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AN ARISTOCRATIC SOCIALIST.

By E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM.


IT was just becoming a debatable question with Lord Francis Hadley, Marquis of Hetherdean whether, after all, life was worth living. In his present mood, if he had been called upon to give a definite decision with regard to this problem, he would probably have decided in the negative, although if he had been compelled to give also his reasons for such a decision, he would certainly have been at a loss to do so. Doubtless he would have muttered something about London being so beastly slow at this time of the year, and indulged in a mild oath at the post which had sent him up from Melton. But as a matter of fact, it was neither the loss of his hunting nor his non-interest in town life which was at the bottom of his Lordship's discontent with things in general. They might, perhaps, have had something to do with it, for he was a young man of no very pronounced tastes, who was accustomed to rely for his diversions almost entirely upon the usual season's pursuits, and the sudden stoppage of his favourite sport was certainly annoying. He had had quite enough of tramping over wet moors in the drizzling rain, with a gun under his arm which he was seldom called upon to use, and the shortest-tempered of Scotch keepers lagging wearily behind; nor could he find anything in town life to compensate him for his ejection from Melton, for he had not the slightest taste for dissipation in any form, and most of his friends had already shut up their town houses and gone down into the country for Christmas. But, after all, these were not the chief reasons for his depressed state, although they were the only reasons which he would have cared to acknowledge. The fact of it was that he was, or fancied that he was—which is very much the same thing—in love. There was nothing at all romantic about it. The young lady who had first attracted his notice, then his attention, and finally his heart (he was by no means the sort of young man to fall in love off-hand), was one of his own set, with whom an alliance would have been most proper and desirable. But there was one trifling difficulty in the way. Incredible though it may seem, Lord Hadley had an uneasy but distinct consciousness that the young lady in question, although she did not positively discourage his advances, seemed scarcely to appreciate them at their full value. He could not understand it at all. He had been so angled for and spoilt during the five years which had elapsed since he had attained his majority, that there was certainly some excuse for his perplexity. He was young, moderately good-looking, moderately rich. What more could she want? And yet on two separate occasions, when he had been on the very brink of a proposal, she had actually avoided it.

Now, in his perplexity Lord Hadley had done a very unwise thing. He had been unwilling to abandon the idea of making Flora Saville Marchioness of Hetherdean; but, on the other hand, he could not bring himself to face the possibilities of a rejection; and so he had laid the matter before her mother, Mrs. Saville, and there, at any rate, his suit had not been coldly received, Mrs. Saville had instantly declared herself his warm ally, and the letter which he was studying over his post-matutinal cigar with so much interest was in her clear, bold handwriting. It ran thus:—

 

"Bath Hotel, Bournemouth,
"December 21, 18—.

"Mv dear Lord Hadley" (he had winced a little more than once at the "My dear." It seemed so very mother-in-law-ish)—"we are leaving here this afternoon for Bradgate Park, and I am writing you a few lines to remind you of your promise to spend Christmas there. We are all very well, and you will be glad to find (underlined) "that dear Flora's cold has quite disappeared. I think that I may venture to give you a little good news with regard to—a certain matter. I have sometimes feared that the dear child—very silly of her—thought a little too much of Mr. Reid, who certainly has been very attentive to her. Well, we have just received a letter from him regretting that some unforeseen circumstance will prevent his spending Christmas with us. I can see that Flora is very much annoyed at this, and I really am afraid that there was some kind of secret understanding between them which, had they met at Christmas, might have led to most regrettable results. As it is, all will be well, I think, for she is evidently much puzzled about Mr. Reid putting off bis visit, and asked me this morning whether I was certain that you were coming to us. You will, I am sure, let nothing prevent your paying us this visit, as the opportunity is not one to be lost if you are still in the same mind as when we last met. I shall confidently expect you, then, on the 24th, at Bradgate Park, and will send to meet the 3.30 from St. Pancras.

"With kindest regards, believe me, my dear Lord Hadley,

"Yours very sincerely,
"Eleanor Saville."

 

Lord Hadley, having carefully studied this epistle for nearly a quarter of an hour, consigned it at last to the pocket of his dressing-gown and pulled away savagely at his cigar. He had his own reasons for believing that Neil Reid, whom he had himself introduced to the Savilles, and who was one of his closest friends, was a somewhat formidable rival, and he scarcely felt inclined to share Mrs. Saville's sanguine views as to his chances with her daughter. Reid was certainly poor, but then his family and connections were unexceptionable, and he was undeniably clever in a quasi-literary sort of way. Besides, money would not be so much an object, for Flora was herself an heiress, and, being an only child and spoilt, would certainly have her own way. Altogether, things looked very bad indeed, and dim ideas of the Rocky Mountains and a prolonged Eastern tour were floating in Lord Hadley's mind as he lounged in his easy-chair, with his hands thrust deep into his pockets, and stared fixedly into the bright fire.

There was a knock at the door, and the servant announced, "Mr. Neil Reid."

Lord Hadley started to his feet with a muttered exclamation, which was certainly not a blessing upon the gentleman in question, and then turned round to receive his visitor.

"How are you, Reid? Haven't seen you for an age. Just tilt those papers on the floor, will you, and take a seat. Breakfast or a weed?"

Mr. Neil Reid, a tall, very good-looking young man, accepted the invitation and seated himself in a low chair opposite his host. "Rattling good cigars," he remarked appreciatively. "Boonter's?"

"No. Got 'em at old Perry's, in Bond Street. Thought you were in Paris, writing those letters for the Centurion. When did you come across?"

"Last Wednesday—found I could write them just as well from London; and besides, it's an infernal nuisance, but I've got to turn up at home at Christmas. Can't think what's possessed the governor, but he simply insists upon my being there to join in the festivities. I hate all that tomfoolery, but go I must. Can't afford to offend the old boy."

Mrs. Saville's information was correct, then. Lord Hadley felt a little better.

"Those sort of Christmas rejoicings are sometimes very good fun," he remarked consolingly. "I rather like an old-fash——"

"Then I tell you what, old man," interrupted the other eagerly. "You come down with me. My people will be delighted to see you, and we can find something to do. They always leave a cover or two till Christmas, and——"

"Thanks awfully, but I've promised to spend Christmas with the Savilles, at the place they've taken in Leicestershire. Can't get out of it now."

Mr. Neil Reid's face fell considerably and he bit his moustache.

"I'm sorry to hear it," he said gloomily. "Look here, Hadley," he went on, "we're old friends, and you won't mind my speaking out, I'm sure. I have an idea we're running against one another in this matter. I don't know whether you're in earnest, but I tell you frankly—I am. Let's have it out. Are we rivals?"

"Presuming that you refer to Miss Saville," Lord Hadley said a little stiffly, "we are. I intend to ask her to be my wife."

There was a dead silence for several minutes, which Mr. Neil Reid was the first to break.

"Very well, then, Hadley, let it be a fair fight between us. There's just one favour I should like to ask you. Miss Saville will doubtless be a little annoyed with me for throwing them over this Christmas, though, hang it all! I can't help it. You won't take advantage of that, will you? I mean to say, you'll not steal a march on me by proposing until I've seen her and explained matters? That's only fair."

Lord Hadley leaned back in his chair and laughed silently.

"Come, come, Reid, isn't that going a little too far? To make use of a very hackneyed quotation, 'All's fair in love and war,' you know. Between ourselves, you've exactly indicated what I propose doing."

Neil Reid rose to his feet with an angry exclamation and caught up his hat as if about to go, but evidently thought better of it and resumed his seat.

"It's not the slightest use quarrelling about this little matter, Reid," his Lordship remarked affably. "Come, let's drop it now; it's a fair field, and let the best man win. Now let's talk of something else. What are you going to do to-day? Can't we do something together? I never was so miserably bored in all my life."

Mr. Neil Reid, who had his own reasons for not wishing to quarrel with his rival, took out a small memorandum-book and leisurely consulted it.

"H'm! seems I'm pretty well full up," he remarked thoughtfully. "I've promised to get into Trafalgar Square and report for the Centurion. Then, if I can get away in time, I ought to lunch at Belton House, and take my cousins to a matinée somewhere Kensington way; and I'm going to dine with the Caringtons, and shall look in at Mrs. Pychley-Carr's dance, of course."

Lord Hadley threw the end of his cigar into the air and looked vicious.

"Hope you'll enjoy yourself! For my part part, I hate matinées, especially musical ones, like poison, and I can't endure dancing attendance on a lot of women like a tame puppy dog—no offence to you, Reid. The Caringtons haven't asked me to dine, and if they had, I shouldn't go. I hate their slow, solemn dinners! Lord's is shut up; so's Hurlingham. I'm sick of the sight of Tattersall's, and I haven't got any pretty cousins to go and lunch with. What on earth is there for a man to do?"

"Come with me to Trafalgar Square and see these Socialists," Mr. Reid answered promptly. "That'll be a novelty for you, at any rate."

Lord Hadley's thin lip curled and his face assumed an expression of most patrician contempt.

"Go amongst that lot of beer-swilling, ranting lunatics! Not I. If I went, I should tell them what I thought of their folly."

"That's a little more than even you dare do," remarked Mr. Neil Reid quietly.

These words had precisely the effect which the speaker had intended them to have. Lord Hadley looked up quickly with a frowning face.

"Dare! I like that! Look here, Reid, if you'll engage to procure me the opportunity—you're in with all these Socialist cads, aren't you?—I'll bet you a hundred pounds that I do make a speech! There!"

"Done! I'll find you the opportunity this very morning. You must take the risk of it on your own shoulders, though. I warn you that these fellows, contemptible though you may think them, won't stand any trifling."

"Very well, I'm not afraid of them. They won't know who I am. Oblige me by touching the bell, will you, Reid? Thanks."

His Lordship's own man answered the summons.

"Burditt, have you got any very old clothes?" his master inquired gravely.

Burditt belonged to that class of highly trained servants to whom surprise and suchlike emotions are strangers.

"I don't know that I have, my lord," he replied, after a moment's deliberation. "Not very old."

"I didn't suppose you had. Now listen to me. I want you to take a hansom at once and find a ready-made clothes shop—second-hand, if possible—and buy a pair of corduroy trousers, a flannel shirt, a rough coat and waistcoat, and a red cotton handkerchief. Mind you don't forget the handkerchief! Shall we say two rig-outs?" he inquired, turning to his friend, "or do you prefer going as you are?"

"As I am; by all means," answered Mr. Neil Reid, with a short laugh, glancing at his irreproachable attire. "I don't mind going amongst these people to hear what they've got to say, but I'm hanged if I care about imitating their style of dress."

"Very well, then, be off with you, Burditt, and look sharp. You going, too, Reid? Stop a bit, where shall I see you?"

"Top of Oxford Street, in an hour's time, and you'd better have your cheque-book with you," Neil Reid answered, laughing. "On second thoughts, though, I think you'd better leave it at home. You'll most certainly be mobbed if you begin to air your aristocratic notions. Better pay forfeit."

There was the slightest possible inflection of a sneer in his tone, and it had the desired effect. Lord Hadley would as likely as not have thought better of it, and have paid the money, but for the other's words. As it was, he drew himself up steadily, almost haughtily, and looked at his friend.

"I think not. If you carry out your part of the programme, I will mine."

"And if you do," muttered Mr. Neil Reid, as he stepped into a stray hansom, "it won't be my fault if you don't spend Christmas at Bradgate Park. What was it he said to me—'All's fair in love and war'? Ah, well, Hadley, I can make use of that hackneyed quotation as well as you. Socialists' Club, Camberwell Road, cabby, and look sharp."

At one o'clock that afternoon Trafalgar Square was filled to overflowing with a heterogeneous mob of excited people, some loungers and street vagabonds, a sprinkling of even worse characters, and a minority of the genuine unemployed, desperate with real need, and eagerly listening for the advice of those in whom, wisely or unwisely, they had put their trust. Chiefly they flocked together round a brewer's dray, on which stood several of those who were to address them, amongst whom, standing slightly in the background, was a tall, slight man, in the garb of a coal-heaver, with a red cotton handkerchief around his neck, and an expression of intense interest in his well-cut, shapely features. The meeting had commenced without interruption, and in many different parts of the Square the speakers were already haranguing the crowd from hastily extemporised platforms. Suddenly there was a cry of warning, and a large body of police were seen making desperate attempts to reach the ringleaders. That they would not be able to do this very soon became evident, for the people were wedged together so closely that they formed a quite impenetrable mass, and after a short struggle the police gave it up and, amidst howls of derision, withdrew to await reinforcements. The speaker for the nonce, however, on the principal platform, had taken alarm and vanished, and for a moment or two no one came forward. Then, just as the people were beginning to get impatient, the man with the red cotton handkerchief round his neck came boldly to the front and, turning towards the crowd, commenced to address them. His views seemed popular, for at every sentence they cheered him vehemently. Higher and higher grew their enthusiasm as his speech progressed, and cheer after cheer rent the air as his manner became more earnest and his words flowed more volubly. One man alone, standing near the platform, in a long, dark ulster and with a reporter's note-book seemed to find little that was pleasant in the speaker's words, for he was standing motionless, making no attempt to write, even staring at the man on the platform with a curious expression of bewildered dismay, together with not a little disappointment. Perhaps Mr. Neil Reid had never in his life before experienced such a shock of overpowering surprise.

Suddenly, in the midst of a very storm of applause, there was a hush and a cry of warning. The police, heavily reinforced, had succeeded in getting inside the circle and were making for the platform. The orator leaped down, the crowd opened their ranks to receive him, and he passed like magic through the dense throng, and was lost to the struggling myrmidons of the law.

That evening Lord Hadley sat down to his dinner with a hearty appetite and in high good humour, rare events with him latterly. With dessert was brought in the evening paper, and presently he carelessly shook it open and began to glance through its contents. He had not gone far before he started and uttered a quick exclamation, which considerably shocked the old servant who stood behind his chair. There was some little excuse for him, though, for almost the first column his eye fell upon was headed by his own name in large type. He put down his glass, which he had been in the act of raising to his lips, and eagerly read through the paragraphs

 

"GREAT MEETING

OF THE

UNEMPLOYED IN TRAFALGAR
SQUARE.

Gallant Escapade of the Marquis of
Hetherdean.

A Riot Avoided.

 

"The expected mass meeting of the unemployed was held this afternoon in Trafalgar Square, in defiance of the police regulations, and it appears quite certain that a most disastrous riot was only prevented by the gallant conduct of a young English nobleman, Lord Francis Hadley, Marquis of Hetherdean. From an early hour in the morning the Square was partly filled with a disreputable mob of loafers and vagabonds, who had assembled to take part in the afternoon's demonstration, and at no time could the police, although in great force, keep the people moving. Towards one o'clock the ingoing stream steadily increased, and an hour later a dense throng completely held the Square. Several speeches of a highly inflammatory nature were delivered, despite the desperate efforts of the police to reach the platform, and matters were in a very critical state when the Marquis of Hetherdean—who, being disguised as a working man, was not generally known—mounted the platform and expostulated with great effect. Unfortunately, no reporters succeeded in reaching the vicinity of the platform, but we understand his Lordship, in a speech of some ten minutes' duration, exposed in a most masterly fashion the dangerous errors and falsities of Socialist doctrines generally, and implored the people to disperse without any disturbance. The arguments of the orator were, strange to say, most favourably received, and, together with the arrival of a large body of police, were, without doubt, instrumental in preventing a repetition of the deplorable riots of twelve months ago, a contingency which at one time appeared imminent. There is no man in England that should feel more proud to-night than the gallant young nobleman whose heroic, though somewhat quixotic, action has spared a great city from the the disgrace of another street riot. We trust that Lord Hadley, now that he has broken the ice, will take an active part in political life, and will give us the opportunity of hearing again that eloquence, of which he must undoubtedly be possessed, in the House of Lords, where such a gift is sadly wanted."

Lord Hadley leaned back in his chair in a state of mind bordering upon stupefaction. Before he had had time to recover himself there was a knock at the door, and his servant put a letter into his hand, with the remark that it had just arrived by special messenger. He tore it open and glanced through it. It was from the Home Secretary, and alluded in highly complimentary terms to his "gallant behaviour and patriotism" in Trafalgar Square, and concluded by thanking him heartily, officially and person- ally, for his heroic action.

The Marquis of Hetherdean took a long breath and poured himself out a glass of wine. Scarcely had he set the glass down when Mr. Neil Reid was announced.

"My most sincere congratulations," the new-comer remarked drily, as he laid a cheque upon the table. "I had no idea that you were a rank Socialist at heart, Lord Hadley, or I might have hesitated before I framed that bet. Let me congratulate you on your opinions, your oratory and your good fortune."

It struck Lord Hadley that something more than the loss of an ordinary bet was the matter with his friend and rival.

Hs eyes were burning with suppressed excitement, and he seemed as though he could control his temper only by a strong effort. He was still in morning dress, and there was a dishevelled appearance about him altogether, just as though he had been drinking. Lord Hadley took in these details and answered coolly—

"Much obliged, Reid. It's certainly just as well that the newspapers didn't get hold of what I really did say?"

"Aye, it is," Reid assented, with a short, unpleasant laugh. "The world would be surprised to hear that your Lordship thought all differences in rank humbug, believed in an equal distribution of wealth and the establishment of a republic. What if I tell them?"

Lord Hadley shrugged his shoulders and looked perfectly indifferent.

"Look here, Hadley," exclaimed Reid savagely, "I'll make a bargain with you: give up spending Christmas at Bradgate, and leave Flora Saville with me—I want her money—and I'll do nothing. But unless you make me that promise, you shall repeat it! I'll reproduce that brilliant speech of yours and publish it everywhere; and, more than that, I'll set the people on you for a hypocrite; and, if I'm cut off with a shilling, I'll go to Bradgate Park for Christmas and spoil your game with Flora Saville! Decide!"

"I have already decided," said Lord Hadley quietly, "that if you are not out of my house in two minutes, I shall throw you out. I have always had my doubts about you, and now I know that you are a cad."

Neil Reid hesitated for a moment, pale and shaking with rage. Then he turned on his heel with an evil smile and left the room.

He had scarcely gone before another visitor was announced—George Ellingcombe, Lord Hadley's cousin and his closest friend.

"My dear Francis," exclaimed the new-comer, as he established himself in an easy-chair, "why didn't you take me with you this afternoon? I might have come in for a little reflected glory, at any rate. 'Pon my word! I never dreamt that you were a philanthropist or anything of that sort. Why, all London is talking about you. Lucky beggar!"

Lord Hadley took another glass of wine, and then astonished his cousin by throwing himself back in an easy-chair and subsiding into a perfect fit of laughter. Then he sat up and wiped his eyes.

"George," he said feebly, "this'll be the death of me. Swear by everything that's holy that you'll keep it dark."

"I swear by these cigars," he remarked with mock solemnity; "proceed."

"Well, then, it's all a grand sell. They've got hold of the wrong end of the stick somehow. You see, Neil Reid bet me a hundred pounds I wouldn't make a speech to those fellows. Well, I made up my mind I would, and you know I'm rather obstinate. He got me on the platform, and I'm pretty sure now that he meant to get me mobbed. However, as I didn't see the fun of that, when my turn came to speak I just pitched it stronger than any of them—made an out-and-out Socialist speech. I really did feel sorry for the poor devils, and it's very easy when once you've made a start. You should have heard them cheer! And you should just have seen Reid's face! Of course, he'd taken care to let them know who I was, hoping to make it all the hotter for me, and it all cut the other way when they'd heard what I'd got to say. If there had been a reporter, I should have been done. I had to cut for it, I can tell you, to avoid being taken, but the people opened for me and helped me on like bricks. I nearly tumbled off my chair just now when I saw that paragraph in the evening paper, and directly afterwards had a pompous epistle from old Matthews."

The Hon. George Ellingcombe listened to his cousin's recital with open-mouthed amazement. Then he broke into a short laugh.

"By Jove! Hadley, you're a lucky fellow, and no mistake," he exclaimed vigorously. "You should just hear how people are talking about you. I don't remember such a sensation since Fred Castleton went off with the Countess. And only to think that—oh, it's too absurd! I'll keep your secret, I promise you. Can't stop a moment longer, the Mater's waiting for me. Come down to the club to-night and he lionised."

Later on in the evening, Lord Hadley did look in at the club, and was instantly beset with a shower of congratulations and chaff, all of which he received with becoming gravity and modesty. On his return home, however, he indulge in another prolonged fit of merriment, greatly to the mystification of the astonished Burditt, who began to have grave doubts as to his master's sanity. But Burditt was destined to find still greater cause for astonishment shortly.

Lord Hadley slept soundly that night, but towards morning he awoke suddenly to find Burditt by his bedside with a scared face, and a curious rumbling sound in the street below.

"What on earth's the matter?" he exclaimed, sitting up and listening.

"Matter! my lord, matter enough! Why, we shall have the house about our ears in a minute," replied the trembling servant. "There's the biggest crowd of roughs I ever saw in my life blocking up the whole street and calling for your Lordship. There they are again!" and a deafening roar from many thousand throats seemed almost to shake the house.

"Hetherdean! Hetherdean! A speech! A speech! Come out!"

Lord Hadley listened with a sudden realisation of his awful dilemma. Then he sprang out of bed and commenced hastily to dress himself.

"Quick! my trousers and waistcoat, Burditt. Don't stand there like a fool! This is serious! Now listen to me. Don't get sending for the police or bolting the doors. Get the women servants out of the house by the back door, and take the plate into the cellar. First of all, open the window. That'll do."

A mighty roar greeted Lord Hadley's appearance on the balcony—a roar half of applause, half of menace; and as it died away other cries arose.

"A speech! a speech!" "Come and contradict the newspapers." "Hurrah for Hetherdean and a republic!" "Come and let's hear what yer got to say!"

Lord Hadley cleared his throat and stood facing the people, smiling and apparently quite at his ease, until the clamour had subsided. Suddenly his eye met Neil Reid's, who was standing with one or two professional reporters right to the front. There was a triumphant look on the latter's upturned face, but Lord Hadley met it steadily and without flinching, without even abating his pleasant smile.

"My friends," he exclaimed, in clear, ringing tones, as soon as there was comparative silence, "you have taken me by surprise, but I am glad to see you. You say you want a speech. Well, I thought I'd spoken to you pretty plainly yesterday; but you shall have it all over again, if you want it. I tell you what I'd rather do, though; I'd rather stand you a breakfast. You look hungry, some of you, and it's a cold morning."

There was a howl of frenzied applause from many hundreds of starving throats. One man only persisted in calling for a speech, and he was immediately hustled and jostled by a furious crowd.

"There are too many of you to come in here, I'm afraid," Lord Hadley continued. "We must manage it another way. I will come down and go round to some of these coffee-houses with you. We——"

A deafening roar of applause. One man alone refused to join in in, and in less than a moment he was hustled off his feet, trodden upon, spat at, kicked, his clothes torn, and his face smeared with dirt and blood. Then they left him alone, at the stern command of the man who was going to give them food. One of them, indeed, was merciful enough to lift him up and prop him against a railing before he hurried after his fellows. There he remained until a policeman put him in a cab and had him taken, more dead than alive, to his chambers.

That was a strange crowd which trudged along after Lord Hadley through the early morning streets. Eager-looking women, with children running by their sides, or clasped in their arms; gaunt, hollow-eyed men, with a wolfish glare in their eyes; rogues, vagabonds, the scum of the earth. And yet, as at each coffee-house they came to (after a brief interview with the proprietor, during which they waited quietly outside) Lord Hadley passed some of them in, and told them that they were free to eat as much as they would, there was not one who failed to thank him with trembling, eager voice. And somehow, when it was all over, and, tired out, he found himself free to return to the house, the memory of those starving, grateful voices seemed to him like the memory of the sweetest music he had ever heard. It had all been a trick to get himself out of an awkward scrape, to get rid of them; but he felt that out of folly good had come. He had been bored, sated with pleasure-seeking, and had sought, in a mad adventure, for a new sensation. By chance he had gained it, and it remained with him. It led him on in the future to plead in the House of Lords for the people as very few peers had ever done. It led him on to the prosecution of great schemes, to the accomplishment of many designs of practical philanthropy. It won for him a name adored by those for whom he toiled, respected and admired by the whole nation; and it won for him a wife whose name is written side by side with his in the hearts of the toilers and workers of the great city in which they live. He has had a long life and a happy one, but never happier, he says, than when Flora Saville and he walked home hand-in-hand through the leafless trees of Bradgate Park, on the day after his first good deed, when she had whispered the word which most of all others he longed to hear.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1946, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.