gentle hollow. After that, another gradual ascent, and presently the carriage paused at a point of the road immediately above the village to which they were going.
The desire to stop was simultaneous in Mrs. Ormonde and her companion; their eyes rested on as sweet a bit of landscape as can be found in England, one of those scenes which are typical of the Southern countries. It was a broad valley, at the lowest point of which lay West Dean. The hamlet consists of very few houses, all so compactly grouped about the old church that from this distance it seemed as if the hand could cover them. The roofs were overgrown with lichen, yellow on slate, red on tiles. In the farmyards were haystacks with yellow conical coverings of thatch. And around all closed dense masses of chestnut foliage, the green just touched with gold. The little group of houses had mellowed with age; their guarded peacefulness was soothing to the eye and the spirit. Along the stretch of the hollow the land was parcelled into meadows and tilth of varied hue. Here was a great patch of warm grey soil, where horses were drawing the harrow; yonder the same work was being done by sleek black oxen. Where there was pasture, its chalky-brown colour told of the nature of the earth which produced it. A vast oblong running right athwart the far side of the valley had just been strewn with loam; it was the darkest purple. The bright yellow of the 'kelk' spread in several directions; and here and there rose thin wreaths of white smoke, where a pile of uprooted couch-grass was burning; the scent was borne hither by a breeze that could be scarcely felt.
The clock of the old church struck four.
'A kindness, Mrs. Ormonde!' said Annabel. 'Let me stay here whilst you drive down into the village. I don't wish to see the people there just now. To sit here and look down on that picture will do me good.'
'By all means. But I dare say I shall be half an hour. It will take ten minutes to drive down.'
'Never mind. I shall sit here on the bank, and enjoy myself.'
Now it happened that on this same September day a young man left Brighton and started to walk eastward along the coast. He had come into Brighton from London the evening before, having to pay a visit to the family of an acquaintance of his who had recently died in Pennsylvania, and who, when dying, had asked him to perform this office on his return to England. He was no stranger to Brighton; he knew that, if one is obliged to visit the place, it is well to be there under cover of the night and to depart as speedily as possible from amid its vulgar hideousness. So, not later than eight on the following morning, he had left the abomination behind him, and was approaching Rottingdean.
His destination was Eastbourne; the thought of going thither on foot came to him as he glanced at a map of the coast whilst at breakfast. The weather was perfect, and the walk would be full of interest.
One would have said that he had a mind very free from care. For the most part he stepped on at a good round pace, observing well; sometimes he paused, as if merely to enjoy the air. He was in excellent health; he smiled readily.
At Rottingdean he lingered for awhile. A soft mist hung all around; sky and sea were of a delicate blurred blue-grey, the former mottled in places. The sun was not visible, but its light lay in one long gleaming line out on the level water; beyond, all was vapour-veiled. There were no breakers; now and then a larger ripple than usual splashed on the beach, and that was the only sound the sea gave. It was full tide; the water at the foot of the cliffs was of a wonderful green, pellucid, delicate, through which the chalk was visible, with dark masses of weed here and there. Swallows in great numbers flew about the edge, and thistle-down floated everywhere. From the fields came a tinkle of sheep-bells.
The pedestrian sighed when he rose to continue his progress. It was noticeable that, as he went on, he lost something of his cheerfulness of manner; probably the early rising and the first taste of exercise had had their effect upon him, and now he was returning to his more wonted self. The autumn air, the sun-stained mist, the silent sea, would naturally incline to pensiveness one who knew that mood.
The air was unimaginably calm; the thistle-down gave proof that only the faintest breath was stirring. On the Downs beyond Rottingdean lay two or three bird-catchers, prone as they watched the semicircle of call-birds in cages, and held their hand on the string which closed the nets. The young man spoke a few words with one of these,
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