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Harding certainly thinks well of it,” said he, not heeding her question. " Thinks well of what, George ?”
“He's a shrewd fellow," continued he; "and if he deems the investment good enough to venture his own money in, I suspect, Ju, we might risk ours."
“I wish you would tell me what you are talking about; for all this is a perfect riddle to me.”
“It's about vesting your two thousand pounds, Julia, which now return about seventy pounds a year, in the coal speculation. That's what I am thinking of. Harding says, that taking a very low estimate of the success, there ought to be a profit on the shares of fifteen per cent. In fact, he said he wouldn't go into it himself for less."
Why, George, why did he say this? Is there anything wrong or immoral about coal ?”
Try and be serious for one moment, Ju,” said he, with a slight touch of irritation in his voice. “What Harding evidently meant was, that a speculative enterprise was not to be deemed good if it yielded less. These shrewd men, I believe, never lay out their money without large profit.”
“ And, my dear George, why come and consult me about these things ? Can you imagine more hopeless ignorance than mine must be on all such questions?"
“You can understand that a sum of money yielding three hundred a year is more profitably employed than when it only returned seventy.'
• Yes; I think my intelligence can rise to that height.”
“And you can estimate, also, what increase of comfort we should have if our present income were to be more than doubled, --which it would be in this way
“I'd deem it positive affluence, George." " That's all I want you to comprehend. The next question is to get
. Vickars to consent; he is the surviving trustee, and you'll have to write to him, Ju. It will come better from you than me, and say—what you can say with a safe conscience—that we are miserably poor, and that, though we pinch and save in every way we can, there's no reaching the end of the year without a deficit in the budget.”
“I used that unlucky phrase once before, George, and he replied, • Why don't you cut down the estimates ?'"
“I know he did. The old curmudgeon meant I should sell Nora, and he has a son, a gentleman commoner at Cambridge, that spends more in wine-parties than our whole income.”
“ But it's his own, George. It is not our money he is wasting."
“Of course it is not; but does that exempt him from all comment ? Not that it matters to us, however,” added he, in a lighter tone. down, and try what you can do with the old fellow. You used to be a great pet of his once on a time.”
“ Yes, he went so far as to say that if I had even twenty thousand pounds, he didn't know a girl he'd rather have for a daughter-in-law."
“ He didn't tell you that, Ju ?” said L'Estrange, growing almost purple with shame and rage together.
“I pledge you my word he said it.”
“I wiped my eyes with my handkerchief, and told him it was for the first time in my life I felt the misery of being poor.” " And I wager
you burst out laughing.” “I did, George. I laughed till my sides ached. I laughed till he rushed out of the room in a fit of passion, and I declare, I don't think he ever spoke ten words to me after.”
“ This gives me scant hope of your chance of success with him."
“I don't know, George. All this happened ten months ago, when he came down here for the snipe-shooting. He may have forgiven, or, better still, forgotten it. In any case, tell me exactly what I'm to write, and I'll see what I can do with him."
“ You're to say that your brother has just heard from a person, in whom he places the most perfect confidence, say Harding, in short-Colonel Bramleigh's agent—that an enterprise which will shortly be opened here offers an admirable opportunity of investment, and that as your small fortune in Consols
“ In what?”
" No matter. Say that as your two thousand pounds,—which now yield an interest of seventy, could secure you an income fully four times that sum, you hope he will give his consent to withdraw the money from the Funds, and employ it in this speculation. I'd not say speculation, I'd call it mine at once-coal-mine."
“But if I own this money why must I ask Mr. Vickars' leave to make use of it as I please ? ”
“He is your trustee, and the law gives him this power, Ju, till you are nineteen, which you will not be till May next.”
“He'll scarcely be disagreeable, when his opposition must end in five months."
“ That's what I think too, but before that five months run over the share list may be filled, and these debentures be probably double the present price.”
“ I'm not sure I understand your reasoning, but I'll go and write my letter, and you shall see if I have said all that you wished.”
LORD CULDUFF accompanied Colonel Bramleigh to town. He wanted a renewal of his leave, and deemed it better to see the head of the department in person than to address a formal demand to the office. Colonel
Bramleigh, too, thought that his lordship's presence might be useful when the day of action had arrived respecting the share company—a Lord in the City having as palpable a weight as the most favourable news that ever sent up the Funds.
When they reached London they separated, Bramleigh taking up his quarters in the Burlington, while Lord Culduff-on pretence of running down to some noble duke's villa near Richmond-snugly installed himself in a very modest lodging off St. James's Street, where a former valet acted as his cook and landlord, and on days of dining out assisted at the wonderful toilet, whose success was alike the marvel and the envy of Culduffos contemporaries.
Though a man of several clubs, his lordship’s favourite haunt was a small unimposing-looking house close to St. James's Square, called the "Plenipo.” Its members were all diplomatists, nothing below the head of a mission being eligible for ballot. A masonic mystery pervaded all the coings of that austere temple, whose dinners were reported to be exquisite, and whose cellar had such a fame that “ Plenipo Lafitte" had a European reputation.
Now, veteran asylums have many things recommendatory about them, but from Greenwich and the Invalides downwards there is one especial vice that clings to them—they are haunts of everlasting complaint. The men who frequent them all belong to the past, their sympathies, their associations, their triumphs and successes, all pertain to the bygone. Harping eternally over the frivolity, the emptiness, and sometimes the vulgarity of the present, they urge each other on to most exaggerated notions of the time when they were young, and a deprecatory estimate of the world then around them.
It is not alone that the days of good dinners and good conversation have passed away, but even good manners have gone, and, more strangely too, good looks. “I protest you don't see such women now”—one of these bewigged and rouged old debauchees would say, as he gazed at the slow procession moving on to a drawing-room, and his compeers would concur with him, and wonderingly declare that the thing was inexplicable.
In the sombre-looking breakfast-room of this austere temple, Lord Culduff sat reading The Times. A mild soft rain was falling without; the water dripping tepid and dirty through the heavy canopy of a London fog;
a and a large coal fire blazed within,—that fierce furnace which seems so congenial to English taste; not impossibly because it recalls the factory and the smelting-house—the “ sacred fire” that seems to inspire patriotism by the suggestion of industry.
Two or three others sat at tables through the room, all so wonderfully alike in dress, feature, and general appearance, that they almost seemed reproductions of the same figure by a series of mirrors ; but they were priesis of the same "caste," whose forms of thought and expression were precisely the same,—and thus as they dropped their scant remarks on
the topics of the day, there was not an observation or a phrase of one that might not have fallen from any of the others.
“So,” cried one, “they're going to send the Grand Cross to the Duke of Hochmaringhen. That will be a special mission. I wonder who'll get it?"
“Cloudesley, I'd say," observed another; "he's always on the watch for anything that comes into the extraordinaries.'”
“ It will not be Cloudesley," said a third. “ He stayed away a yeai and eight months when they sent him to Tripoli, and there was a rare jaw about it for the estimates."
Hochmaringhen is near Baden, and not a bad place for the summer," said Culduff." The duchess, I think, was daughter of the Margravine."
“ Niece, not daughter,” said a stern-looking man, who never turned his eyes from his newspaper.
“ Niece or daughter, it matters little which,” said Culduff, irritated at correction on such a point.
“I protest I'd rather take a turn in South Africa," cried another, “ than accept one of those missions to Central Germany."
“ You're right, Upton,” said a voice from the end of the room, “ the cookery is insufferable."
" And the hours. You retire to bed at ten."
" And the ceremonial. Blounte never threw off the lumbago he got from bowing at the court of Bratensdorf.”'
“ They're ignoble sort of things, at the best, and should never be imposed on diplomatic men. These investitures should always be entrusted to court functionaries,” said Culduff, haughtily. “If I were at the head of F. 0. I'd refuse to charge one of the line' with such a mission.”
And now something that almost verged on an animated discussion ensued as to what was and what was not the real province of diplomacy; a majority inclining to the opinion that it was derogatory to the high dignity of the calling to meddle with what, at best, was the function of the mere courtier.
“Is that Culduff driving away in that cab?” cried one, as he stood at the window.
“ He has carried away my hat, I see, by mistake,” said another. “What is he up to at this hour of the morning ?”
“I think I can guess," said the grim individual who had corrected him in the matter of genealogy ; "he's off to F. O., to ask for the special mission he has just declared that none of us should stoop to accept."
" You've hit it, Grindesley," cried another. “I'll wager a pony you're right."
" It's so like him."
“ After all, it's the sort of thing he's best up to. La Ferronaye told me he was the best master of the ceremonies in Europe.”
“Why come amongst us at all, then ? Why not get himself made a gold-stick, and follow the instincts of his genius?"
“Well, I believe he wants it badly,” said one who affected a tone of
half kindliness. They tell me he has not eight hundred a year left him.”
“ Not four. I doubt if he could lay claim to three."
“ He never had in his best day above four or five thousand, though he tells you of his twenty-seven or twenty-eight." '
“ He had originally about six; but he always lived at the rate of twelve or fifteen, and in mere ostentation too."
“ So I've always heard.” And then there followed a number of little anecdotes of Culduff's selfishness, his avarice, his meanness, and such like, told with such exactitude as to show that every act of these men's lives was scrupulously watched, and when occasion offered mercilessly recorded.
While they thus sat in judgment over him, Lord Culduff himself was seated at a fire in a dingy old room in Downing Street, the Chief Secretary for Foreign Affairs opposite him. They were talking in a tone of easy familiarity, as men might who occupied the same social station, a certain air of superiority, however, being always apparent in the manner of the minister towards the subordinate.
“I don't think you can ask this, Culduff,” said the great man, as he puffed his cigar tranquilly in front of him. " You've had three of these special missions already.”
“ And for the simple reason that I was the one man in England who knew how to do them.”
“ We don't dispute the way you did them; we only say all the prizes in the wheel should not fall to the same man."
“ You have had my proxy for the last five years.”
“And we have acknowledged the support--acknowledged it by more than professions."
“I can only say this, that if I had been with the other side, I'd have met somewhat different treatment."
“Don't believe it, Culduff. Every party that is in power inherits its share of obligations. We have never disowned those we owe to you."
“And why am I refused this, then ? "
“ If you wanted other reasons than those I have given you, I might be able to adduce them-not willingly indeed, but under pressure, and especially in strict confidence."
“ Reasons against my having the mission ? " “ Reasons against your having the mission.”
“ You amaze me, my lord. I almost doubt that I have heard you aright. I must, however, insist on your explaining yourself. Am I to understand that there are personal grounds of unfitness ? "
The other bowed in assent.
“ First of all, Culduff, this is to be a family mission—the duchess is a connection of our own royal house—and a certain degree of display and consequent expense will be required. Your fortune does not admit of this,”