The morning after the eventuful interview recorded in the last chapter, Dacre awoke high in hope and hugely self-complacent. “I came out of that little scrape last night very well,” he thought. “It is lucky that I preserved my presence of mind. The notion of the letter was a capital one. I wonder if the fellow is married after all. Upon my word, he puzzles me. He must have lied. It would have been impossible for him to have deceived that old she-dragon of a mother-in-law. Moreover, if he had not been absolutely married, my shot about ‘his wife’ would not have told. Now the question is,—which course am I to take. Shall I let this affair go on, put the boy in for Kirkminster, let him marry his cousin, and hold my knowledge of the Manton business over his head in terrorem; or, shall I tell Miss Ffrench the whole story, and give the Australian fellow a clear stage? I think that the former plan is the best,—or stay, I might go in and marry the girl myself, put up with Cyril for the borough, let the story of Foozleton’s letter leak out, and so ruin his chance of success. Mr. Rupert Dacre, M.P. for Kirkminster, and son-in-law to old Chatteris, leader of the Cultured Party, and ame damnée of the Prime Minister, would be a very different fellow from the present Rupert Dacre, private secretary and expectant placeholder. To be sure, the game is not only risky, but rascally; but then, now-a-days, we must soil our fingers a little. My position is tolerably desperate, and I do not much care what I do in the way of gentlemanly wickedness. However, I must first see that the ground is safe. I think I will go down to the musty old church in Dym-street, and turn up the register of my young friend’s marriage.”
So cogitating he ordered breakfast, and soon was deep in the Times’ leading article.
At the office a card awaited him—a thick, sharp-edged, uncompromising card—upon which was imprinted the name of “MR. ROBERT BINNS.” Dacre turned the pasteboard over. “Will call again at 3.30,” was written in pencil on the other side.
“When did this come, Davis?”
“Early this morning, sir. Young man left it.”
“What the deuce can the fellow want with me?” thought Dacre, as he settled himself to await the arrival of his “young friend.” “However, he comes in a good hour. I can pump him about the marriage business.”
By and by, Nantwich came. Puffily, of course. Nantwich was always in a nervous tremor now.
“Morning, Dacre—morning! Any letters? No, of course not. Hum!—ah! Seen the Times? Of course you have. Looks well for us, eh?—looks well! Give them a tussle for it, eh? What?”
“I think that your lordship’s success is certain,” said the respectful secretary.
“Hope so—hope so. Nothing certain in this world; spes et proemia, you know. What is it—classics getting rusty. Must rub up—rub up.”
“Spes et proemia in ambiguo, certa funera et luctus,” says Dacre.
“True—true—funera et luctus. That’s right; keep up your Latin. Good for quotations when you are in the House—eh? House likes Latin—eh? What?”
“By the way, sir, I hear that we are going to have an accession to our party in a quarter where we least expected it.”
“Kirkminster! Why, that’s Wheales’ place—stronghold. My dear Dacre, you must be mistaken. Who’s the man?”
“A son of Saville Chatteris.”
“E-e-eh—eh! Well—well—well! Chatteris’ son, eh? What!—stop. I thought he was killed the other day—eh, what?”
“This is the second son, my lord; Cyril Chatteris.”
“Oh, indeed! Ah—yes—just so. Smart young man, eh? Clever—talented. Sound, eh? What?”
“Well,” says Dacre, with a smile, “he has not shown any very great proofs of talent yet; but he is smart enough—a little too smart, in fact.”
“Oh—ah! Young men all alike. Must be curbed—eh?—curbed?”
“Exactly. He will take a good deal of curbing, too, I expect. Kirkminster is a powerful borough, you know, sir.”
Lord Nantwich shuffled up and down the room with his hands behind his back.
“Pity so young a man—large place. Wheales leads those poor devils by the nose.”
Dacre looked on in silence. He knew by the action of his chief that he was resolving some project in his mind; and on these occasions it was the custom of the discreet secretary to preserve a judicious silence.
The brain of Lord Nantwich was not very fertile in invention, but it had a wonderful power of seizing hold of other men’s ideas and producing them as its own. It was busy at the pleasant process now.
“I don’t see, Dacre,” said the noble lord, a little pettishly, “why you shouldn’t go up for Kirkminster yourself.”
“My dear lord!” cries Dacre, in pretended astonishment, “a penniless fellow like me contest a borough like Kirkminster!”
“Oh! stuff—stuff! Penniless! You know how these things are managed.”
“Any course that your lordship thinks proper to suggest I shall consider myself bound to take.”
“Of course—of course—of course!—Just so. I must think over the matter.”
“Does your lordship wish me to contest the place with Chatteris?”
“Two members—two members—eh, what? Go in with him—keep him down—check—check, eh? Besides, Dacre, two strings to our bow—eh, what? If they won’t have him—have you.”
“But he will reckon upon the government support, my lord.”
“Well, well, of course. Support both of you—both of you.”
Dacre bowed silently. Here was an unlooked for piece of fortune. The fruit was dropping into his hands almost as soon as he dared to hope for it. Nantwich shuffled off to the blue-baized door, and stopped midway to shuffle back again.
“Pottery-people—pottery-people, eh, what? Democrats—radicals—agitate—Wheales—eh? Perhaps, after all, money thrown away. What?”
“It is the stronghold of Trade-Unionism,” said Dacre.
“True—true—yes. Powerful body. Eh, what? Could you get any information about the place—people. Eh?”
“I know it pretty well myself. I have a great many friends down about that quarter.”
“Have we got anybody we could send down? Eh?”
Dacre’s eye fell upon the thick card lying half-hidden by the official report of the acting deputy-vice-consul for the Andaman Islands—with reference to the insolence of an American barque (crew two men and a boy) in not returning the complimentary salute of the A.-D.-V.-C.’s newly imported brass cannon—and an idea occurred to him which made him laugh.
“Yes, my lord. I can send a man down who will give us particular reports of the state of popular feeling.”
“Very well. Only be careful, you know—careful. You understand. Eh? What?”
“I understand, my lord,” and Dacre bowed his patron to the door of his private room.
Then he sat down to think. He would get rid of Binns. He had several times met that young gentleman hovering round about the “dove-cote,” where the dove (soiled or not, he didn’t care) had been placed by Cyril. He was suspicious of Binns. Not that he feared him; he despised the boy too much for that; but because he wanted no unseemly corse of practical or poetical interference to come between the wind and his profligate nobility. As to Cyril himself, he had not decided. He would see how matters went on. The crisis of his fate was approaching, and the still bright waters of the lagoon of social and political success shone temptingly just beyond the foaming and savage breakers through which his bark was now heavily labouring. His thoughts strayed away into pleasant places. No more debts or duns, or plottings. Social position: political success. Both were within his grasp. He had not done so badly after all. His stormy youth—for it had been stormy, though the world thought it fair enough—had given him experience.
“Yes,” said he, rising, with a smile on his lips, “If I have spent my money, and got into debt, and put my talents out at hire, I have gained one thing which is worth all beside—knowledge of human nature!”
Just then the head of Davis was protruded at the doorway, and that worthy man seeing that Dacre was alone, announced “Mr. Robert Binns.”