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Our Friend the Charlatan By George Gissing Characters: 31604

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Wind and rain interfered with Lashmar's project for the early morning. He had meant to ramble about the town for an hour before going out to Shawe. Unable to do this, he bought half-a-dozen newspapers, and read all the leading articles and the political news with close attention. As a rule, this kind of study had little attraction for him; he was anything but well-informed on current politics; he understood very imperfectly the British constitution, and had still less insight into the details of party organisation and conflict. All that kind of thing he was wont to regard as unworthy of his scrutiny. For him, large ideas, world-embracing theories, the philosophy of civilisation. Few Englishmen had a smaller endowment of practical ability; few, on the other hand, delighted as he did in speculative system, or could grasp and exhibit in such lucid entirety hypothetical laws. Much as he talked of science, he was lacking in several essentials of the scientific mind; he had neither patience to collect and observe facts, nor conscientiousness in reasoning upon them; prejudice directed his every thought, and egoism pervaded all his conclusions. Excelling in speciousness, it was natural that he should think success as a politician within his easy reach; possessed by a plausible theory of government, he readily conceived himself on the heights of statesmanship, ruling the nation for its behoof. And so, as he read the London and provincial papers this morning, they had all at once a new interest for him; he probed questions, surveyed policies, and whilst smiling at the intellectual poverty of average man, gravely marked for himself a shining course amid the general confusion and ineptitude.

At ten o'clock there shot a glint of promise across the clouded sky; rain had ceased, the wind was less boisterous. Lashmar set forth briskly on foot, and walked to Shawe, where he arrived in good time for his appointment. The manager of the mill, a very intelligent Scotchman, conscientiously showed him everything that was to be seen, and Dyce affected great interest. Real interest he felt little or none; the processes of manufacture belonged to a world to which he had never given the slightest thought, which in truth repelled him. But he tried to persuade himself that he saw everything from a philosophical point of view, and found a place for it in his system. The folk employed he regarded attentively and saw that they looked healthy, well cared for.

"This must all be very gratifying to Lady Ogram," he remarked, in a voice which struck just the right note of dignified reflection.

"I understand that it is," replied the manager. "And to Miss Bride also, no doubt."

"Does Miss Bride take an active interest in the mill?"

"In the hands, she does. She is an uncommon sort of young lady and, I should say, makes her influence felt."

As this was the most direct statement which the Scotchman had committed himself during their hour together, it correspondingly impressed Lashmar. He went away thinking of Constance, and wondering whether she was indeed such a notable woman. Must he really regard her as an equal, or something like it. Needless to say that Dyce at heart deemed all women his natural inferiors, and only by conscious effort could entertain the possibility that one or other of their sex might view and criticise him with level eyes. Six years ago Connie Bride had looked up to him; he, with his University culture, held undoubted superiority over the country girl striving hard to educate herself and to find a place in the world. But much had changed since then, and Dyce was beginning to feel that it would not do to reckon on any dulness, or wilful blindness, in Constance with regard to himself, his sayings and doings. Their talk yesterday had, he flattered himself, terminated in his favour; chiefly, because of his attitude of entire frankness, a compliment to the girl. That he had been, in the strict sense of the word, open-hearted, it did not occur to him to doubt. Dyce Lashmar's introspection stopped at a certain point. He was still a very young man, and circumstance had never yet shown him an austere countenance.

The sun was shining, the air exquisitely fresh. Lady Ogram had not named the hour of luncheon, but it seemed to Dyce that he could hardly present himself at Rivenoak before one o'clock; so, instead of directing his steps towards the lodge; he struck off into a by-road, where the new-opened leafage of the hawthorn glistened after the morning's showers. Presently there came speeding towards him a lady on a bicycle, and he was sure that it was Constance. She did not slacken her pace; clearly she would not stop.

"Good morning!" sounded cheerfully from her, as she drew near. "Have you seen the mill?-Come up to the house as soon as you like."

She had swept past, leaving in Dyce a sense of having been cavalierly treated.

He turned, and followed towards Rivenoak. When he reached the house, Constance was walking among the flower-beds, in her hand a newspaper.

"Do you cycle?" she asked.

"No. I never felt tempted."

"Lady Ogram is having her drive. Shall we stay in the garden, as the sun is so bright?"

They strolled hither and thither. Constance had a glow in her checks, and spoke with agreeable animation. For a few minutes they talked of the mill, and Dyce repeated the manager's remark about Miss Bride's influence; he saw that it pleased her, but she affected to put it carelessly aside.

"How long have you known Lady Ogram?" he inquired.

"A good many years. My father was once a friend of hers-long ago, when he was a curate at Hollingford."

The circumstances of that friendship, and how it came to an end, were but vaguely known to Constance. She remembered that, when she was still a child, her mother often took her to Rivenoak, where she enjoyed herself in the gardens or the park, and received presents from Lady Ogram, the return journey being often made in their hostess's carriage. In those days the baronet's wife was a vigorous adherent of the Church of England, wherein she saw the hope of the country and of mankind. But her orthodoxy discriminated; ever combative, she threw herself into the religious polemics of the time, and not only came to be on very ill terms with her own parish clergyman, but fell foul of the bishop of the diocese, who seemed to her to treat with insufficient consideration certain letters she addressed to him. Then it was that, happening to hear a sermon by the Rev. Mr. Bride in an unfashionable church at Hollingford, she found in it a forcible expression of her own views, and straight way selected Mr. Bride from all the Hollingford clergy as the sole representative of Anglicanism. She spoke of him as "the coming man," prophesied for him a brilliant career, and began to exert herself on his behalf. Doubtless she would have obtained substantial promotion for the curate of St. John's, had not her own vehemence and Mr. Bride's difficult character brought about a painful misunderstanding between them. The curate was not what is known as a gentleman by birth; he had the misfortune to count among his near kinsfolk not only very poor, but decidedly ungenteel, persons. His only sister had married an uneducated man, who, being converted to some nondescript religion, went preaching about the country, and unluckily, in the course of his apostolate, appeared at Hollingford. Here he had some success; crowds attended his open-air sermons. It soon became known that the preacher's wife, who was always at his side, was a sister of Mr. Bride of St. John's, and great scandal arose in orthodox circles. Mr. Bride took quite another view of the matter, and declared that, in doing so, he behaved simply as a Christian. The debate exasperated Lady Ogram's violent temper, and fortified Mr. Bride in a resentful obstinacy. After their parting, in high dudgeon, letters were exchanged, which merely embittered the quarrel. It was reported that the Lady of Rivenoak had publicly styled the curate of St. John's "a low-born and ill-bred parson;" whereto Mr. Bride was alleged to have made retort that as regards birth, he suspected that he had somewhat the advantage of Lady Ogram, and, as for his breeding, it at all events forebade him to bandy insults. Not long after this, St. John's had another curate. A sequel of the story was the ultimate settling at Hollingford of Mr. Bride's sister and her husband, where, to this day the woman, for some years a widow, supported herself by means of a little bakery.

"I hadn't seen Lady Ogram for a long time," Constance pursued, "and when I got my place of dispenser at Hollingford hospital, I had no idea of recalling myself to her memory. But one day my friend Dr. Baldwin told me that Lady Ogram had spoken of me, and wished to see me. 'Very well,' said I, 'than let Lady Ogram invite me to come and see her.'-'If I were you,' said the doctor, 'I think I shouldn't wait for that.'-'Perhaps not, doctor,' I replied, 'but you are not me, and I am myself.' The result of which was that Dr. Baldwin told me I had as little grammar as civility, and we quarrelled-as we regularly did once a week."

Dyce listened with amusement.

"And she did invite you?" he asked.

"Yes. A month afterwards, she wrote to the hospital, and, as the letter was decent, though very dry, I went to Rivenoak. I could not help a kindly feeling to Lady Ogram, when I saw her; it reminded me of some of the happiest days of my childhood. All the same, that first quarter of an hour was very dangerous. As you know, I have a certain pride of my own, and more than once it made my ears tingle. I dare say you can guess Lady Ogram's way of talking to me; we'll call it blunt good-nature. 'What are you going to do?' she asked. 'Mix medicines all your life?' I told her that I should like to pass my exams, and practise, instead of mixing medicines. That seemed to surprise her, and she pooh'd the idea. 'I shan't help you to that,' she said. 'I never asked you, Lady Ogram!'-It was a toss up whether she would turn me out of the house or admire my courage: she is capable of one or the other. Her next question was, where did I live? I told her I lodged with my aunt, Mrs. Shufflebotham; and her face went black. Mrs. Shufflebotham, I have been told, was somehow the cause of a quarrel between my father and Lady Ogram. That was nothing to me. My aunt is a kind and very honest woman, and I wasn't going to disown her. Of course I had done the wise, as well as the self-respecting, thing; I soon saw that Lady Ogram thought all the better of me because I was not exactly a snob."

"This is the first I have heard of your aunt," remarked Dyce.

"Is it? Didn't your father let you know of the shocking revelation I made to him the other day?"

"He told me nothing at all."

Constance reflected.

"Probably he thought it too painful. Mrs. Shufflebotham keeps a little shop, and sells cakes and sweetmeats. Does it distress you?"

Distress was not the applicable word, for Lashmar had no deep interest in Constance or her belongings. But the revelation surprised and rather disgusted him. He wondered why Constance made it thus needlessly, and, as it was, defiantly.

"I should be very stupid and conventional," he answered, with his indulgent smile, "if such things affected me one way or another."

"I don't mind telling you that, when I first knew about it, I wished Mrs. Shufflebotham and her shop at the bottom of the sea." Constance laughed. "But I soon got over that. I happen to have been born with a good deal of pride, and, when I began to think about myself-it was only a few years ago-I found it necessary to ask what I really had to be proud of. There was nothing very obvious-no wealth, no rank, no achievements. It grew clear to me that I had better be proud of being proud, and a good way to that end was to let people know I cared nothing for their opinion. One gets a good deal of satisfaction out of it."

Lashmar listened in a puzzled and uneasy frame of mind. Theoretically, it should have pleased him to hear a woman talking thus, but the actual effect upon him was repellent. He did not care to look at the speaker, and it became difficult for him to keep up the conversation. Luckily, at this moment the first luncheon bell sounded.

"Lady Ogram has returned," said Constance. They had wandered to the rear of the house, and thus did not know of the arrival of the carriage. "Shall we go in?"

She led the way into a small drawing-room, and excused herself for leaving him alone. A moment later, there appeared a page, who conducted him to a chamber where he could prepare for luncheon. When he came out again into the hall, he found Lady Ogram standing there, reading a letter. Seen from behind, her masses of elaborately dressed hair gave her the appearance of a young woman; when she turned at the sound of a footfall, the presentation of her parchment visage came as a shock. She looked keenly at the visitor, and seemed to renew her approval of him.

"How do you do?" was the curt greeting, as she gave her hand. "Have you been over the mill?"

"Greatly to my satisfaction, Lady Ogram."

"I'm glad to hear it. We'll talk about that presently. I'm expecting a gentleman to lunch whom you'll like to meet-Mr. Breakspeare, the editor of our Liberal paper. Ah, here he comes."

A servant had just opened the hall door, and there entered a slight man in a long, heavy overcoat.

"Well, Mr. Breakspeare!" exclaimed the hostess, with some heartiness. "Why must I have the trouble of inviting you to Rivenoak? Is my conversation so wearisome that you keep away as long as you can?"

"Dear lady, you put me to shame!" cried Mr. Breakspeare, bending low before her. "It's work, work, I assure you, that forbids me the honour and the delight of waiting upon you, except at very rare intervals. We have an uphill fight, you know."

"Pull your coat off," the hostess interrupted, "and let us have something to eat. I'm as hungry as a hunter, whatever you may be. You sedentary people, I suppose, don't know what it is to have an appetite."

The editor was ill-tailored, and very carelessly dressed. His rather long hair was brushed straight back from the forehead, and curved up a little at the ends. Without having exactly a dirty appearance, he lacked freshness, seemed to call for the bath his collar fitted badly, his tie was askew, his cuffs covered too much of the hand. Aged about fifty, Mr. Breakspeare looked rather younger, for he had a very smooth high forehead, a clear eye, which lighted up as he spoke, and a pink complexion answering to the high-noted and rather florid manner of his speech.

Walking briskly forward-she seemed more vigorous to day than yesterday-the hostess led to the dining room, where a small square table received her and her three companions. Lady Ogram's affectation of appetite lasted only a few minutes; on the other hand, Mr. Breakspeare ate with keen gusto, and talked very little until he had satisfied his hunger. Whether by oversight, or intentional eccentricity, the hostess had not introduced him and Lashmar to each other; they exchanged casual glances, but no remark. Dyce talked of what he had seen at the mill; he used a large, free-flowing mode of speech, which seemed to please Lady Ogram, for she never interrupted him and had an unusual air of attentiveness. Presently the talk moved towards politics, and Dyce found a better opportunity of eloquence.

"For some thirty years," he began, with an air of reminiscence, "we have been busy with questions of physical health. We have been looking after our bodies and our dwellings. Drainage has been a word to conjure with, and athletics have become a religion

-the only one existing for multitudes among us. Physical exercise, with a view to health, used to be the privilege of the upper class; we have been teaching the people to play games and go in for healthy sports. At the same time there has been considerable aesthetic progress. England is no longer the stupidly inartistic country of early Victorian times; there's a true delight in music and painting, and a much more general appreciation of the good in literature. With all this we have been so busy that politics have fallen into the background-politics in the proper sense of the word. Ideas of national advance have been either utterly lost sight of, or grossly confused with mere material gain. At length we see the Conservative reaction in full swing, and who knows where it will land us? It seems to be leading to the vulgarest and most unintelligent form of chauvinism. In politics our need now is of brains. A stupid routine, or a rowdy excitability, had taken the place of the old progressive Liberalism, which kept ever in view the prime interests of civilisation. We want men with brains."

"Exactly," fell from Mr. Breakspeare, who began to eye the young man with interest. "It's what I've been preaching, in season and out of season, for the last ten years. I heartily agree with you."

"Look at Hollingford," remarked the hostess, smiling grimly.

"Just so!" exclaimed the editor. "Look at Hollingford! True, it was never a centre of Liberalism, but the Liberals used to make a good fight, and they had so much intelligence on their side that the town could not sink into utter dulness. What do we see now?" He raised his hand and grew rhetorical. "The crassest Toryism sweeping all before it, and everywhere depositing its mud-which chokes and does not fertilise. We have athletic clubs, we have a free library, we are better drained and cleaner and healthier and more bookish, with all, than in the old times; but for politics-alas! A base level of selfish and purblind materialism-personified by Robb!"

At the name of the borough member, Lady Ogram's dark eyes flashed.

"Ah, Robb," interjected Lashmar. "Tell me something about Robb. I know hardly anything of him."

"Picture to yourself," returned the editor, with slow emphasis, "a man who at his best was only a stolid country banker, and who now is sunk into fatuous senility. I hardly know whether I dare trust myself to speak of Robb, for I confess that he has become to me an abstraction rather than a human being-an embodiment of all the vicious routine, the foul obscurantism, the stupid prejudice, which an enlightened Liberalism has to struggle against. There he sits, a satire on our parliamentary system. He can't put together three sentences; he never in his life had an idea. The man is a mere money-sack, propped up by toadies and imbeciles. Has any other borough such a contemptible representative? I perspire with shame and anger when I think of him!"

Dyce asked himself how much of this vehemence was genuine, how much assumed to gratify their hostess. Was Mr. Breakspeare inwardly laughing at himself and the company? But he seemed to be an excitable little man, and possibly believed what he said.

"That's very interesting," Dyce remarked. "And how much longer will Hollingford be content with such representation?"

"I think," replied Breakspeare, gravely, "I really think, that at the next election we shall floor him. It is the hope of my life. For that I toil; for that I sacrifice leisure and tranquillity and most of the things dear to a man philosophically inclined. Can I but see Robb cast down, I shall withdraw from the arena and hum (I have no voice) my Nunc dimittis."

Was there a twinkle in the editor's eye as it met Lashmar's smile? Constance was watching him with unnaturally staid countenance, and her glance ran round the table.

"I'm only afraid," said Lady Ogram, "that he won't stand again."

"I think he will," cried Breakspeare, "I think he will. The ludicrous creature imagines that Westminster couldn't go on without him. He hopes to die of the exhaustion of going into the lobby, and remain for ever a symbol of thick-headed patriotism. But we will floor him in his native market-place. We will drub him at the ballot. Something assures me that, for a reward of my life's labours, I shall behold the squashing of Robb!"

Lady Ogram did not laugh. Her sense of humour was not very keen, and the present subject excited her most acrimonious feelings.

"We must get hold of the right man," she exclaimed, with a glance at Lashmar.

"Yes, the right man," said Breakspeare, turning his eyes in the same direction. "The man of brains, and of vigour; the man who can inspire enthusiasm; the man, in short, who has something to say, and knows how to say it. In spite of the discouraging aspect of things, I believe that Hollingford is ready for him. We leading Liberals are few in number, but we have energy and the law of progress on our side."

Lashmar had seemed to be musing whilst he savoured a slice of pine-apple. At Breakspeare's last remark, he looked up and said:

"The world moves, and always has moved, at the impulse of a very small minority."

"Philosophically, I am convinced of that," replied the editor, as though he meant to guard himself against too literal or practical an application of the theorem.

"The task of our time," pursued Dyce, with a half absent air, "is to make this not only understood by, but acceptable to, the multitude. Political education is our pressing need, and political education means teaching the People how to select its Rulers. For my own part, I have rather more hope of a constituency such as Hollingford, than of one actively democratic. The fatal thing is for an electorate to be bent on choosing the man as near as possible like unto themselves. That is the false idea of representation. Progress does not mean guidance by one of the multitude, but by one of nature's elect, and the multitude must learn how to recognise such a man."

He looked at Lady Ogram, smiling placidly.

"There's rather a Tory sound about that," said the hostess, with a nod, "but Mr. Breakspeare will understand."

"To be sure, to be sure!" exclaimed the editor. "It is the aristocratic principle rightly understood."

"It is the principle of nature," said Lashmar, "as revealed to us by science. Science-as Mr. Breakspeare is well aware-teaches, not levelling, but hierarchy. The principle has always been dimly perceived. In our time, biology enables us to work it out with scientific precision."

Mr. Breakspeare betrayed a little uneasiness.

"I regret," he said diffidently, "that I have had very little time to give to natural science. When we have floored Robb, I fully intend to apply myself to a study of all that kind of thing."

Lashmar bestowed a gracious smile upon him.

"My dear sir, the flooring of Robb-Robb in his symbolic sense-can only be brought about by assiduous study and assimilation of what I will call bio-sociology. Not only must we, the leaders, have thoroughly grasped this science, but we must find a way of teaching it to the least intelligent of our fellow citizens. The task is no trifling one. I'm very much afraid that neither you nor I will live to see it completed."

"Pray don't discourage us," put in Constance. "Comprehensive theories are all very well, but Mr. Breakspeare's practical energy is quite as good a thing."

The editor turned his eyes upon Miss Bride, their expression a respectful gratitude. He was a married man, with abundant offspring. Mrs. Breakspeare rose every morning at half-past six, and toiled at her domestic duties, year in year out, till ten o'clock at night; she was patient as laborious, and had never repined under her lot. But her education was elementary; she knew nothing of political theories, nothing of science or literature, and, as he looked at Constance Bride, Breakspeare asked himself what he might not have done, what ambition he might not have achieved, had it been his fate to wed such a woman as that! Miss Bride was his ideal. He came to Rivenoak less often than he wished, because the sight of her perturbed his soul and darkened him with discontent.

"Discourage you!" cried Lashmar. "Heaven forbid! I'm quite sure Mr. Breakspeare wouldn't take my words in that sense. I am all for zeal and hopefulness. The curse of our age is pessimism, a result and a cause of the materialistic spirit. Science, which really involves an infinite hope, has been misinterpreted by Socialists in the most foolish way, until we get a miserable languid fatalism, leading to decadence and despair. The essential of progress is Faith, and Faith can only be established by the study of Nature."

"That's the kind of thing I like to hear," exclaimed the editor, who, whilst listening, has tossed off a glass of wine. (The pink of his cheeks was deepening to a pleasant rosiness, as luncheon drew to its end.) "Hoc signo vinces!"

Lady Ogram, who was regarding Lashmar, said abruptly, "Go on! Talk away!" And the orator, to whose memory happily occurred a passage of his French sociologist, proceeded meditatively.

"Two great revolutions in knowledge have affected the modern world. First came the great astronomic discoveries, which subordinated our planet, assigned it its place in the universe, made it a little rolling globe amid innumerable others, instead of the one inhabited world for whose behalf were created sun and moon and stars. Then the great work of the biologists, which put man into his rank among animals, dethroning him from a fantastic dignity, but at the same time honouring him as the crown of nature's system, the latest product of aeons of evolution. These conquests of science have put modern man into an entirely new position, have radically changed his conception of the world and of himself. Religion, philosophy, morals, politics, all are revolutionised by this accession of knowledge. It is no exaggeration to say that the telescope and the microscope have given man a new heart and soul. But-" he paused, effectively,-"how many are as yet really aware of the change? The multitude takes no account of it, no conscious account; the average man lives under the heaven of Joshua, on the earth of King Solomon. We call our age scientific. So it is-for a few score human beings."

Reflecting for a moment, Dyce felt that it would be absurd to charge him with plagiarism, so vastly more eloquent was he than the author to whom he owed his ideas. Conscience did not trouble him in the least. He marked with satisfaction the attentiveness of his audience.

"Politics, to be a living thing, must be viewed in this new, large light. The leader in Liberalism is the man imbued with scientific truth, and capable of applying it to the every day details of government. Science, I said, teaches hierarchic order-that is, the rule of the few, of the select, the divinely appointed. But this hierarchy is an open order-open to the select of every rank; a process of perpetual renewal will maintain the health of the political organism. The true polity is only in slow formation; for, obviously, human reason is not yet a complete development. As yet, men come to the front by accident; some day they will be advanced to power by an inevitable and impeccable process of natural selection. For my own part"-he turned slightly towards the hostess-"I think that use will be made of our existing system of aristocracy; in not a few instances, technical aristocracy is justified by natural pre-eminence. We can all think of examples. Personally, I might mention my friend Lord Dymchurch-a member of the true aristocracy, in every sense of the word."

"I don't know him," said Lady Ogram.

"That doesn't surprise me. He leads an extremely retired life. But I am sure you would find him a very pleasant acquaintance."

Lashmar occasionally had a fine discretion. He knew when to cheek the flood of his eloquence: a glance at this face and that, and he said within himself: Sat prata biberunt. Soon after this, Lady Ogram rose, and led the company into her verdurous drawing-room. She was beginning to show signs of fatigue; seated in her throne-like chair, she let her head lie back, and was silent. Constance Bride, ever tactful, began to take a more prominent part in the conversation, and Breakspeare was delighted to talk with her about ordinary things. Presently, Lashmar, in reply to some remark, mentioned that he was returning to London this evening whereupon his hostess asked:

"When are you coming back again?"

"Before long, I hope, Lady Ogram. The pleasure of these two days-"

She interrupted him.

"Could you come down in a fortnight?"

"Easily, and gladly."

"Then do so. Don't go to Hollingford; your room will be ready for you here. Just write and let me know when you will arrive."

In a few minutes, both men took their leave, and went back to Hollingford together, driving in a fly which Breakspeare had ordered. For the first minutes they hardly talked; they avoided each other's look, and exchanged only insignificant words. Then the editor, with his blandest smile, said in a note of sudden cordiality:

"It has been a great pleasure to me to meet you, Mr. Lashmar. May I, without indiscretion, take it for granted that we shall soon be fighting the good fight together?"

"Why, I think it likely," answered Dyce, in a corresponding tone. "I have not quite made up my mind-"

"No, no. I understand. There's just one point I should like to touch upon. To-day we have enjoyed a veritable symposium-for me, I assure you, a high intellectual treat. But, speaking to you as to one who does not know Hollingford, I would suggest to you that our Liberal electors are perhaps hardly ripe for such a new and bracing political philosophy-"

Dyce broke into gay laughter.

"My dear sir, you don't imagine that I thought of incorporating my philosophy in an electioneering address? Of course one must use common sense in these matters. Practical lessons come before theory. If I stand for Hollingford-" he rolled the words, and savoured them-"I shall do so as a very practical politician indeed. My philosophical creed will of course influence me, and I shall lose no opportunity of propagating it: but have no fear of my expounding bio-sociology to Hollingford shopkeepers and artisans."

Breakspeare echoed the speaker's mirth, and they talked on about the practical aspects of the next election in the borough.

Meanwhile, Lady Ogram had sat in her great chair, dozing. Constance, accustomed to this, read for half an hour, or let her thoughts wander. At length overcoming her drowsiness, the old lady fixed a curious gaze upon Miss Bride, a gaze of benevolent meditation.

"We shall have several letters to write to-morrow morning," she said presently.

"Political letters?" asked Constance.

"Yes. By the bye, do you know anything about Lord Dymchurch?"

"Nothing at all."

"Then find out about him as soon as possible.-What are Mr. Lashmar's means?"

"I really can't tell you," answered Constance, slightly confused by the unexpected question. "I believe his father is very well-to-do; I have heard him spoken of as a man of private fortune."

"Then our friend is independent-or at all events not pinched. So much the better."

Again Lady Ogram fell into musing; the countless wrinkles about her eyes, eloquent as wrinkles always are, indicated that her thoughts had no disagreeable tenor.

"Mr. Lashmar impresses you favourably?" Constance at length ventured to ask.

Lady Ogram delayed her answer for a moment, then, speaking thickly in her tired voice, and with slow emphasis:

"I'm glad to know him. Beyond a doubt, he is the coming man."

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